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Generations and Inclusion

I spoke recently to a group of HR professionals in Pennsylvania about Managing Generational Diversity. My slides are embedded below. In the presentation I distinguish between the hype around generations (oversimplified, negative caricatures of each generation that blame one or more of them for our current problems), and the legitimate and important knowledge about generations (identifying differences in values based on the differing social contexts of each generation’s coming of age period). Then I go over the basic characteristics of the four generations in today’s workplace (Silent, Boomers, X, and Millennials). But the coverage of the Millennials is different. The oldest Millennials have hit 30 now, so they’re not brand new to the workforce any more. But they are still young as a generation, which makes it harder to see the generational traits that will stick with them throughout different lifestages. Still, I take a stab at what has been shaping this generation as they have been growing up (social internet, abundance, diversity, child-focus).

So what does all of this have to do with social business? In a word, inclusion. In Humanize, we argue that social businesses will create cultures that do inclusion well. And by inclusion, I simply mean valuing difference. Pushing against our tendency to want things to be the same, consistent, like us. And that’s what generations bring our organizations: difference. So when the Millennials come into the workforce and start, quite frankly, to piss off us old folks by demanding responsibility even though they don’t have a track record, wanting to work from home, and walking straight through organizational boundaries to get information, we need to figure out how to value that difference, even when it’s not the way we do it. Does this mean we have to change everything to be how the Millennials want it? No. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of generational differences.

Understanding generational differences does not give us the answers–but it does help us to have better conversations, particularly ones that lead to innovation.

Your workplace will need to figure out how to integrate the different views of your Millennial employees with the existing practices established mostly by Boomers and Xers. Frankly, you’ll probably also need to take a look at your culture to see if it is holding on to values from generations that are no longer there, that may not be serving your organization any more. But highlighting the difference–rather than running away from it, or claiming that we’re all just individuals so this stuff doesn’t matter–is the first step to innovation. It is at the intersection of two different paths that the opportunities for innovation emerge, to paraphrase Frans Johansson. Bring your generational differences to the surface, not because it’s the management meme du jour, but because you want to unlock new value.

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