Smokey Robinson and Friends at Work

Collaboration Organizational leadership Respect


Key Point: How effective are you across multiple generations at work? I really like the way Smokey and Friends, a recently released album, makes me feel. I’ve had the volume turned to 11 a few times. The iconic Smokey Robinson sings legendary songs with artists representing multiple genres and generations… Elton John, Steven Tyler, Jessie J, Mary J. Blige, Ledisi, and others.  People of all ages in harmony with the 70-plus year old Smokey… Hmm. It made think about the current work place. For the first time in history, five generations will soon be working side by side. So what does this mean to you and me?

I believe contextual personal leadership is more important than ever. Especially when it comes to working and managing in multi-generational workplaces. A recent HBR blog by Rebecca Knight speaks wisely and directly to this. Note the following blog exert. Hopefully it sets the stage for a more complete conversation about how to make this mixed generational environment a very positive thing for you and the organization:

“What the Experts Say
: As people work longer and delay retirement, internal career paths have changed. “Organizational careers don’t look the way they did before,” says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and co-author of Managing the Older Worker. ‘It’s more common to see someone younger managing someone older.’ This can lead to tension on both sides. ‘Maybe there is a feeling of: why am I being bossed around by someone without a lot of experience? On the other hand, maybe the younger person feels insecure and wonders: how do I do this?’

‘It’s important to be aware of generational tension — loosely defined as a lack of respect for someone who’s of a different generation from you — among colleagues,’ says Jeanne C. Meister, a founding partner of Future Workplace, a human resources consultancy and the coauthor of The 2020 Workplace. ‘It’s your job to help your employees recognize that they each have distinct sets of skills and different things they bring to the table.’

Don’t dwell on differences
The Boomer mystified by Facebook; the Millennial who wears flip-flops in the office; the Traditionalist (born prior to 1946) who seemingly won’t ever retire; the cynical Gen Xer who’s only out for himself; and the Gen 2020er — born after 1997 — who appears surgically attached to her smartphone. Generational stereotypes abound but according to Cappelli, ‘they are just not true. There is no evidence that 35-year-old managers today are any different from 35-year-old managers a generation ago.’ Besides, your goal is to help your team ‘move beyond the labels.’ Generation-based employee affinity groups are a waste of time and energy, he adds. Don’t assume people need special treatment and ‘don’t dwell on differences with a group discussion that devolves into: ‘People my age feel like this.’ Or ‘All Boomers act a certain way.’ There’s a lot of variation,’ he says. ‘Get to know each person individually.’”

Character Moves: 

  1. Manage the paradox of getting to know each person individually while understanding but not dwelling on generational differences. (For example, Millennials are naturally digital… Boomers can be digitally challenged). We all know people who match a generational stereotype versus others who completely contradict that view. It would not be unusual to hear: “Canadians love hockey.” Most of us do and yet we likely know Canadians that don’t follow or really care about the game. 
  2. Get to know what is really important in people’s individual lives and the relationship they have with the organization. Where possible work in a way that recognizes the need for standardization and still allow for individual uniqueness. For example, all people must get results at work but one person thrives working from home while another does so in an office environment.
  3. Recognize that “one size fits all” leadership or working is no longer sustainable or appropriate. Standardize on key values or attributes like self-accountability, respect, abundance. These beliefs and way of behaving is applicable to every generation. Dwell on the commonality and threads that weave people together versus stereotyping that may emphasize differences.
  4. Be inclusive and learn from every generation and person in the work place. As an example, learning how someone applies a digital solution to a problem can be as rewarding as learning the principles related to face-to-face conflict resolution. Remind ourselves that we all learn from each other. Avoid the slippery dangers related to stereotyping.  

Multi generational harmony in the Triangle, 

– Lorne  

One Millennial View: I completely agree. As someone fairly new to the workforce in my industry, I WANT mentors and seasoned vets that are generations older to show me the ropes… But we’re all in the same progressive environment, there’s no excuse for an older executive to not be familiar with Twitter, and there’s no reason that I can’t understand, appreciate and utilize the benefit of a jotting down something on a notepad. I might not want to hang out with them on the weekends, but I’d love to learn from a salty, experienced higher up who has seen it all in the workplace… Like Smokey Robinson. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis