Larry Johnson speaks to audiences around the world on the topics of leadership, change, employee motivation, and building organizational openness and transparency. He is a corporate culture expert and the author of Absolute Honesty: Building a Corporate Culture That Values Straight Talk and Rewards Integrity.
Meagan Johnson spent several years working in sales for three Fortune 500 companies, then began researching and speaking about younger generations in the workplace. Meagan and her father, Larry Johnson, are co-authors of Generation Inc., From Boomers to Linksters: Managing the Friction Between Generations in the Workplace. Meagan kicked off the 2012 Remodeling Leadership Conference and later also presented “The XYZ of It: Managing Multiple Generations” with Larry.
Boomers: 1946 to 1964
Generation X: 1965 to 1980
Generation Y/Millennial/GenNext: 1981 to 1995
Linksters: after 1995
Remodeling: Which generations have the biggest communication conflicts?
Meagan Johnson: It tends to be where you have the biggest age difference from baby boomers to GenY. Some GenYers are still fairly young and are managing people that are their parents’ age. A boomer thinks, “My manager is the same age as my kids.” Also, for many GenYers who are working for baby boomers, the boomer takes on a parental role. There is a natural conflict there.
Larry Johnson: Boomers have a problem with the lackadaisical attitude that some GenYers show. You’ll hear boomers say, ‘They just don’t have a good work ethic.’ The irony is that GenYers were produced by boomers born on the later side. The kids they produce are the kids they have a problem with.
RM:What communication techniques are helpful to bridge these gaps?
MJ: We often make assumptions that the younger generation will behave the same way we behaved at that age. One of the terms Dad and I use in our book is “generational signpost” which is an event specific to one generation that shapes the way you deal with conflict. We bond with those who share our generational signposts. We assume people use the same tools we use to get the job done, but we don’t because of these signposts. Ask yourself why a GenYer’s behavior is causing problems, and if your answer doesn’t have to do with safety, cost, or customer service, I suggest you challenge your assumption of the way they get the job done.
LJ: Also, boomers — maybe because they were a little more independent and were raised by people who had been through the Depression — are team-oriented and see what needs to be done and step up to do it. A GenYer might not. We’ve had that experience with folks who have worked for us. They did not see the big picture. They go home at 5 o’clock and client calls have not been returned. They say “no one told me to.” Boomers find that infuriating. One of the techniques we offer boomers is to put a damper on their reaction to that kind of difference in their values versus yours. Be clear about what is expected so that if your GenYer is leaving things undone, instead of getting mad about it, talk about what you expect.
RM:What about boomers and GenXers — is there a difference in their view of careers/work?
MJ: A big part of baby boomers’ identity is tied up in what they do — it’s been said that boomers “live to work.” I’m not a fan of that statement because it trivializes the role of careers that are contributing toward leaving a lasting legacy. For GenXers — which is my age group — the things they do outside of their job play just as big a part in their identity. It’s the end result of a generational signpost in the late 1980s when we had Black Monday and a big recession. GenXers were entering their college years then and they saw their parents being let go. Until then you would still expect lifetime employment with companies like IBM and GE. That generation’s signpost redefined the role that work plays in their lives.
LJ: Awareness is the key here. You’re getting mad at someone dealing with the world differently from you. I find it testing when working with GenXers because they don’t seem to be real team players. The reality is they have a different background than I do. A lot of them were raised as latchkey kids and 50% of them have divorced parents. They have a different attitude — they say, “Tell me what to do and leave me alone.” Different generations have different backgrounds. It helps you to be a little more forgiving.
RM:What are the differences when it comes to hiring these different generations?
MJ: The more up-front, the more present you are in where these generations congregate the better. If you are targeting GenYers, have a Facebook presence. That presence needs to be more than just a page with your address and hours. You need to have a FaceBook presence that has a photograph of your location, videos of your projects, and comments from customers. On the other hand, looking at baby boomers. ... Dad, where are they?
LJ: A lot of us baby boomers are looking at retirement.
MJ: It’s not that GenY or GenX are not networking. It’s a different type of networking. Some companies are targeting today’s graduates by being more environmentally correct. At one career fair, a company was passing out plant seedlings with the company information on it.
RM:A lot of our readers work in family-owned companies. Do you have advice for these companies to ease the hand-off to the new generation?
LJ: We’ve done quite a bit of work with Harley Davidson where the franchises are family owned — usually started by dad when he was young biker and had a shop, and it’s now a multimillion dollar franchise selling motorcycles. As he gets to a certain age where he should move out of the business, a lot do not want to let go — especially if it’s something you love and it’s been your life. Our advice to boomers who are being replaced by their children is to let it happen and get out of the way. Make more golf dates!
MJ: The boomer owners are less likely to let go of the reigns. They want to physically be there. When you work with your family, your family will go to great lengths to make sure you are successful, which does not happen in many traditional work relationships. They also have expectations of you that go beyond being an employee.
RM: How do audience members respond to your father-daughter seminars?
MJ: I think people enjoy the mixture of father/daughter and having male/female speakers. It’s not just added entertainment value having two speakers — you have two different perspectives with boomer and GenX. We share personal stories, and we don’t always agree on issues. We present our differing perspectives and let the audience draw their own conclusions. It’s another layer of interest and take-away value.
RM: What would you like attendees to think about or research before the conference?
LJ: It would be helpful for them to think about their perspectives and relationships with different people of different generations. Ask your colleagues what conflicts they run into with different generations. Have they noticed a pattern? They should keep these thoughts in mind so they can apply them to what we’re going to present.
MJ: Even though it is a business audience and we’re talking about generations in business, what we’re talking about does apply to home lives. People have multi- generational home lives. After our presentations, people say, “I get my 21-year-old son now,” or “I understand my baby boomer mom.” People take what we talk about and apply it to their personal lives.
RM: What would you like attendees to take away from your presentation at the conference?
MJ: I want people to walk away with a clear idea of how they will address generational differences in their workplace or home life. Look at your child or parent or customer and think about how you will interact with these people a little bit differently so your communication with them is clear and you both walk away with mutually beneficial results. By understanding the person, you can provide them with superior customer service.
The goal is for you to walk away with from the presentation with an improved set of skills in dealing with different generations.
Click here to read more from the 2012 Remodeling Leadership Conference speakers.