Leadership in a multigenerational workplace

THE first of my latest trilogy dwelt on the challenges of a multigenerational workforce. The second provided tips on managing a diverse workforce. Today, I will discuss how to effectively lead a multigenerational workplace.

Leadership challenge

I will be oversimplifying it if I say that leading a multigenerational workforce is a matter of pulling the right levers. Life was simpler then when recruiters would say, “Put round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes.” I don’t think people these days are still round or square.

Leaders today face more daunting challenges. Adapting to the pace and shape of change in the workplace is one. Staying agile, resilient, and technologically savvy is as daunting as making money no matter the cost.

To help the readers, I wish to translate leadership challenges into something more chewable — skills needed to lead a multigenerational workplace or workforce.

We have established in my earlier columns that while generations of workers have unique characteristics, there are probably more commonalities. Baby Boomers believe that leadership must be conssensual. To the Gen X, a leader’s competence is important. The Gen Y or Millennials want bosses who are achievers and who could coach them. Can you identify what quality is preferred or expected by each of these generations from their leaders? It’s simply the ability to influence the Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y.

Using more commonalities than differences, I identified qualities that can help managers effectively lead a diverse group.

Adaptability

We now live in a constantly changing environment. Futurists have characterized our environment as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA).

Adaptability is “the ability to adjust to different conditions or circumstances.” Managers must be alert to changes happening or emerging in their operating environment. These changes can be brought about by technology, information, people, climate change, the way business is done or demographic shift.

What is more relevant to our discussion is how managers can manage the effects of a demographic shift. Managers must be constantly aware of the workforce demographics, understand the differing needs, and customize approaches to dealing with employees — in terms of communicating, motivating, compensating or rewarding them, and in other aspects of employer-employee relationships. Managers need to also review and customize their recruiting, rewards, learning and development strategies, and adapt them to the changing times.

Leveraging resources

If managers believe that employees are important resources of the organization, they should put their money where their mouth is. To leverage this resource, managers must know their people’s strengths and determine where they can best contribute to achievement of organizational goals.

Managers must also be adept at understanding the changing needs for skills in the future. They should track their people’s capabilities, not just positions they were assigned to in the past but the hard and soft skills that they possess and demonstrate. They must have a way of comparing these current skills with the future skills that will be required of employees: 1) to effectively perform the same jobs in the future, and 2) to qualify for bigger jobs in the future.

Managers must set aside age-based assumptions like, “You cannot teach old dogs new tricks.” Managers must also be able to assess their people’s potential and help ensure leadership continuity.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability “to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”

Managers must have empathy to establish rapport with their colleagues. There are ways to demonstrate empathy. One is by actively listening and showing keen interest in other people. It’s a talent that one can develop, but it’s not available off-the-shelf. It must go with sincerity and should not be faked. Helping subordinates with their work or career, or giving constructive feedback is a show of empathy. Sometimes, simply remembering people’s names and achievements, and greeting them with a smile, and calling them by first names can go a long way to develop managerial empathy.

Resilience

Psychological resilience, according to Wikipedia, is “the ability to cope mentally or emotionally with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly.”

Managers can help build a resilient organization by understanding the value of their people so that they could utilize the people to perform specific acts that they are capable of, and which will protect their lives and livelihood during crisis situations. From a long-term perspective, managers can value their people by putting actual value into the critical skills that the people learn, possess and demonstrate. Another way to help develop a more resilient organization is by having effective rewards and retention mechanisms that will entice top performers and valued employees to stay with the organization, especially during difficult times.

Tech-savvy

Managers that have Gen Y and Gen Z employees have more challenges. These managers have people who are probably more versed than them on big data, cloud, blockchain or cognitive computing. The employees are probably using a variety of apps that help make their work easy. They’re probably very comfortable working with intelligent machines, too.

Managers do not have to be expert developers or hackers to be able to work with and gain the respect of tech-savvy employees. Managers must have a working familiarity with technology and must understand how to automate processes and transform manual processes into technology-aided work. They must also learn to communicate with their employees using the latter’s preferred mode of communication — instant messaging, chat, etc.

At first, I was tempted to say that managers who want to effectively lead a multigenerational workforce must have character, competence, confidence, connection, contribution, coping and control. But that sounds more cliché!

I ended up saying that managers must be ALERT to effectively manage a diverse workplace.

Some Boomers and Gen X’ers ​​are managing in a way that they leave some legacy to future generations. Sometimes, the best way to manage is simply to let go.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “The World is not ours to keep. We hold it in trust for future generations.”

Ernie Cecilia is the chairman of the Human Capital Committee and the Publication Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham); chairman of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines’ (ECOP’s) TWG on Labor Policy and Social Issues; and past president of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP). He can be reached at [email protected]

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