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Fun Article About "Mind the Generation Gap" by Wayne Turmel, Host of The Cranky Middle Manager Podcast

March 24th, 2008

Hi All,

A colleague sent me this article today and I thought I’d share it. It’s not filled with lots of “a-ha” moments but rather the author shares his personal perspectives on the generation gap in the workforce.

Wayne Turmel is the host of the popular podcast, The Cranky Middle Manager Show, and is a writer and speaker. He’s also a contributing writer on the Management Issues website.

Here’s what Wayne had to say:

At the ripe age of 46 and a half I am feeling very old. Some of that is having a teenager, which as your own parents will tell you ages you faster than sunbathing in a microwave. More to the point, as a manager I am feeling almost as old and irrelevant.

Both on this site and over at The Cranky Middle Manager Show there has been a lot of talk about the different generations in the workplace.

But recent events – one world shaking and the other just shaking my world – have convinced me there’s been a seismic change in ways I’d never imagined. Companies and their managers that understand what’s going on will have a much better time of it.

The major event is the current US election where, depending on who you talk to, the presidential election will include either a woman or an African American. (Technically the election will include a lot more people but I’m talking about the people running).

This is a big deal. My wife is beside herself and driving me crazy with her rabid support for Hillary and her distress at the current state of her campaign. My daughter couldn’t care less, which brings me to the second event. Stick with me, there’s a management lesson to be learned here.

My 14 year old daughter and her cheerleader friends were in my living room working on a routine. They had very short time to get everyone up to speed but there was only a third of the team present. What did they do?

Well, one downloaded and edited the music on her laptop while the others worked on the moves. As they invented new moves, one recorded it on her cell phone. Then they downloaded it to YouTube and text messaged their friends and told them to check it out before practice tomorrow

I stared at them like they’d just invented fire and angered the gods.

And herein lies the connection and the management lesson.

When my wife, who is a little older than I am, (I say that not to be cruel, there’s an historical point here) was a little girl, women were perceived as non-players in the corporate workplace and they still had legally mandated separate water fountains for whites and “coloreds” in the town where she grew up.

So the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman matters greatly to her. It represents her own struggles for place and respect. She uses email, kind of, but is constantly afraid if she does something to the computer a mushroom cloud will appear over her monitor and I’ll yell at her.

My daughter has never lived in a world without women of authority in the workplace. Not only is legal segregation something she’s never experienced, but over a quarter of kids in major American cities like Los Angeles are classified as “mixed race” of some combination.

Technology is part of her world – it’s part of everything she does and she understands how it makes her world spin. In fact it’s the lack of technology that is a problem. I highly recommend making teenagers watch television without a remote if you want to see a portrait in shaking, spluttering frustration.

Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck between two generations in my own house, but going to work offers no sanctuary. For the first time in over 40 years, the workplace contains people with two very different sets of experiences. As managers we’re in the middle of both the age and technology gap, and that is the point (I told you I’d get there).

One group of workers is working with older, sometimes outdated but sometimes proven, assumptions and who understand how we got to this point in our lives and the company’s history. They know what mistakes have been made and remembers the way you solved that problem back in ’87. How different can 2008 be, right?

The other group doesn’t understand why the rules are what they are or why some people are “protected” when others aren’t and they don’t have the same assumptions about how to approach the marketplace. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it’s just ignorance. Can you tell the difference?

One group thinks technology, while nice, is often a necessary evil and not the cure for everything. The other can think of 17 ways to do any task as long as the network is working and the Red Bull supply holds up . Some of those answers are not even in the rest of the group’s vocabulary.

You and I get to keep the two groups talking to each other and reaching for the same goals. As managers, it’s our job to not only leverage the best thinking of each group to find new answers, but to find ways to help the groups understand each other.

The possibilities are endless. Imagine someone with both networking skills and, well, networking skills. That’s the new Grail we managers quest for. I won’t depress you with stories of what happened to the original Grail questors because this one is actually within our grasps.

These generational differences mean that just as the US will not be the same after this election no matter how it turns out (and don’t count out the senior citizen white male as the final winner just yet, their win-loss record is impressive) , the workplace won’t be the same ever again, either.

So it’s our job to mind the managerial generation gap.

Bye for now! And I’ve got a never-ending stream of great info coming in to share so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of it!

Lisa

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