Communicating Across Generations Part 1: For the Boomers

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For the first time in American History – we have four generations in the work force working simultaneously. Each one communicates and processes information differently. In family businesses, this can create a significant degree of stress, especially when it comes to planning out the future of your company.

Those of us who work Legacy Planning spend plenty of time talking about the dollars and cents of it all, but what we don’t talk about (enough) is, well… how to talk to others about it. With the generation gap playing an increasingly larger role in businesses all over the world, it’s important to begin to learn how to talk and manage generations, particularly when it comes to legacy planning.

We understand there are two sides of the coin to this conversation – younger generations and older ones. Thus, we need to focus on both. This week, we’ll zero in on the older generation’s perspective and discuss some of the tactics and expectations they should carry with them when speaking with young professionals (Generation X & Y and Millennials).

Communicate values – Contrary to popular belief, younger generations aren’t anymore shallow than previous generations are. In fact, they’re some of the most values-driven members of our society. They crave meaning in their work, just like you do. It’s not enough to explain the what and how of a young professional’s work. You must show them the why by communicating the meaning behind it. You’ll be surprised at just how responsive they’ll be.

Work isn’t everything – The best and worst thing about younger generations is that they don’t value hard work the way Boomers do. They value smart work. They multi-task better, identify and prioritize better and are able to get a lot more done a lot quicker. It’s not because they’re smarter – it’s just how they were raised. The internet, cell phones, social media – even when it comes to having fun – there’s always a lot to get done in a young professional’s life.

While these qualities make them efficient, energetic and insightful, it also has led to dips in the quality of what they produce. Young professionals see the means of getting work done ‘good’ instead of ‘perfect’ as a trade off for balancing a family and spending time with their kids. Our generation spent years divorcing each other and fighting in the household. This generation refuses to succumb to that. Thus the time it would take to be focused on the details of work are instead reallocated to their family life. Maybe not the best for business, but it’s the best for them.

The last piece to remember is that with the kind of technology we have at our fingertips, we can change how work is done. You can accommodate your younger employees by allowing them to work remotely. Keeping strict office hours on some days while allowing to work home on others can be a huge boon to a younger professional whose focus lies more on home life than yours. Young professionals thrive on trust. Give a little, you’ll get a lot in return.

Your job is to help them achieve that balance they crave so much. Encourage vacations. Allow them to leave early. Let them spend time with their kids. However, be sure to inspect their work carefully and make sure that what’s being done is – in fact – getting done the right way. Help them find balance.

Don’t be defensive if you’re being misinterpreted – If you take nothing else away from this post remember this: younger generations have been raised with more methods of communication than any previous generation. They’re able to communicate on multiple fronts and as such – don’t have a lot of time to be wasting on ambiguity. You need to be clear and concise when communicating with them. Don’t leave things to assumptions. Communicate as clearly and directly as possible. While younger generations have a reputation for being ‘soft’, they’re really not. They like direct, frank and honest communication.

Try to learn about each other’s perspectives – Younger generations work hard and play hard. They’re able to get a lot done in a very short period of time and value work-life balance. Older generations appreciate nuance. They work hard and play when it suits their work schedule. They’re detail oriented and career-focused. There’s nothing wrong with either approach.  Sharing those perspectives is important as there’s much to be learned from your experience and their exuberance and passion. You won’t agree on everything and that’s OK – but having a basis for understanding makes bridging gaps a significantly easier process.

Just because your younger employee doesn’t like showing up to work until 10am doesn’t mean they don’t care or can’t do a good job. Just because they spend less time working and more time playing doesn’t mean things aren’t getting done. Just because they don’t do things perfectly doesn’t mean they are shut off to learning how. Step away from the conclusions and look for ways as to help compliment their weaknesses, rather than just complaining about them.

Define a goal – If you’re working with younger family members, be sure to define the future together. Ask questions like: What will our business look like? Who will be running what? What about our values could be overhauled or reevaluated? How will a transition work? Will I leave altogether or stay on in some capacity? Whatever it is, sit down and talk. Plan and map out a future – together. With the younger generation – collaboration is everything. Even when they’re not the ones with the final say, they like to be in the loop. Keep them present and make decisions together about the future. The inclusion and trust will go a long way towards forging a positive relationship.

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