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14 Management Practices to Bridge the Boomer and Millennial Divide

For managers across the spectrum, the Millennial generation work force is growing in numbers. Forbes suggests that 80% of hiring managers have a view their Millennial employees have narcissistic tendencies, but that this may stem from different generations not understanding each other and their thought place of what a workplace should be. Traditional team based management structures are under threat by an evolution in work environments.

If the only matter at hand was for organizations to modify their practices to accommodate the unique personality and behavioral traits of this emergent work force, it would seem readily achievable. The problem however is that the Baby Boomer generation, are working longer than previous generations for reasons including longer life spans and limited retirement savings. Many of these individuals who remain in the workforce are in management roles, working above and belong side the next generation of leaders. millennial generation

What is emerging from these contrasting mindsets between the Boomers and Millennials is growing culture clashes in many organizations, stemming from a lack of communication and mutual respect. The Boomers, are well known for collaboration via face to face interaction. The Millennials population also values collaborative work environments, but relies prefers online and social media communications from growing up as digital natives. The net result? Communication breakdown and a loss of cross cultural respect.

There are countless publications which articulate the growing cultural canyon emerging in the workforce along with superficial changes to management practices which closes the generational divide which are often high level and superficial as they do not address core human behavior. The following 14 management practices were derived from how executives assigned to foreign countries work through cultural differences to become relevant, one to the other. The execution of these practices are the responsibility of the manager whether Boomer or Millennial, as they are the owners of effective management of their teams.

  • Explorer-Adventurer Mindset Encounter the “strangeness” between each other and view is it as an opportunity for learning and self enhancement rather than an obstacle or insult to held beliefs. Embracing and engaging with the unknown and unfamiliar as a basis for learning and self enhancement is critical.
  • Accepting the Strangeness of the Unknown as a Basis of Learning: Embrace the differences and initial “ambiguity” associated with each other in order to observe and learn how each other operates effectively as well as the drivers behind them.
  • Real-Time Resilience: Do not give way to the shock experienced when the reality of how each other does not conform to one’s expectations of how things should be.
  • Acclimatization Competency: Embody a familiar sense of each other’s way of doing things, as long as the end result is operational efficiency.  
  • See Ones Values and Beliefs in the Local Context: Acknowledge how held values and beliefs influence each other’s way of thinking.  Set aside and mitigate personal bias and held beliefs in order to more effectively engage with each other. 
  • Reading Each Other’s Behavior Practices and Concerns: Observe and obtain a “textual” frame of reference to engage with each other in a way that allows each other to perform in ways that allow for the achievement of objectives.  Reading does not mean abstract reading of a text but it means gaining a sense of, familiarity with the way of doing things of the other such that one knows one’s way about, without having to think about it.
  • Individual Empathy: Demonstrated empathy by being able to listen to the way in which each other derive meaning, understanding what is important for each other and contributing on the basis of being invited to contribute.
  • Work With Each Other’s Way of Thinking in Order to Become Relevant and Open Possibilities: Learn from one another’s un-encountered behaviors and business practices. Develop a “textual” frame of reference as a basis to establish ones “relevance” through “acknowledgement” and respect of each other.  One becomes “relevant” through demonstrating lived experience brought both technically and experientially that is demonstrated “textually” such that both see “value”.
  • Treating Each Other as Legitimate: The danger in many cross-cultural situations is the desire to see the other on one’s own terms rather than being able to see the internal coherence and integrity of the others value framework. Treating each other as a legitimate “other” is reaching out beyond one’s own as framework to see the internal coherence of each other’s way of working and to work from there.
  • Earning the Right to be Regarded as an Authority: Regardless of which party has formal management authority because of their position in the hierarchy, this is not enough to earn the trust, commitment and enthusiasm from the other. In order to earn the right to manage, the leader must earn this in the eyes of the other. This builds a climate in which cooperation across difference of culture is possible.
  • Translational Competencies: Learn to articulate the strategic objectives of work assignments in terms of the others way of doing things.
  • Interactive Management and Overcoming Obstacles: Manage interaction “back and forth” taking core learned experience and effectively operationalizing it in day to day practice.
  • Developing Networks of Trust: Effective execution of the above enables the manager the ability to build on effective execution of work objectives in such a way that networks of trust emerge which further enhances the ability to operate and enhance business practice.
  • Creating vs. Blaming Mentality: The crucial question for success is the way in which managers experience obstacles: do they experience them as opportunities for creating and opening new possibilities or do they treat the obstacles as rationalizations for blaming the adversity of the situation for their inability to influence it.

Current realities suggest that the Boomers will not be leaving the work force in the near term, but Millennials are expected to continue entering the corporate world and take up more than 75% of the workforce by 2025. As such dealing effectively with the contrasting mindsets is essential for either group to effectively manage. Organizations expect their managers to perform. Those who adapt to this new contrasting cultural reality in the work force today, will succeed and grow in responsibility. Managers who surrender to cross culture conflict and the resulting lack of team achievement will find themselves relegated to non-management roles.

Execution of the competencies above is not like steps of a cook book, but rather reflective of a process framework which each manager has to make their own. The entirety of the above competency set leads to cross cultural assimilation, one to the other. There is no winner between Boomers and Millennial behavioral mindsets. The secret to success in this growing cultural contrasting work force, is to overcome and achieve as a manager and leader. 

Complimentary TweetChat Transcript: Becoming a Better Leader

Some of the questions asked included:

- What qualities and behaviors do you believe define a good leader?
- How does emotional intelligence and self-awareness fit into leadership development?
- Are leadership assessments still important to the executive hiring process?
- How can modern leaders make the workplace better and inspire their teams?
- How do I identify and prepare my successor?
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About the author

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Alan RoyalAlan Royal has led large and complex IT and operations functions – as Chief Information Officer and, often in parallel, Chief Operations Officer – to deliver complex global projects across borders for companies like New York Life, AIG, and Manulife. He was the first foreigner ever appointed as an executive officer of a Vietnam State Owned Company, and in this role led the IT Transformation of the State Owned Financial Service Conglomerate Bao Viet Holdings. He collaborated with McQuarie University, Australia, to create an innovative set of management practices enabling better assimilation and performance of executives in trans-national companies sent to emerging markets. He is a regular contributor to BlueSteps’ Executive Career Insider, as well as Meettheboss.tv; and was featured in Harvard Business Review Online. Find out more: www.alanroyal.com.

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