Leslie Braksick: Leading the new generation Featured

7:01pm EDT January 31, 2012
Leslie Braksick, co-founder, CLG Inc. Leslie Braksick, co-founder, CLG Inc.

Much is being said about the generational differences we are seeing in our organizations:

  • Younger/emerging talent are passing up promotions that require relocation or longer working hours.
  • Talent believed to be happy in their current roles surprise us by departing.
  • Younger talent is moving to other companies — often with lateral pay — because the companies appear to offer new and interesting development opportunities.

If it were not for health care security, we’d probably see even more of this job and company hopping. What is going on?

For the first time in history, we have three vastly different generations working side-by-side within our companies: baby boomers, Gen-Xers, and millennials. Here is a high-level descriptor of each:

Baby boomers, who are currently senior executives in most companies, were born roughly between 1946 and 1964. They accept authority figures, have a strong commitment to what they do and give maximum effort. Most of them live to work and would classify as workaholics. They understand that money is what buys experiences and freedoms. They will change jobs, but usually stay within the same industry.

Generation Xers, who are currently senior managers and rising leaders in most companies, were born roughly between 1965 and 1978. They like informality and are loyal to themselves and building their skills. As opposed to baby boomers who live to work; Generation Xers work to live and seek a bigger work-life balance. They have less confidence in long-term rewards and greater expectation for short-term rewards. They change jobs, change companies and move across industries. They are also prolific entrepreneurs.

Millenials, who are newer hires and are quickly climbing the ranks due to strong skills in networking, problem solving and technology, were born around 1979. They question authority and work hard for high value. They are smart workers and can get away with little effort to achieve maximum results. While many of them are seeing success in their jobs, they aren’t as interested in climbing the corporate ladder as baby boomers or Generation Xers. They view money as necessary to live a luxurious lifestyle. Their work and personal lives are integrated. They pursue self-improvement and value life-long learning.

What do we know about these millennials who represent the future work force for most companies? They are racially diverse. Some would call them color-blind, ignoring race and ethnicity. They are extremely independent, growing up with divorce, day care, single parents, latchkey parenting, and the technological revolution. They feel empowered. They feel secure. They are optimistic about the future.

They are blunt and expressive. They value self-expression over self-control. Making their point is most important. They are still younger than they seem; extremely adaptable, technologically savvy, learning-oriented, efficient multitaskers, and they are by far the best-educated generation in our history.

So, as baby boomer or Gen-X senior executives, how do we lead millennials?

Encourage their values. Visibly recognize their individuality and let them be expressive. If they want to champion a social responsibility project on behalf of the company, encourage them. Let them use such opportunities to refine their leadership and communication skills.

Give them input into decision-making. They want to understand not just “what,” but “why.” They are not challenging authority — they simply want to understand and learn.

Develop and mentor them. More than anything, this generation requires coaching and feedback. If they don’t get it, they will leave for a place where they will get it. They are accustomed to rapid feedback from their technology-influenced upbringing and world — and they don’t separate that from the workplace.

Show them how their work helps the bottom line. Like all employees, millennials want to know their contributions matter. Provide full disclosure. They are accustomed to the ugly truths. Be transparent.

Create customized career paths. Millennials do not value longevity, because they have not known it in their own lives. They do not see staying with a company as a good thing. They have not experienced loyalty, so they don’t know how to offer it. They will want to have frequent, specific-career conversations.

Provide access to technology. This is the smartest, most technically astute generation ever to enter our work force. If we can tap into their gifts, and be willing to modify practices that may not serve well anymore, we can harness some of the brightest and best talent our country has ever known.

Leading this new generation provides tremendous potential for companies — but it is not for the faint of heart. Millennials don’t want anything from their employer that is vastly different from prior generations. The difference is they will leave if they don’t get it.

Leslie W. Braksick is co-founder of CLG Inc. (www.clg.com), coauthor of Preparing CEOs for Success: What I Wish I Knew (2010), and author of Unlock Behavior, Unleash Profits (2000, 2007). Braksick and her CLG colleagues work with leaders at all levels to ensure they tap into the discretionary performance of all generations of employees. You can reach her at 412-269-7240 or lbraksick@clg.com.