The Millennial Gen-X Challenge: Driving The Future of the Organization, Together

The Washington Post reports that the number of Baby Boomers now retiring daily is up to 10,000 (was 6,000 during the recession).  That’s 4 million Boomers a year!  The exiting of brain power, strategic history and loyalty to the organization is staggering and will leave a massive hole of talent and competency in many organizations.

In this post-recession, VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business world, we need to prepare our organizations for a huge transfer of leadership and knowledge to new leaders that are ready and competent to close the gap. 

The Gen-X (1964-1979; 35-50 years old) worker needs to be ready to ‘belly up to the bar’ so to speak and take on those key strategic roles left by Boomers.  Older Millennials need to be able to take on the managerial/operational roles vacated by Gen-X.  Newer Millennials, now entering the workforce, need to take on the tasks and tactical work left by many of the older Millennials.  That is the cadence of events that must occur.  Oh, if only it was that easy!  Unfortunately, it isn’t.

The looming issue for our workforce and our organizations is that Gen-X and Millennials don’t like each other quite frankly.  Over 60% of employers say that they are experiencing tension among employees from different generations.  70% of older employees dismiss younger workers’ talents and capabilities, while 50% of younger employees dismiss the talents and capabilities of their older coworkers.  Gen-X is benchmarked for leadership growth, being the future skill bearers and knowledge experts in many organizations.  Gen-X will define much of the competitive advantage of business and companies in the coming decades and are at the prime of their careers, ready and willing to lead.  Controversially though, their career progress has been threatened by the “leapfrogging,” highly collaborative, multi-tasking, technologically acute, passionate Millennial generation.  In some instances, Millennials think they can do a better, faster, more efficient job than their predecessor generation and become restless when told to slow down or “earn their stripes.”  Gen-X takes offense at the notion and audacity of the younger generation, having been known to even stall Millennial career progression for the safety and security of their own career. 

As we’ve talked about in past posts, the Gen X and Millennials also communicate differently.  One communicates in a direct, get it done, sometimes cold, critical way.  The other wants reasons why, wants to collaborate, and has a tendency to be dramatic in their speech. 

And yet another challenge is management (predominately Gen X, but not all), has a tendency to still get into ‘the weeds’ of their former jobs.  That’s where they are originally from and that’s where they are most competent and comfortable.  So often the manager became the manager because they did their former job so well.  Unfortunately the new managerial job requires a new set of skills, challenges and mindset – its easier to fall into their former routines of doing ‘former’ work or ‘putting out fires.’

However, that’s not where the manager should be.  The manager should provide the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, and the newer worker should be providing the ‘how’ and the execution of the task.  If the manager remains in the weeds, having it out with every Millennial worker on the ‘how’ it should be done, they will never ‘level up’ to where they should be managing which is looking at tomorrow, benching marking, planning out the year and driving for operational excellence within the organization.  The manager should be operating at an operational (1 year out) mentality.  The labor force/worker should be working on the daily tasks. 

This same concept is the concern for former Gen-X managers who now have to move into strategic roles and lack strategic capabilities to drive the organization and look 3-5 years out.  Everyone should be ‘leveling up,’ but so often we stay where we are comfortable.  Unfortunately that does nothing for our organization’s future.

Stop the sibling rivalry and in-fighting.  It’s destroying our organizations and wasting time.  We’re taking our eye off the actually work to be done.  When we conflict as generations, we’re not spending the appropriate time on defining a common goal and approach and letting our best workers do what they need to do.  We need to level up, partner together and move forward. 

The idea that Gen X is a failed generation and the Millennial generation will succeed in its place is false.  These two generations will need to work together to launch the next great generation of work and business.  “Having the tough, capable and pragmatic Gen-X’ers working alongside the idealistic, team-oriented and enthusiastic Millennial is just the right recipe.  We both have lots to teach each other,” states the article Gen-X vs. Millennials: I Don’t Think So.  We need a team with the smarts, innovation, creativity and experience to succeed, a team designed to win.   This team, a combination of Gen-X and Millennials, needs to pull together fast and work together towards the common goal of building a brighter future for the next batch of generations.