5 Strategies for Gen X to Work Effectively with Millennials


In coaching both Gen X and millennials, I’ve noticed a disconnect happening between the two generations, and its hindering Gen X’s ability to lead. According to business consultant and thought leader Tammy Erickson, Gen X in many ways represents the leaders we need now. The original latchkey kids; they are resilient, adaptive and natural consensus builders with a reputation for getting stuff done despite their slacker image. Now they need to adjust their strategy from focusing on getting along with boomers to embrace the millennials and the new workplace. The emerging culture is about connectivity, collaboration, sharing and innovation. It requires a work environment that allows people to be human and flawed. In this culture, the role of manager is one of fostering a synthesis of ideas. Jamie Gutfreund of the Intelligence Group estimates that by 2020 there will be 86 million millennials in the workplace representing 40% of the marketplace. Today’s Gen X leaders need to make a few shifts in their approach to management if they want to be effective and get the best out of the rising generation.

Here are five strategies to become a more effective manager:

1. Be a Coach or Mentor
Top down authority is waning in today’s workplace. Millennials expect to be listened to and encouraged to find solutions instead of dictated to. With boomer parents who doted on them, told them anything is possible, and to question authority, they expect to be heard and to find solutions to difficult challenges. They want their boss, like their parents, to be a coach or mentor. Work on creating a dialogue, offering constructive guidance and building alliances with your millennial staff.

2. Create a Collaborative Work Environment
The emerging workplace is about collaboration and synthesis. Encourage employees to voice their opinions and talk through problem solving instead of making unilateral decisions. Work on building consensus. Create a meritocratic environment, which is what most of my clients foster in their technology focused environment to generate great results. Listen to what people have to say and then perform the magic of synthesis.

3. Support Flexible Work Schedules
This generation works hard but they also don’t expect to clock in and clock out. They want to be able to go to a 1pm spinning class but will work till 9pm to get the project done. Juggling family and work, they may get a sizable amount of work done before even arriving at the office. There is no need to enforce a strict 8-hour work day anymore; it is a product born out of the industrial age; and it is time to let it go. Plus, today’s technology empowers us to be connected 24/7 and be location independent Keep the focus on results not hours, or expect to see your millienial talent walk.

4. Encourage Work-Life Integration
The delineation between work and life is disintegrating. The new workforce brings the personal to their jobs. They work to live. Long gone is the age of Dad working and Mom tending to domestic life. Millennials expect fluidity and to be able to bring their life to work and vice-versa. Embrace the perk culture such as yoga at the office, free lunch, game rooms and even children. The world of Don Draper is thankfully in the last century.

5. Accept the Rough Draft
The pace of technological advancement, the emergence of non-linear thinking, and multi-tasking all mean that when you ask for something a millennial is most likely to deliver a prototype not a finished project. The reason: everything changes and everything needs to be done now. It is also part of supporting a collaborative approach. Don’t take a prototype to be a reflection of carelessness, instead see it as an invitation to collaborate.

The emerging culture is radically transforming the workplace. Adapting these new management strategies is a critical component to be a relevant and an effective leader in the new normal. Change, be changed and embrace the new workplace leadership standards that foster connectivity, collaboration, sharing and innovation.

Caroline Stokes is founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions.  FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.

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