Closing The Generation Gap

“One learns people through the heart, not the eyes or the intellect.”
Mark Twain

John Casares said the generation gap was glaringly obvious at his workplace… which happened to be a mail-order music company. A part-time, college-student worker was inputting customer information about some golden oldies his customer wanted to buy. But the college student didn’t “get” it. He typed the following note, “Customer is looking for two song titles: ‘Shovel Off Two Buffaloes’ and ‘Honey, Suck a Rose’.”

The fact is… today’s workplace is extremely diverse. And if you’re going to lead the people in your organization, you have to understand a few things about them.

James Champy, author of “Reengineering Management,” says, “Followers are not to be commanded and controlled but understood. To mobilize a company, the leader must learn the needs of its people, articulate them, and in the deepest sense of the word, respond to them.”

Let’s apply Champy’s recommendation to one part of today’s work force, the Generation X’ers, those people born between 1964 and 1981. For the most part, Gen X’ers grew up with dual career parents, who produced a record divorce rate, and dropped them off at a latchkey program. And they have clear memories of such things as the crash of the Challenger, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Gulf War.

The key thing to remember is that different things motivate different people. Whereas overtime pay might have been valued by the older Baby Boomer generation, the Gen X’ers might despise it.

So how do you motivate the Gen X’ers in your organization — the people between 26 and 43 years of age? I would recommend four things.

=> 1. Give them a sense of family.

Many of them grew up in disjointed families and are seeking a sense of family. Keep them informed rather than keep them in the dark. Listen to their concerns and issues; involve them in decision making, and tell them why you’re doing certain things. Healthy families do all of that.

As Jim Kouzes talks about in “The Credibility Factor,” you’re trying to create an “ownership mentality” rather than a “rental mentality.” It makes a huge difference.

Of course, you may be wondering what that means. Well, let me ask you, “Have you ever rented a car?” Of course. “And have you ever taken that rental to a car wash before you returned it?” Probably not.

Why not? Because you were thinking, “That’s not my car. I don’t own it. And it wasn’t that dirty anyway.”

But let me ask you, “Do you own a car? And have you ever had your car washed?” Most likely yes.

So what’s the difference? When you own the car, you have the pride of ownership; you want your car to look nice and you want to keep up the resale value.

That makes me wonder how many employees are just “renting” their company? Lots. And you can hear the “rental mentality” in the words they use. When a coworker says some of the following, you can be sure he or she is just “renting” the company, saying such things as: “That’s not my problem… or… They don’t pay me to do that… or… They made the decision, not me.”

To motivate your Gen X’ers, they need an “ownership mentality” which comes about when you give them a sense of family. So engage them in meaningful conversation. Expose them to strong senior leaders who practice inclusive leadership… and who will get them involved. Mentor your Gen X’ers. They’ll feel like they “own” their jobs and “own” their companies.

=> 2. Respect their fierce streak of independence.

Gen X’ers have seen massive corporate down sizing — 50 million jobs in the last 20 years. And so they’re not as loyal to their bosses and companies as the Baby Boomers who preceded them. They’re distrustful of the old, formal hierarchy found in most organizations and depend more on themselves to get ahead.

What does that mean for you as a leader? You’ve got to base more of your Gen X rewards on their individual merit, NOT their status or seniority. They want to see that their individual contributions are rewarded with money or promotions — rather than go to someone simply because he’s been there a long time.

Dr. Beatrice Berry talks about money as a reward in one of her books. She talks about a research team that spent a million dollars and discovered… when people are happy on the job… they are more productive. Berry’s grandmother responded by saying, “I bet if they spent $1 million on the people they studied, they would be real productive.”

To respect Gen X’ers fierce streak of independence, focus more on leading them rather than managing them. As the United Technologies Corporation said in the “Wall Street Journal,”

Let’s Get Rid of Management

People don’t want to be managed. Whoever heard of a world manager? World leader, yes. Educational leader. Political leader. Religious leader. Scout leader. Community leader. Labor leader. Business leader. They lead. They don’t manage. The carrot always wins over the stick. Ask your horse. You can lead your horse to water, but you can’t manage him to drink. If you want to manage somebody, manage yourself. Do that well and you’ll be ready to stop managing. And start leading.

Gen X’ers would be the folks who would agree with Ronald Reagan’s sentiment. Reagan preached, “Your destiny is in your own hands.”

=> 3. Provide lots of information.

Gen X’ers grew up in the information age, and so they know information is power. They know they have to keep on learning so they can adapt to a rapidly changing world. By contrast, the previous generation found their wisdom and power in experience.

If you want to motivate Gen X’ers, you’ve got to give them access to the newest technology and the latest information. And you’ve got to give them lots of feedback about almost everything — their performance, their career path, the company, its customers, and its future.

As Larry Bossidy, Honeywell Chairman, states, “Executives who build consistent performance cultures set clear goals. People want to know what you expect from them. Ambiguity is a bad thing in business.”

Bossidy goes on to say, good leaders “take a big role in expanding people by coaching, challenging, and educating.” In other words, good leaders motivate their people by giving them lots of opportunities for continuous learning… and that’s especially true when it comes to Gen X’ers.”

I would recommend my seminar on “Peak Performance: Motivating The Best In Others.” It will teach you and your people a number of time-tested, research-proven strategies for creating a more positive, productive, and profitable work environment. As Scott Stanich, an agency manager for Country Insurance and Financial Services, says, “This program gave us very useful, practical information. If this doesn’t make you better at home and work, you aren’t paying attention.” And Brad Anderson, another agency manager from the same company, said, “I learned so many strategies… in just one day… and I was able to go back to my work and apply them instantly.”

=> 4. Encourage a balance between work and private life.

Gen X’ers saw their parents have extra money but less time. They saw the divorce rate double between 1965 and 1977, and 40% of them spent time in a single-parent home by age 16. And Gen X’ers don’t want to repeat that in their own lives.

So Gen X’ers work to live rather than live to work. They follow Eddie Bauer’s philosophy, “Never compare having a career with having a life.” They want work/life balance, and they want some fun.

To bring out the best in Gen X’ers, create a work environment where you encourage your employees to have a life. Give them some degree of control over their own time — providing such things as flex time, work from home, job sharing, and even on-site health and fitness clubs.

You can even encourage extra balance by the way you communicate. As a consultant, Lou Briganti says you should eliminate a certain phrase from your vocabulary, and encourage your workers to stop saying it as well. Eliminate the phrase, “I didn’t have time.” It’s an untrue statement that implies you have no control over your life or work.

Think about it. Whenever you do something, it’s always because you chose to do it. And when you don’t do something, it’s not an issue of not having the time. No. You had the time. You simply chose to spend the time on other tasks that were more important to you.

When you begin to say, “I chose” rather than “I had to,” you keep your power. And when you say, “I made the time to do the really important things,” rather than say, “I didn’t have time,” you model a healthy work-life balance. Gen X’ers will respect that.

Action:  Identify the Gen X’ers in your workplace or your family. Look at the four ways you can motivate them. And then spend some extra time on the strategy you’ve short-changed.