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08 Feb. 2016 | Comments (0)

A senior leadership team’s inability to bridge their companies’ generational differences can undermine even the most scrupulously planned transformation programs. This is due to the fact that multi-generational workforces have differing mindsets, work patterns, communication styles and motivating drivers. Therefore, tackling multi-generational differences should not be considered just an “HR” issue for high-performing organizations; it should be addressed regardless of the type of transformational program you are leading.

Uniting an organization under the guise of a newly minted transformation program’s shared vision is critical to achieving a firm’s strategic and financial goals. Yet change management and communication messaging is typically created with a one-dimensional lens that often poses far more challenges than many companies anticipate, thus hindering the pace of change needed to achieve strategic goals. According to SHRM, workforces will continue to diversify, with five generations of employees working in a globalized environment.1

Due to the urgency that often surrounds large-scale transformation efforts, companies rarely have time to assess or address multi-generational workforce differences. Organizations with a multi-generational workforce frequently might find it difficult to sustain key growth decisions and operate effectively as a whole, which may hamper their ability to realize economies of scale and other benefits from a transformative program. Here are some strategies to consider:

Embed generational tactics into change management. Often change management during transformation is equated simply with communications. This limited focus may diminish the importance of addressing generational differences in change management. One example is to consider conducting stakeholder analysis and sub-segment stakeholder focus groups by generational differences. This additional layer could be key in tailoring change interventions or training activities in ways that accommodate different learning styles and mindsets. By making the change management team(s) explicitly responsible for ensuring generational differences is addressed, the team assumes an essential role in achieving transformational program goals, in turn requiring it to be staffed with the appropriate number and caliber of resources.

Identify inclusiveness champions and have them report to transformational program sponsors. Choose inclusiveness owners to participate in the transformational program where various generational views are represented. These champions can be senior human resources executives, organizational development leaders, business senior executives or even key line managers.

Give employees a voice throughout a change program. Regardless of workforce segment characteristics such as age or tenure, effective transformational programs create or leverage existing employee forums in which employees can present ideas, share concerns and communicate needs. Executive leadership teams should also help facilitate open forums when communicating transformational program messaging. Aggregating key themes and ideas from these forums can help change programs calibrate change interventions and tactics as required.

Create a coaching-centric culture where the focus on inclusive, high-performing teams is the norm, not the exception. The ability to differentially invest in the development of strong teaming and coaching capabilities vertically and horizontally across the organization provides substantial benefits to a multi- generational workforce ecosystem. Organizations that remain laser-focused on creating inclusive team environments with an emphasis on coaching as a talent development priority understand that communicating in different ways is critical since employees learn and consume information differently. Inclusive teaming is a powerful strategic strength that yields dividends in a competitive marketplace while also serving as a key indicator for the likelihood of success on transformative programs.

Consistently use a multi-dimensional communication platform. Some employee segments prefer to communicate by phone via teleconference or by receiving a paper brochure, others want to read information on the company’s intranet or speak about it in-person in a small setting, while other employee segments prefer to receive an SMS text message with key sound bites of the message from their immediate supervisor or peers. For each message sent out regarding your change program, organizations must strongly consider use a wide array of vehicles to get the same message across in a consistent manner.

Overcome multi-generational barriers to decision-making. An organization’s style of decision-making is often deeply ingrained in its culture. When an organization is in the midst of a transformation, this might result in various types of outcomes. Examples of this are the integration of a merger/acquisition transaction of another company with a radically different culture or a hire spurt of new employees not only with different skill sets but also differing mindsets or motivational drivers. The transformational program’s ability to make decisions may suffer, and few things have a greater impact on a transformation program’s results than the ability to make (and sustain) key strategic decisions. In fact, a transformational leadership program team’s inability to reach consensus and take decisive actions may erode customer confidence and employee loyalty. Thus, executives leading the transformation effort should specifically address barriers to decision-making with the support of a multi-generational workforce by:

  • Identifying key decision-makers for each area of the program with differing perspectives
  • Understanding the decision-making style of each generational workforce segment, including the assumptions, processes and structures that support the style
  • Communicating expectations to decision-makers, including deadlines for decisions, and potentially use the need for speed to force changes in how decisions are made

Pair cross-blended change sponsor/agent teams with key workforce segments to encourage more cross-generational interactions and understanding. Creating mentoring relationships where both younger and older employees can either learn from each other or provide fresh perspectives to a business challenge helps foster inclusive environments. This type of pairing also accelerates adoption of new ideas and transformational programmatic goals.

* The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP.

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  • About the Author:Christie Lindor

    Christie Lindor

    Christie Lindor is currently an Assistant Director on the Talent Development Consultant team for the Financial Services Organization Advisory practice of Ernst & Young LLP. Christie joined E…

    Full Bio | More from Christie Lindor


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