Many Generations in the Workplace

With so many generations in the workplace, how do you find common ground to work optimally together?

Currently there are four generations in the workplace.  They are:

  • WW II generation (born before 1943)
  • Baby Boomers (born between 1944 and 1963)
  • Generation X (born between 1964 and 1984)
  • Gen Y or Millennials (born between 1985 and 2005)

Research has shown that each generation views work and careers differently though many experts disagree on the degree to which their perspective vary.  Furthermore, it is necessary to realize that this is at best imprecise, and those born on or around a so-called boundary years (i.e. 1963 between Boomers and Xers) might very well be inclined to be with one generation or the other.

I believe it is still important for effective leaders to be aware of these potential differences in perspective if they are going to maximize performance and fully understand how different members of the team may approach a problem or work/life balance.   This is also not an “airy fairy” effort to achieve an artificial diversity goal but can be of value to any team for a number of reasons.

  • An expansion of the number of creative ideas available to you
  • Better contacts with your customer or client base
  • Access to a wider range of problem solvers
  • Reduction in tensions and hostilities across demographic and generational lines
  • An increased appreciation of different people, ideas, and general respect for others

Research has shown that perhaps the biggest factor in working across the “divide” is establishing trust with each other across generational lines.  This may often times require a good deal of listening by the leader to determine why and how alternative approaches are proposed.  For example, in general, Boomers tend to value competence. Xers value relationship/communication and seem to have a greater need for open discussion.

Probably the best place for the leader to start is to get the team to focus on what they agree on.  It is also important to keep in mind that other factors affect how individuals confront problems and work effectively on teams.  It should not be surprising to learn that generally men and women often have different perspectives of what leaders do and how they do it.  The literature further suggests culture also influences individual perceptions, roles and identities. Surveys of cross-generational teams also indicates that in addition to culture, gender, age, and education are important, and these factors influence each other. If you only look at one factor, it may lead you to mistaken conclusions.

It is critical to keep in remember that not every member of generation is “that way”.  Failing to keep this in mind can potentially create biases in dealing with other generations.  Finally, it is useful to keep in mind the words of Winnie the Pooh!  What makes me different…is what makes me….Me!

-Dr. Jeff McCausland

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well

Great Organizations Do Small Things Well — Find the Long Snapper

I have been thinking about what do great organizations do that differentiate them from good organizations, and there are a number of things. But one that sticks out to me is that great organizations do small things very well. Let me give you an example that I observed while watching the end of the 2016 college football season.

By any measure you would have to accept that the University of Alabama football team is successful at what they do despite losing in the NCAA football championships to Clemson University earlier this year. The Crimson Tide have won 16 national championships including four in the last eight years. They have made more bowl appearances (64) than any other team in NCAA history. Alabama has won 30 conference titles and had 11 undefeated seasons. Currently, there are 24 committed recruits to the Alabama football program in 2017. Five are ranked number one in the nation at their position, including Thomas Fletcher from Washington State. Thomas graduated from the prestigious IMG Academy and is a long snapper. [1]

Now for those of you who may not be football aficionados, a long snapper is a center who only snaps the ball on punts. This means he will likely only be on the field for seven or eight plays per game. But those plays are often crucial. Place kickers have gotten better and now may attempt field goals from well over forty yards. Consequently, punts normally occur when a team remains in their own territory. A badly handled snap can result in disaster. The long snapper must snap the ball between his legs and send it approximately fifteen yards in 0.75 seconds. He must do this accurately and repeatedly during some of the most pressure packed moments of a football game. Furthermore, he knows that as soon as he snaps the ball he is going to be hit by at least one (if not more) 300 pound defensive lineman.

After years of success, clearly Alabama’s head football coach is leaving little to chance and will consistently bring in the best players he can. But many Division 1 teams still rely on a walk-on or fourth string player who is still learning to become their long snapper. But Saban wants to insure that his organization has every advantage as they confront their competition — and all leaders can take a lesson from this. This is not encouragement to micro-manage but rather the need for successful leaders to try and “see around corners,” think a little out of the box, and encourage their team members by their actions to be thorough and relentless in the pursuit of perfection in what each does for the overall success of the team. If the leader stresses the need to “find the long snapper” then the entire team will focus on what are the small things that can potentially make a difference.

If you still find this unconvincing, consider the following: Where did Nick Saban acquire his relentless focus on insuring his team did small things well?  He was mentored by a master, Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. Saban worked under Belichick from 1991 to 1994. Last year Belichick stunned many in the NFL when the Patriots selected a long snapper in the fifth round of the NFL draft. 

But if you’re still not buying this idea, I suggest you simply call the Atlanta Falcons and ask them their opinion.

-Dr. Jeff McCausland

[1] Sam Borden, “An Upside-Down Priority”, New York Times, December 26, 2016, p. D1.