Guest Post by Wayne Crawford, VP of Sales at a2z
I have the unique privilege of managing a group of individuals (and I place a lot of emphasis on the word “individuals”) who range in age from 20 to 60 (with all five decades represented). We’ve got “Boomers”, “X-ers” and “Millennials”. Sound like a train wreck? Sometimes.
As an experienced manager, I’d always assumed that a “one-size-fits-all” approach would work, with some customized one-on-one for those that fell outside what I deemed the norm. I’m a Boomer, and, I have to admit, more and more, I was having trouble relating to the behavior and mindset of my much-younger team members.
But I recently had what most refer to as an “A-Ha” moment. One day, three of my team members (one X-er; two Millennials) and I were debating a concept I was trying to sell them on (the subject is irrelevant here) when they expressed to me their disagreement with the entire premise. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would question something so “self-evident”. I took a few minutes to actually listen to what my team members were saying and tried to take into account their background, experience and mindsets. While I did not necessarily agree with them, I began to understand why they had differing perspectives on the matter.
Thus began the long journey for me toward better management of multiple generations. After attending a workshop on multi-generational divide at the workplace, I began to modify my strategy. I wondered: How could these generations be so different? After all, 40 years or so is nothing in the overall scheme of history.
After some research, I changed my tune: How could all of these different generations possibly have the same mindset? Neuroscience suggests that we are all born with about 100 billion neurons in our brains. But, from an early age, things we repeatedly do and are exposed to begin to “hard-wire” our brains to make certain tasks, functions and skills easier to recall and repeat. Take technology and communication: When I think back on what our world was like during certain periods of my life, and compare it to Millennials for example, I realize our brains could not possibly be “wired” the same way.
If you are an “older” manager like me, complaining about the younger generations won’t help. The characteristics that define Millennials (and whatever generations come next) aren’t going to go away. In fact, the changes will likely accelerate. These traits aren’t wrong, they are simply different. I am beginning to realize if I don’t take this into account I won’t be able to connect and effectively manage. (I’ve also learned a lot about this from my kids.)
A few of my takeaways thus far:
Everyone Brings Something to the Table
Every generation has unique traits that can be harnessed, nurtured and added to the mix of a team. Boomers may have experience and communication skills honed over decades in the workplace. Millennials may be better with technology and social media. The key is to be able to effectively address and take advantage of the differences in values and expectations of each generation.
Realize Communication Styles Are Different
Millennials crave texting and social media. X-ers prefer email. Boomers still like to just pick up the phone. Try to accommodate personal communication styles in the workplace. However, common sense needs to prevail. For example, that RFP due for a major prospect is probably not going to be delivered through social media channels. But, you can certainly make it a more interesting presentation by using a less formal and interactive format.
Accommodate Employee’s Personal Needs
Different generations of employees are in different stages of life and require some flexibility to manage the responsibilities and curves that life inevitably throws at us. The trick is to maintain parity so other team members don’t feel alienated. Make sure everyone knows that a certain level of commitment is expected, but that you are flexible.
Provide Positive Feedback
Every generation loves this! Enough said.
Everyone Has Their Own Version of Success
Part of my “A-Ha” moment was coming to the realization that my version of success looks very different than that of many of my team members. The concept of the corner office, company car, one-income family with 2.3 kids doesn’t really exist anymore. Success has become more diverse and more personal. Try to understand what that success looks like to each of your team members and you can begin to understand what motivates them.
Assemble a Team That Possesses a Healthy Balance
A team where everyone is the same is ineffective, and BORING! I wouldn’t trade my team for any other. It is a unique group of individuals, and everyone on the team can learn something from everyone else. We all have strengths and flaws, but collectively we can be a powerful force.
Try to Facilitate Focus
In the end, the team exists to do a job, and no one is above that premise. Provide a vision. Provide leadership. Every team needs a leader.
I am at the beginning of my journey. Good luck on yours. I’d love to hear about it.