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Bridging the Gap – Seamless Workplace Productivity Across Generations – Part 2


Welcome to Part 2 of our three-part series on Bridging the Gap – Seamless workplace productivity across generations.  In this second part we will explore how various generations view their career paths, the differences, and the similarities.  We’ll explore how each generation’s career perspective impacts the learning programs of our business or organization.  Karen Medsker says today’s learning is about “No more sitting through five days of something, half of which you don’t need or 90% of which you don’t need. Much more targeted surgical strikes is what it’s about.”  In other words, tech savvy Generation Z thrives on technology-driven microlearning. So glad you’re back to continue our discussion.

Host – Steven Maggi: Now Karen, you’ve come from the baby boomer generation and you helped write all this; this is the idea of the new post-World War II organization and so forth. So, how – having dealt with all these generations in the workplace – how important is that with work just in general, as you’ve kind of seen the years go by? 

Karen Medsker: Well, I have to say that I’m what they call a “leading edge” boomer. There are kind of two types of boomers. I’m on the earlier side of the boomer generation. Our defining event was the Vietnam War. So, we thought we could end the war. We were the hippies and the demonstrators and the people who thought we could do anything. We thought we could end the war. We thought we could end pollution in the world. We were very ambitious and idealistic, but at the same time, we were the achievers. We worked hard; we’re the workaholic generation. So, it was important to us to have a career, first and foremost. Now, I’ve noticed that even though there was a change, people in earlier generations maybe stayed with one company and dedicated themselves to not only that career, but that company for their entire working lifetime. But people younger than me have less loyalty to a particular organization and tend to go where they can get better work/life balance or better salary or more challenging opportunities. It’s just interesting to see how attitudes toward careers have changed over time. I recently went on a college – first, I have to tell you, my daughter – who’s a Gen X – she and her friends were, “Oh, you know, I’m gonna go to art school because who cares if I can get a job or not. Do what you love.” I recently went on a college visit with my granddaughter, and the college girl showing us around said, “Well, I’m majoring in art education but I’m also gonna major in elementary education because I have to make sure that I can get a job.” I said, “Wow!” That’s a big difference with a Gen Z person compared to the Gen X kids that grew up with my daughter. I think I can see a big swing and maybe they’re coming back to being more career oriented. 

Steven: You know, Eric, it makes me think of Gen X, but you’re kind of seeing this across the board in the C-suites and so forth. How do you deal with all of these different personality types, because I think Karen brought up a great point is that – I remember my father fit in that baby boomer generation, maybe a little before that, but he worked for Safeway his entire life; that’s all he did, and that was expected. Most of his friends did the same thing. Nowadays, you’re trying to put together that great C-suite, but you’ve got to be able to move on a dime because people do not stay in the same position. How does that fit in, Eric? 

Eric Kaufmann: I’m loving what Karen said about the generation and the loyalty that – you said people are not staying as loyal to companies. There’s been a C shift in companies treating people as human resources and not really being loyal to their humans either, so there’s a bit of a reciprocity on both ends there, and when you ask Steve, this really provocative question about personality or how do you deal with the different types – I mean, I would direct the listeners to one of the great pieces of work out there; I don’t know maybe you guys have heard of this “situational leadership”, because there’s something about the ability to adapt your leadership to the person or team with whom you are engaged. And I think that if anything has happened that’s accelerated over time is that situational leadership, which I’m facetious obviously – I think Ken and Marjorie know it inside and out and backwards; they invented it, well, Ken did – but the premise of situational leadership is that you are going to be aware and attentive and present knowing both my own – so if I’m the leader, right? What are my own biases and prejudices, and the person in front of me or the team, where are they developmentally and what do they need so we can extrapolate that and expand that and add perhaps onto that situational leadership an awareness of culture, an awareness of age, an awareness of style? But I think that a really effective senior executive can’t just be self-centered. One of the great features of a highly effective executive is to be aware of other people. At the end of the day, when you’re the senior executive, you have no power to affect value other than the power that you have to influence and direct and guide and inspire humans. And so, I am a huge advocate for taking situational leadership and expanding it to be also including, not just developmental stage, but also style and age. 

Steven: And Jasmine, as I listen to both Karen and Eric, I just wonder – you’re kind of in the beginning of your career – what are you expecting? Are you expecting you’re going to work at a lot of different companies over time, maybe different parts of technology, or do you think now – when you look at things – maybe you’re going to stay in one area? 

Jasmine Doctolero: Well, as Gen Z, I can say that we’re very innovative, creative, and we always want to advance ourselves, so with Epsilon, I actually didn’t know what eLearning was. I knew that I was taking it when I was going through school, but now that I’m on the development side, I can see that I can actually pursue more than traditional e-Learning, which is virtual reality. As Gen Z, we’re very tech savvy, and seeing how a company that didn’t really grow with virtual reality is now expanding their department in virtual reality, it’s really cool to be a part of that and actually give my input and I just think it’s really cool that I can put my input as well, growing up with technology. It’s really cool to see a company starting to innovate all the new technologies that we have here today. 

Steven: Well, I think this conversation is showing that people at different age levels do think differently and they kind of look at the same world of work in a different way, which makes me want to ask Marjorie – we’ve talked about a lot of the advantages of different generations – what are some of the challenges though, because you can see people do think differently and these are all great thoughts, but if you’re trying to mold a group as a leader, what do you recommend? 

Marjorie Blanchard: Well, one thing I believe is that older workers – let’s say in the older generation – I see them as having the responsibility and the privilege actually to reach out and make connections with these younger generations. I think that that’s one of the spiffs – if you will – of being older is you know what’s been going on, you can help develop and mentor people. People still really appreciate one-on-one meetings with each other. I just facilitated a cohort of people getting to know each other better by kind of developing a leadership point of view that they shared, and I could just see both the older people and the younger people, they really valued getting to know each other. I’m beginning to believe with all of the isolation today that maybe the worksite is the last bastion of places where we are going to connect. Wouldn’t you love to have a daughter that has a great manager that knows how to connect with her or him? So, I actually believe the workplace is almost a noble place where we can help people connect, help them manifest their dreams and help them develop. If I were to say who needs to take the lead, I do believe it’s the people who’ve been around the longest, instead of being irritated because people don’t communicate the way they want them to or whatever. It’s kind of weird to see a movement start and I would challenge both the Gen X and the baby boomers. 

Steven: I love that, and you know Ken, as I listen to that too, I’m thinking we need to separate technology from those leadership skills because those same leadership skills that you and Marjorie have written about still apply. You’re using different tools, but not to let that new technology get in the way of that really kind of foundational leadership. 

Ken Blanchard: Yes, I think it really can play a major role. Peter Drucker said years ago to me, “Nothing good happens by accident. Put some structure on it.” I think with Zoom and technology, you can keep in touch with your people so much better because the old days of your direct reports were all in offices right down the hall from you is really gone. I don’t know how many people are going to really come back to the office. We’ve emptied one of our biggest office buildings of our five buildings and are putting it up for rent. We’re kind of having stations where people will come in when they want to, but a lot of people are gonna still want to work from home. 

Steven: I think that’s a great point and let’s talk a little about what happened through this whole Covid problem we’ve had throughout the country. It’s been a real shakeup. It’s impacted all the generations. Anthony, you talk about virtual reality and so forth, but this kind of makes the point for it more. Are you finding that people are kind of coming to you and saying, “You know, we may have to do more of this.” Because it’s like what Ken just said, we’re not going to stay in these buildings. We’re going to work out of our house and so forth, but some of these new technologies like virtual reality can happen at home. 

Anthony Garcia: Yea Steve, we do see a lot of people coming to us now and kind of more like investigating technology and what you can do with it. One of those things is providing training remotely so you could have your SME at their home and all of the students at their homes as well and doing the training, instead of having to come to a training facility altogether in person to complete that training. Of course, with all of this pandemic stuff going on, it’s more so the case now with a bunch of travel restrictions and meeting in larger groups and things like that, so that’s kind of forced people’s hands to look at technology in different ways. But I think some of that will still hang on just a little bit more than it probably would have if this didn’t happen, after things start clearing up and getting back to normal. 

Steven: Karen, I want to ask you – because you’ve been involved with training and stuff throughout your career – as you look at all this, are people pretty much – thanks to Covid-19 and stuff – now comfortable with this? Can you accomplish what you accomplished before in terms of training in person and so forth? Can you do it that way and will people accept it across the generational sides? 

Karen: Boy, that’s an interesting question, Steve. I developed a model, along with some of my graduate students several years ago, where we identified the characteristics of the learners, the learning content, the learning objectives and the context or the situation. Then, we identified which kind of a learning delivery system would be best for each situation after you had considered all of the factors. Would it be better to have some kind of distance or e-learning? Would it be better to do it in person or some other technology? So, with Covid, we’ve actually gotten away from that and everything is e-learning now or it can be face-to-face, but it has to be by distance. But I think there’s some other factors that have pushed us toward technology. I think one thing is the younger generation just relates better to technology and tends to learn that way. In fact, they tend to learn on their own, even without any formal training. They just go get what they need and learn it and move on. I think that’s a characteristic of especially Gen Y and Gen Z people – even maybe some millennials. But, having worked with ExxonMobil, I saw a big shift – since they’re a global company – they were doing a lot of things virtually anyway, just to save the cost of travel. So, I think there are a lot of factors pushing us more and more toward technology. I think you can accomplish most things – we used to say, “Okay, if you’re teaching interpersonal skills, you need to get together in person” – but I don’t see with all the technology we have now, why that can’t be done more virtually. 

Steven: Does that mean more microlearning too? 

Karen: Well, there’s that. I think that has to do with the younger people wanting quick fixes. They want to learn maybe one skill at a time, more just in time. I need this, I need that. Go learn it, go do it. Learn it as part of the job. No more sitting through five days of something, half of which you don’t need or 90% of which you don’t need. Much more targeted surgical strikes is what it’s about. I think a lot of us in the older generation – this kind of relates to what the Blanchards were saying – a lot of us know the content. We know the learning theories. We know the organizational theories – how people learn, how people perform and so forth and how to change people. So we know a lot of that stuff, but we need to get on board with the kids as to how to present it, because that’s the wave of the future.