With five generations working side by side in many offices, successful companies must find ways to create effective, cohesive teams regardless of age or background. Roughly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day in the United States, meaning the baby boomer generation is retiring at a rapid rate, and employers need to focus on recruitment and retention of the younger generations who might have different work styles and expectations than their predecessors.
At IBR’s April 4 breakfast series, six expert panelists from a variety of fields shared their tips to close the generational gap, improving communication, cooperation and collegiality. The panelists addressed many topics ranging from generational stereotypes in the workplace to creating a working environment where everyone feels comfortable.
Lindsey Brist, Wells Fargo business banking relationship manager – assistant vice president
Brandon Buck, leadership coach
Jeremy Graves, Boise State University lead instructor and president and CEO of Jeremy Graves Coaching and Consulting
Brie Katz, recruiting and talent specialist, former head volleyball coach and physical education associate professor at Columbia University in New York City
Nicole Kissler, vice president of medical revenue at Norco
Lori Martin, communication strategist, executive facilitator and team dynamic coach at Consilio
Moderator: Susan Olson, COO/CFO at Hawley Troxell
Defining the generations
The problem is, Google does not know. If you were to take out your phones right now and Google the different generations, there are so many different numbers that they land. Everyone wants to get in this generation game.
I’ll tell you the ones not to use: MTV. MTV has actually got into this game of trying to define generations. My assumption is because they’re not playing music anymore, they’ve got to figure out something to do, so they’re defining generations. There’s a few out there that are the big ones to go with. One is called GenHQ.com. GenHQ uses a few different numbers than the other big one that’s out there, which is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Traditionally, a generation was defined from the birth of a child until that child has children. The problem was, how does that work? They said we’ve got to figure out some numbers. Because we were moving towards working in the business community, we chose the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they define the generations this way. It’s going to be a very different definition than some of you may have heard. Traditionalists for them are 1929-1945; boomers are 1946-1964. Again, this is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gen X’s are ‘65-81, and then they define millennials as ‘82-2000. So Gen HQ defines millennials as ‘77-95. So you can see there’s numbers all over the place.
What you have to do is you have to feel comfortable with the research of these organizations and what they’ve done to define those numbers. What I have found is that the one that has been the most beneficial for me is the Bureau of Labor Statistics because they are the ones who are working out in the industries and they’re saying ‘these are the numbers that we use.’
How do you acknowledge generational differences without opening yourself up to stereotyping and/or age discrimination?
I would say that there is room for a lot of improvement in this area. I don’t feel like it’s gracefully done. When you go to somebody and you kind of know their age group, you don’t want to approach them in thinking, by the way, it kind of sounds like an AA meeting, my name is Lindsey and I am a millennial. It’s not a bad thing. For example, in my experience, if you’re approaching a millennial, don’t approach a millennial with the idea of I have to be careful, they’re sensitive, they’re going to melt. There’s all these stereotypes behind millennials. It goes for every generation. Don’t approach somebody with the idea, ‘OK, you’re from this generation, I have to treat you this certain way.’
I think, ultimately, we’re all good at building relationships, and that’s really if you build a relationship with somebody and put those stereotypes behind yourself when trying to build that relationship, you’re going to ultimately not have to worry about opening yourself up to stereotyping. It all just comes down to foundations of good relationships.
I was just going to say with any group of people, whether it’s defined generations or genders or whatever group you’re defining, you can always look at that group and paint them with broad brush strokes and say this group maybe you can predict behaviors for this group or you can say generalizations about this group. But in no way do you have predictive value over a person in that group. There’s no way that you can look at an individual and say, ‘Because you belong to this group, I know something about you.’ You can only generalize a group, and it’s really helpful in some ways. But never one human. I think when it comes to building relationships, it’s always about the person and not what group they belong to whatever we’re talking about.
Jeremy alluded to this — we have all been put into generations. We’ve all been put into generations, and to be honest, none of us have ever liked them. We think that the older generation was wrong, and we think the new generation is lazy. If you’ve seen the body language in this room, as soon as we started talking about generations and the word ‘millennial’ was mentioned, there was movement, there was action, there was thoughts, there was laughter, which already shows the stereotypes that are in this room.
When we look at the way that we fix it, we first have to look internal. What is it that we actually think? Why do we think those ways? Then we can begin to understand. Whereas if we stay closed-minded, and we believe that our way is right and this is the only way to do it, then those stereotypes and discriminations stand. Whereas if I can look internal and say, ‘OK, I’m a person, you’re a person, let me understand you’ and really seek to do that, then we can begin to get across those barriers.
To what degree do people behave in certain ways due to their unique generation and to what extent due to how old they are? Haven’t older generations always viewed the younger generations as lazy, etc.?
I don’t want to sit here and say that this is how you should think about these different generations. A big thing we’ve always talked about is just being able to relate to your audience, and I think that’s people. That’s not a generation. I’ll be very specific. You’ve got a wide variety of customers. In one store, we have someone come in who is a new mom getting a breast pump, the very next transaction a guy buying some welding wire. It’s not about generations or ages or any of that kind of stuff. In my mind, we’re all just very different people. I think it’s just really about kind of focused on relating to the different audience and, as everyone up here has already mentioned, that building relationships piece, getting to know individuals and spend time not just focusing on putting something in one area.
I think with this whole topic there’s a mutual respect that needs to happen between generations. I was raised to respect your elders where to respect those that are older than you, and there’s a lot of wisdom that they bring. So as there’s a lot of generations within the workplace, people that have been there before have a lot of wisdom and a lot of knowledge, but then the younger generation coming in needs to respect that and not think, ‘OK, I have a college degree and getting paid this amount.’ Know that there needs to be a respect between all parties, and sometimes I feel like that’s lost along the way.
To what degree should companies accommodate the preferences of a particular generations versus say, This way that things are done here?
I think there’s a balance that needs to happen. Within Wells Fargo, there’s all different generations. I think one thing to keep in mind too is it’s not just generational differences that we’re experiencing, it’s cultural differences. There’s more women in the workforce. There’s a lot of cultures and generations. There’s just this giant melting pot of things that are going on.
One thing that Wells Fargo does, and I appreciate this, is that we have team member networks. There’s a variety of team member networks: diversity and inclusion, women, veteran, Asian, Hispanic, it goes on. The purpose behind those team member networks is that their voice is heard. When we share things that we would like to see happen, the company listens, and I think in general you don’t have to be super accommodating and bend over backwards, but if you just listen to what people are interested in that could help the company.
When we look at this, it’s really just looking at change. Change, likes death and taxes, is a constant. If we are so set in our ways that we are not willing to listen to other people in our company, pretty soon we’re going to be nonexistent, right? If I’m accommodating the people, then I’m always giving, always giving, always giving. Instead, within our companies, we should really have consensus and collaboration. What I mean by that is we literally listen to people in our group. We figure out what is the best move for our group, taking the thoughts and wisdom of the older generation with the excitement and new ideas of the younger generation. We can create this community of respect and value. When that happens, bring on change, bring on conflict, because I have the environment that can solve it.
I work with an organization locally who got a new office space. They decided to Google it. And I mean Google it as in ‘let’s have an open floor plan and let’s have ping pong tables and beer’ and all this stuff that they thought was going to be super accommodating to the younger generation. They did not take into account the older generation that had a lot of industry knowledge and were very involved in this transition. When I got brought in, it was panic mode because several of the older generation had actually turned in their resignations and were leaving. They were retiring early and were leaving because they said exactly what Brandon just alluded to, which was ‘we were never brought into this conversation, and as much as we like the open floor plan, we’d also like to have an office where we can close the door and get work done because I don’t work the same way.’
When I work with organizations, I boil it down to this what I call aggressive communication. Have the hard conversations. Sit down and talk about the things that are the elephants in the room, the thing that different generations are going to view differently. It takes somebody to lead that out. I have found that when you have those conversations, when you are listening to all of the generations and then making the best decision, then you can still have the unique office set up in their case. That allowed for all of the generations to feel like they could call this their home. They were back to the drawing board, they re-did some of the office space to accommodate for some of the areas around for offices where they could close doors and work differently. When you just cater to one generation, what tends to happen is you alienate the rest of your office.
I just want to say that thinking about open floor plans and saying ‘this is how it’s done here’ makes me viscerally angry. I think it’s important to know yourself as a company and clearly define what direction you’re going in and what’s important to you, what your culture is, if you have a growth mindset. You can determine if your resources and expectations are aligned. I think those are the things when they’re not aligned, and that’s not transparent and unclear, that’s what causes rifts. Not necessarily one generation versus another or big culture preferences versus another, people don’t feel like they’re aligned and can’t get to the bottom of that.
She used the word transparency, and I think that’s what this all takes. Just speaking from personal experience, we just built a new building. It wasn’t about building a new workspace or anything like that. We, as an entire human race, have become more educated about certain things that just make good sense, right? Like on your 10-minute breaks, you should be able to get up and walk around your building. That’s good for you, for your health. That’s not generational — we’re just all learning more, again as the human race.
Going back to the trust piece too, if you’ve got trust and you’ve been able to have enough of those conversations and keep everybody informed, people just want to know. They want to be included in those conversations and know what’s going on, and I think that’s a big piece of it. If you can sit there and say, ‘We’re not going to have a ping pong table because it’s going to impact our productivity.’ I think the team would get on board and say, ‘OK, we understand that. We want to be productive because we all have the same goal, and we all have the same vision for where we want to be and what we want to do.’
Like Lindsey said, this is about more than just the generations. It is about that diversity of all the people that we have out there. I always say let’s start with your values. What are the values that you want to have? What’s the culture that you want to cultivate? If I sit in your office, what am I going to see? Am I going to see people treating each other with respect? Am I going to see people helping each other? Really take a step back and know what is the culture we’re building? What are the values that we are really exemplifying? If I say we’re flexible, but then I say you have to be here between 8 and 7 every day, I’m not so flexible. Don’t be saying one thing, and doing another. Be clear and also be open to change.
I’ve managed a ton of people in my career, but you can’t make everyone happy, so learning to back up and decide that culture you want, so that you are building that right foundation for the right people. Not everybody is going to be a great fit.
What changes to benefits have been introduced to appeal to different generations and needs?
Our company recently became an ESOP, an employee stock ownership program. That was for our team, for our people. We want them to know that we’re investing in them and that we’re thinking about and trying to help with their retirement. That was a big piece. When we are doing some recruiting and talking to people, we get to say, ‘The money that you put into your retirement account, pay off your student debt with that, use that for that, and we’ll take care of your retirement.’ We really want people to feel secure and that we’re investing in them. That was something we did as a company.
I’m not in a management position per se as many of you in this room, but these are conversations I’ve had with companies. For boomers, some things that we saw were things like more time off as opposed to increased compensation. Then bridged medical coverage until Medicare kicks in. For Generation X, this is the first generation prepared for retirement without the possibility of Social Security. So the 401K seemed to be something that we were continually having conversations about.
One that I’ve seen more frequently is just the investment in the front end of the people to develop as leaders or to develop themselves. They’re investing in these employees to raise their own self-belief and to allow them to grow as leaders. When that happens, they stay on board. If not, and we look at studies, 65-70% of millennials will be leaving their job within the first couple years. You see that turnover and how that impacts an organization. That’s drastic. That’s thousands and thousands of dollars that an organization is having to fill.
One thing that’s pretty cool that Wells Fargo does is they give us two days off strictly just for volunteering. That’s really cool because there are a lot of us that are involved in the community and volunteer already, but the two days off really kind of gives a push for those that have never really volunteered before. We have those two extra days, and you find that all the employees as a whole are going out and doing it more so pretty cool.
What are some of the challenges of managing people older than you or younger than you?
I managed a lot of people in my life, and I started in banking as a roaming manager when I was 21 right out of college. So you can imagine I go into these rural towns, managing a lot of people that are older than me. What I learned first is to let them know that I can learn from them. Being a young person, the worst thing you can do is go in and know it all, and they roll their eyes. First, learn from them because they have been in that career for a long time. And secondly I just really believe, don’t ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do.
It’s so funny how you’re the youngest in the room, then you blink your eyes and you’re the oldest. That happened, then I was managing a bunch of young tellers, and oddly enough they were young college boys. My biggest advice here is these kids or these young adults, they want to be nurtured, coached, mentored. I just get so angry when I hear supervisors say, ‘Can I fire them? They take too much time.’ Well that’s your job. Your job is to coach and mentor them. You think you’re going to just come and do your 40 hours, and they’re going to take care of themselves and then you’re mad because they screwed up? That’s your fault. Take the time, put it in your schedule, and mentor and coach.
My advice for all of it is have a sense of humor. Don’t be too serious. I made that mistake. Laugh, have fun and build relationships.
When we look at ourselves as people, we want to be valued and we want to be respected. It doesn’t matter your generation. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are. We want to feel that I matter, and I make a difference. I don’t care if you’re young leading an older person or an older person leading a younger person. Like Lori was just saying, it’s really showing them that you value them.
When we work with companies, and we look at leadership, we’ll always talk about the three C’s of leadership. The first one is character, what type of moral character do you have? In the office, do you behave one way, then when you go home, do you behave another? We are leading all the time, and we’re usually doing it well and doing it effectively. Nowadays, if you are not an authentic leader, the younger generations will absolutely not follow you. I don’t care how productive you’ve been and how great you’ve been, if you are one way in the office and you go home and you are totally different, and you are not a person of sound moral character, you’ve lost that influence.
The second C is our commitment. With what Lori was saying, do what you say you’re going to do. We are going to be judged on our commitments. If I tell you I’m going to do something and I fail to do that, your trust in me is going to be hurt. We want to make sure that we’re not over committing, and we do what we say we’re going to do.
The third piece is the competence piece. If I don’t know the answer, don’t just talk to talk, ask the questions. Don’t try to just overcompensate. Most people when they don’t know, they overcompensate by coming top-down and dictating orders. Just ask the question.
One thing too that really sticks out for managers with the millennial generation, and I’m speaking for myself, one thing that I really appreciate is a little bit of flexibility with the work schedule. I’m in a position where I have a laptop and am salaried, and I’m all over the place. A flexible schedule is something that I do appreciate because I’m all over the place.
In past roles, I’ve had managers who even though I was in a position to be flexible, weren’t open to flexibility. They wanted me there to clock in in the morning and clock out at night, even though you’re salaried and even though you’re all over the place. I approached that situation and was given that answer that people in the past have taken advantage of it. That kind of irritates me because it’s your job as a manager to recognize what works for somebody or what doesn’t work. You should be able to tell if they’re doing their job or not. That’s just a personal opinion obviously. As managers, pay attention to your employees. You know if it’s working or not for them. If it’s not working, have the aggressive conversation with them.
When I work with organizations, one of the things that I talked about with that, for someone to work remotely, it also takes trust of ‘I’ve got to be able to trust you when you’re not in the office.’ That doesn’t happen until I know you. Part of what I say is, I get a lot of people telling me, ‘We’re going to hire these folks, but they won’t come unless we give them the ability to work remotely.’ I say tell them that if that is an option for your company to work remotely, that is somewhere we can get to eventually, but we have to know that you know what you’re doing first off; and secondly, we can trust that you’re going to do it when you’re not in the office.
Whereas I do agree that it is good if you can allow your employees to have some freedom to go do that, that’s great. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily something that should be a deal breaker, and it oftentimes is. The younger generation when they don’t get that, they go, ‘Well I’m out.’ Managers are trying to manage them, but they don’t know where they are. I don’t know what’s happening. I think there’s got to be a little give and take on that.
In our situation, we’re a lot of retail stores, so we need that set schedule for a lot of those roles because that’s when the business is open and people are coming into our stores. We talk about a better work-life balance. When you come to work, you’re going to work those set scheduled hours. Then when you go home, you go home, you spend that time with your family. You don’t need to be thinking about work; you don’t need to be worried about those things because when you’re here you’re getting the job done. I think that’s another side of that situation, and what we kind of just communicate because we can’t always offer those flexible schedules.
Just to add, I’m curious in your research if this has come up. Google did a study maybe six or seven years ago called Project Aristotle, and they took a look at what makes teams productive and successful. One of their key takeaways was psychological safety was what actually led to the most productivity. It didn’t matter what years of experience or expertise of people, but it was psychological safety that led to productive teams, and maybe that’s trust. There’s however many ways to build that and so many experts to draw on, but unless you have that trust, it seems like everything is going to break down and maybe you start blaming that on generational differences. That’s the place to start.
Google actually came back around recently and talked more about that study. One of the things they discovered in that study was that the way to build trust, they used to think was these remote teams are great because we can do that, but what they’re actually finding out now is that the remote teams actually need to have more face-to-face time That’s the way they’re going to build trust.
Psychological safety is the number one thing that we talk about with the companies that we work with and trust. A lot of people, there’s all these trust things out there. One of the biggest things is there’s a difference between what we call common trust and built trust. Those are two different things. In a common trust, I’m going to trust you to show up at 8. But we want to take it to that next level. I trust you to talk and tell you something that I wouldn’t tell anyone else. That’s where we’re getting to, that psychological safety.
The second part is feedback in that, because the way you build psychological safety is you have a very open model and you’re getting feedback consistently and ongoing. It’s a safe feedback, it’s not that I’m throwing chairs and screaming at you. I’ve seen that. It is that we’re constantly helping people and we have their back.
What I’m noticing right now, and Lindsey put that together, people thought millennials were melting down, maybe that’s why people aren’t giving feedback right now, which is shame on you. We need feedback, and it needs to be constant and ongoing. If you have someone’s back, if you want the best for their career, you can say anything. Quit holding back, know that you have their back and then tell them.
If you’re talking a culture like Nicole was saying work-life balance, do not be emailing your employees on Saturdays or Sundays or that evening. You can delay that email to go out first thing Monday morning. Because if you talk about work-life balance, and I get an email from you on a Saturday, you’re doing something different. Now you’re telling me the fact that I’m at my kid’s soccer game or on a date with my wife, I should be at the office. If you’re doing that, stop it.
What action items or programs should companies have in place to ensure they’re paying attention to different generations and their needs?
The first question I would ask is do you have a benchmark survey? Do you know what that baseline is so that you’re asking the right questions? If you just go around saying, ‘Hey do you think we’re taking good care of you?’ people are going to say no, then you’re going to get into this ugly nonproductive place. First, know where you’re at, then be asking the right questions.
I had a company in New England, and a new CEO asked each person, ‘Do you have what you need to do your job?’ It was amazing how little it took for them to increase that survey and had people be a lot happier. You would think people would be like, ‘Oh I want the moon.’ But really they were less than $250 per person. She was able to spend I think less than $3,000 and increase everyone’s happiness.
Be specific. ‘Do you have the equipment you need? Are you getting the training you need?’ Asking the really specific questions so you can actually do something about it because otherwise you’re going to get a hodgepodge of information and what are you going to do with it?
Share a personal experience that you think is really specific to the generational definition and typical stereotype.
I have a business coach who is 83 years old. He has been in my life for the past four years, and he is a tremendous friend. Something very stereotypical of a traditionalist is you don’t miss meetings. It’s just a thing. When I have a meeting with him, he expects my phone to be put away, he expects me to look him in the eyes, all the things I grew up learning, but he reinforces in me every time we’re together.
I don’t know how many of you remember a couple of years ago in January when it poured snow here in Boise. I couldn’t text him because he doesn’t have a phone that you can text. I woke up that morning and told my wife, ‘I have to go to the campus today.’ She goes, ‘Jeremy, there’s not one track out of our subdivision.’ I’m like, ‘You don’t understand. Bob’s going to be waiting at the campus.’
I kid you not, the campus was closed. There were no other tracks going into the parking lot except one. When I pulled into the parking lot, Bob was in his car, which is scary to think about, 83 years old, driving down there in the snow. When I got out of my car, the first thing he said to me was, ‘You’re late.’ He comes from the generation where if you say you’re going to be somewhere, you’re going to be there. If it takes you x amount of time to get there and it snows and takes you twice as much time, you leave twice as early. That was a teaching moment for me.
I believe it was maybe my second year of head coaching the volleyball team at Columbia. We had just elected a captain, a student athlete who had just been a tremendous non-titled leader for her first three years. We elected her captain, and we had a team meeting the next morning, and she was late to the bus. Her first day as captain, she’s late to the bus to go to this meeting. She shows up, and she’s hungover. I lost my mind. I had a great relationship with this player I’ve known her for eight years through the whole recruiting process. I’m like, ‘What is happening?’
We proceed with the team meeting, and I sit down with her afterwards and have a little heart to heart about how this can never happen again and what’s going on in your life that this is how you showed up today? Anyway, we talked about the appropriate way to apologize to the team and the steps that she had to take to go forward to repair trust and build trust. I followed up with her a little bit later that afternoon and said, ‘Have you reached out to your teammates? Did you do what we talked about?’ She said, ‘Yes, I’ve talked to everybody.’ I said, ‘That’s weird. What do you mean you talked to everybody? I know that half the team hasn’t been around you.’ She had texted. I was staring at her, and it took me a while to realize that in her mind talking and texting are the same thing, and it wasn’t her being smart with me. Talking and texting was the same exact thing. It was a matter of apologizing, like trying to regain trust. This was not a trivial matter. That was my moment of oh my gosh, I don’t understand something. That’s when I felt very old and very separate.
Just a personal experience that I had. Side note, PTO means paid time off. I take all of my PTO. My husband and I, we really like to travel. We just had our five-year anniversary and hit our 25th country on our five-year anniversary. So we travel hard. But I got an email from a manager that said, ‘Hey I emailed you and I need a response, and why aren’t you emailing me back?’ And I said, ‘I’m on PTO, I’m off. I’m clocking out.’
I think that’s one thing to kind of keep in mind. It kind of comes down to the person too. There are people who like to work no matter what. If that’s cool, that’s cool. One thing to keep in mind is paid time off means paid time off. If you have people that are off, respect that. I stood up, I said, ‘I was off, and if I’m off, I’m not going to be responding. That’s for my husband, that’s our time off.’
How do you position yourself as a company or employer or organization to attract this younger generation and then retain them?
My main point is again, be transparent, be honest. In the recruitment, don’t say you’re one thing and then they get there and it’s totally different. I see that with a lot of companies we work with, and they’re the ones that are losing people. Really know, be honest, know where you’re going. Know how people can advance in their careers. Don’t be the manager that holds onto them and not give them the advancement. You want them to advance even if they leave you. I see a lot of times if someone is managing entry level positions. They don’t want them to leave because they turnover more. Well, you signed up for that, and your job is to help these people advance, so own that. Be proud of how many people you promote up or promote out. Do you have a good training program?
Again I am much older than most of these people here; we had really good training programs back in the day. I think we’re missing them, and then we wonder why people don’t know what the rules are.
To Lori’s point, the ability to grow is huge. I think something to keep an open mind to with the millennial generation is the fact that what we have been through. What I mean by that is when we were younger, we saw 9/11, we saw the financial crisis. We saw our parents get laid off, we saw families go through hard times.
During the financial crisis, I actually lived in Arizona going to school and also worked for Washington Mutual when they went under. Not only was I seeing the changes going on in Phoenix, in a huge city, but also through the company going out of business and everything. For us, we saw our parents that had been loyal to a company for years just be thrown by the wayside. We’re almost like these independent agents now.
I hear a lot, ‘I don’t want to hire younger generations. I know I have to, but they’re just going to leave as soon as I hire them on.’ What does your growth opportunity for them look like? Growth opportunity is one thing, but then also security. As soon as I don’t feel secure, I’m going to be gone. You want to make sure that your employees feel secure where they’re at and that you want them there and to grow at your company. Ultimately, at least for me, I want to be with a company that I can stick with and I can grow with, but can you offer that?
Companies a lot of times will praise that they have an amazing culture, but yet they pay poorly. If you don’t have a competitive wage, you will not get anyone in the door. A competitive wage will get someone in the door, but it won’t keep them. You don’t have to pay them a ton more. With what Jeremy was sharing, money is not going to keep younger generations there. It’s the cultural piece, it’s the onboarding. If you hire correctly, but you don’t onboard them correctly, you just missed out. Once we get to the competitive wage, then it’s that safety piece that we were just mentioning. They have to feel safe, they have to feel respected.
I would just add to that, the number one reason that anyone leaves an organization is management leadership. The number two reason that younger people leave organizations is no career trajectory. They don’t know what’s next, they don’t know where it is.
I sat with a CEO in our community here, who said to me, ‘I just can’t do it. I can’t look at another resume where they’ve had 14 jobs in six years.’ I said, ‘Do you know why they leave? Because they’re not going to spend 40 years of their life in an organization where they don’t feel like they can grow, where they don’t feel challenged.’ He said, ‘Well I just throw them in the trash.’ I said, ‘Well you’ve probably missed some really great employees, because they need an opportunity to be challenged.’
I work with a company locally where they brought in a millennial that had been with the organization since he was in high school, and he had worked his way up. I sat with him at lunch and asked, ‘Why did you stay with this organization?’ I was here because they were not retaining the younger generation. He said, ‘I have had 14 different jobs with this company. I’ve moved all the way around the United States. They’ve allowed me the freedom to do that, and now I’ve found the place where I feel very connected and comfortable with this company.’ The company allowed him to have that.
There was a time when trajectory growth looked like this: You would move up to the next position. When so and so would retire, so and so would move up to the next position. It doesn’t necessarily need to be this. It just needs to be movement so that they can grow and learn. It’s a different mindset when you have the younger generation of how they look at lateral moves in the workplace as an opportunity to learn a new skill. I just try to challenge leaders to say, ‘What are some lateral moves that you could make with those employees so that they could not only learn a new skill, but maybe they’ll find that’s the sweet spot that they want to actually plug into?’ Maybe you hired them for this, but now they’ve transitioned over here, and they see this as a place they can grow.
I would just say that everybody really wants to be good at their job. They want to be a professional at what they’re doing. I think all of these things that they’ve kind of all alluded to, it’s not necessarily generational, and maybe it is. But, people want to be good at what they do. If you train them the right way, if you onboard them, if you take time to show them how to invest in their own future by giving them the platform for their 401k and all of those things, people just want to be good at what they’re doing. I think again, this is just my own opinion, I really want to be good at what I’m doing, so if a company is showing me those things and being a part of it and showing that they’re investing in me and wanting me to succeed, that just makes me feel more and more like I want to be a part of that team.
What are the biggest generational challenges for organizations today?
One organization that we work with locally … had a large number of their leadership that was all getting ready to retire. We have 10,000 people a day turn 65 in the United States, which we know isn’t retirement for a lot of people, but they’re starting to think about it. When this organization brought me in, we started talking, and he was starting to think about, ‘Who is my replacement going to be in this organization? What kind of succession line do we have?’ But what he was more concerned about was the industry knowledge, exactly what you were talking about, because the entire C suite of this organization had been with the company for 20 and 40 years. There was a lot of industry knowledge in that room that was getting ready to retire.
What we did was an all-hands-on-deck meeting with the whole department. We just asked the question, ‘How do we ensure that the industry knowledge that these folks have as they leave, stays with the company?’ A few folks from there said, ‘Well what if we just started capturing that data?’ They developed these little three-to-five minute clips on the intraweb of their organization. They did it over a two-year period, and a couple of the younger generation, they owned it, they loved it. It was the greatest thing they ever got to be a part of.
In the process, two things happened: 1. They created this amazing resource for the company and 2. They all learned a lot because they sat with all of these folks who had this knowledge and it was transferred. Not only was it transferred in the initial conversations as they reported it, but then they went and back and edited it. That was one way we saw that industry knowledge stay with the company.
I can be on a soap box and never get off this one. I think one of the biggest issues is we’ve decided people can’t make mistakes, and that’s the reason we’ve lost this information. All of a sudden we’re micromanaging because Lord is going to strike us down if we make a mistake. We’re not letting people take control of budgets, we’re not allowing people to make mistakes, our managers are exhausted. We’re not creating succession plans, and we’re not allowing people to think on their feet or get those critical thinking skills.
Parents, supervisors, back off. Let people fail. Let them skin their knees. It’s going to be hard, but if I could change one thing in every company I work with, it would be that. That’s why our managers are so worn out, and everyone is switching jobs 14 times because they’re not allowing them to step up, and they’re not going to be perfect. You weren’t, why would they be? Have grace, and let them fail.
When people come to you with problems, just immediately ask them what their plan is. ‘What’s your plan? I’ll coach you on that plan.’ That’s being a mentor; that’s how you capture that institution of knowledge. In the companies that I’ve worked for, that has been the transition, is it’s that mentorship where the older generation has literally been there to raise up the younger generation.
What’s happened is the older generation has now been rejuvenated. They’re excited because there’s value there now. Like I said earlier, we want to be respected, we want to be valued. Older generations will sometimes hold on to that, ‘I don’t want to share what I know because if I share what I know, now I’m not valuable anymore.’ Whereas no if we flip it, we want you to mentor, we want you to teach and lead these individuals. Now it’s like, ‘Oh, now I have value again.’ It’s a really cool thing that will happen.
I actually have a company that is in this situation. About 60% of their workforce is over the age of 55. They’ve developed mentorship programs within their company to kind of pair some people up and spread this knowledge. For them, one of the things that’s at the top of their mind was, ‘How are we going to take care of those that are leaving?’ I thought that was super cool because they were very invested in those people that had put time into the company. I thought that was very cool because they invested in even the employees that were leaving.
There needs to be a conversation and communication and that can overcome whatever generational gaps or other issues we’re having. Having that conversation and interaction and just being vulnerable and accepting that it’s OK to not know, and we don’t know the plight of another person or another generation and their experiences. Instead of using that as a defense, to use it as an opportunity to engage seems like kind of a theme in a lot of what we’re saying here.