NKBA U: Tips for Multi-generational Management

by Kacey Larsen

Recent research from PricewaterhouseCoopers reveals that by 2020, millenials will make up half of the global workforce. While many business owners and managers may cringe at the thought of developing unique management styles for each of the four generations, but Tim Donahue, New York-based organizational development consultant and NKBA University Instructor, offers tips on how to effectively tailor existing managerial strategies to address the realities of a multi-generational workplace. “Instead of obsessing about generational differences, we should focus on the unifying experiences across career stages — that’s something we can all relate to,” he says. “That shift in mindset can prove valuable not only for managers, but for the entire team.”

Doneahue offers three tips for handling multi-generational workplaces:

  1. Look past the stereotypes. Arguably, generational membership can influence how a person approaches their work. Traditionalists value authority and loyalty as they grew up in companies that in an earlier era provided them lifelong employment. Baby Boomers were often schooled in overcrowded classrooms and learned to fight for their place in the spotlight, which bred a competitive ethic. Many Gen Xers were the latchkey children of dual-career parents and may value autonomy. Millenials, on the other hand, were parented by “helicopter parents,” who orchestrated so many aspects of their lives. Not surprisingly, research shows that Millenials want and expect more frequent feedback than older employees do. What’s common to all four generations are fundamental human needs like making a difference at work, feeling valued, learning and growing, and earning a sufficient income. 
  2. Embrace cross-generational collaboration. Research shows that teams composed of people at different ages actually perform better, so reduce the urge to default to teams with everyone at the same age and career stage. Group project work also invites opportunities for informal coaching and mentoring relationships to develop. Coaching is a two-way street; a more junior colleague can learn how to successfully manage a project from a seasoned pro on staff, while a digital-savvy young hire can offer insights and best practices for the business on social media. The result is a win for everyone: A well-balanced, more collaborative workforce. 
  3. Communicate through multiple channels. Generational preferences aside, the way people prefer to communicate is also heavily influenced by their preferred learning style. Focus on the common need of giving your employees the information they need to do their job successfully. Increase communication efficiency and reduce miscommunication by sending the same message via multiple methods: e-mail, in-person during face-to-face meetings and via a video clip. Always provide opportunities for employees to ask questions and provide feedback through these different channels as well.

Donahue will be leading the NKBA U course, Recruiting and Hiring for Success, live at KBIS 2016 in Las Vegas and will discuss leadership for a multi-generational workforce. Courses are also available on-demand under NKBA University’s business management learning path found here.

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