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Issue: 08-11 Date: March, 2009

Quote of the month:
"They always say time changes things,
but you actually have to change them yourself." 
- Andy Warhol

Business as Usual - NOT!

I recently had the opportunity to facilitate a leadership breakfast for the staff of Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  Their team is made up of highly motivated, committed, hard working young people who take their jobs seriously and the mission of the Society to heart. During our discussion, I suggested that they would learn a great deal by continually asking questions and by developing deep curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

I stopped when one participant jumped in and said, "Please tell that to our boss.  I'm always asking her 'why' and she says she's getting tired of having me constantly question her."  

The team agreed with her confirming that although their boss was caring and compassionate, she didn't seem to have time for what she considered to be frivolous discussions about why things were done they way they were.  She clearly set out her expectations and just wanted them to go out and do their jobs.

Delving deeper into their questions, I soon found that the difference between this terrific team and their supervisor was generational.  The successful baby boomer manager was trying to impose her own learning and teaching style on to her generation X and Y staff members. 

Half of all workers today are less than 40 years old.  They don't respond to traditional hierarchies and are more likely to consider themselves free agents than to climb the corporate ladder.  They know that if institutions like the Soviet Union can fall, companies like yours can, too. 

Generations X-born between 1964 and 1980-and Y-born after 1980--are different from their boomer parents and veteran-aged grandparents.  But for the first time in history, we have these four generations together in the workplace.

These young Turks want to work but they don't want work to be their lives. They're smart, brash and more likely to wear flip flops than patent pumps.  They're plugged into their iPods at their desks and really are listening even while texting and Twittering.

The seventy million Gen X workers are programmed, pampered and nurtured.  They are at the same time high achievers and high maintenance.  They've grown up questioning their parents, their teachers and authority.  They don't respond to traditional command and control management styles. 

Unlike their parents, Gen Xers and Gen Yers speak their minds and expect to change jobs numerous times during their careers.  Seventy percent of older workers are dismissive of the abilities of their younger teammates, even as the next generation proves their value every day.

Gen Y workers are like Gen Xers on steroids.  They value time off, flexible schedules and casual dress.  They're materialistic and well informed.   They've got financial smarts and they value work-life balance.

So how do you deal with new realities in the workplace today?

    •    As managers, you'll have to adapt.  Don't expect that the kids you raised to be independent and challenging to suddenly flip flop in order to fit into your mold. 
    •    Harness their energy, their imagination and their creativity.  Abandon your "we've always done it that way" mentality.
    •    Answer their questions.  Their questions may actually present new answers to old problems.  Learn to start asking more yourself.
    •    Get on Facebook and Twitter. Find out how your younger associates value community and how they connect with their friends.
         See how Mrs. Gs Appliances in Princeton New Jersey is using facebook to market to Generations X and Y. 
    •    Loosen up.  Will your business really be hurt if a couple of your folks come in at 9:30 instead of 9?  Wouldn't it be good to have someone willing to stay a little later to help customers who straggle in near closing time?
    •    Encourage collaboration.  New workers love teamwork.  They were raised to share and to work effectively in groups. 
    •    Coach instead of managing.  Coaching requires continual feedback and more than an occasional pat on the back. 
    •    Treat them like your peers.  Young staff members know their weaknesses; they don't need you to constantly remind them of their inexperience.  
    •    Be patient.  Don't expect newly-minted college grads to know all that you do.  They'll catch on quickly, though.
    •    Give them their technology.  Let X and Y team members help automate your processes and streamline your business.  You'll be glad you did.

Managing multi-generational companies is challenging.  At the same time, though, these younger workers can help you attract their peers as customers and learn how to relate to them when they do come in to buy from you.

Generations X and Y are a mighty force and they're not going mainstream anytime soon.  They're a tidal wave you can't turn back so instead, get in the water and enjoy the ride.  They'll make you act and feel younger.  Who knows, the time you spend with them might even make you live longer. 

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