Separate “Dialects” on Cultural Phenomena: Are the #Generational Disconnects Worrisome?
Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times Op-Ed column, “The Water Cooler Runs Dry,” is another story of how the ability to custom-tailor the information we keep up with is a double-edged sword. He was bewildered that his Princeton University students were totally unfamiliar with celebrities of yesteryear whom he mentioned in class.
We now customize what we read and hear to a large degree. People create their personal niches of information and exposure rather than gathering at a cross-cultural, cross-generational “water cooler” or “public square.” Common reference points are fading away. With so much specialization and almost infinite categories, a book can become a best-seller with the sale of many fewer copies than in the past before self-publishing became easier and respectable.
A Princeton colleague of Bruni’s, Hendrik Hartog, director of the American Studies program says the enormous amount of specialized knowledge “leaves an absence of connective tissue for students.” Another colleague, Daniel Rodgers, calls it the “age of fracture.
Makers of commercial entertainment don’t have to chase a mass audience and can produce programs on cable TV or alternatives with cult-like followings. While Bruni can also see some upside, he wrote, ”Each fosters a separate dialect. Finding a collective vocabulary becomes harder.”
It’s clear that’s the way things are going. Should we be worried about what is lost in translation with these diversity disconnects?
HAS THE MISSING PIECE ELUDED YOU? – Find the Inter-Generational Solution
Generational differences in attitudes inform and influence attitudes and behaviors toward all the other types of diversity and individuals’ worldviews. They are integral, “joined at the hip,” so to speak.
If you are approaching attracting and retaining clients of different generations all the same way
If you are approaching attracting and retaining employees of different generations all the same way
If you are pitching your fundraising, member drives and engaging alumni of different generations all the same way
If you think the members of multi-generational teams all have similar wants and expectations
If knowledge transfer among generations has more speed bumps than fast lanes
then you are missing the piece that makes the ultimate difference to your long-term success rate.
Most firms treat different types of diversity as separate silos and approach their programs as if one solution fits all and will make the crucial emotional connection that is necessary for attitude and behavior change and cultural transformation.
In the last several years, many organizations have realized that something different is going on and not going away, and their personnel need to learn about generational differences. Usually they bring in a speaker (sometimes that’s me) for an hour or so to explain the basics– and then check off the box that they addressed the issues.
It’s a good first step…but for real change to occur deepening understanding, repetition and practice is necessary. Savvy organizations are undertaking yearlong or longer initiatives and community building to address inter-generational challenges locally or globally, as relevant. That type of dedicated effort will earn them an advantage in recruiting and retaining both engaged employees and loyal clients/customers.
IBM and American Express have realized how central inter-generational initiatives are to productivity in their core businesses. IBM is leveraging learning resources and building employee communities in person and online in many countries to strengthen collaboration. With surveys and other means, IBM is assessing what different generations need and is providing recommendations to business units globally on attracting, developing and retaining talent of different generations. American Express, realizing that its shift in business strategy away from travel to financial services and other technology-oriented businesses required younger demographics, also has been focusing on inter-generational challenges.
Educational institutions are getting sensitive to the large demographic changes as at least a third of their faculty and administrative staff heads toward retirement age. For example, Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs & Development department, having done some generational programming in the past, is starting on a yearlong generational focus as one of its diversity initiatives required of all colleges and administrative units by the University.
Some of the strategies to include in your cross-generational diversity initiatives are:
Small facilitated group discussions
Educational materials and interactive courses appropriate to different markets
Mutual and reverse mentoring and mentoring circles
Significant roles for senior management as advocates and participants
Knowledge transfer and succession strategies
As firms, other organizations and institutions develop affinity or employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs) and other internal and cross-cultural communities, they need to be sure to cross-pollinate them. Just as gender diversity groups focused on furthering women’s careers and as leaders greatly benefit from bringing men into the conversation, diversity and inclusion initiatives for each specific focus need to bring all the generations into the conversation. Cross-generational conversations will facilitate understanding of all the views and attitudes that must be part of the solution and the pursuit of harmonious change.
Instead of “siloing,” make the cross-generational perspective the foundation piece.
Please comment and share your thoughts. Do you see this as a business imperative?
It’s almost time for the ball to drop for 2014, so don’t drop the ball.
Whether yours was a lucky ’13 or not, I hope you are excited about your future. What new challenge will you take on? What problem are you determined to solve? What new skill or knowledge will you acquire? What knowledge will you pass on to a younger – or older – colleague?
In 2013 I thought big, as I developed the Cross-Generational Conversation Day concept to raise awareness of the implications of inter-generational challenges at work on business success and our lives. I am grateful for the enthusiastic reception to the concept and plans. Now in 2014, it’s time to execute! Stay tuned for our research and more information as to how you and your organization can get involved.
Since I have always been future-oriented, I look optimistically onward – but not before thanking our wonderful past and current clients, the Cross-Generational Conversation Day Planning Committee, The Cross-Generational Conversation LinkedIn Group community, social media followers, my MasterMind Group, great friends and family and YOU – my valued readers.
I urge you to light up the lives of people around you, especially in person. Start the new year with some great cross-generational conversations, and let us know if and how it changes your perspective and how you want to connect. Keep smiling, doing great work and spreading joy!
Whether it’s purely a cultural choice or economic necessity,
we are seeing an increase in tow or three generations living together. This is
even more prevalent in the workplace. So we need to get proficient and
comfortable with initiating #cross-generational conversations and connections.
(Traditionalist generation) actress and author Marlo Thomas
wrote about the benefits of multigenerational bonding she experienced since
childhood hanging out with her father Danny Thomas’ fellow comedian friends.
Her advice on connecting with people of other generations
you would like to connect with: Don’t make defensive jokes about your age
difference; don’t try to force your wisdom and experience on them. Do smile and
introduce yourself the way you would with a peer in age. Do share a bit of your
story to begin. Importantly, listen to their story.
I am periodically asked about tips for intergenerational
networking in a business context. Networking with people of other generations
is a great pleasure to me and has resulted in many good friendships and
business connections. As with all personal and professional relationships, the
best way to nurture the connection is to show sincere interest in the other
person, show respect, and appreciate what you can learn from each other.
Don’t expect too much until several interactions have built
a bond. If you are thinking mostly of the ongoing time commitment rather than
the value of connection, you will not reap the benefits of ties to the future
with those younger and the wisdom and perspective of those older than you.
INNOVATION AND MULTI-GENERATIONAL SUCCESSION PLANNING
Does your organization have
multi-level succession plans in place?
My recent workshop on the human side of succession planning and knowledge transfer got me thinking about it in relation to inter-generational relations and innovation.
If you recognize that you need to keep the
big picture in mind and what's coming down the road in two or three years,
since change happens ever faster, innovation and succession planning - both
future-oriented functions - go hand-in-hand. A future -oriented management
style understands and encourages taking reasonable and educated risks to come
up with novel solutions. It fosters an organization-wide environment of
innovation. According to Judy Estrin, former chief technology officer at Cisco
Systems, five core values need to be instilled in the organizational mindset:
questioning, risk-taking, openness, patience and trust.
And the company should not just create
silos of innovation by designating an innovation group - the
'big-thinkers." What if any of those big-thinkers leaves or gets laid off?
Here's where we circle back to succession
planning. It must be future-oriented rather than a search for clones of even
very successful leaders, managers or vital technicians. It must include
encouraging new ideas from younger generations and their view of the world and
the marketplace. What do they think are attributes and skills needed by future
leaders? What do they think the business challenges will be when they are
moving into the current managers' shoes? What will the market, composed in
large measure of their peers, need and demand in products and services? What do
they need to learn to be ready?
Succession planning should be a continual
process at any time. People in critical positions can be lost at any time for
good or bad, happy or sad reasons. In down economies and times of crisis, the
need to have succession plans in place in advance is even more crucial because
there is less time to identify the best leaders for the circumstances and gear
up to meet the challenges. You can’t rely on going outside, quickly finding the
right people and immediately bring them up to speed.
I read still another article, this one in the New York Times Shortcuts column, on the gap between how
college graduates are educated and the skills employers say they need. Despite
all the talk about more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education,
especially for women, that’s not what employers are crying for.
Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s special marketplace
report published in March 2013, said the needed skills are the long valued
abilities of written and oral communication, adaptability, managing multiple
priorities, making decisions and problem-solving. The HR Policy Association (an
organization of Chief HR managers from large employers) agrees. And you can’t "Google" to acquire those skills!
finger pointing between colleges and employers as to what the problem is and
who has the responsibility to fix it is not adequately addressing the “how.”
The Accenture 2013 College and Employment Survey (of 1,010 2013 graduating
students) summary refers to enterprise learning strategies, but the trend in
those strategies is toward increasing online learning. That is not a very
viable way to learn interpersonal and oral communication skills, which require
live interpersonal exchange and practice.
Groups: My suggestion as part of the solution
cross-generational conversation groups embedded in workplaces as a tool for
Boomers to educate younger generations on these “human performance skills”
(don’t call them “soft” – they are powerful) while the Boomers profit from the
younger generations’ insights into changing market needs brought on by how
technology inexorably infiltrates our lives and lifestyles. This is distinct
from mentoring. It is a facilitated colleague exchange or a “dialogue,” a
conversation aimed toward specific goals.
is “leaning in” for skills diversity and age inclusion across the many other
silos in the workplace.
team has started a movement to illuminate the significance of cross-generational conversation at work, the
current focal point of which is national Cross-Generational
Conversation Day. Details will be announced in the fall. For information
now, contact email@example.com.
RESEARCH ON “FAMILY NARRATIVES” CAN HELP ORGANIZATIONS THRIVE TOO.
Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University found
that children who know a lot about their families, especially the ups and downs
rather than all good or all bad, tend to do better when they face challenges.
Those with the most self- confidence have a strong “inter-generational self”
and know they belong to something bigger than themselves. The research was related in a recent New York Times article.
Communicating effectively means more than talking through
problems. Talking also means telling a positive personal or family story. When
facing challenges they add a new chapter to their story that illustrates them
overcoming the difficulty. The stories become traditions and what I might call
a “family brand.”
Can you see how this same approach can help organizations
thrive, keep their brands alive and strong and connect them to their community
of stakeholders? Please share your thoughts.
True diversity includes diversity of thought, style
background and experience. We cannot have that in today world without age or
generational diversity. Most organizations, media and forums only focus on
dealing with gender, race/ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation
differences, yet true diversity is much more, and generational worldviews
influence many of the more traditional aspects of diversity.
Professor Martin Davidson of the University of Virginia
Darden School of Business and the school’s Diversity Director said in a talk to
Darden alumni that he thinks generational diversity is the aspect of diversity
that needs the most focus because of the critical need for knowledge transfer.
I would add to the business case
that: many institutions fear age discrimination lawsuits; and they need to
enhance their ability to attract, retain, communicate with and work with
clients and customers of different generations. Let’s be clear – generational
diversity and inter-generational relations are a serious and critical business
issue and shape our work and personal lives.
It’s not a secret that the majority of organizations are not doing succession planning and certainly not doing it below the highest levels though they give a lot of lip service as to how important it is. Many of those that do some sort of succession planning hold the process and the chosen successors close to the vest.
Why do organizations closely guard their succession plans? Several surveys cited in an article on Human Resources Executive Online indicate that the reasons are often based on internal forces as much as external ones.
So the reasoning behind the lack of succession planning is complicated. An article from HRE Online discusses a variety of rationales, including lack of transparency. These exist in companies of all sizes and at all levels, not just the C-Suite. The “secrecy” may be attributed to:
Business competition and not wanting external competitors to know their plans.
There may not be an actual succession plan.
They fear those not on the list of candidates may become disengaged and disgruntled.
Fear that another division in the company may poach the designated successor for its team.
Circumstances may change affecting strategy and who is best to implement it.
Top leaders may want to retain the flexibility to change the list of candidates.
Organizations grapple with not only whether or not to make the process transparent, but also if they should let the high potential candidates know they are being considered. The risk of telling them is they may get to feel entitled and others may feel disenfranchised and that they are not getting development attention. Whether or not the candidates are told of their status, the criteria for choosing successors should be specific, performance-based and widely communicated throughout the organization.