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TALKIN' 'BOUT YOUR GENERATION
"We are not on a journey to become the same or to be the same. But we are on a journey to see that in all of our differences, that is what makes us beautiful as a human race, and if we are ever to grow, we ought to learn and always learn some more."
—C. JoyBell C.
As soon as you bring up the topic of the generations at work, over dinner, or with friends, you can see people's eyes light up. Everyone has a fervent perspective of how crazy all the people are who were unlucky enough to be born outside of their generation's coveted years. When referring to another generation, the phrase "they just don't get it" comes up at some point—that's boomers talking about Xers, millennials talking about boomers, and Xers complaining about being scrunched in between.
According to a 2011 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll, 75 percent of respondents reported some level of conflict among the generations. If you think about the different societal trends, the cultures, and world in which each generation grew up, it is apparent why everyone doesn't see eye to eye. Simply think about the most basic components of work in the 1950s and the stark contrast in workplaces today. The manufacturing line that abounded is now replaced by work stations, professional services, and computers. In the amount of time it would have taken to type a paragraph on a typewriter, we have zipped off 23 e-mails, many of them that simply say "Thanks!" or "Sounds good."
Try to envision your world of work without e-mail. For those of you who have desk jobs, e-mail may comprise 70 percent of your work day. Imagine if you actually had to talk to someone face-to-face! Now, I am being a little sarcastic here, but there is a huge, fundamental shift in the way we're doing business. As we move to a "knowledge" economy and as technology changes at breath-taking speeds, we have to take into account the changes traditionalists, boomers, and even Xers have gone through in the workplace.
Over the past 100 years, the world has been through startling changes. In the words of Condoleezza Rice, we live in a country where the "Impossible becomes inevitable"—people flying airplanes across oceans, heroes walking on the moon, and children playing on iPhones at the age of two. Can you imagine there was a time when hearing someone thousands of miles away without the use of a wire seemed impossible? Now, it only seems inevitable that someone invented the radio. Of course. The impossible becomes inevitable.
Each of these seemingly impossible inventions and experiences shaped our world. If you think through the last century, a few defining moments and events stand out. There was the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement, Vietnam, and September 11th, to name a few. Each of these world events shaped families and children and the lens through which they see the world.
The generations are comprised of unique individuals and, undoubtedly, there are exceptions to the stereotype. We always joke that Courtney is a Traditionalist stuck in the millennial time trap. However, each of the generations is shaped by the society and culture in which its members were raised. Even if Courtney's company loyalty echoes that of a Traditionalist, she grew up trying to memorize the words and remember the trite dance moves of New Kids on the Block and Wilson Phillips, while I nearly cracked my neck rocking out to Nirvana and Boston.
The generations are fascinating, and you will be a better manager for having a firm grasp on this important topic. As a millennial manager, you likely will be working across all generations. Maybe you manage employees who are older than you, and you likely will have fellow millennials who report to you. You can't fall into the trap of managing people how you would like to be managed. Each of the generations' approaches work differently and, to succeed as manager, you need to understand the driving forces and styles of each group. The more awareness and understanding you have of your bosses, colleagues, and direct reports, the better you can manage, lead, and succeed in the workplace.
As millennials, you probably have some preconceived notions about the old people in the workforce. You may even think most of them should retire, but don't worry, some of them wouldn't mind if you decided to return to graduate school. Putting all of these biases aside, let's look at how each generation is simply a product of its times.
At any given time, you are probably working with and even managing people in four different generations, and you likely are part of the 75 percent experiencing intergenerational conflict. Most of this conflict stems from the differences in communication style, expectations, and perspectives of the different generations. If you know what makes individuals in each generation tick, what gets them going, what frustrates them, and what makes them who they are, then you can better work with them. Although there are bound to be some exceptions, on a whole, each generation has some predispositions that I will discuss.
Traditionalists (born 1928–1945)
Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964)
Generation X (born 1965–1980)
Millennials (born 1981–2000)
TRADITIONALISTS (BORN 1928–1945)
First up are the traditionalists. The traditionalists are the oldest generation in the workforce. Since the majority of traditionalists are no longer in the workforce, we won't spend too much time on them here. The traditionalists are the World War II generation, and they are a very loyal group.
Do you have a father or grandfather who worked at the same company for thirty years or more? He is probably a traditionalist. Can you imagine working at only one company all your adult life? If you're on par with the statistics of the millennial generation, by the age of 26, you will have had an average of seven jobs. On the contrary, traditionalists mostly stayed with one company, and they may view your job hopping as fickle, unfocused, and irresponsible. It's important to note that companies were also loyal to traditionalists, a two-sided partnership of loyalty that began to deteriorate in the baby boomer generation. For traditionalists, you go to work, you earn a living, and you don't complain or ask for too much. Work is work. Traditionalists go to work at the same company for their entire life, and they retire with a gold watch.
When you think about traditionalists' work style, it's very hierarchal and respectful. Remember, they grew up either living through or hearing stories of World War I, World War II, and even the Korean War. Chances are they were soldiers or their dad was a soldier. They never went to the commanding officer's commanding officer to talk about a problem. First, they would never really talk about a problem. Second, they would never go around or above their direct authority. There is a very clear line of command and distinction in this generation.
The Great Depression preceded World War II, so traditionalists were happy to have a job and a paycheck. No complaining or pushing for employee rights; a job is a job, and that's good enough. That's the traditionalist generation—conservative and rule followers. As managers, traditionalists are more likely to give orders and resist change. If you're managing traditionalists, learn as much as you can from them. Respect their experience and watch your pace—not everyone can keep up with your 32 GB speed or energy.
BABY BOOMERS (BORN 1946–1964)
Boomers! A name like that just screams for attention, and at 79 million strong, the baby boomers rightfully deserve serious consideration. You may manage some baby boomers, but it's more likely that you have a boomer boss or that boomers dominate your senior leadership team. You also may have boomer parents.
Now, why are they called the baby boomer generation? After almost four years of being overseas, the boys came home from fighting in World War II, and there were a lot of babies! You likely have seen the iconic photo of the blissful sailor kissing a nurse soon after returning from the war. That was the emblem of the time. The birth rate rose fairly consistently year over year for 18 years. As a result, there was a tremendous focus in this period on children, families, and babies.
Let's think about life in America during the 1950s. Television shows like Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, and Father Knows Best were popular, and they pretty much captured what the times were like. Dad went to work, and Mom stayed at home. The kids would go to school, mom would clean the house, and she would have a beautiful dinner waiting when Dad got home from work at 5:15 pm. He was wearing a suit and tie, and Mom greeted him at the door when he arrived. She was decked out in a dress, an apron, high heels, and a beautiful string of pearls. As Dad walked in, she had a martini in one hand and a pair of slippers in the other. Little Bobby was wearing a sweater vest with his hair slicked back, and sweet Cindy was wearing a pretty yellow dress with a bow in her hair. The entire family sat around the dining room table together and enjoyed a nice, relaxing multicourse meal, and the biggest problem of the day was that Bobby got in a "tussle" at school. Sound familiar? I didn't think so. When was the last time your entire family sat at the dining room table and shared a formal meal on a week day?
Levittown, New York, and other "planned" communities exploded in popularity during this time period. Suddenly, everyone wanted to get out of the city and into the suburbs. They craved the four-bedroom house with the white-picket fence and the two-car garage for their three kids. The focus clearly was on family, children, and community. That was the era in which boomers lived. They were idealistic, and they wanted to save the world—and the workplace.
Interestingly, to boomers, work is more than just work. Work is life. Boomers are much more defined by their work than other generations. They enjoy working hard and moving up the corporate ladder is important to them. Boomers have a wealth of knowledge, and they're connected to their job—and their job title. As they have evolved in their careers, they became the first generation of workaholics—those most attached to their jobs. As a millennial, you have probably heard a boomer tell you once or twice that you have to "pay your dues" and that you have to gain experience. Boomers follow a chain of command, and they feel that they paid their dues, worked their way up, and learned valuable experiences from doing so. As managers, boomers expect the best from you, and they want you to care as much as they do. If they're going to drop everything to finish a project, they expect you to want to do the same.
Boomers may be leading your organization—and retiring from your organization. They are overflowing wiThexperience and insight, and as you are an emerging leader, they are excellent mentors for you. At first brush, you may think you don't have much in common with your boomer boss or direct reports, but they often enjoy sharing their experience and expertise—if you ask. This will help prevent the great "brain drain" as more and more boomers retire, and it can give you a leg up and some insight for your future.
GENERATION X (BORN 1965–1980)
Then generation X comes along and things change significantly. Let's start with the birth rate. For 15 years, the birth rate goes down, down, down—fairly consistently year after year. Let's think about why. What were the big issues in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the formative years of gen X? Vietnam, Hippies, Civil Rights, the Women's Movement, the birth control pill, Roe vs. Wade. How many of these issues scream big ol' family? Life focus had clearly shifted from children and families to broad sweeping social issues.
The latchkey kid was invented in this generation. Little, 13-year-old Melanie wears her house key around her neck when she goes to school so she can let herself in when she comes home. Why? Because dad AND mom are at the office, and they have to go to a big rally after work.
Remember the boomer kid? She was coming home to a mom who had spent the day roasting a turkey and baking a pie. The Xer kid comes home to an empty house and plops on the couch with a couple of Twinkies to hunker down for two hours of Speed Racer.
Since they often had to fend for themselves while growing up, gen X is a very independent generation. Mom and dad were at work focusing on the issues of the day, and Melanie could take care of herself for the most part. Because of the decline in the birth rate, families were smaller, and chances are Melanie was an only child.
Xers are fiercely independent and are accustomed to doing things on their own. I bet the light bulb just went off that your gen X employee doesn't despise you, he just despises "collaborating" and always working in teams!
In the workplace, more entrepreneurs come from this generation, as they are accustomed to working independently. They're not as afraid to strike out on their own or see what a new opportunity holds. This generation is more likely to leave a company to go somewhere else just for a 10 percent raise.
As managers, gen Xers typically are independent and hands off. Millennials—who love collaboration, constant structure, and feedback —can struggle with a Xer manager. If you are managing Xers, it's best to give them some leeway and refrain from micromanaging. Give them a project, and then leave them alone to do their job. Focus your collaborative energies on the next generation—your generation—the millennials.
MILLENNIALS (BORN 1981–2000)
Then, the tables turn again as millennials—you!—are born. The birth rate goes back up, and there is a tremendous focus on community, families, and—importantly—babies, babies, and more babies. The emblem of the millennial generation is a yellow, diamond-shaped sign we began placing in our automobiles in the 1980s and 1990s that says "Baby on Board." Parents were declaring, I have a baby in here! The most precious, special, amazing thing in the world is a baby, and I have one. And you, bad man, stay away from my car, because I have a baby on board!
We began placing these signs in a new breed of automobile we invented, just for our babies, called the minivan. We then created an entire store just for babies, named Babies "R" Us, of course. Have you ever been into a Babies "R" Us? Unbelievable. Fifty thousand products created just for babies—and most of these products didn't even exist in the 1960s and 1970s. (I'm not sure my parents would have invested in a baby wipe warmer, but now you're considered to be a monster if you subject your newborn to room temperature baby wipes.)
It was important that everyone had a baby. We created a new type of clinic in the 1980s and 1990s. Fertility clinics became the rage because EVERYONE had to have a baby. If you couldn't have one, all you needed were a few shots or a couple of pills and bam!—you have yourself a baby. Just look at the numbers. The birth rate of twins rose more than 70 percent from 1980 to 2009, and the triplet/+ birth rate rose more than 400 percent during the 1980s and 1990s. The message of the millennials' time period is that life is not complete without a baby.
The attention for the babies never stopped. When I grew up, there was an expression: Children should be seen, but not heard. For millennials, that sentiment is long gone. You grew up in a time when as children, you were not only seen and heard, but you were given a big voice in family decisions. Life tended to revolve around you.
You grew up in a world where you were the most special, precious, and extraordinary being. What did your parents tell you that you could be?—Anything you wanted to be! You were told from day one that you were born perfect, and it wasn't just your parents and family telling you this. Songs have been written about millennials and how special you are. Lady Gaga—a millennial herself—wrote what I consider to be the anthem of your generation. Just take a couple minutes to think through the lyrics of Born This Way.
Excerpted from MANAGER 3.0 by Brad Karsh. Copyright © 2013 by Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
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INTRODUCTION: NOT BETTER, NOT WORSE—JUST DIFFERENT.................... 1
1 TALKIN' 'BOUT YOUR GENERATION.................... 7
2 MILLENNIALS DEFINED.................... 19
3 FROM INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTOR TO MANAGER.................... 27
4 DEFINING MANAGEMENT CHARACTERISTICS: SHAKING IT UP.................... 41
5 REWRITING THE RULES OF MANAGEMENT.................... 59
6 LEADING YOUR TEAM: CONNECT.................... 69
7 COMMUNICATE: JUST SAY IT.................... 77
8 OWN IT: TAKING—AND GIVING—RESPONSIBILITY.................... 105
9 NAVIGATE: MANAGING THROUGH THE UNKNOWN.................... 125
10 NEGOTIATE: WORKING THROUGH DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES.................... 141
11 ENGAGE: CONNECTING TO THE BIG PICTURE.................... 155
12 COLLABORATE: MAKING IT HAPPEN.................... 175
13 TEACH: BEING A MENTOR—AND STUDENT.................... 189
14 LEADING WHEN THINGS GET STICKY.................... 205
CONCLUSION: GO FORTH.................... 215
ABOUT THE AUTHORS.................... 235