Anne Miller — Words Matter Make What You Say Pay!
ANNE MILLER
Presentation & Sales Specialist
Author | Speaker | Coach
Words Matter – Make What You Say Pay!

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Metaphor Minute: Crossing the Generation Gap

The METAPHOR MINUTE Newsletter by Anne Miller
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September 18, 2014

Crossing the Generation Gap
 

“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke, 1967
 
Are you a Boomer, Millennial, Gen-Xer? Ever have conflict with the other groups? You are not alone. Enter Suzanne Kaplan, multi-generation consultant, trainer, and speaker, who has a clever (metaphorical) way to bridge the communication gap among these groups.

A Few Facts First
The sheer numbers of the Baby Boomer Generation (currently ages about 50-68 and previously the largest generation in history) have enabled them to pretty much shape organizations as they exist today, which is not necessarily the way Millennials, the youngest largest and best educated generation ever, want the workplace to operate. Added to these two demographic groups with their differing life and work attitudes are two other dissimilar cohorts – the Traditionalists (the oldest and still about 5% of the workforce) and Gen X, those aged 34-49 and the smallest generation. It is no wonder that companies are experiencing generational conflict, tensions at work, and people talking past each other --- all of which threaten an organization’s ability to stay competitive and succeed.

Describing the Problem
Says Suzanne, “The first step to this transformation is finding common communication ground so that everyone understands why people from other generations see the same issue so differently.”

“When speaking to CEOs or giving presentations on the
multigenerational workforce, I frequently present a visual metaphor of organizations being like Highways—with 4, going on 5, generations traveling at the same time on that highway—each with the best intentions but with different behaviors, communication styles, motivators, etc. I title one presentation “Generation Jam, Fast lane…No Road Rage” meaning we want all the generations to travel respectively and innovatively without any one going into road rage through miscommunications or misunderstanding.

Suzanne’s four slides describe the four generations noting their birth years, current percentage of workforce, historical events that influenced them, communications and leadership styles, and other varying characteristics.

  • Traditionalists—yellow traffic light since they follow the rules and stop even before the light turns red

  • Baby Boomers—cattle in passing lane, clogging it so traffic and development are stopped and people behind them can’t pass

  • Gen X—riding their bikes on shoulder of road since they are independent and don’t want to follow rules

  • Millennials—yellow traffic sign with arrows going in circles inside—millennials will go in circles if not given direction and clear expectations



Suzanne reports, “These simple metaphors help everyone instantly understand that a company in which the four groups travel in different directions and modes cannot possibly succeed. This shortcut understanding of the challenges then opens people up to looking at solutions."

Hitting the Emotional Costs
Logic tells. Emotions move. So Suzanne continues with stories and metaphors personalized for each industry. For example, law firms may have problems with clogging at the top with older attorneys, younger attorneys not being developed or mentored, and younger attorneys leaving to work where they can have more work/life balance. Suzanne relates the true story of a 40 year old Gen X woman attorney who left her firm to start her own firm because she said, “She felt like she had a brick above her and a millennial train barreling down on her from behind and no place to go.” (Feel the squeeze?)

Neutralizing Resistance
Change is never easy and people will push back on change, to which Suzanne persuasively replies, “Do you want to be pro-active and ahead of the curve or get caught sleeping? In 2015 millennials will comprise 38% of the workforce and will continue to grow in influence. Their needs, styles, and methods for recruiting and retaining them are different. You can either pay attention to, and develop, them to meet your organization’s needs or watch them jump ship as the economy improves and opportunities expand. You can’t manage a company as you did in 2004. You would never think of using the same computer systems you did years ago—you need to give the same thought to the people systems within your organizations. Take a look at each generation and how best to lead, motivate, engage and communicate with them.”

As a Boomer with a Millennial step-daughter, I am trying, Suzanne. I am trying!

Anne Miller
Make What You Say Pay — With Metaphors.


If you liked this newsletter, please share it
with friends and colleagues. Thank you! 
   

P.S. For more information on how Suzanne Kaplan can help your organization find the shared strengths and values among these different age groups and turn them into strategies for delivering uncommon results. Email: suzanne@talent-balance.com - website: www.talent-balance.com.
 

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 "The Metaphor Minute" is a brief monthly note with examples from business, media, or politics that illustrate the power of metaphors and analogies to make a point, solve a problem, and get results. Use these stories to stimulate high pay-off metaphoric thinking in your business. © 2013. Anne Miller. -- PERMISSION TO REPRINT -- Feel free to reprint in company newsletters or articles. Just include ©2013, Anne Miller, author, "Metaphorically Selling," amiller@annemiller.com
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