HOW TO GET 4 GENERATIONS WORKING TOGETHER IN THE 12 PLACES THEY COME APART
By HAYDN SHAW, Jonathan Schindler
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2013 Haydn Shaw
All rights reserved.
Sticking Together or Coming Apart
CINDY SNEAKED OUT before the conference wrapped up. Seeing me by the registration table, she looked at her watch and asked, "Can you answer a question about your presentation? I've got a big problem on my team."
"Sure," I said. "We have a few minutes before people start coming out."
She glanced at her watch again and started in. "For six months I've been working with Human Resources, trying to figure out what to do with Cara. I'm leaving the conference early to finalize the paperwork to fire her. But after listening to you, I'm wondering if maybe there's something generational about this. I lead an information technology department, and Cara surfs the Internet three hours a day."
"Sounds like a lot," I said. "If she's surfing that much, her work must not be getting done. Who on your team is picking up the slack?"
"No work falls to other people," Cindy said. "She actually carries the heaviest workload in my department. She supports more software programs and more users than anyone else."
"Oh," I said with surprise. "Seems strange to fire your highest producer. Do her customers complain about her work?"
She hesitated. "No ... she has the best customer satisfaction scores of anyone in our department. The vice presidents often tell me to do whatever it takes to keep her because she is the best in my department. That's why Human Resources and I have been trying so hard to figure out how to make it work with her. But we are stuck."
"If she does more work and has better results than anyone on your team, why are you firing her?" I asked.
"Because she sets a bad example for the rest of the department. I have other techs asking me why they can't surf the web if Cara can. Plus, we pay her for a full day, and she's not working three hours of it. What if everyone did that? At first I offered to promote her since she is so good; I knew that would fill her plate. But she says she likes the job she has. I've coached her for a year now that she needs to stay busy. I've offered her extra projects, but she says it wouldn't be fair."
I finished her thought. "She says that being able to surf the Internet is her reward for getting her work done faster. She shouldn't be punished by having to do 30 percent more work than everyone else without 30 percent more pay."
Cindy almost shouted, "That's exactly what she said!"
Cindy was in the middle of a sticking point.
* * *
"My wife and I have two kids in their twenties, but they are certainly not like we were," Stan, a fifty-six-year-old accountant, stated once we had found a seat. We'd met in the food line at an open house for a recent high school graduate. At first when people find out I do leadership training and consulting, they nod politely. But when I mention I've been researching the different generations for twenty years, they can't stop talking.
As I started eating, Stan continued. "By the time I was twenty-five, I already had a house, a kid, and another on the way. But my kids don't look like they're ever going to settle down."
The brisket was good, so I kept eating and listened to Stan. He went on, "Our oldest son, Brandon, is a good kid, but he's taking his time figuring out what he wants to do. He's twenty-six, and he moved back home five months ago because he says things are just too expensive on his own. Living with his parents doesn't seem to faze him or his friends. I would have died of embarrassment. And I know his mother would never have dated me if I'd lived at home, but it doesn't seem to bother his girlfriend, either. She's a really nice girl with a good job, but after dating for four years, they never talk about marriage. Most of my friends were married by twenty-six; most of Brandon's are still dating."
"That seems about right," I said. "The average age for marriage has jumped. My oldest son had thought about getting married at twenty-two, and everyone said he was crazy. I thought he was crazy, and I got married at twenty-two. Actually, his grandmother thought he was crazy, and she got married the day before she turned seventeen. It's a different world."
Stan hadn't touched his food. "I'm not saying he should get married. He has moments of maturity, but I don't think he's ready for commitment yet. He hasn't finished his college degree or found a job that he wants to stick with, and he still plays a lot of video games. It's not getting married later that I don't understand; it's that he and his girlfriend don't want to get serious. I'm a little worried about what's going to happen to him and his friends."
Stan was stuck (and his brisket was getting cold).
* * *
Hector had asked if we could talk at a seminar lunch break, and he got straight to the point: "Haydn, my team is stuck. We had an important presentation recently that started out fine but ended in disaster."
Hector Perez was a forty-three-year-old vice president of a new division formed to help his midsize manufacturing company move into green technology. Even discouraged and noticeably tired, Hector's hands never stopped moving. He waved his fork like an orchestra conductor as he talked: "Larry Broz, our CEO, is great. He asked me to fly in my team, who are mainly Generation Xers like me, to make our pitch to the management team for increasing the research and development spending on green technologies. Larry's why I left a great company to come here. He may be almost seventy, but he thinks as young as I do. And my team did great. They looked professional, they knew their stuff, and even when the executive team began to throw out strong challenges, they listened and responded like they were old pros.
"But then the meeting crashed, and our proposal went with it. One of my team members, Rachel, was texting under the table. She finished quickly, but later, when the head of operations launched into one of her pet topics, which we've all heard many times before, Rachel began texting again, in full view of the others in the meeting. The head of operations then lectured Rachel, Rachel defended herself, and I tried to make a joke about my team texting in my meetings to ease the tension, but that got the head of ops even more fired up.
"The whole meeting just imploded," Hector said. "Once the CEO got the head of operations calmed down, we met for another hour, but it was awkward, and the energy was gone. People were still thinking about Rachel using her cell phone rather than the strategy. Larry finally put the meeting out of its misery and asked the executive team to submit additional comments in writing."
Hector continued, "Rachel was just doing what our whole team does in our own meetings. She texts while I'm talking, too, but it doesn't bother me because I know she's dialed in to what we're doing. On the flight home, two of my people agreed that Rachel should have left her phone alone but complained that senior management is out of touch with how people communicate now. I'm stuck in the middle. The senior execs want me to keep my team in line, but my young team members wonder if they're just spinning their wheels here, if this is the place for them long term. If senior management can't adjust to smartphones, will they ever be able to embrace these new green technologies they want us to implement? I came here to make a difference, not keep the peace."
Hector was stuck between dueling generations.
* * *
Cindy's and Hector's companies didn't know it, but they had run into seven of the twelve most common generational sticking points I've identified from interviewing and working with thousands of people. And Stan's family was tangled in four different sticking points as well. Each generation in these situations thought the others were the problem. The groups tried in vain to ignore or avoid their generational differences. Typically, as at Hector's company, the generation in charge tells a younger generation to get it together, hoping that will solve the problem. But it never does.
These groups' approaches predictably didn't work, and they weren't sure why or what to do about it the next time. Generational friction is inevitable today, and "the next time" will come more and more often and create more and more tension. If only the companies and family I described had known the following:
For the first time in history, we have four different generations in the workplace (and five in families). These generations might as well be from different countries, so different are their cultural styles and preferences.
Of the four approaches organizations can take to blending the generations, only one of them works today.
Focusing on the "what" escalates tensions, while focusing on the "why" pulls teams together.
Knowing the twelve sticking points can allow teams to label tension points and work through them—even anticipate and preempt them.
Implementing the five steps to cross-generational leadership can lead to empowering, not losing, key people.
But they didn't know these things. And neither do most organizations or families. Sticking points are inevitable, and they often get teams and families stuck. But they don't have to. The same generational conflicts that get teams stuck can cause teams to stick together.
Stuck in the past or sticking together going forward: it's a matter of turning a potential liability into an asset. And it's not that hard to do, as you will soon discover. (In later chapters, I'll pick up the stories of Cindy, Stan, and Hector and share the advice I gave them about working through their generational sticking points.)
"THEY DON'T GET IT"
The most common complaint I hear from frustrated people in all four generations is "They don't get it."
"They," of course, means a boss, coworker, or family member from a different generation who the speaker believes is the cause of a problem. And in my experience, "it" usually refers to one of the following twelve sticking points—places where teams get stuck:
2. decision making
3. dress code
5. fun at work
6. knowledge transfer
12. work ethic
Anyone in today's workforce can identify with most, if not all, of the twelve sticking points.
"They don't get it" is usually a sign that a sticking point is pulling the team apart. Team members of the same generation begin tossing around stereotypes, making jokes to each other about the "offending" generation. Each generation attempts to maneuver the others into seeing the sticking point their own way.
And that's the first mistake—viewing a sticking point as a problem to be solved rather than as an opportunity to be leveraged. The goal becomes to "fix" the offending generation rather than to look for ways to work with them. The irony is that when we say another generation doesn't get it, we don't get it either.
Once we get it, we realize that these sticking points are more than intergenerational differences. They are catalysts for deeper understanding and appreciation that can make teams stronger and better balanced. Sticking points can be negative if you see them as problems or positive if you see them as opportunities for greater understanding and flexibility. Sticking points can make things worse or better depending on whether the four generations can work together in the twelve places they naturally tend to come apart.
We'll spend the next two chapters looking at why generational sticking points usually get teams stuck, and we'll see how we can change them into the emotional glue that sticks teams together to achieve exciting results.
FOUR GENERATIONS: THE NEW REALITY
Generational friction is inevitable today because we've never before had four generations in the workplace.
Different researchers label the generations—or more technically, "age cohort groups"—using different terms. For simplicity's sake, I've summarized the most common names along with each generation's birth years so you can see where you and others fit.
I'm using the term Generation X (or Gen X for short), even though the members of that generation don't like the label. Who can blame them? It came from the title of a book about a lost and rootless generation—and X is often a symbol for something that's missing or an unknown factor. But unfortunately, that's the name that has stuck.
Not everyone would agree with the dates I assign the generations. Some of us disagree by a couple of years, especially about the length of Generation X. Age cohort groups are determined by the way a generation buys, votes, and answers surveys, so of course there is no easily identified date when the Boomers ended and the Gen Xers began.
To deal with the transitional years when it is impossible to separate generations because people have characteristics of both, marketers developed the term Cuspers. For example, I am a Cusper, born in 1963—just when the Baby Boomer generation was ending and Generation X was beginning. Cuspers are a blend of both. I identify in some ways with Boomers and in other ways with Xers. (My wife jokes, "You overwork like a Boomer, and you are cynical like an Xer. I've married the worst of both worlds.")
While Cuspers can create problems for marketers who can't tell which generational pitch to aim at them, Cuspers are often able to bridge generations. They have one foot in both camps and can sometimes serve as translators and negotiators between generations.
I mentioned earlier that there are five generations in the home. The fifth generation (children of the second half of Gen Xers and the first half of Millennials) doesn't yet have an established name or even a start date. We assume that the Millennial generation will be about the same length as the Boomers and Xers, but that may not be the case. Assuming the fifth generation starts somewhere from 2002 to 2004, those children are already consumers and influencers of massive amounts of government and parental (and grandparental) spending. They may not be in the workplace, but they certainly are consumers.
For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workplace and five in the marketplace. This new phenomenon complicates our work and our relationships because while people of all generations have the same basic needs, they meet those needs in different ways. The rest of this book will detail the commonalities and differences among the four generations we find in the workplace.
SEVEN WAYS THE GENERATIONS WILL INCREASINGLY IMPACT YOUR ORGANIZATION
If you've never paid much attention to generational differences, here are seven organizational realities you need to be aware of. I'll divide them into internal and external impacts.
1. Conflicts around generational sticking points. How do you get four generations of employees to play nice together in the sandbox? Increasingly, organizations are recognizing that younger employees don't see things the same way their elders do and that it's impossible to create policies that don't annoy someone. How do you get through the differences and get back to work? Generational friction is inevitable; generational problems are avoidable—that is, if you and your team have a working knowledge of why the generations are different and of how to lead them rather than simply manage them.
2. Managing and motivating different generations. Whether it's older supervisors trying to motivate younger employees or younger supervisors trying to direct people their parents' age, generational differences complicate things. While people are motivated by similar needs, how they seek to fulfill those needs differs. And that causes challenges in engaging and motivating different generations.
3. Replacing the Baby Boomers in the war for talent. Who will you hire following the coming exodus of Baby Boomers? Even in economic downturns, organizations compete for the best employees, what's commonly called the "war for talent." Traditionalists have already largely left the workplace. Over the next decade, many of the Baby Boomers will follow—and the ones who return will do so on their own terms. Who will replace them in your organization, and how will you adjust to the younger generation's different approach to work? How will you transfer the Boomers' experience, job knowledge, and customer relationships? Further complicating the shift, lower birthrates in the industrialized world and longer life spans could create a labor shortage over the next two decades.
Excerpted from STICKING POINTS by HAYDN SHAW, Jonathan Schindler. Copyright © 2013 Haydn Shaw. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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