Friday, May 08, 2009

Understanding generations

Yesterday I attended a great seminar on generations and how they differ from each other. Understanding generations is important if you intend to market to them, teach them, lead them, and so on. It was a fantastic session and many of the things discussed resonate with me very strongly because I see so many examples of how their differences can create problems and prevent any kind of meaningful connection.

One example I can offer from personal experience is when a company prides itself on process (which makes perfect sense to 'traditionalist' and 'boomer' management), but the majority of the people doing the work are 'Gen X' or 'millennials' (Gen Y), who care less about process and more about results. So it's always amazing to observe the X and millennial types watch in amusement as stiff, predefined processes fail time and again all while they think to themselves "Look - these processes are a waste of time".

Another thing the traditionalists and boomers don't get about their younger staff is their work style. The X and especially millennial generation are easily bored, terrific multi-taskers, who crave regular distractions in their work pattern. Left to their own devices, these folks will work for 15 minutes, quickly check their email, work for 10, check Facebook, work for 20, chat with a colleague, work for 10, watch a YouTube clip, all while getting the work done in short order. Companies that block access to the online social distractions these generations crave, just end up annoying and insulting the younger staff and all that happens next is that they get their necessary distraction from chatting with colleagues, which is even more obvious, more annoying and less tolerated by their traditionalist and boomer leaders.

Even more telling was that the presenter, an expert in generational relationships, insisted that in order to reach different generations, it is vital to employ the same social tools they do, whether it's email, texting, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, or any other new technology that emerges from the ether. Blocking these tools because they're considered disruptive is the wrong approach. The fact is, although social tools at first appear disruptive to those that don't adopt them, the social context is now an important part of the X and especially millennial's lives. Not only that, but having constant connection with your friends and peers means that if you're searching for a solution to a problem or an answer to a question, you're going to get it a lot faster - and most importantly, from someone you trust.


Bernie May said...

Cool, thanks for the update. When I did a paper on this back in the day I still had to consider depression era and WWII generations. They're pretty much disappeared from the work force now, but the boomers seem to have taken their place. Funny how as we grow older our work style changes. I guess it may not have so much to do with "generation" as "age & level of responsibility".

Of course Karl & I are hip, even in our advanced years. Do we say "hip" anymore? Somebody do me a solid and let me know.

Karl Plesz said...

Uh, 'hip' is a 'boomer' term. When it comes to using the word 'hip' in a sentence, it's like saying 'I'm going to 'dial' this number. Or can I have a 'carbon copy'? It shows your age.


cel said...

wow that's so true! and so me! i honestly do get a lot more work done in between my little "escapes"