While growing up in Europe, every winter we would c connect with friends from our church and head out to find a hill where we could go sledding in the snow.
I remember when my dad found a hill that took a full 15 minutes to climb, all for a 90 sec thrill ride to the bottom which ended at an almost-frozen creek. My own personal sled was the type where you lie on your stomach and steer with two wooden handles.
One particular day, I rode down on a borrowed (friends) sled. I did NOT know this sled, and I did NOT realize that you needed to lean your weight to steer. So, I'm flying down the hill, no knowledge of how to steer and the creek is fast approaching ...
Much like that sledding ride, we find ourselves working alongside people that we don't fully understand. Even though we have similar experience, we approach our work completely different.
Looking around we sadly realize that for the first time in a 100 years, we have lost the generation that thrived on systems, and order- and we have replaced it with three generations who are completely different. We have the hardworking success-driven Boomers, the time-conscious productive GenX’ers, and the individualistic fulfillment-focused millennials.
In light of these differences, we have found several guardrails that just might keep your multi-generational team from falling into that half frozen creek.
1.) Understand the differences.
When I was riding that unfamiliar sled, I tried to approach the hill with the same mindset as I did with my own sledand I was completely wrong. Sure, I was going faster than ever, and the ride was exhilarating, but, when I needed some control I didn't have the knowledge of how to prevent disaster.
In our workplaces, we are hiring and bringing on the "younger" generation and we are seeing the power of the creativity and the increase in corporate "speed", but many of us are feeling like we are on the verge of losing control. Or, if you are a millennial, you have probably been given freedom only to have it removed and given new boundaries that make you feel like you are being squashed.
As a multi-generational team, we need to start by taking the time to understand each other and our differences.You can do this either by reading about their values, work ethic, family experiences, pet peeves, preferred work environment, etc.,- or by having open dialogue about them.
The Practical: Take 10 minutes a week to read an article on each generation. Also, have an inquisitive conversation with someone not in your generation.
2.) Focus on communication.
Looking back, it would have been easy to ask my friend how to steer his sled, just as it would have been for my friend to tell me how to steer. At work, we make the same communication assumptions every day. Communication is the responsibility of the one communicating as well as the one receiving the communication.
Start by staying positive. When communicating in the workplace, avoid stereotypes and negative references to the different generations. Each generation has inherent weaknesses; however accentuating the positives will communicate the need for teamwork.
Next, communicate in a way that reaches each generation's approach to work; Clear communication about the goals and future of the organization will assist the boomers in seeing their future and meet their need for " success”.
Communicating the cost "in time" to the GenX employee will energize them to connect with the organization's values.
Lastly, communicating the global value of the mission to the millennials of your team will create a sense of "making a difference"
The Practical: Have an action plan of communication that speaks to the value of each generation; success, time and individuality.
3.) Learn to Adapt.
By the time I was bearing down on the frozen creek on that unfamiliar sled I realized it was too late to learn how to steer. I had to choose between falling into a freezing cold creek, or jumping off the sled. When I look back at the history of our organization, I wonder how many employees or volunteers we have lost simply because we didn't take the time to adapt?
As an organization, we need to know our core values and flex on the other things. At our offices we had tension between those that value timeliness and those who desired no set offices hours - two different generations with different personal values.
Our solution? We created room in everyone's schedule to have some "flex-time” contingent on their timeliness. It solved the exaggerated fear of "lawlessness" while addressing "entitlement” in those showing up late to work.
In short, it reinforced a core value within our team, gratitude.
The Practical: Write down the values of your organization (and yourself) and what you are willing to change.
So, I made the decision to dive off the sled just in time to roll to a stop, two-feet from the edge of the creek.
I also watched as the sled went airborne. Thankfully, my dad saved me and the sled.
When it comes to your team; be purposeful in understanding those around you, communicating and listening to your team, and adapting to your organization in order to include each generation.
This is one way we can avoid those almost-frozen creeks.