What Generational Differences?

I’ve had my fill of articles, studies and research about generational differences and the huge impact they will or are having on how we lead businesses today.

I think it’s a bunch of bunk. Here’s why.

I’m a baby-boomer and was influenced in one way or another by all the stuff that went on as I grew up—Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights riots, Kennedys, King, Woodstock, the sexual revolution and on and on. We were the “me” and “have it now” generation.

We baby boomers thought we were pretty hot stuff and destined to take over the world—or at least any businesses we decided to join.

We entered the workforce a wee bit naïve but got course-corrected with dispatch, quickly learning that there was another player on the scene who had as much if not more influence over the business than we would. That player was the customer.

Two or three days out of school and into a new job, companies that communicate the best tried to make it very clear that our role inside the organization is to meet or exceed customer requirements. It’s an outward focus. When we meet or exceed those expectations, customers pay us and keep coming back. We as employees are rewarded extrinsically and intrinsically.

Strong leaders showed us that while we may indeed be hot stuff, it was in our best interests to meet the requirements of someone else who was hot stuff. We benefited when we did great work for the customer. When we kept our needs and those of the customer aligned, we won. When got too “me” oriented, the customer left and gave their business to someone else.

Enter Gen X and Gen Y and the story repeats itself. Both generations were influenced by what was going on as they grew up. Their expectations were managed upward just as the Boomers were. They learned the realities of the marketplace as quickly as we did—or more quickly because they tweet and we sent memos.

The younger generations have discovered that it’s unlikely everyone can win a blue ribbon every time—that performance management systems are carefully designed to discriminate among the performers so we don’t over pay and put the organization on shaky ground.
A leader’s job is to grow people by capitalizing on strengths, helping them learn to adapt and reducing or eliminating weaknesses. Those employees who can learn and adapt the fastest will win.

Are there generational differences? Of course there are. Culture shifts, technology improves. But we’re different in other ways that have nothing to do with generations. If we get too hung up about when we were born or some other inward preoccupation, we are apt to lose sight of the need to carefully balance the customers’ and employees’ needs.


    1. Thanks, Bob. As I replied to Sue’s post, I get frustrated with people for their lack of perspective almost as much as my parent’s did with me when I was 20.

      I’ve had a running commentary with an IABC post that claimed that games in business are transforming communication. They call it gamification, which sounds like something my gastroenterologist might slap on me.)

      I’m sure it will be transformational. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting. Best to Kelly.

      We need more history majors.

  1. Bravo, Jim for saying what I’ve thought for years. All this chatter about companies needing to adjust for the new generations coming in … the same stuff was going on when I entered the workforce 25 years ago, and yet it was I that adapted much more than any company I worked for. I think we’re destined … or is it doomed … to think that each generation is oh-so different than the one before, and yet as time goes on we find we’re far more alike than we might have initially realized.

    1. Thank you, Sue. I get frustrated that everyone doesn’t have my perspective until I realize how frustrated my parents were that I, at 20, didn’t have theirs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *