Stop Talking about Generations and Start Talking About Better People-Skills!

I was on the phone the other day with a new conference group that wanted me to speak.  And, it finally was asked, “Do you speak on Generation Z?”


But I’m a Millennial speaker?! 


Actually, I was surprised it had taken this long for someone to ask.  I’ve weaved the new, next generation after Millennials into some of my last year’s presentations so I wasn’t taken too off guard. 


I said I could to the conference group and gave them my usual run-down of generations, and tools to assist in a multi-generational workplace.


However, like any good presenter and speaker, I wanted to do some more research on this new ask. I’m inherently reluctant to speak about Generation Z because I believe they are still in their formative years.  If you’ve been through any of my presentations, you know that these are the years that define our outlook and consequently our behavior as a generation.  I’ve pushed off talking about Generation Z mainly because it’s just too early to tell about them.


But regardless, I was there, again, digging into research.  Guess what!  Research suggests that Generation Z starts in 1995, wait 1996, some research suggests 1998, others 2000, and yet others say 2001 which I generally believe to be the case.  One even said on September 12, 2001 (the day after 9/11), that’s when Generation Z came into being. 


Guess what (times two)!  The researchers also had a hard time pinning down the core attributes or personality traits of this generation. “Gen Z like people,” “they don’t like people.” They’re on their screens all the time, but one research suggests they will pivot away from screen time to be counter-culture.  Some research calls them the most entrepreneurial generation, but according to a Northeastern University Survey, 81% of Generation Z believes obtaining a college degree is necessary in achieving career goals.


What gives?!  This sounds similar to the many issues we have had with the Millennial generation. In fact, it’s an ongoing issue we have with every generation.  What year do each of the generations start?  What are their core traits?  Are we taking generation or life stage?  One person says one thing about each generation and another says something else.


My punch line at the end of most of my talks is, “we don’t have a Millennial problem, or even a generation problem, we have a people to people problem.”


As the generation guy, I’m saying we need to stop talking about generations and start talking about empowering our workers (Boomers, Xers, Yers, all) to better handle people!


Some of the best coaches (or managers) I have seen have not gone through “how to handle a millennial” training and yet get some of the best results out of their boomers, xers and millennials.  Their leadership, communication and people-skills are just on point; they’re naturals and each generation relates to them in their own way.


The need for more people-skilled supervisors and leaders is not new, it is an age-old problem from start ups to legacy businesses.  Perhaps it’s not sexy enough?  The Millennial generation was so yesterday, and Gen Z is next and after, the Alpha generation as some research suggests.


We need not only to study generations, which I think is still important, but we need to reinvest in our people-skill development.  Studying generations is one of the many tools to better help our managers with their people skills.

These leaders, manager, coaches who handle their staff well will be Adaptive Coaches and they will be better at:

1. Initiating a relationship with their staff


2. Having patience to set expectations according to where each staff person is, not where the coach wants him or her to be


3. Exhibiting the ability to suspend bias towards individuals based on generation, sex, religion, orientation, color, etc.


4. Having the ability to create environments that allow just enough discomfort so that staff will feel the need to change but safe enough so that they can change


5. Being adaptable; using the right “bait to suit the fish” in the Situational Leadership style (all fish are different and require different bait – so do people)


6. Allowing each staff member to be empowered to constructively challenge ideas, process, and the manager


When I go and talk on Generation Z, I will talk about some of the emerging personality traits, but warn that this can easily change as they are still in their formative years. 


I will instead encourage the group to create a work culture of continuous learning, adaptability, enhance communication, mentorship and to use things like the CAMP Method of Motivation, Leadership Lattice, Situational Leadership and other tools (just like I’ve said to do with Millennials) to better connect human to human.