When I was a child, I vividly remember my granddad taking me to the dime store on special occasions. He would encourage me to pick out anything I wanted (as long as it cost less than fifty cents!). When shopping with my mom, we only selected what I needed. At five years old, while shopping with my granddad, nothing was off limits! I could choose candy, a toy or even a root beer float and sit at the soda fountain counter. This small kindness cemented the deep relationship I had with him.
So, during a recent family visit, I wanted to recreate this feeling with my granddaughter. We headed to the local Target. Holding hands, we were headed straight to the toy department. As we walked toward the back of the store, a sales associate smiled and asked if she could help. My outspoken granddaughter pipes up with a smile and squeals with delight, “Do you have any frozen panties?” Both of us, being of a more mature age (my granddaughter would say old), gave each other an eyebrow raise and curious smile. Many thoughts rushed through our minds but neither of us knew what she was talking about!
A 20-something gentlemen sales associate overhead the question and shot the three of us a sly smile. A bit of personal bias had me worrying about what he might say. Dealing with diversity in the workplace doesn’t just mean differences in race or gender! Not to mention, the question seemed a little surprising. The young man didn’t lead us to the frozen food section, but to the girls’ clothing department where there was a selection of clothing donning characters from the Disney movie Frozen. Breathing a sigh of relief, I learned that he had a daughter himself and knew exactly what my granddaughter was referring to.
Members of GenY are in the pipeline for leadership and bring different traits and values to your company culture. According to research from the Pew Research center, not only are the 20 – 33 year old generation on the path to be the most educated in American history, they highly value collaboration. This group values teamwork more than individual contribution and welcomes the opportunity to work with peers and colleagues across multifunctional departments. Of course, there is no need to study research to know that GenY talents are off the charts when measuring technology knowledge.
When former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch realized GE was falling far behind other companies in the use of technology as a business tool, he knew he needed help. Jack decided to leverage his younger workforce by instituting a reverse mentoring program at GE. This solution was so successful it was adopted by Cisco Systems and Hewlett Packard to close the knowledge gap between generations. Over time, the reverse mentoring program became a two way mentoring program. The older employees learned social media from the younger person and the younger person was taught business practices and management from the older person. Leveraging diversity in your company isn’t limited to race and gender, it can be expanded to include diversityof thought, ideas, creativity, styles, experiences, thinking methods, and more. Being an effective leader means understanding who you are managing, and setting aside judgments of those different than you. Start with the simple practice of selecting options for making decisions. As a leader, if you think something should be completed a certain way, it might be eye opening to listen to the ideas of those around you for alternatives. Whenever possible,allow your direct reports to do it their way, even if you think the idea will fail. They will be more committed to the outcome, learn more regardless of the outcome, and listen to you with less resistancewhen you must overrule them in a critical situation.
I encourage you to embrace and leverage generational and thought differences as a leader as you build relationships and strengthen your teams. There’s no limit to what innovative ideas will emerge! Who knows, maybe others will take you beyond your imagination and the frozen food section?
What challenge is your company facing that might benefit from a multi-generational group creating solutions? Are you leveraging generational differences for leadership and business success? Are you encouraging others to think, offer ideas, execute options and learn from each other?