The IBM Institute for Business Value conducted a multigenerational study and issued a report entitled “Myths, Exaggerations, and Uncomfortable Truths: The Real Story behind Millennials in the Workplace.” This is a well-done, insightful report, highlighting a key fact – there is a thin difference between generations in what we want from leaders and the organizational culture in which we work.
Where generations meet is in our organizational cultures and communities. We have two choices:
- Do we instigate generational stereotypes to build walls between groups and individuals?
- Do we build bridges between generations to cultivate an environment everyone can excel in?
The first choice is easy to do. The second takes effort.
The first choice will create leadership gaps and erode engagement. The second will strengthen leaders and growth.
This is the real uncomfortable truth about organizational culture and leadership. Do you want to snipe and be self-centered, or do you want to engage and be purpose-oriented?
Learning from the Myths, Exaggerations, and Uncomfortable Truths
The IBM Institute for Business Value study highlights many important points on how we need to work together and leverage the best in each generation along with the technological changes available. Highlighted below are a few key topics from the IBM study.
Engagement: Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers have similar priorities in what it takes to engage team members. The priorities include a strong blend of inspirational leadership, clear vision and strategy, and performance-based recognition and promotion. What a blend these three elements offer! Think about it. We want to be inspired. We want to know where we are going. When we perform, we want to be recognized and be given the opportunity to advance.
There is so much power in these priorities and now the generations need to come together and lead. No expectation of a trophy for participation, only recognition for results.
Leadership: Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers align well on what makes a good leader. The key traits include:
- Ethical and fair
- Transparent and readily shares information
- Dependable and consistent
- Is open to new ways of doing things
- Clearly defines goals and expectations
These traits are foundational to be a good leader, and this is something we agree on across the generations. Nothing superficial here.
Making Decisions. Millennials and Gen X share in goals of involving diverse viewpoints and then reaching consensus when making decisions. Baby Boomers are the outliers here, valuing diversity and consensus less than the other two generations. Baby Boomers need to rise to the challenge of other generations, grasping diverse viewpoints and engaging them in the decision-making process. In diversity there is strength. In generational diversity there are better decisions.
Technology Empowerment. Even though technology is everywhere, there seems to be great reluctance to embrace it and use it within businesses. Only 4 percent of respondents “claim their organization has no issues implementing new technologies.” An amazing statistic in today’s world. Part of the fear seems to be how new technologies will impact customers yet most believe good customer experiences are lacking.
There are always risks in new but there is greater risk in not leveraging new technologies to enhance operations, experiences, purpose, and profits. Vision, culture, and leadership are all required in order to drive positive change. This is an uncomfortable, necessary truth and we need to embrace it in order to change.
The Challenge for Leaders to Create Engaging Organizational Cultures
There is a quote from an assistant engineer in China that resonated with me. It is:
“Do more, worry less. Listen more, speak less.”
Simple, sage advice from this Millennial. The statement is made as career advice to other Millennials. However, I believe this is excellent advice for all generations. As we continue to lead and build organizational cultures, we need to do more and listen more. We need to worry less and speak less.
To lead more fully, we need to listen to more diverse voices and engage different generations. We need to worry less about what the changes will bring and work together to bring the right change for the right purpose and goals.
To build an engaging organizational culture, we need to listen to the perspective of different generations and use the talent no matter the age. Speaking less creates an opportunity for others to speak up. (tweet to share) Leaders need to create the environment in which others can speak up and do more.
Myths exaggerate differences. Differences bring insights. We need to drop the myths of Millennials and engage different perspectives to lead more effectively. (tweet to share) We need to drop our fear of what is new and create better products, solutions, and customer experiences. Most importantly, we need to create the right environment to strengthen current and future leaders. There is no greater calling for leaders and organizations.
Are you ready to embrace this uncomfortable truth and lead forward?
Join the Conversation
The Uncomfortable Truths about Generational Culture
What I love about this post is that it highlights the points of connection between generations. I still read far to much about how millennials want this… boomers want that… and I rarely hear a word about Gen X. We ALL want to be inspired – big yes! That gives us the foundation to work together to create a great place to work that adds value to the organization and meaning to our lives.
Agree, Alli. There is a common foundation in which we should all connect upon and then work together for a better generation ahead. The IBM study shows this thin difference…. now we need to share experiences and build a better future ahead. Thanks! Jon
Thank you for sharing your story and the lessons from it. I hope you are working through your challenge, and my thoughts are with you in finding a good resolution. As you point out, when change happens, we can easily freeze rather than look ahead for the possible solutions. It takes added information and others who are collaborative and transparent in providing information and more. These are all good insights to apply in working across generations to solve challenges ahead.
Thank you for bringing a personal story to highlight how we can confront uncomfortable truths and keep working through them.
Another great post Jon.
Yesterday I was hit with some life changing information that requires some major changes. Initially this led to some fear and than when I saw how my fear was being absorbed by my daughter (she’s about to turn 16), it helped me shift awareness from being reactive to the information and what I was afraid (and feeling temporarily powerless) to stepping into being proactively conscious and putting on my problem solving and solutions oriented hat.
This helped a great deal. It doesn’t change the reality of the challenge we are facing, but immediately shifting into exploring immediate options, communicating these clearly to my daughter, and also taking the time to ask her questions so I would know what, exactly, her fears are, helps us face them head on. I was then able to do my part to allay her more immediate fears and clarify what our options are while reinforcing that change is here, it will be temporarily uncomfortable, but it’s not going to last forever.
What I’m learning through this experience is that fear intensifies the more we are blind to options and possibilities. Hope is kept alive as long as we have options to explore.
While this happens to be a family and life situation, it is still a good reminder of those generational gaps and position gaps we experience in our organizations. As employees, we want as much information as possible during times of major change. As leaders, we may easily forget the need to keep our people informed during times of dramatic change. It’s important to be willing to address people’s fears head on instead of avoiding it or leaving people to make assumptions, which only serves to escalate fear and the feeling of being powerlessness in a situation.
Thanks for sharing.