Are the Generations Really That Different?

Today’s workplace is filled with buzz about the newest generation: “Z.” Generation Z is defined as those born from the mid-1990s through 2010. And while current leadership may think this set is wildly different from past generations, we might be jumping to conclusions too quickly.

Sometimes younger people may appear to have different values and attitudes. Sometimes media stereotype them. And as these new cohorts enter the workforce, managers often get frustrated trying to figure out how to lead in a way that Gen Z will follow.

I try to look at this challenge from a broader perspective by reflecting on my own past. When I was young “rock and roll” had just hit the scene. Many adults including my parents thought that it would be the end of traditional values — all this crazy music could ruin the nation.

In fact, it was just another generation with different tastes but not dramatically different values. Over the years baby boomers were joined by Generation X, then by millennials and now Gen Z. But do we really need to adjust our leadership practices to suit up-and-coming young professionals? I’m not convinced.

Sure, each generation has its idiosyncrasies. Yet good leadership practices are tried and true. And most human beings respond to strong leadership in similar ways. These methods have worked in the past and can continue to make for an effective workplace in the future. Follow these time-honored practices and I’ll bet you’ll see little difference in productivity among different generations.

  • Engage everyone equally. Share operational goals with your entire team and provide time for discussion and buy-in. When your people understand and feel included in corporate goals, processes and measurements, they are more likely to do their best to get the team to the goal line.
  • Build a culture of fairness. If your team perceives that you’re playing favorites you will quickly loose support in the group. So make sure there is no favoritism in your group and attempt to hand out assignments fairly.
  • Listen to all employees. When employees feel like they are an integral part of the team, they will work even harder to achieve the goals. Pay attention to what your people are saying and respond in constructive ways. Make them feel valued for their participation.
  • Encourage fresh ideas. In most situations the best ideas about improvement come from those closest to the work. So encourage regular exchange of thoughts about business improvements — and never shoot down a fresh idea.
  • Keep no secrets. Share everything, because the best-informed team will do the best job. Think of yourself as the leader of a fully transparent, “no secrets” organization.
  • Recognize good performance. Pat everyone on the back for a job well done and celebrate success in whatever way makes sense for your team. When you see a positive outcome, tell that story everywhere you can. It could inspire others. There’s no downside to sharing success.
  • Teach, teach, teach. Help your people learn the skills needed for the job. These often translate to life skills, too. You will earn your team’s respect and likely inspire members to achieve more. Plus, teaching is not only positive for your people; it’s a boost for your self-confidence.
  • Focus on measurability. Results are what count, so don’t get lost in the weeds on trivialities that do not impact individual and team accomplishment. In most cases, the hours you work or the way you dress have little or no impact on performance and results. So stay focused on what really counts.

When you study the factors that employees say lead to job satisfaction you will hear things like engagement in the organization, being appreciated for contributions and feeling part of the team. Basic human relations are pretty consistent across generations and cultures: We all long for the same stuff.

Practice these points and I’ll bet they resonate with every generation.

published Nashville Business Journal

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One Comment

  1. Well said, Joe,
    We don’t have to be trendy to lead.
    We do have to speak in clear, compassionate voices and not overdo it.
    We honor the recipient as we speak of our vision and expectations.

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