generational cultureThe 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:

  1. Do we instigate generational stereotypes to build walls between groups and individuals?
  2. 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?