Volume 11, Issue 4 - May 2010

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Raising Generation X
My Experiences with the Generation That Will Replace Me
by Audrey Dyer

Many of today’s millwork companies are still managed by the Baby Boomer generation, so it is important for us Boomers to recognize and be tolerant of the different business style of the upcoming Gen X-ers, even while we train them to take our places. They are sometimes characterized negatively by the older generation simply because they are misunderstood. It helps if we remember that it really is Generation X that will lead our industry into the future.

Overcoming Generational Clashes
With every new generation come clashes with the generation it is replacing. Predictably, the “Gen X-ers,” or the members of the generation known as “Generation X,” the “Thirteenth Generation” (i.e., the thirteenth generation since the founding of our country), the “Baby Busters,” or the “20-Something’s” have upset business tradition as defined by the Baby Boomer generation. The struggles between Baby Boomers and Generation X are rooted in the desire (on both sides) for everyone to be alike—but since that just isn’t going to happen, our challenge is to better understand the Gen X-ers in order to prepare them for the years ahead.

Complicating our efforts to understand and manage generational transitions is the fact that no exact dates define where one generation begins and the other ends. So it is with the transition from Generation 12 to Generation 13. The Gen-X mindset can manifest in an individual born near the end of the Baby Boomer era while some early Gen X-ers think just like us Baby Boomers. Overall, there are no black-and-white answers here—the human mind makes us all individuals, and that’s exactly how we act—individually. The fact remains that Gen X-ers are the employees replacing Boomers in the workforce today, so they are the future. They are not going away, nor are they going to change themselves to become just a younger Baby Boomer. It is up to the Baby Boomers to learn how to manage them and prepare them to lead our industry into the future.

Managing Generation X
I have discovered what I consider some of the dominant traits of Gen X-ers. My observations may be useful to other Boomer managers:
Gen X-ers are independent thinkers. They have a more free-spirit style than any generation before them. They are individuals—in a stronger sense than us Boomers easily understand, but they also have a strong sense of community and value personal relationships in the workplace.
Gen X-ers yearn to be “understood.” This creates an opportunity for us Baby Boomers, because the better we know them and the more insight we can gain as to what motivates them, the more we are able to remove barriers to the growth of both generations.
Gen X-ers have a tremendous capacity to process lots of information and concentrate on multiple tasks. They are “smart”—and they contribute more to our business than we usually acknowledge.
Training is a great motivator for Gen X-ers. They embrace technology. They love to learn, so they thrive on conversation and interaction with management.
Gen X-ers enjoy having fun, and they do not shy away from something new. That makes them great for “out-of-the-box” thinking.
Gen X-ers need to experience a sense of ownership, one of the qualities that make them so valuable in the workplace. Give X-ers the ball and they will run with it. They will work hard for something they believe in, and in a job that challenges them, because they are results-oriented.
Gen X-ers are a self-empowered workforce. Many have been self-directed from a very young age. Because of the commitment of their Baby Boomer parents to work long hours, these kids were often left at home to entertain themselves.
Many Gen X-ers have grown up as latch-key children in divorced families. Therefore having time for their families is very important to them as adults.
Not all Gen X-ers are award-driven, but they respond well to clear communication with both positive and negative feedback. They look for more than just fair pay; they need personal acknowledgment of job performance. They are results-oriented. They want to make a difference.

"It is up to the Baby Boomers to learn how to manage them and prepare
them to lead our industry into the future."

Worth the Investment
Most experts say Gen X-ers perform best in an 8 to 5 job, but I disagree. When properly managed and lead, the Gen X-ers work hard—as hard as or harder than Boomers. For example, there’s no need to expect them to see the need to work late, but if asked to do so they will do so with 150-percent contribution.

Clearly, their work ethic is different, but along with their younger age they bring unique strengths and abilities. It is ironic that while we Boomers may complain about Gen X-ers not being driven by the same work ethic as our own generation, we would list most of the above traits as being desirable attributes for a new position in our company. Think about it: A desire to grow in their jobs, to learn new skills, the ability to think creatively and work independently; and the real zinger: how about the part of being “results oriented?” Are these not the traits of the strong leaders we desire to have on our team? Gen X-ers do have a different management style; but in the long run they are worth the investment in the time it takes to understand them.

I look at the Gen X-ers this way: The Baby Boomers created them, so they can’t be all wrong, can they? But they are so unique they often give their Boomer managers a “fit” in the workplace—which is why it is so important that we understand what makes them tick. The greatest management challenge may be in building a team of Generation X-ers. It is not a natural part of their makeup—they prefer to be recognized as individuals. That’s why an important part of managing this special group includes accepting that all individuals are unique. Their managers need to accommodate the Gen X-er’s individual motives, values and goals rather than just enforcing their own preferences.

One firsthand experience that helped me learn to cope with (and even appreciate) the Gen X managers who work for me also provided an example of how to get them to participate in team fashion. Last year, I scheduled an annual meeting with our outside sales managers; a group that included both Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers. Without giving specific direction as to the meeting theme, I challenged the manager who organized the meeting to work around the general concept of “Managers Managing Manager.” The next thing I know, we (including myself) are participating in a comprehensive personality profile questionnaire that identified our traits in temperament, ego style and social style (which included trust), and concluded with a summary style profile. He summarized and charted the results of the entire group and facilitated open discussion of the things the questionnaire helped us discover about ourselves. Serious assessment of our individual strengths and weaknesses were softened by a lot of laughs. As a result, we all learned from each other, both Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers, and in the process we also learned about ourselves. We found we were indeed different, yet in many ways we were alike. All generations learn from each other.

Once you understand where the newer generations are coming from, it is easier to target your mentoring style in order to bring out their strengths and make the most progress. Then you can begin enjoying rather than dreading the generational differences and begin to appreciate the similarities. I’ve found you have to reach deep for the patience and time commitment to provide more one-on-one guidance for the Gen X-er. Invest in them personally. Take the time to speak with an employee’s spouse or family, and compliment and show appreciation for the Gen X-er in front of his family. Listen to what Gen X employees have to say in order to show your respect for their ideas. Thank him or her for doing a good job in person, and/or in writing. Set the right example as a leader, but let each employee discover how he or she fits into the plan. If you think about it, these are good leadership practices regardless of the generation with which you’re dealing.

Our Gen X-ers may be the most challenging employees in the workplace, but they are worth our investment in time and effort to teach them about the past while we explore the future together.

The Association of Millwork Distributors supports the Gen X-ers and have an exclusive group entitled the AMD GenerationNEXT. If you have Gen X-ers, you would like to see involved in AMD, contact us.

Audrey Dyer serves as president of ECMD Inc. and AMD first vice president. Her opinions are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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