Published in the November 9, 2015 issue of Lehigh Valley Business Journal
What you hear (and maybe even believe) about millennials is not always true.
That was the gist of my keynote at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Manufacturers’ Summit VIII on the morning of Oct. 28 and attended by more than 80 business and workforce leaders. The theme was, “Is it true what they say about millennials?”
The message was reinforced when six father-son panelists discussed how they deal with generational differences in their respective businesses.
Younger workers, however, thought it was cool that someone 3-D printed a model of the “save” icon.
The point is that few workers under 25 have ever used, let alone seen, a floppy disk (or 8-track or 45 rpm record, for that matter), but most workers over 35 assume everyone has.
NOT BAD, JUST DIFFERENT
Millennials, to be sure, are different. But that’s not good or bad.
The members of every generation are different from their parents’ generation for a simple reason. They were born and grew up in a different time and place. They have different memories, different influences and different historical moments.
Baby boomers grew up crawling under school desks to protect themselves in case the Russians attacked. Today, millennial (and Generation Z) students experience lockdowns when a classmate brings an automatic weapon to school.
Different times change how each of us view the world. That’s just life. It’s not bad. It’s just different.
The consensus of the presenters and audience was that generations are more similar than different.
Each generation has extroverts and introverts. They have some people with great work ethic and others whose best skills are negativity and bad attitude. Each cohort has leaders and followers, superstars and slackers.
BEYOND THE FIRST IMPRESSION
I fell back on a trusty tool – the DISC assessment. (DISC is a behavior assessment tool that centers on four traits: dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance.)
The root of many conflicts has more to do with “how” someone might interact with others or approach work, and little to do with intentions. It’s the introvert who seems aloof but really is just observing or thinking.
The same goes for the extrovert who thrives by talking things out but is perceived as a blowhard.
But once you get to know the person, you realize how sometimes first impressions don’t paint a true picture.
GET THEM TALKING
With tools such as DISC, workers from different generations may begin to recognize that many styles and values cross generational boundaries. In fact, boundaries blur and similarities open doors.
DISC doesn’t solve all problems, but without getting different generations talking with each other, generational gaps will only widen.
Much to my surprise, two of the companies on the panel confirmed they were already using DISC to help bring their multigenerational workforces closer.
HOW THEY GOT THERE
Throughout the hour-long summit, several themes kept coming up from baby boomer fathers and millennial sons. These sentiments were echoed by the audience and moderator, a millennial recruiter from Crayola.
The three businesses at the summit attributed part of their success and low-employee turnover, even among millennials, to a few reasons:
(1) They all manage a flat organization with little hierarchy. They give young and old workers a “seat at the table.”
(2) They all have a story to share, and their employees are an integral part of it. (You can tell by their passion and enthusiasm that “people are our most important asset” isn’t just a set of words but a way of life for them.)
(3) Purpose and community involvement of the business and their employees are drivers for growth and high retention.
(4) They became more flexible with time, creating collaborative workspaces, allowing telecommuting, adapting benefits and rewarding an “intrapreneurial” spirit of workers.
(5) They focus on similarities and value differences between generations.
SIMILARITIES TRUMP DIFFERENCES
I closed my address with the following: “Millennials didn’t create the environment that they live in. [Baby boomers and older Gen X parents] did. They grew up in our world. Don’t make millennials scapegoats for how they were educated, how they work and how they play because we shaped their lives.”
But my favorite quote of the morning was by Bill Hindle, president of Easton-based HindlePower Inc. His words epitomized the attitude about how his company, like the others, exudes success and leadership especially when dealing with millennials and the multigenerational workforce.
“Tattoos don’t tell the character of the person,” he said.
Millennials’ attitudes are not poles apart like the media and many consultants want you to believe. For sure, there are differences, but similarities between individuals trump the different world-views that arise from growing up in different times.
Ira S. Wolfe is president of Lehigh Valley-based Success Performance Solutions and author of “Recruiting in the Age of Googlization” and “Geeks, Geezers and Googlization.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 484-373-4300.