Previous entries in the series:
Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 1
The Traditionalist: Cross-Generational Q&A Series Part 2
As a veteran consultant with an advanced degree in organizational development, Anne Caluori, who served as SHARE’s president in the mid-90s, has a truly unique perspective on the crisscrossing generations in today’s mainframe workforce. During her technology career, she has worked in technical and management roles in the mainframe realm for the Department of the Army. Recently, Anne has been providing training for Army organizations on managing the multi-generational workforce and presented sessions at SHARE in San Francisco on the same topic. I chatted with Anne, who falls definitively into the Boomer generation, for the third in our 5-part series of Q&As.
In his keynote address at SHARE in Anaheim, best-selling author and Gen Y expert Jason Dorsey stressed that today there are 4 generations in the workplace, which is unprecedented in our society. What 3 trends do you believe created this unique situation?
I don’t know that it is unprecedented that we should have four generations in the workplace. When I began working in the ‘70s, I was in my early 20s and there were some people in the workplace in their 60s. So, I remember there were some wide gaps back then, too. What might have created today’s sense of amazement and urgency [with generation gaps] is the fact Gen X arrived quietly without a lot of noise. Boomers had come stomping on stage and sort of dominated things, but because Gen X is so individual and self-reliant they didn’t create a big stir. I think we sort of forgot there were new ways of thinking until Gen Y came aboard literally demanding interaction, collaboration, feedback and engagement. It woke up everybody a bit.
Given that no single factor defines any one person or any one generation, in your opinion what strengths do each of these generations bring to the workplace?
Traditionalists? Rock-solid commitment and dependability. They have a tremendous respect for getting things done and the chain of authority. Possibly why we sometimes hear Traditionalists called “veterans” or the “silent generation” because they focus on doing their duty without needing a lot of discussion.
Boomers? I think the Boomers typify the characterization that I am what I do. If I meet another Boomer, I guarantee we’re going to talk about what we do – what’s our job, what are our responsibilities. Boomers often define themselves by their jobs. What’s great about that is, if you want to get a job done, ask a Boomer. Accountability is huge for us.
Gen X? Gen X is remarkably resilient. When many Gen Xers were growing up, the state of the economy may have meant that both mom & dad had to work. They became perhaps more self-reliant at an earlier age than their predecessors because often they cared for siblings. That comes into the workplace as perhaps a little skepticism in terms of conventions or accepted standards. They can also be impatient -- when a job is done, call it done and move on. Xers can be focused on making the most of their time.
Gen Y? Gen Yers are very comfortable asking you to be a coach and a partner. Gen Y expects to be part of conversation regardless of seniority, which is easy to misinterpret as a sense of entitlement when it’s actually a sign of engagement and an opportunity to collaborate.
In Jason’s address, he gave several great recommendations for managing the multigenerational workplace. If you had to give someone from each generation one piece of advice, what would it be for:
Traditionalists? The gift the Traditionalists can give the workplace is clear: The weight of their experience, and the lessons it’s taught them. We honor and respect them for their accomplishments; they can honor and respect our interest by sharing with us.
Boomers? A lesson for us Boomers is to take a page from the books of Gen X and Gen Y and see what exists outside the workplace. Maybe redefine a bit what it means to work and have purpose. Remember our idealistic roots.
Gen X? The real opportunity for Gen Xers is greater collaboration. Although individual initiative and self-direction are their greatest strengths, they still can take a lesson about sharing and interacting from the Gen Yers coming up the ranks.
Gen Y? They bring a huge amount of energy to the workplace but not as much deliberation and patience with direction. Gen Yers should take a step back and slow down more often. Developing this type of discipline takes a lot of positive coaching from Boomers and Gen Xers.
Will managing across 4 generations become business as usual? Or do you predict this situation will be temporary?
I believe a multigenerational workplace has always been part of business as usual. What we need to keep in mind is that generational categories are just guidelines for helping us understand each other and get beyond our differences. While I like the idea of using generational models, once we have a few hints and clues about understanding each other, we should set models aside and manage people on the individual level. As Jason [Dorsey] also said in his keynote, our personal history, geography, culture and upbringing may be even more influential than our birth date.
Communications strategist Bob Dirkes attended SHARE in Anaheim and San Francisco on special assignment. Follow him on Twitter @RCDirkes. Follow SHARE on Twitter @SHAREhq.