Effective leaders reach four generations

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As you look out on the landscape of those that you lead, what do you see?

Can you identify with the characteristics, attitudes, values, and beliefs that are present amongst all these “different” people? Is there a core group that look, walk, talk, and act just like you; and are there two or three other groups that mystify you?

Mystify you in the sense that you don’t understand their behavior, thoughts, mannerisms, and it seems difficult to connect with them? If you can relate to this quandary, you are not alone, because for the first time in our history, we have four generations of Americans working side by side and each is uniquely diverse.

As a leader it is critical that you have the ability to relate and connect with those that you lead. Simply recognizing the differences is not enough, but rather seeking to understand the motivations, core values, beliefs, and goals of the people that make up each generational group is key. If you fail to make the connection, you are inviting disengagement into your organization.

In 2006, Gallup conducted some research on engagement and found that 71 percent of employees were either indifferent to their work or actively disengaged. Saratoga Institute’s Disengagement Study outlined ten issues that employees say companies do poorly:

  • Lack of career growth
  • Poor Management
  • Poor Communication
  • Pay: paid under-market
  • Lack of recognition
  • Poor senior leadership
  • Lack of training
  • Excessive workload
  • Lack of tools and resources
  • Lack of teamwork

They also noted a key misperception of employers: 88 percent of people leave for more money; the reality is only 12 percent leave for money. Along these lines, many organizations look at the current economic climate and make the mistake of believing their people are fully engaged and won’t seek other opportunities. The reality is your top performers will always have and seek opportunities. Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, Inc.’s 2011 jobs reports noted that unemployment will likely remain high in 2011; but also note “Further job-search competition will come from people who are currently employed.”

So what are the generational disconnects that lead to disengagement?

In their book When Generations Collide, authors Lancaster and Stillman outline the following generational gaps:

  • Recruitment
  • Career Goals
  • Rewards
  • Balance
  • Communication
  • Knowledge Share
  • Training
  • Feedback
  • Retention
  • Retirement

As you view these two lists a reality emerges: if disconnects are left unchecked they can turn into disengaged employees; disengaged employees become unproductive and tear at the fabric of your organizations success, and the “good” ones leave. A November 2010 WSJ.com article Keeping ‘Overqualifieds’ on Board and a related study outlined some noteworthy dissatisfaction with Boomer and Generation X in the areas of People Management and Leadership.

So what can leaders do to bridge the gaps and minimize these disconnects? The key is for leaders to build solid relationships with their people. Leaders need to understand and know what their peoples’ values, beliefs, and motivations are. They need to understand what they aspire to and what is important to them — how do they define success? In building effective relationships within each generation consider two key areas, 1) understanding the core values and 2) adaptive communication.

Adaptive communication is present, when you aspire to communicate with your people in the manner and form in which they are most comfortable. It might take you out of your comfort zone, but the benefits of connecting with your people in a real and meaning full way are significant. In the end, we want to maximize the collective strengths of our people, but first we must work to eliminate that which divides us from them.

Core Values of each Generation
Silent Generation Boomer Generation Generation X Millennials
Dedication Optimism Diversity Confidence
Hard Work Personal Growth Balance Achievement
Conformity Youth Informal Diversity
Honor Involvement Self-reliance Optimism
Loyalty Team Orientation Pragmatic Sociability

Paul Martinez is a Colorado Springs trainer and speaker in leadership training. He can be reached at Paul@ru-dynamicallydriven.com.