Past, Present and Future: It’s a Generational Perspective

I was recently asked a question in a somewhat formal interview.  “What do you do with the millennials in your organization that you lead?”  My response was pretty simple, “I lead them…”. I didn’t quite understand what the individual was asking me.  She was more pointed than I expected her to be. Her view of millennials in the workplace was an almost always negative one.   I realize that there might be reasons to be negative toward individuals within a generation, but to write off an entire generation because of a few interactions with those individuals, seems a bit extreme.

Her question, however, got me thinking.  Why do people who might be of the older generation have a negative mindset toward millennials and the other emerging generations?  (To clarify, the millennial generation isn’t emerging. Millennials have arrived. I know millennials who are CEO’s, have kids, own houses, lead organizations and lead them well).  The lady who asked me this particular question this day used an example she heard from a conference she attended. The statement went something like this. “Baby Boomers and Gen Xer’s are used to, and are willing to, work 50 – 60 hours per week… companies are reluctant to let them retire because millennials simply aren’t willing to work that much.”

I believe this with everything in me, yes there are lazy millennials, just like there are lazy Gen Xer’s and Baby Boomers.  Lazy individuals exist in every generation. The reality of our era is that millennials and the emerging generations are merely living up to the expectations their parents created for them.  Want to know why younger people expect participation awards for everything? Their parents, who led their little league and soccer leagues growing up, gave them to them, so no one had their feelings hurt. The purpose of this blog is to inspire a partnership among the represented generation and venture hopefully into the future.    I responded to her statement by saying “What if millennials could do the same amount of work without having to put in the same amount of hours each week?”

In the same meeting, another gal asked me a question that arrested my attention long after the meeting was over.  This gal asked me, “Why should we rethink church?” The organization I currently lead is a church. The name of the church is RE.THINK Church.  I gave her the elevator pitch that I have crafted since 2015. After the meeting was over, I couldn’t shake the thought though. Why should we rethink church?   I asked myself over and over again, “What if BlockBuster would have rethought how people should watch movies? What if ToysRUs thought differently about how people purchased toys for their kids?”   I don’t think the church is any different or any less vulnerable to the changing climate around us.

There’s a guy I listen to almost every week, Brady Shearer.  His company’s tagline goes something like this, “we’re living through the biggest communication shift in over 500 years…”  He’s right. In 2018, I don’t think we can appreciate how the printing press changed things for the communication game. I’m not sure we’ll understand what the internet’s potential is in our lifetime.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t or should think how we accomplish what we accomplish.   Think through what your organization does, not ask yourself how does your organization achieve that responsibility.

I’m not convinced it’s enough to move our platform to a digital platform.  I believe we need to rethink our how’s. I’m convinced that partnering with each generation represented is a crucial factor.

I’m a bit of an anomaly.  Technically speaking, I’m part of a microgeneration.  I was born in 1981. I remember rotary phones and dial-up.  I remember only being able to watch TV when the networks wanted me to, instead of when I wanted to.  I remember a day without cell phones or the internet. I remember not receiving a participation award and being ok without it.  I remember realizing trophies were for the champions because we didn’t celebrate mediocrity.

There is a tension in workplaces due to all the generations represented.  Companies need to brace themselves for a mass exodus of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  That is inevitable. It’s happening no matter how we feel about it. Everyone in human history stops working at some point.  People will either retire or die. Every day, 10,000 Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age. Most Baby Boomers aren’t retiring, however.

The generations behind the Baby Boomers are just playing the waiting game.  The positions that most Baby Boomers hold are the cherished positions.

Companies need to realize that the game is changing on us as we are playing it.  What got us here won’t get us to where we need to go.

This tension, however, isn’t going anywhere.  I don’t think this tension needs to be fixed, only managed.  Here’s the tension Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have put in the work to get us HERE.   We can’t ignore their efforts. We can’t merely think that what they have sacrificed and worked for over the years is pointless.  In my line of work as a pastor, we have a history of over 2,000+ years. To ignore the legacy of church leaders who have gone before I would ridiculous.

Like I mentioned before, what got us HERE won’t get us THERE.  If we only move our platforms to a digital platform, it won’t be enough.

Millennials can come across as almost aloof to the efforts of previous generations.  Leaders of communities, organizations and other companies seem to have a significant issue with working with or leading Millennials because of this trait.  I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve also experienced Millennials learning HOW to accomplish tasks in different ways to achieve more work in the same amount of hours or less than their older co-workers.

I worked at a company that is a first tier automotive supplier.  While working there, a customer changed their expectations from us.  As the supplier, we had to change with the game. Our team struggled to reach our production goals and satisfy the expectations of the customer.  After a few days of a new production system and purposes, we came to realize that one station in our assembly process was the bottleneck. No matter who we put there and no matter what we tried to do, the bottleneck never got better. As a result of this bottleneck and others, we missed shipments, missed production goals, long shifts, no weekends.

While trying to solve our problem, a 19-year-old showed up named Ray.  I was showing Ray around the assembly line and explaining what we were doing as a production team.  He observed the bottleneck and asked if he could try something. We had been doing anything and everything we possibly could at this station with very little success.

Ray stepped in was trained by the associate who had been working at this company longer than Ray had been alive.  The experienced associate watched and ensured what Ray was doing was what the operation manual said to do. She also ensured Ray was performing the task with safety and quality first.  Ray caught on quickly. Like really fast. Ray figured out a way to assemble the parts more swiftly than anyone else who had run that particular station. Ray eventually trained the rest of the team about his process.  It was evident that Ray could accomplish more work in the same amount of time, if not less time, than associates who had worked at the company for decades.

I wonder what would happen if companies would prepare for the inevitable departure that is going to occur of the older generations as they reach retirement age and leave the workforce.  What would happen we could partner the generations together and have millennials learn from older generations and vice-versa.

It’s arrogant for millennials to believe the older generations don’t matter.  It’s foolish for leaders who might be of the older generations to think they don’t have to change to accomplish their goals.

The companies that survive and thrive in the next 10-15 years will be the companies that don’t confuse the WHAT  with the HOW. Blockbuster might still be around if they would have rethought how people watched movies. The reality is, they confused the HOW with the WHAT.  People are still watching movies. We just aren’t watching them by renting a movie on a disk from a storefront. We watch Netflix.

Leaders, don’t be the version of Blockbuster in your industry.  Think outside the box. Ask Millennials HOW. They’ll help you. Don’t be offended when a younger person changes HOW things get done.

Millennials, the reality of life is that you don’t know everything.  It’s ok to learn and mature as you live your life. Don’t ignore history.  Don’t be aloof to what others have sacrificed and worked so hard to create for you to take into the future.

Together I believe we can partner together and create an amazing future.

 

Photo by Elijah O’Donell on Unsplash

 

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