Management in today’s organisational environment is no easy endeavor. The number of new elements that need to be negotiated and integrated in order to develop an effective management style are numerous as they are unchartered. The environment in which we work has shifted dramatically in the past 10 years. Business ‘how-to’ books are barely keeping pace as fresh challenges surface and new thinking emerges around how to survive and thrive as a manager.
Because of my business focus within TomorrowToday, I often encounter baby-boomer managers struggling to adapt to and accept the increasingly larger number of Generation X (and smattering of Generation Y) found within the workforce. Mostly it’s the vast difference in world view and value system that’s causing the angst. Boomers have done a fantastic job managing boomers. They’ve created systems, processes, management styles, reward philosophies, motivation programmes, etc that have resulted in tremendous growth and increased efficiency. As this younger group have entered the work force, they’re simply not responding and engaging in ways that Boomers have become accustomed to.
A large part of my work is assisting both of these groups (Boomers and Gen X) to appreciate their own and each other’s world views, as together we navigate this New World of Work. It’s key for all parties NOT to adopt a ‘wrong/right’ filter in this debate. Attempting to place a wrong/right label on either group just escalates the tension and ultimately never finds a resolution. I’ve found it far more helpful to frame this engagement as a ‘war of two wisdoms’. Baby-Boomer wisdom has got us here, and Gen X wisdom will take us forward. Because the ‘gap’ between these two generations is, at times fairly large, it’s critical that these two wisdoms are intentionally integrated into each other in order to avoid simply letting ‘nature’ take its course, as we wait for the younger lions to force the older lions out of the pride. This scenario, in my mind, will leave much destruction and wasted time and energy in its wake.
So, with a ‘multiple-wisdom’ filter, here are three tips for older managers to effectively manage their younger colleagues:
• Often, Gen X and Y’s confidence far outstrips their emotional and cognitive ability. They can appear extremely capable, talk up a good game, but then struggle to deliver the goods. Keep in mind that they’re a ‘Just do it’ and ‘I can’ generation. Their parents and their peers have driven an ‘anything is possible’ mindset into them. Your options are to ‘bring them down to size’ or to guide them to achieving things you were never able to at their age. The former is fairly simple. Their enthusiasm makes them easy picking if you’d like to set them up for a fall, but ultimately what you want to do is to use that ‘I can’ confidence to achieve things nobody thought was possible. Don’t be intimidated by their confidence. Embrace it, appreciate it, and then assist them by channeling them towards successful delivery.
• As a Baby-Boomer manager, you’ve got to learn ‘Write 2.0’. Of course Boomers can write. And they write beautifully. But that means nothing if what you’re writing isn’t being read. Your younger work force has grown up in a world of e-mail, sms, MixIt, FaceBook, and the like. One element these have in common is the ‘short-burst’ nature of all correspondence on these platforms. Today’s younger set are writing and reading shorter and punchier packages of information. When they’re confronted with a ‘book’ from their manager, sent via e-mail, it’s a significant challenge to read. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that they don’t anymore. Older managers are going to have to embrace their style of writing. Short, to the point, punchy and as close to 140 characters as you can get. Of course it’s a worry, but I dare you to reverse the tide : )
• Your older Xers (closer to 40) haven’t embraced team-work like you wished they would. However, those closer to 20 are more likely to embrace working in a team. For two reasons:
• They need the assistance of those around them to achieve the goals they believe they can
• They’re social networkers. They’re comfortable sharing information, asking for information, and communicating in, with and to groups of people. Keep this in mind though; their version of team may look very different to yours.
Boomers often picture team in a very physical manner. Your youngest employees are going to see working together through a digital filter. So, you can either stick to your guns and insist team is only team when it’s done your way, or you can expand your own notions of team and learn how they do team, and adapt it to meet your team’s needs and style.
The generational differences playing themselves out in the workforce are significant at times, but certainly not insurmountable. It will take hard work, and a fair amount of bending, compromising and respecting from both sides. The solution is not going to include anyone digging their heals in and refusing to budge. Baby Boomer wisdom has much we can take forward, but there is also much that much be stripped away in order to attach it to the wisdom of Gen X. It is, after-all, going to be their wisdom that takes us into the future.