Know Thy Team

James Harwood on understanding generational differences in the workplaces

In our previous article, we spoke about the importance of having an innovative corporate culture and the value of having a strategy. Continuing with this theme, it is important to point out some crucial elements in today’s world of employment. Not only are there different styles, modes of thought, and personalities, there’s an entirely different approach to work from one generation to the next. There are also distinct talents and weaknesses that every company needs to identify and work with to stay on track.

I studied psychology in my college years. During my internship, it became very apparent that successful therapists did something very different than not-so-successful ones. The results-oriented therapist tended to meet patients where they actually were in their life (disorders, problems, beliefs, attitudes) rather than force a process that may or may not work. Knowing how someone experiences their world, their subjective perception (or how they distort, delete, and generalize information—also called perceptual bias) leaves us many clues as to how best embrace, coach, and leverage an individual’s skills. When we effectively manage our team this way (while always staying aligned with our company values and objectives, of course), our team feels a sense of contribution, recognition, and appreciation for who they are. Equally, if not more important, you will hit your goals, grow your company, and in doing so, have integrity.

Why Can’t I Just Manage Everybody the Same Way?

The short answer is you can, but you have probably already tried that and realized it doesn’t work. Just as you don’t treat a 2-, 5-, or 10-year-old child the same way, we shouldn’t be treating (managing) Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers or Millennials the same way either. The same objectives perhaps, the same workload, but the path – their path – may look very different from generation to generation. Knowing how to leverage the strengths and weaknesses (think Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats [SWOT] analysis) of each valued employee and what he or she brings to the table is key to recruiting, training, and retaining the right people.

[To read more of James Harwood’s thought leadership click here]

Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y aka Millenials

Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, Millennials—what does all this mean? More important, how can we figure out what makes each distinct generation tick? How do we identify, embrace, and leverage each respective generation to align with our company’s mission, goals, and values? Believe it or not, with each generation come belief systems, traditions, values, and work ethics. As business owners, we have all experienced this, either intuitively or wittingly. The Millennial or young Gen-Xer who seems to not have the same work ethic as our Baby Boomers, or the Baby Boomer who seems to be a bit slower to adopt and accept new technologies, processes or systems. So where does this leave us? What can we do to embrace our team, differentiate the talents of each employee, and leverage these behavioral types for the benefit of the entire team and the company’s success?

“Knowing how to leverage the strengths and weaknesses (think Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats [SWOT] analysis) of each valued employee and what he or she brings to the table is key to recruiting, training, and retaining the right people.”

The Swot Analysis

Imagine for a moment having each manager or team leader (as a team) evaluate the behavioral and skills sets of each and every employee while sitting in a group, with a white board evaluating their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. More important, imagine that the employee who’s being evaluated feels open, secure, and supported by the entire team. Once your employee knows this is not a shaming session but rather a way to identify and leverage their strengths, isolate and strengthen their weaknesses, focus and capitalize on missed opportunities, and spot their threats to then eliminate them, the employee will know they are working for a company that wants to ensure their individual success, both personally and professionally. This is, quite frankly, an eye-opening experience for anyone who has participated in this activity. Saying this, the follow-up by the team leaders and co-workers is even more important. It does little or no good at all to identify these qualities and leave them on the shelf to collect dust. Business moves quickly, things change, and we all have to be engaged and prepared every single day.

Putting It Together

If your best client needs a phone call relationship, needs to be walked through things every time and wants connection (to be understood on a personal need level), the Baby Boomer employee may be your best solution. Why? Because they grew up without computers, used telephones, wrote letters, and communicated face-to-face. If you want someone who is spontaneous, creative, and technology-oriented, the Millennial is most likely your key employee. If your need falls between strong work ethic, solid communication, and relationships (a balance), the Gen-Xer is your perfect fit! Now, the Traditionalist is an entirely different kind of person who, most likely, has a solid foundation in believing in God, country, and traditional values – values that any generation can have, of course, but are less typical.

In closing, there are no rules per se, but there are consistent and measurable similarities within each generation. Knowing this can help enhance employee performance and make your company more successful.