We have come to the conclusion of another school year, which is a natural time for reflection on what has happened over the course of the past months. At the ESC we have seen a number of changes and we have met a number of challenges. It has been another year of opportunities for personal and professional growth. One of the insights from this past year was the increasing awareness of the diversity of our workforce as it relates to generational differences. We have reached a point that we have four generations working within our agency: traditionalists (those born before 1945); baby boomers (those born between 1946 – 1964); Generation X (those born between 1965 – 1980) and millennials (those born between 1981 – 2001) This multi-generational work group has created a new set of challenges that cannot be ignored. It will be in existence for the foreseeable future as the last of the traditionalists leave the workforce they will be replaced by the newest generation: Generation Z.
Those of us in leadership positions within our agency can deal with the challenges of a multi-generational workforce in one of four ways: we can ignore those differences; we can try to remake those of a different generation so they are like the generation we identify with; we can cut a deal with those of different generations OR we can determine to lead them.
At the ESC the leaders of our organization are making a concerted effort “to lead” in this new dynamic. Despite the challenges associated with leading four generations they have embraced the idea that there are opportunities have the varied perspectives of four generations. The key is adopting a system of leadership that will take into account the strengths each generation brings to the table.
The first step in this leadership process is simply acknowledging that each generation is different. There approach to work has been shaped by their life-experiences and it has created a unique world-and-life view. Understanding those major life-shaping events is critical to gaining an insight into the thinking of those employees from any one of the four generations.
The second is appreciation. In this step the leader of a multi-generational workgroup must focus on “the what” versus “the why.” To effectively lead in this new dynamic good leaders keep the attention on the common goal of the organization or the department; that is focusing on “the what.” Focusing on “the why” can lead to productive finger-pointing usually degenerating into squabbles over whats wrong with the various generations represented in the room. The ESC has a common focus: servant leadership. Within the agency our leaders should have a laser-like focus on how we serve our customers.
Flexing is the third step in effectively leading the four generations that work in our agency. Are we able to make changes to accommodate the various needs of each of the generations. This may mean looked at policies or practices that appear to favor one generations approach to work over another. In looking at these areas we must evaluate the difference between a “business necessity” and a “generational preference.” Three certain time-centered practices within the ESC that cannot be flexed because the services we provide are scheduled around the needs of the students we serve. BUT there are policies that we can and should adjust that are merely preferred by the generation of the leaders.
The most exciting aspect of leading four generations is found in the step referred to as “leveraging.” Every generation brings with it a set of strengths unique to them. Rather than focusing on the differences that irritate us, ESC leaders will be looking at those differences that actually make us stronger as an organization. Recent research indicates that leaders who put mixed-generations together had the highest level of cooperation IF they focus on the “what.”
Finally an organization has to “resolve” to lead in this new dynamic. Instead of one generation trying to blame OR fix the other generations resolve to use the various skill areas where they exel for the benefit of accomplishing the mission of the agency. The leaders within the Madison-Champaign ESC are committed to capitalizing on the strengths of our multi-generational workforce so we can accomplish our mission of “working to serve.”