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
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
Boomers—cattle in passing lane, clogging it so traffic and
development are stopped and people behind them can’t pass
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
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?)
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
Make What You Say Pay — With Metaphors.
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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:
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