GenX Rising

I recently spoke to a group of supervisors and managers about the Millennial generation.  As usual, I spent a lot of the time trying to change the ‘shared sense making’ or the stereotyping that is directed at the newest worker and instead, showcase many of the values that come with the Millennial generation. 

One of the things I press upon managers, who are generally made up of the GenX generation, is the imperative that Millennials will make up a majority of the workplace in the coming years.  Basically, the managers can either love the idea or hate the idea, but Milllennials aren’t going anywhere so it makes most sense to figure out how to work with them.

There is actually another challenge going on and that is the mass exodus of Baby Boomers from our workforce.  During the recession, 6,000 Baby Boomers were leaving the workforce daily, now that number is up to 10,000.  With Baby Boomers “exiting stage left” the legacy, history, core values and strategic business sense of many organizations can leave as well.  Only 12% of top leaders feel like they have the next generation of senior leadership ready to take over for the Boomers.  GenX is at a crossroads – they can either stay in the weeds, putting out fires and doing (and complaining about) the work of Millennials. Or, they can prepare themselves for the senior role they need to be ready to take on when the time comes (if it hasn’t already).

One of the biggest challenges we run into when we work with organizations is that GenX does not have the fundamental competency and skill set to think strategically for the organization.  This isn’t a slight at GenX; I don’t believe the organizations have prepared them well nor have organizations invested the necessary resources for GenX to be where they need to be at this stage of the game.  Whether in meetings or on the shop floor or helping prep for a presentation, we find that many GenXers have a tendency to stay at an operational, 10,000 foot thinking capacity: How do we prepare for the year ahead? Have enough hotdogs (products/services) been made?  Are my workers doing it right? 

Instead, the GenX leader should be thinking more about the 40,000 ft, long-game plan for the organization.  How do we look down field?  What’s the next 3-5 years look like?  Where should we be innovating, researching, and building?  What are the implications of today and this year on the rest of the organization’s future? 

Some key areas that GenX could focus on to better prepare themselves to take on a more senior, strategic role:

  • Read more strategy, big vision books and authors: Jim Collins, Onward by Howard Shultz, Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Peter Drucker, Edward Deming, Stephen Covey, etc.
  • Study other organizations, industries, innovations and connect the dots
  • Enter an executive mentorship program
  • Receive executive coaching
  • Take classes on effective decision making, high performance meetings, strategic planning, and change management
  • PowerPoints and presentations should now incorporate the whole business/network implications, not just departmental/single team (resourcing, finance, critical success factors, strategic intents, long-term implications, etc.)
  • Understand and learn personality types (MBTI, DISC, Communication Styles, etc.)
  • Advance thinking and demonstrate convergence thinking – the idea that even when we are in brainstorming or disagreeing how are we eventually moving towards resolution, convergence of ideas and driving the project forward
  • Administer a self 360 Development tool and plan to pinpoint key strengths and neutralize weaknesses; do it yearly to measure growth
  •  Have high performance meetings (start on time, end on time, agendas with time sensitivity, rotating roles and action scribing) that focus on strategic imperatives

The need for GenX to rise to the current imperatives of our VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) is long past due.  As Baby Boomers exit, Gen X should be finding every opportunity to work with them to transfer their knowledge over to GenX as GenX transfers their knowledge to the young workers.  As we’ve mentioned before it is only through the partnership and mutual respect of generations that we will still be able to build great organizations for the future.