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Dr. Spock, Abraham Maslow and Generaltional Change

Some time ago one of my readers emailed me requesting that I write an article about the generational gap.  He said the work environment for young people is quite challenging these days.  When I asked him to elaborate, here is what he wrote: 

 

"There is a deep discrepancy between the leadership styles and philosophies of the different generations.  And since we have 4 different generations in the workplace it is causing some issues, specifically when it comes to employee and customer relations.   It's my belief that the younger generations believe in transparency, flat org. charts, teamwork, and a good working environment while the older generations believe in hierarchy, respect for positions/status, and that providing a job for someone is enough.  It doesn't mean that either group is right and the other is wrong in their approach, but the different groups certainly don't understand each other.........and that's where the friction comes from.  As the book "Sticking Points" suggests, if the groups could work together understanding where their thoughts and ideas are derived from then the organization would benefit tremendously from this.  However, from my experience it has been more difficult for the older generation worker to understand (or to care to understand) where the younger generation is coming from than it is for the younger generation worker to understand his/her elder.

 

I believe employee relations, retention and recruiting, etc,  is going to be critical for the banking industry and generational leadership differences are something that is going to have to be worked on for banks to be successful in the long-term.  Simply, I believe the order of importance of stakeholders in our business (shareholders, customer, employees, regulators) is going to be different for the new leaders than it was for the previous generational leaders (retiring in the next 10 years).  And this will have profound effects going forward.  It's a good thing for the reputation of our industry, but it'll definitely cause some fireworks internally.  I think M&A will continue at a steady pace due to this topic as well."

 

These true and blistering words were written over a year ago.  I asked my own kids to write something on the topic, but - unusually - they didn't  (Liat is in med school which takes some time and Gil is a full-time RM with a portfolio).  I myself wasn't sure what to say.  It's a topic that people say much about and do little... And then my friend, Becky Vaughn-Furlow of Trustmark Bank, shared with me a presentation that shed some light on the subject.  It came from Cam Martson who wrote the book Generational Insights.  Some of the facts quoted in it resonated with me and I'd like to share them with you.

 

First, some definitions:

Matures                 >69 years old

Boomers                 50-68 YO

Gen X                   35-49 YO

Millennials (Gen Y)     14-34 YO

i Gen                   <13 YO

 

Second, facts:

 

  • Birthrate in the US declined from over 3.5 kids per family to under 2 between 1960-2012 (these are UN statistics)
  • Abraham Maslow identified four human needs.  At the base of his hierarchy are physiological needs, then safety needs, then belonging needs, then esteem needs.
  • Boomer inheritance: projected to receive $8.4 trillion, and already received $2.4 trillion.
  • Millennial inheritance: each year 20,000 estates worth more than $20 million are transferred to millennials.
  • In 2005 almost 27% of young adults were living with their parents.  In 2012 the number reached 31.5% (as per the Census Bureau).
  • The average age of the mother at first birth was nearly 21 ½ in 1972.  It was nearly 26 in 2012. (CDC)
  • Percent of singles: 52% of boomers in 1978; 67% of Gen Xers in 1995; 75% of Millennials in 2009 (Pew Research).
  • "A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking and discovery - without making it safer".  Atlantic Monthly, Hanna Rosin.

These facts draw an interesting picture, of a society where generational preferences and behaviors were strongly influenced by the level of affluence.  Boomers and their parents focused on "food and shelter", providing for the basic needs of their families.  This focus implied communal reliance and collaboration.  As subsequent generations experienced greater affluence, their attention shifted more to self-actualization and personal happiness.  A greater focus on the self and individual needs became more prevalent.  People delayed getting married and having children, and when they did have those kids, they doted on them well beyond what their parents did.  Society shifted from independent and self-reliant children to helicopter parents (hoverers), and now to the "velcro parents" who are inseparable from their young children.

 

Cam Marston's theory is that as societies become more affluent, they move from a group focus (the domain of less affluent societies) to a ME focus, where duty is replaced with an effort to be different and the expectation of personal happiness.   

 

Accordingly, he describes Boomers as a generation with strong work ethic who believes in consensus building.  It's a generation that believes in the importance of teamwork and reliability, where people are there for each other.  When they were young they protested and tried to change the world.  Their life today reflects these roots.  They use technology but resist overreliance in it.

 

Many boomers are still in the workplace.  They either enjoy their career or can't retire given financial setbacks during the crisis.  They all too often believe it's easier to do something themselves rather than teach, mentor, or delegate.

 

Gen X, on the other hand, is the most cynical, pessimistic, unhappy and unfriendly generation we've ever seen, says Marston.  They are very focused on their career, shop and bank online, are cautious and conservative and are wary of experts. In the workplace, many Gen X managers do not realize that their career success will hinge on how they exist between two massive generations, and that building consensus and checking on your team isn't the same as micromanagement. 

 

Continuing with these gross generalizations, Millennials are individuals with a strong group orientation.  They appear to multitask effectively, but that can also be interpreted as the inability to focus. They were raised as their parents' friends, and therefore are accustomed to attention and care.  They hover between adulthood and adolescence, and are quite short-term oriented in their thinking.

 

What are the implications of these generational gaps for bank managers?

  1.  Recruitment
  • Mentor for career development
  • Show the first six months of the development in weekly increments - shorten the time horizon
  • Highlight areas of autonomy and leadership training opportunities
  • Provide exposure to senior management and the ability to contribute to strategic decisions
  • Use words such as: develop; grow; explore, fulfill, expand; contribute; make a difference
  • Define how one becomes successful in the role as specifically and deliberately as possible.
  • Good interview questions:
    • What's the biggest compliment you received?  Tell me the story.
    • Whose responsibility is it to keep you current in the workplace?
    • What's your greatest accomplishment?  Greatest Award?

2.     Mentoring

  • For the mentor:  Focus on transferring the culture.  It's all about "who we are" and not so much about "how to do it".  The best mentoring is informal, sharing corporate lore and instructive stories about how to succeed in this organization.  Share your rituals and customers, your unspoken "rites of passage".
  • For the mentor:  Remember that, "you cannot hold someone accountable for something they've never been taught."  Capt. Ted Ewing, M/V F.R. Biglow

 

3.     Managing

  • Accept that, while all generations are different, every person still wants to succeed.  Their definition of success may be different, but they are focused on success nonetheless.
  • Don't judge.  Boomers often look at Millennials and expect them to "earn their stripes" like they did, walking to school four miles in the snow uphill both ways.  Millennials look at the seniors and wonder how they could have gotten their position, especially since they can't operate the most basic functions of a cell phone.
  • Reward people with what they value most, which varies widely across generations and individuals.
  • Realize that managing Gen Xers, millennials and their children is not optional.  This is the workforce we must rely on in the future, and developing them must be tailored to their strengths.

 

There is no single prescription to success in management, simply because people are different.  Our multi generational workforce makes management more challenging than ever.  Older executives don't necessarily command the respect of their younger subordinates, and it certainly is the case with young bosses.  In addition, generational expectations vary so widely that managing an individual from a different generation can be exceptionally challenging.  However, one overriding golden rule does prevail:  motivating people on their level - treating people the way THEY want to be treated - does work, and will improve your employee retention and productivity.

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