By Rachael McCann – April 2023
Recently, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in the demographic makeup of the neighborhood I’ve lived in for the past 22 years.
When I moved in, I had very young children and needed more space, security, and options for them (and me) to make friends and connect with the community. So, my husband and I invested money and sweat into our new home and neighborhood. We loved making it suit our needs and improving the “good bones” the previous owners had set in place. We made life-long friends and some precious memories—as did our kids—and now, all of us who raised our kids together are rattling around in empty nests and planning happy hours instead of play dates.
However, some folks also moved away, leaving behind aging homes that needed a lot of work. Due to this, the past three to five years have ushered in a new contingent of young families—and guess what they are doing? They are investing in their new homes and improving on the “good bones” the previous owners set in place, and it is refreshing to see! Not only do we have a new posse of kids riding their bikes, pitching tents in the front yards, and giggling with delight as they convene for birthday party bounce houses, but we also have a conscientious bunch of parents who are investing in our community and making it better for all of us. I appreciate their new perspectives, creative flair for reimagining their homes (and the inherent positive impact on property values), and the vibrancy they lend to block parties and community boards. Plus, they have given “legacy” homeowners like us some new ideas.
Our neighborhood has become a rich tapestry of four-generation homeowners, and it is working!
I often hear from clients about the stresses (some real, some anticipated) they face while integrating a workforce whose members have an age range spanning 35+ years. It no doubt poses challenges for leaders on many fronts. Gen Zers potentially have very different values and motivations than Gen Xers or even Baby Boomers. For example, where does work schedule flexibility (e.g., working remotely) vs. valuing the group dynamic (e.g., in-person brainstorming) factor into job satisfaction? Expectations and the definition of fulfilling, meaningful work can look quite different—making creating and sustaining a consistent culture a continuous work in progress. Even within the same generation, what people value in the workplace is influenced by life experience. Knowing how to rank things like feedback and coaching, compensation, purpose, and workspace flexibility can mystify even the most seasoned leaders.
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with a client about culture, and he shared with me his frustration with some of the more mature managers in his organization as they bemoaned about working with and leading Millennials. They complained that the younger folks “hid behind their email” rather than having face-to-face conversations, did not respect processes rooted in precedent, and tended to jump from post to post with little regard for loyalty to the organization. This leader had to walk the fine line of empathizing with those legacy employees’ perspectives while capturing the younger generations’ innovative vision and inspiring them in ways quite different.
“The bottom line,” he said, “is Millennials are fast becoming our customers, so if we don’t learn how to communicate with them and truly understand what motivates them, we will miss a huge opportunity.”
Enter Generation Z, and now you have a workforce that spans four generations. It is a complex challenge indeed, but with challenge, also comes opportunity. From diversity springs innovation, creativity, and robust solutions.
So, how can leaders capitalize on the tribal knowledge that is so valuable while also creating an environment that welcomes new ideas? Learning to embrace all that each age group has to offer stimulates a thriving culture of inclusion and out-of-the-box thinking.
At Stop At Nothing, we talk a lot about the inherent value of healthy collaboration. Looking for opportunities to pair seasoned veterans with enthusiastic newcomers—whether via a mentoring (or reverse-mentoring) program or by being intentional in how work groups are matrixed—allows the opportunity for wisdom-sharing and creates a safe space to express ideas that may have a significant positive impact on company, productivity, and efficiency.
According to organizations like SHRM and AARP, and based on the 20 years of research outlined in Connecting Generations: The Sourcebook for a New Workplace by Claire Raines, a multi-generational workforce exhibits several key characteristics:
- They are more flexible.
- They make better decisions because they have received broad-based input from multiple generational perspectives.
- They can gain and maintain more market share because they reflect the multi-generational market.
- They demonstrate increased innovation and creativity.
By learning to understand our differences in communication style, values, view of social issues, and consumer habits internally, we can better understand our customers and clients, who often reflect our internal demographic makeup.
There are a few basic ground rules that apply to managing a generationally diverse team:
- Reject harmful stereotypes (terms such as “snowflake” and “dinosaur” are equally marginalizing).
- Learn to respect different communication styles (some may view texting as infinitely more efficient than seeking a one-to-one meeting).
- Be equitable (proven track records are invaluable, as are innovative new ideas), and view people as individuals rather than boxing them into a specific generational group.
At Stop At Nothing, the Team Effectiveness Session is one of the tools we offer that help uncover barriers to effective collaboration. In this process, by examining our current reality vision, we can discover our own unconscious biases and learn to see things through a broader lens, allowing us to move forward better aligned. We can then entertain and execute new ideas and breathe new life into things to reach a new generation of customers.
Start by asking yourself, “Who in my organization thinks differently than me? What questions can I ask them that might help me better understand their thought process?”
When we tap into the robust offerings of a diverse workforce, we inherently harness the opportunities in the markets we serve. So, while your organization may have “good bones,” building on that solid foundation can propel your team into the untapped potential of the future and elevate your bottom line.