Questions and Answers
Sticking Points: How to Get Four Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart by Haydn Shaw
Sticking points result from questions that the generations answer differently because of their unique experiences and perspectives. For example, are flip-flops acceptable in the office? Can I work from home? Why can’t we use Facebook at work? How long do I have to work here before I earn respect? The different answers the generations give to these questions create tensions and frustrations that lead to miscommunications and ultimately stereotypes. Team members of the same generation begin tossing around stereotypes, making jokes to each other about the “offending” generation. Each generation attempts to maneuver the others into seeing the sticking point their own way.
That’s the first mistake—viewing a sticking point as a problem to be solved rather than as an opportunity to be leveraged. The goal becomes to “fix” the offending generation rather than to look for ways to work with them. The irony is that when we say another generation doesn’t get it, we don’t get it either. Once we get it, we realize that these sticking points are more than intergenerational differences. They are catalysts for deeper understanding and appreciation that can make teams stronger and better balanced. Sticking points can be negative if you see them as problems or positive if you see them as opportunities for greater understanding and flexibility. Sticking points can make things worse or better, depending on whether the four generations can work together in the 12 places they naturally tend to come apart.
In this book, I wanted to provide a practical resource for those people who approach me—a guide to all four generations, following a methodology that has helped thousands of people deal with the 12 issues most likely to pull teams apart.
The book has two main parts. In part one, I explain the key “ghost stories,” the historical influences that shaped each generation. In part two, I explore the 12 sticking points, how each generation understands each point and then provide a five-step process to help organizations lead through the generational differences.
Throughout the bookI also explore such topics as:
- Why generational sticking points is the people issue of the next decade
- Why four generations in the workplace and five generations of customers (or citizens or family members) for the first time in human history has created new challenges and made the old approaches ineffective;
- Why managing generational differences no longer works and leading is the only approach that’s effective now that we have four generations.
Generational sticking points will affect organizations in six ways.
- There will be more conflicts around generational sticking points.
- Leadership must figure out how to manage and motivate different generations.
- Organizations will face shortages of leaders and managersbecause Generation X is a smaller generation and Xers do not tend to stay in one company throughout their careers.
- Now, organizations must replace the Baby Boomers now that they are finally starting their recession delayed retirements.
- All organizations must stay ahead of shifting consumer, voter, member, parishioner, or patient demands.
- Sales people must connect with five generations of customers or miss half their market.
Organizations, teams, and families must know five things to lead multiple generations:
- For the first time in history, we have four different generations in the workplace (and five in families). These generations might as well be from different countries, so different are their cultural styles and preferences.
- Of the four approaches organizations can take to blending the generations, only one of them works today.
- Focusing on the “what” of generational differences pushes teams apart, while focusing on why the generations are different pulls teams together.
- Knowing the 12 sticking points can allow teams to label tension points and work through them—even anticipate and preempt them.
- Implementing the five steps to cross-generational leadership can lead to empowering, not losing, key people.
Absolutely. The 12 sticking points along with corresponding questions are:
“Why won’t they put down their phone and make eye contact?”
- Decision Making
“How many years do I have to sit here before they’ll listen to me?”
- Dress Code
“What’s wrong with flip flops if I’m not meeting with clients?”
“Where will I find the time to give Millennials all the feedback they think they need?”
- Fun at Work
“When did work have to be fun?”
- Knowledge Transfer
“How do we get the know-how to the next generation when the Boomers won’t write it down?”
“Why don’t people stay around anymore?”
“Why can’t we send an email and cut the report-outs and the icebreakers?
“With four generations, how can leaders hope to come up with a policy that doesn’t make some generation mad?”
“Why don’t these younger employees think they have to pay their dues before they start telling people what they think?”
“How do we keep four generations engaged in training?”
- Work Ethic
“Do they really think I’m going to put my life on hold and work late a couple times every week?”
- Millennials think they know it all and that they ought to be running the place.
- Baby Boomers and Traditionalists are resistant to change.
- People over 65 aren’t as productive.
- Millennials are motivated by meaning more than money.
- Gen Xers care more about work-life balance than getting ahead.
- Millennials have stunted social skills because they’ve always been on their computer or their phones.
- Baby Boomers are going to retire.
- Acknowledge: Talk about generational differences.
- Appreciate: Focus on the “why,” not the “what,” and the common needs.
- Flex: Agree on how to accommodate different approaches.
- Leverage: Maximize the strengths of each generation.
- Resolve: Determine which option will yield the best results (when flexing isn’t enough).
Sticking points in families are a huge reason I wrote the book. In my speeches and workshops people talk as much about their families as they do their teams. The insights they gain into why the generations think differently helps them appreciate the different generations in their own families and get along with them more easily. So while the book focuses on the workplace, I’ve added scores of illustrations and applications for families. I think Jim Thyen, president and CEO of Kimball International, a billion-dollar company, explains it perfectly in his endorsement: “Sticking Points contains insights and processes that do indeed work. We’ve had Haydn back many times to teach our managers the tools he has put into this book. I found it so valuable and enjoyable that I invited my wife to come hear his presentation. You’ll come back to this book again and again when you run into a new generational challenge. But more important, it will improve your ability to speak the language of other generations at work and in your personal life.”
Most of what parents and other older managers worry about usually works itself out. Most Millennials are not lazy; they’re just not sure they’ve found what they want to do, what organization they want to do it with, where they want to live, and who they want to live with. A couple days ago I was sitting with a table of Millennials in a class I was leading. They were all well respected and productive, but they articulated the freedom of the 20s this way: “I tell my friends, ‘You’re not married; you’re only 25. This is the time to hike through Europe and Asia for a year. You’ll never get this chance again because you’ll settle down and have a house and a family. Enjoy the freedom and opportunities while you have them. Do what you really want to do now; don’t put it off till later.”
Most of the worries older generations have in the workplace about Millennials and their work ethic will end up dissipating just as they did for Generation X20 years ago. With the Millennials, it will just happen a bit later.
- Cactus Feeders, the largest independently owned cattle feeding company in the world, stoppedtrying to turn Millennials into Traditionalists when they understood why they think differently. They recognized that things are changed and a feedlot was no longer the job Millennials would brag about with their friends. Instead, their leaders sped up a cultural change process that unexpectedly engaged all generations, not only their Millennials.
- Payless ShoeSource brought the content to all of their managers and saw turnover of Millennials decrease in sales in the stores that embraced the tools.
- An energy research office of the United States federal government retained more Millennial scientists and engineers after teaching all their managers about how to lead through generational sticking points.
- A major pharmaceutical company saw sales efficiency go up after they asked their Millennial sales reps for ideas on what needed to change. The literature box in the back of the trunk is gone, and everyone is on iPads.
- A major energy company in Canada found it easier to attract new petroleum engineers after they adjusted their campus recruiting approach.
Focus on “why” the generations see things differently, not “what” those differences are. Until the people on your team understand why other generations work differently, they will remain irritated, and the team will fall apart rather than stick together. Getting stuck complaining about what is different is the biggest cause of generational tensions. Sadly, focusing on the differences is so common that I have seen generational training programs built around the whats. They give long lists of characteristics of each generation and techniques to manage them. Instead of beginning with understanding, they begin with differences.
Focusing on the “why” rather than the “what” works. The Baby Boomer head of diversity for a large food company told me that my speech on generations changed things for her. She discovered she didn’t want to fix the Millennials now that their behavior made sense. She said, “I no longer see them as feeling entitled. They have just been marketed to so much. When you said Millennials expect a toy in the bag with every meal, it clicked for me.”
Pew Research Center discovered that 79 percent of the public sees a generation gap, defined as “major differences. . . in the point of view of younger and older adults.” That’s 5 percentage points higher than when Gallup asked the question in 1969! But ultimately, we don’t need researchers to tell us that a 75-year-old votes, works, or buys differently from a 35-year-old. We see it for ourselves at family reunions or meetings at work. The significant gap between Traditionalists and Millennials has shone prominently in the last two US presidential elections—Traditionalists have voted overwhelmingly Republican and Millennials Democratic.