Bridging Generational Differences to Achieve Success and Growth

Gen Y

The old baseball great, Satchel Paige, provided sage advice when he cautioned, “It ain’t the things you know that’ll hurt you, it’s the things you think you know that just ain’t so.” To investigate the reality of the potential of the often misunderstood Millennials (Gen Yers) as our new generation of potential leaders, colleague Mark Holmes, a Missouri-based consultant, and I conducted multi-faceted, qualitative and quantitative research with more than 525 college-educated, career-oriented Millennials, born between 1978 and 200 (specific years which the U.S. Census Bureau identified as Millennials or Generation Y). The findings provided some eye opening insights worth sharing.

Our research found Gen Y is compelled to learn, driven to make a difference and eager to contribute to meaningful and thoughtful innovation. They are mostly optimistic—even creative in their entrepreneurial approaches. They leverage technology in ways to spur new economic growth and they expect, even embrace, responsibility and seek opportunities to work collaboratively with their peers and superiors. They value candor and transparency and to trust them is a must. More than any generation before them, they are perfectly poised for a “pay for performance” structure.

The implications found are great for any company large or small. But how current leaders respond to, or fail to respond to these findings will tremendously influence not only potential skyrocketing turn-over costs, but how competitive and sustainable they will be for the future. Unfortunately, there is much misunderstanding between generations that must be bridged. Yet if leaders can bridge that understanding the results can be powerful. To this effort I coined a term I call, “GenBlending,” the blending of generational knowledge. Walt Disney said that when you blend the old with the new you get new again. So can it be with “GenBlending” if leaders are willing.

Here are a few of our fundamental findings to help bridge understanding and begin to determine how to blend this new generation of leaders into the organization:

1. Continual sudden market changes and chaotic, unpredictable environments will become more the norm. There is a perception among many Baby Boomer leaders that Gen Y is impatient, want it all today and are unwilling to earn their promotions the good old fashioned way—with time. However, in our conversations with Gen Y individuals who have already embarked in the workforce, there is a great misunderstanding about their quest for involvement and drive.

This generation is all about learning and growing. They look at opportunities unlike generations before them, thus promotions for them may be as much lateral as upward, as long as it provides continual learning. They view their college degree merely as their minimum acceptance to opportunity. They believe they bring their own set of knowledge, skills and ideas and very much value the elders who are willing to blend that knowledge with a shared, future growth-minded mode. This is a generation that excels in quick adaptability, armed with the ability to research thoroughly for new innovative possibilities. They are nimble and highly equipped technologically to connect in short periods of time. Who better than this generation to contribute to innovation?

2. Performance will impact areas of learning, pay and play. Despite the fact that statistics prove 10 percent of performance comes through formal training and 70 percent from performance/involvement, within the traditional corporate business philosophy, there has been a reluctance to involve young people in the decision-making aspects of business. This creates a huge disconnect with this generation. Being motivated to make a difference and achieve results, they become quickly disenchanted when seasoned leaders fail to respect the ideas and concepts they bring forth in a sincere effort to seek improvements or innovation. They express a frequent feeling of being told to “stay in your box,” limiting their ability to contribute their full talents or be exposed to new growth.  It takes an open mind and willingness to believe that experience alone is not the only predictor or guarantee of success.

3. Much like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, the meaning of time has its variables as well. Lest anyone believes this generation has no respect for time, think again. They actually value time immeasurably, just not in the same dimension as most of their elders. This quote provides a hint of why: “We have a good strong work ethic, but our ethic is centered on work-life balance. We still want results, but not at the expense of life, family and health.” Having grown up to see their generation of parents fall prey to downsizing, layoffs and dismissals has impacted them. “We’re willing to pay our dues, but not the dues older generations paid—like broken families, parents who were workaholics, suffered bad health, etc. Either we experienced seeing this or our friends did. We’ll pay our dues differently.”

4. Presuming that technology drives this generation’s dominant way to communicate is just not so. In order to perform at high levels and feel good about their work, this generation wants and needs interactive, meaningful dialogue. And, because they are so collaborative and team oriented in nature, less layered dialogue is also more valued. Leaders who are seen as mentors and coaches help Gen Y individuals to feel like someone above them is sincerely and personally concerned about their success. This requires personal interaction.

5. Trust stands out as one of the highest issues of importance. Nearly unanimously, this generation not merely wants, but demands trust. Issue of trust influence almost every element of their personal and professional life. Mostly they want to know they can trust the leader for whom they work and they want to know they themselves are trusted. Contrary to some beliefs, they actually like structure; what they dislike is those who profess it, yet fail to follow it themselves.

So why should any business leader be concerned about taking time to understand this generation? The United States Department of Labor long ago predicted that by 2012 there would be a 33 percent shortfall of people qualified for management roles; roles from which future leadership is generally selected and groomed. Although economic conditions delayed that prediction, the reality is that the Boomer generation continues to age and a new generation of leaders must be integrated into the workplace to ensure future growth and profitability.

Genuinely embracing the potential of this bright, talented and energetic young generation offers great potential for organizations forward-thinking enough to recognize their leadership potential and willing to bridge the gap. The cost is minimal if the mind is willing to entertain small refinements and sincere mind-shifts for the reality is—Gen Yers ARE our future leaders.


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