“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” ~ Anthony Robbins

Co-authored by Diane Brown of TJ Associates, LLC and TTI Performance Systems, LTD. Copyright protected, all rights reserved worldwide.

I’m a Baby Boomer. When I was growing up, the diversity challenge seemed limited to race, ethnicity and gender. In fact, I participated in one of the first Fortune 100 health care company strategic diversity and inclusion work teams chartered to improve the experience of diverse talent entering the workforce and serving a diverse marketplace. We found that bringing in diverse talent was easy. Deploying and optimizing that talent was not. People, in general, are uncomfortable with diversity. Humans struggle seeing the world through the eyes of another. Too often, we want everyone else to communicate, value, think and operate the way we do.

As we have entered the 21st century, a new diversity challenge has emerged – that of generational differences. Never before in history have we had four generations in the U.S. workforce, which means you might see everyone from 20-something Millennials (born after 1977) to Generation Xers (born 1966-1977), to Baby Boomers (born 1947-1965) and seasoned Veterans (born prior to 1947) working side-by-side. The opportunities we face with generational diversity are very similar to the ones we faced last century in acknowledging gender, race and ethnicity diversity. It comes down to understanding what the differences are, not taking them personally and leveraging them for business success.

There is significant profit potential embedded in today’s age-diverse workplace. Successfully leveraging generational differences provides a strategic advantage. If you aren’t convinced about that, just look back to the Renaissance period. The Renaissance began in Florence, Tuscany in the 14th century. A dominant family at the time, the Medici, is largely credited with birthing this innovative and progressive period. The catalyst was in bringing together in one location talented people across many disciples and cultures. This cross-pollination unearthed novel and unique breakthrough concepts. Had the Medici’s not sponsored and insisted upon communication, mutual respect, and learning from each other, the breakthroughs would not have occurred. Such is the potential in our marketplace today. The fortitude to leverage and optimize perspectives, skills and talents across generations is at our doorstep. The question is simply whether or not we cease the moment.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” ~ Henry Ford

Let’s look at a couple of practical examples of how leveraging differences can benefit your organization’s bottom line.

Young people of every generation have a fresh perspective, a youthful energy and a burning desire to accomplish something worthwhile. If your organization treats them with respect and engages their enthusiasm, they will bring that attitude to work and accomplish something worthwhile for you.

Older generations have an outlook tempered by past experience allowing them to help younger workers avoid potential pitfalls before mistakes become real problems. They also have the battle-tested skills to realistically anticipate what it will take to move a business initiative from being just a great idea to becoming your company’s game-changing competitive advantage. But it can be all too easy for seasoned business people to let past experience limit what they think can be done. Millennials and Gen Xers can help them see new possibilities.

Young people may be idealistic about the extent and speed of change that’s possible in your organization, but they may be the very change agents who make it happen! They aren’t limited by the way things have always been done and many are technologically advanced.

Young people who are tech savvy will be great candidates for mutual mentoring relationships with older workers who need to update their knowledge of social media and technical skills.

The preferences of younger workers can improve communication and connection within your company and with customers. A great example of Gen X and Millennial-inspired business change is using social media to share consumer opinions about products and service experiences. Facebook and Twitter have become vital ways for businesses to respond quickly to customers and demonstrate to the world that the company cares about them. Millennials drove this change because they like to connect with others to share their experiences, and they like to use social media for consumer reviews.

That young people know how to use technology to enable life balance and provide flexible work options makes sense. There is a shift underway in the business world, from defining work as time spent at the office to measuring performance by the results produced. Using mobile technology and flexible scheduling makes it possible to shift the focus toward results. This benefits all of us, including boomers who would like to semi-retire, but keep their hands in the marketplace.

Don’t dismiss older generations: The Silent Generation grew up with face-to-face staff meetings that encouraged the development of relationships. There is something to be said about seeing a person while talking to them versus chatting over instant-messaging. Body language and voice intonation are lost in newer forms of communication, meaning that newer isn’t always better.

Provide variety and engaging development experiences for younger workers: Stretch assignments and cross training to keep them interested and build their career prospects while enhancing their value to your organization. Help them develop a career path and give personalized development plans that encourage them to stay engaged with your company as they grow. Use TTI job benchmarks to give clear expectations and match them to the right job for success.

Make good use of Millennials’ strong team orientation and global, networking mindset: If you’re not using informal learning networks and information sharing tools yet, younger workers can show you how they do it. For the generation that grew up with massive multi-player online video games, team work is second nature.

Give everyone the tools to engage in meaningful, mutual mentoring efforts: Be sure that everyone’s contributions are heard and respected and help them share their strengths. When both parties understand how the other likes to receive communication, make decisions, pace their work and what motivates them to action, it eases the way for collaboration. Use Talent Journey’s assessments and team training to blend generations successfully.

Established ways of doing business will continue to change as global markets expand and technology accelerates. Research shows that all generations will need help adapting to the rapid speed of change. Important skills for all of us are flexibility, resiliency, personal accountability and openness to learn. Together, we can do it!

”We may have come from different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Copyright protected 2010, Diane Brown at TJ Associates, LLC (www.thetalentjourney.com) and TTI Performance Systems, LTD.

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