Today's Reading


If you've never paid much attention to generational differences, here are seven organizational realities you need to be aware of. I'll divide them into internal and external impacts.

1. Conflicts around generational sticking points. How do you get five generations of employees to play nice together in the sandbox? In the past eight years, most organizations have recognized that younger employees don't see things the same way their elders do and
that it's impossible to create policies that don't annoy someone. How do you get through the differences and get back to work? Generational friction is inevitable; generational problems are avoidable—that is, if you and your team have a working knowledge of why the generations are different and of how to lead them rather than simply manage them.

2. Managing and motivating different generations. Whether it's older supervisors trying to motivate younger employees or Millennial supervisors trying to direct people their parents' age (or to figure out how unlike them Gen Z really is), generational differences complicate things. Not to mention that many Millennial managers tell me their greatest frustration is managing other Millennials.

3. Replacing the Baby Boomers in the war for talent. Who will you hire following the coming exodus of Baby Boomers? Even in economic downturns, organizations compete for the best employees, what's commonly called the "war for talent." Most Traditionalists have already left the workplace. Over the next decade, many of the Baby Boomers will follow—and the ones who return will do so on their own terms. Who will replace them in your organization, and how will you adjust to the younger generation's different approach to work? How will you transfer the Boomers' experience, job knowledge, and customer relationships? Further complicating the shift, lower birthrates in the industrialized world and longer life spans could create a labor shortage over the next two decades.

4. Succession planning. Do you trust Generation X to run the place? The president of one of the United States' thirty largest banks confided to me, "Anywhere we have a Boomer in the succession plan for the top spots, we're pretty confident. But if it's a Gen Xer, we don't know. We just aren't sure they get the business." It's a common sentiment. Organizations made their peace with Gen Xers nearly twenty years ago, after a decade of fretting and calling them "slackers." But handing over the keys to the company causes differences in work ethic and loyalty to resurface. I spoke to a medical conference recently about succession planning in doctors' practices. The Boomer doctors I talked to think the Xers in their practice are more committed to making money and work-life balance than to advancing medicine, and they hope to sell their practices to Millennials, whom they see as more idealistic and committed to the advancement of medicine. In the late 1990s and again in the mid-2000s, succession planning was a hot topic as organizations began to do the math on Boomer retirements. But it faded with the global downturn of 2002 and then the great recession in 2008. You can't put it off any longer. If your organization is typical, well over half your leaders will retire in the next decade. Ready or not, you must have a succession plan.

5. Leadership development. Where will you get your leaders? Generation X is a much smaller generation, and Xers do not tend to stay in one company throughout their careers. As we'll see, the leadership development processes that served the Boomers are not working for the next generation.

6. Shifting markets. What do the different generations want? You thought your website was great, so why isn't it working? We all know generations buy differently. That's the basis of generational market research. If your organization must market to multiple generations, you need to understand what appeals to each generation and learn to speak their language.

7. Selling to five generations of customers. Most people relate well to two of the generations but not five. Will your salespeople miss half your customers? How will you prepare your employees to satisfy five generations of customers?


This generational math adds up to the people issue of the decade for your business—or hospital or government agency or political campaign or military unit or church or school or nonprofit or foundation or symphony or association or family.

In many ways, the impact on nonprofit organizations will be more intense sooner. Successful businesses can buy a little time with higher pay. Most nonprofits don't have that luxury. They need to know about sticking points now. Here are some organization-specific generational challenges that will need to be dealt with in the immediate future:

* Hospitals and medicine. Gen Xers and Millennials did not have Sputnik and the space race to drive national passion in science. While Gen Z is more focused on science-related fields, the average age of nurses in many places is increasing as medicine struggles to attract and retain Gen X and Millennial nurses. Hospitals have been talking about physician shortages for over a decade. (Think of the implications as the Baby Boomers hit their high-medical-need years.) Whereas businesses like Hard Rock Cafe can pick a demographical target, hospitals must serve all five generations. Without generational understanding, a highly skilled Millennial nurse can bring down customer satisfaction scores with a Traditionalist patient just by being more informal in language and approach. What to a Millennial or Gen Z is friendly can seem disrespectful to a Traditionalist.

This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Develop: 7 Practical Tools to Take Charge of Your Career by Ted Fleming.

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