(Part 1 of a 3 Part Series)

With different generations in the modern workforce spanning the ages from 16 to 70+, managing employees in a way that promotes good will, productivity and efficiency is more important than ever.

I wrote a blog on Sorting Out Coaching vs. Mentoring vs. Training a few months ago.  I would like to add some additional thoughts and information on how this works in today’s multiple generational workforce.

Lots has been written about today’s workforce having 5 generations (Traditional or Silents, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers. Generation Y’s or Millennials and Generation Z’ers) present and working alongside one another. People have written about how each generation has a different set of needs, expectations, and values which can cause conflicts within the organization. For someone coaching, mentoring or leading a multigenerational workforce, they must take into consideration generational differences in empowering employees to become more effective in the workplace both in performance and in the way they relate with each other.

When I look at the varying characteristics of each generation (see table 1), I will need to carry around a cheat-sheet with all the various types and characteristics when doing any coaching or mentoring.

If I am coaching a boomer and a millennial on how they should relate with each other, I need to know their individual characteristics.  If I don’t pay attention to those characteristics, there is a chance I could be setting them up for failure.  As I look at this table it appears to me that I need to know more about these two individuals before I even start the coaching/mentoring process.

As I continue to learn about the generational characteristics the more I see a common thread between all of them.  It’s my opinion that common thread is that everyone is searching for a MEANING – meaning to their job.  The boomer wants meaning for life and their legacy, the Gen X’er wants work that is meaningful, and the Gen Z’er wants to find meaning in the work they do.

Regardless of the individual’s generation, I need to ask myself how well I know my team as individuals.  How well do I know their behavioral styles, their driving forces, and what about their emotional intelligence (EQ) skills, and more?

I have read authors that suggest that, for me to be a good leader, I should adapt my leadership style to each individual’s strengths, weaknesses, wants and needs.  How do I find this out?

I think the answer is through behavioral assessments, such as DISC, MBTI, and others, that are excellent tools to help coaches, mentors and leaders better understand and connect more effectively with their workforce, raising employee engagement and productivity.

For example, DISC is an acronym that stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.  The science of DISC explains the “how” of what a person does.  This can also be a strong predictor of future behavior.  Using some assessment tool is powerful and eliminates much of the guesswork for leaders.  With the knowledge gained through something like a DISC Profile and the individual generational characteristics, I now have equipped myself with a better set of tools to help the boomer and millennial learn about each other and gain professional respect where the distinctly different people can relate and work effectively together.  If we don’t bring these human capabilities to bear in the workplace, coaches, mentors and leaders won’t realize the potential to capitalize on their most valuable resource – their employees. Let me explain my position in further detail with the following information.

The current workforce has also reached an unprecedented tipping point, with millennials comprising the largest section of the working demographic.  With this shift, more millennials are being placed in supervisory roles over older employees – a change that might bring feelings of uncertainty and skepticism to a multigenerational work team.  Add to this that mentoring and communication styles differ dramatically across generations, which fuels the flame.

Let’s take a look at table 2.  This is an outline of the Views and Values of the various generations.  Now think back to the situation I spoke about earlier of coaching a boomer and look down the list for the Baby Boomers and the Millennials and compare and contrast their Views and Values. Can you see some conflicts lurking in there?  Look at the different styles of the two in communications, problem solving and leadership.  If I don’t know more individual information about these two employees I could be facing a difficult conversation with these two employees. When you compare the views of values of the two, I think you might have a better understanding of my previous statement about setting them up for failure.

Coaches, mentors and leaders can do something to manage this dilemma. The first thing is to understand that this workforce of age-diverse employees also means acknowledging that each generation has its own idea of what respect looks and sounds like, and treating other as you would want to be treated may not always be the best approach with a colleague that is 20 or 30 years older or younger than you.

If your workforce suffers because of generational gaps, you can raise productivity and moral by giving all employees – young and old – a sense of contribution.  Remember that our differences make us stronger.  Acknowledge your generation differences, but don’t dwell on them.  Above all, understand that stereotypes are just that: Stereotypes.

In Part 2 of this series I will present more information and examples of coaching, mentoring and leading across the generational differences.