Reaching Your Company's Generational Resonance

MAR 5, 2016

Harmonizing Across Multiple Generations in the Workplace
For the first time in history, leaders and employees from 5 generations are interacting daily in the workplace... and this is an incredible concept to imagine. If you estimate that each 'defined generation' is considered to occupy a span of roughly 20 years (sometimes with overlaps), the life experiences and working-style differences across multiple generations are immense. Even more incredible is how technology advances in recent decades have accelerated the change in workplace communication and interaction norms - which some argue has further defined the delineation between generations.
So, Whats The Issue? Its more of a challenge than an issue as I see it.  And it needs to be addressed by every company, leader and board to remain competitive. How do you successfully create and lead an environment with so many varying motivation, communication and work-style needs? This is not an easy responsibility to bear, but I have found the following simple steps quite effective for the companies I advise and for the boards I serve:

Step 1: Analyze. Do you know your company well? Possibly, but it is likely that you have not spent time analyzing the generational makeup of your employees, leaders or board members. This is very important foundational information to know. In order to initiate the process of harmonizing all of these generations into a cohesive, efficient and productive group to reach the optimal resonance within your company at the macro level, you must first understand what generations make up the entire workforce across your organization. I suggest creating a special project to gather this information and view the numbers as well as the percentages. Remember that you can also apply this concept at a micro level to projects, programs, lines of business, boards, etc.
Goal of Step 1: Listing and breakdown percentages of your group's generations.

Step 2: Research. People of each generation share an 'age position' in time. This inevitably includes social trends and other historical-defining events encountered while inhabiting the same phase of life. For example, Generation X, who came of age during the Information Age, was influenced and shaped much differently than their Baby Boomer parents who came of age during a time of values experimentation and challenging of authority. These unique experiences create common beliefs, behaviors and values that can be attributed to a specific generation. I recommend that even if  you document less than 5 generations in your evaluation group, it is worthwhile to research all 5 due to the inherent benefits and understanding it brings. I have found the following link to be very informational and a great starting point for research: Generational Differences Chart
Goal of Step 2: Answer the question 'what do the members of each generation value?'

For further detail, see EY's Analyzing Perceptions - Positive and Negative Characteristics of Members of Each Generation and be sure to further click on 'download the full version' for more great details.

Step 3:  Understand and Apply.  You now have a view of the generations within your company (step 1) and an understanding of the values and motivations for each of these generations (step 2). Just as each of us have our good and bad traits, so do the generations. And I would argue that it is not about good and bad, strengths or weaknesses, but rather the differences and, as a business colleague of mine puts it, leading through it. Said differently, know what makes each generation tick to make the most of the differences. Some initial questions you may ask yourself with your new-found data as you start your process:

  • Have I communicated in such a way that reaches all of the generations within my company or group? Each generation responds differently to each type of communication medium (and even when, where and how each generation consumes content varies, as Kelsey Libert points out in her Inc. Magazine article). Another good article as a starting point on syncing communication to ensure alignment within your environment is Championing a Multi-Generational Workforce With Visual Communication by Matt Pierce.
  • Have I created a rewards and recognition program that leverages the motivational chords across each generation? A multi-faceted reward and recognition approach may work best.
  • Does the physical environment and office space in my company cater towards all generations? Or, does it look towards the future? For many companies the 'Age of the Cubicle' is drawing to a close, but there may be some value in designing multiple work environments within the same office space to accommodate generational workspace preferences. Office furniture companies such as Knoll have taken notice of the generational needs and published the whitepaper Generational Preferences: A Glimpse Into the Future Office - worth a read.
  • Am I aware of each generation's optimal work conditions and have I created policies that foster flexibility and productivity? One may work best at a desk in a quiet office while another stays motivated while working at a Starbucks with a cup of coffee and a laptop. Some strategic thought in the area of workplace schedules may be in order, but I highly recommend doing this only once you have metrics in place to monitor work productivity and effectiveness.
  • Do I understand each generation's learning and teaching styles? Many companies have spent unbelievable amounts of effort and money on training programs that are outdated and do not 'reach' their intended audience. Worse yet, they are either targeted towards one generation's style or have attempted to incorporate pieces of each generation's styles rendering the entire program ineffective. A great reference on learning and teaching styles by generation can be researched within the presentation Employee Training in a Multi-Generational Workforce on pages 11-15 (especially page 15).

Goal of Step 3: Create your Generational Strategic Implementation Plan


Know that this Generational Resonance exercise may be the most important thing you as a leader, C-Level executive or Board Member do within the companies you represent in the upcoming year. This process may even help clarify previous conflicts within your organization and prevent them in the future. Teams that do not work well together achieve very little - this is not only terrible for the company, but also can tarnish a leader's legacy.
Is your company Harmonized and operating at its optimal Generational Resonance?

Need help strategizing your Generational Resonance Plan?  For a free 30 minute session focused on:

  • Assessing the generational span across your company,
  • Suggestions on starting your 'Special Project' mentioned above, and
  • Tips on how to build your Generational Strategic Implementation Plan,

Schedule your free session via email