Karen managed a team of Millennials, and she was confused by the way they worked. “They were never at their desks,” she recalls, and they were always working with headphones on.” Then there was social media. “If I walked up and Pinterest was on their screen, they wouldn’t even be embarrassed about it!”
So Karen told the team what she expected—that they work from their desks, and no social media of any kind. Before long, turnover spiked and performance went down. Something had to change.
Fortunately, Karen has a Millennial niece. During a family event, her niece is checking FaceBook, and Karen says, “I just fired someone for doing that.” The niece quips, “You can’t fire me from being your niece. You’re stuck with me.” They both laugh, but Karen is thoughtful. Her niece is bright and talented—like her team. For the first time it hits Karen that she is, indeed, stuck with them. They are who they are, and her career depends on figuring them out.
It happens to all of us. We run into a wall. Maybe we're isolated at work, or there’s a promotion or a project we don’t get. Maybe we lose sales. Whatever the point of pain, we miss connections to other generations, and it costs us.
Each of us makes a choice. We sink into ageism, or we learn Generational Intelligence.
The easy route is to fall back on stereotypical assumptions about other generations—that Millennials are entitled, or that Boomers can’t change. That’s ageism. It allows us to assume we’re right, which makes us feel good for about a minute, but sets us up for failure in the long run.
The solution is Generational Intelligence, the powerful ability to escape ageism, understand other generations, anticipate their reactions, and to lead and influence across generations.
Generational Intelligence begins when we ask questions of other generations with genuine curiosity, when we really listen to the answers and then ask the next interesting question.
That’s how Karen started. She began to approach her team differently. Instead of issuing orders, she asked questions about why they worked the way they did. And she really listened to the answers. “I had to let go of the way I had been managed all my life, and that was hard,” she admits. “I had to let go of how it looks to people of my generation when Millennials work the way Millennials work. I had to measure outcomes, not appearances.”
This is difficult work, and I admire Karen for it. I admire you, too, by the way. I’m happy you’re here, on this page, on this screen, scanning these pixels. Because it means you are a certain kind of person. Adaptable, curious, willing to grow. You’ve made a conscious decision to engage with the shifting generations.
In my work I’ve learned to recognize people like you—the bright lights in the room, able to leap tall org charts and vault generation gaps. You may be 18, 48 or 88, it doesn’t matter. We're all learning Generational Intelligence as we move through this unprecedented period of generational shift.
So welcome to the club. Here’s a name tag. Find a seat if you can, the place is full!
Amy Lynch is a generations expert, author and speaker. She works with companies that want to Harness the Power of Generational Intelligence.
Contact Amy here.