I have been on the road speaking on behalf of The Center’s research for the last five years. Through this diverse frontline experience I’ve had the chance to interact with thousands of leaders on all sides the generational divide.
This frontline POV—literally from Latin America to Europe—gives me an inside look into the toughest generational challenges organizations face across the globe. Some of the observations are expected (these “kids” won’t get off their phones!), but some themes emerge that are less expected. Here are the three things I’ve learned along the way speaking to all five generations of employees and influencers:
1- Generational differences have a dramatic impact on organizations of every type and size. From Fortune 500 companies and global conglomerates to small family-owned businesses in Iowa—I’ve found that no organization is immune to experiencing generational challenges. When it comes to intergenerational workplace interactions, the challenges and questions are often far more consistent than the diversity in size, geography, and industry might lead you to assume. Everywhere I go I hear questions around cross-generation communication, technology usage, employee expectations, effective motivation, and a need for new sales strategies everywhere multiple generations are present.
2- Our generational biases can make bridging the generational divide difficult. Personally, I love technology. I love that it grants us access to an endless trove of information (like which restaurant I should go to in Orlando tonight). I don’t love that it makes it difficult to differentiate research-based truths from myths that are being promoted online as truth. The volume of noise related to generational differences is creating real challenges for people in search of hard data, research-based solutions, and seeking to separate cute stories from tested solutions. I often find myself entering contentious situations where limiting beliefs about particular generations (usually Millennials) have resulted in a siloing effect within teams. ‘Why deal with that other generation when they ____ (insert negative comment here) _____?’ is not an uncommon view. I often tell people that it’s best if they consider that what they’ve heard before might not be true – and let’s insert some new research and frontline experiences to figure out what is true, what works, and what to do today.
3- Millennials rarely like the term “Millennials.” To many people, especially Millennials, the very term used to name their generation brings with it the connotation that the generation is lazy, entitled, and needs their mom to pay their bills. Yet here are 30, 40, even 50% of my audiences that are filled with Millennials who show up to work every day, do a good job and just want to make a difference. As part of my role as a generational speaker, I want to highlight and bring understanding to the millions of Millennials who are working hard to buck these stereotypes. In fact, I couldn’t be more optimistic about the Millennial generation based on the people I meet at companies and organizations of all sizes around the world. This new generation is brimming with Millennials who are hardworking, intelligent, and are the group most likely to be frustrated by entitled Millennials they meet- because they think the entitled part of the generation is giving them a bad reputation!
Bonus Observation: And one bonus here. The biggest insight I’ve uncovered from my speeches is that every single generation adds value. The value may look different, but the value makes every other generation greater, too. The better we can appreciate and tap into the value each generation brings—whether Gen Z, Millennial, Gen X, or Baby Boomer—the stronger we can make our organizations from the inside out.
The best part about this work is meeting individuals after a talk and hearing how they now see themselves a little bit differently—and that they are shocked a Millennial like me can have so much energy at an early morning keynote!
Curt Steinhorst is a Certified Keynote Speaker at The Center for Generational Kinetics
What types of generational differences are most relevant to you? Join the conversation on Twitter with @WhatTheGen or @JasonDorsey. And don’t forget to add your #generation!