Generational Diversity – Whose Problem To Manage?

Way too many books and blog posts on this topic, and yet I am compelled to add another.

I have a very vivid memory from 1986. I was trying to convince the HR Manager at the facility I was working in that it was time to try this team idea that I had been working on. People were ready, I told him, but I needed him to let go of a couple of work rules. He was furious that I was challenging his experience. His decision was no, it wasn’t time. He said to me “I hope you remember this day when you have been working for thirty years and some newcomer wants you to let go of what you have learned to try his new-fangled idea.” I do remember it. And I have learned to say “yes”.

My position is simple. Leadership has the accountability to assure fair management practices for all, creating an inclusive environment, and managing people according to their performance and their ability to meet the needs of the organization. If I’m a Boomer and the office is full of Gen Y-ers,  then I commit to respecting them and their contributions as I expect them to do for me. Many of them will bring new ideas that I can learn from, and hopefully some of what I have learned is still valuable enough that they want to know it. We’ll share knowledge, experiences, and a common goal to improve the results of our business. And the truth is, they will have to live with the outcomes longer than I will.

Generational diversity is no different from any other kind. We are each different in our way. We can use those differences to explore problem solving options and develop new innovations by listening to differing viewpoints, or we can guard our turf to make sure it doesn’t get invaded with some other way of doing things. We all know that in some cases this can lead to legal issues, and in most cases it is just plain ignorant.

Treat each employee as though they have a valuable contribution to make. Make sure they all understand that while you value them, you value even more the potential of what their energy/thought/contributions can mean when effectively connected to others in the organization. Generational issues are not special cases. Hold me accountable for the respect of my co-workers – both for giving and getting respect.

From a recent trip to Florida's Gulf Coast

Like the two couples in this picture, we don’t have to do everything the same way to achieve the desired outcome. I am sure they are at the beach for very similar reasons, and yet their approaches reflect their age. It works.

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