The view in my backyard this morning.
The word is that many of you are snowed in this morning. Even here in Phoenix there are news stories about remembering to wearing a jacket. Things are rough.
I was recently in Minneapolis teaching Ownership Spirit to MMIC Group and while I was there I had a chance to visit my son and his family where we braved the weekend in the snow and the cold. I arrived home to find the oranges on my trees ripe and ready for eating. It occurred to me how very different our view of February is. In my part of the world, this is the glorious season we live for — lovely, sunny days of bike riding and picnics — while my son is just hoping that “the sun will come out tomorrow.” When either I or my son hear the word “winter” we each have very different feelings and impressions. Our “presets” are different.
At work, one area in which our presets can hinder our performance, efficiency, and team-building, is generationally. Every organization is made up of people from different generations — Millennials (18-30), Gen Xers (31-45), Baby Boomers (46-65), and Traditionalists (66+) — and these differences have the potential to create roadblocks in communication, in trust, and in productivity.
Each generation has specific and critical contributions to make in an organization. Millennials excel at flexibility, technology, creativity and collaboration. Generation Xers are innovative, independent, results-oriented, balanced and energetic. Baby boomers are focused on sustained growth and expansion. They are optimistic, seasoned, savvy, and stable. Traditionalists are consistent, loyal, and have invaluable perspective and experience.
Clearly, each generation has strengths and skills that are unique and beneficial. The problem comes when, as George Orwell said, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
It is easy to make assumptions about our coworkers because of their age. These assumptions lead to beliefs which change our behavior — making us less likely to collaborate, share, delegate, ask for help, seek advice or assistance — and this change in our behavior results directly in less powerful outcomes, less innovation, more working in silos, and making more avoidable mistakes.
My son-in-law couldn’t wait to turn thirty. I teased him about getting so old, but he said he was relieved to finally be there. He said that now people might take him seriously, because now when they asked he could say he was in his “thirties.” He felt like his skills and talent were less important than his age, and that he was always having to “prove himself” over and over again. On the other hand, there are entire courses dedicated to teaching baby boomers and traditionalists how to appear younger and “hip”-er in this job market. When they write their resumes they’re instructed not to list the actual dates of their education or employment (the dead giveaway), to only list the last ten years of their experience (since when did too much experience become a bad thing?), “act energetic,” and to set up social networking sites so that they look tech-savvy.
The biggest problem with all of this, of course, is that by black-balling any one particular generation, we miss out on cohesive insights, synergistic breakthroughs, and multi-pronged approaches to solving problems. We end up with defensive, disengaged, unproductive teams. All of us can benefit from examining and taking ownership of our own presets and biases about age.
Challenging your own presets takes humility and Ownership. Be honest with yourself about how your assumptions and stereotypes have influenced your beliefs and behaviors. Does the word “millennial” create as much dread in you as the word “winter” does for my son? Is there another way to see it? Does having a few traditionalists on your team inspire you with confidence and appreciation for their knowledge and experience, or give you nightmares of old-school, antiquated ideas that have been rehashed a thousand times. Could it be that your own perspective is the element that makes the difference? By questioning and examining our presets, we are more likely to find the benefits to having and using all the generational resources on our teams to their very best advantage.
I am interested in your thoughts.