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Working Effectively on a Multi-Generational (Diverse!) Team

November 13th, 2014

By: Karen Colligan

Most workplaces today are a mix of three distinct generations – Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X (born 1965-1979) and Generation Y, or Millennials (born 1980-2000). Each generation brings its own particular strengths and “peculiarities” to the team.  Stereotypes abound, and leaders struggle to determine how best to engage and retain team members from these three different age groups.

I personally think it’s simple: Value diversity.  Recognize that each individual brings to the workplace different experiences, knowledge, belief systems, ideas, skills, communication styles, fears, hopes and dreams. No matter the age, or generation, there are differences. Certainly we can make some broad generalizations about Boomers vs. Gen Xers vs. Millennials based on the events, pop culture and technology of the world they grew up in, but we can do the same for women vs. men, other cultures vs. US culture, etc.  Value diversity.

So with that in mind, here are my tips for managing and working effectively on a multi-generational  team.

  • Focus on the VALUE each generation brings to the workplace.

  • Acknowledge and embrace the diversity of the generations.

  • Remember that it’s about talent…not age…

  • Learn from the other generations on your team.

  • Figure out what you have in common and start there.

  • Use multiple communication streams to address each person’s style.

  • Mentor and teach each other.

  • Be “kind” to one another.

  • As Stephen Covey said, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

    Value diversity.

    Till next time,


    Diversity, Multi-generational workforce


Recognizing the Value Millennials Bring to the Workplace

November 12th, 2013

By: Karen Colligan

MillennialsIn the past couple of blogs we’ve looked at Baby Boomers and Generation Xers in the workplace and how to manage and work with them effectively. We round out this series with a look at Millennials, the youngest of our multi-generational workforce. This generation has grown up with the Internet and a proliferation of instant information and social connections. They are confident, social, and care about making an impact in the community.

Previous generations might argue that they are too confident, that they expect to achieve a higher level without “paying their dues.” But a recent New York Times article suggests that because of Millennials' confidence, quick learning ability and “nonstop exchange of information and opinions,” they are primed to drive a new wave of innovation.

If you are looking to attract, retain or collaborate effectively with Millennials, here are some tips:

Care about their personal and career goals. Millennials are motivated by managers who help connect their work to their personal and career goals. Understand what those goals are and give them assignments and opportunities that are directly related to them.
Coach and support them
. Millennials value achievement. Identify both their strengths and development areas and provide one-on-one coaching and stretch opportunities to enhance their performance. Match Millennial new hires with a Baby Boomer or Gen X mentor or “buddy” to help them learn to navigate the system and develop business relationships. Provide structure – goals, deadlines, well-defined assignments and success factors.
Leverage their technical savvy
. Millennials don’t like Managers who are threatened by their knowledge of and comfort with technology. Capitalize on their ability to quickly gather information and input via their social networking capabilities. Have them mentor less technically savvy employees to promote cross-generational collaboration and understanding.
Give them opportunities to volunteer in the community. Millennials are interested in contributing to their communities both in giving and in volunteering. According to the 2013 Millennial Impact Report, 83% of respondents made a gift to an organization in 2012. The report also showed that the top three reasons Millennials get involved are: 1) passion about the cause; 2) opportunity to meet people; 3) ability to apply their expertise.
Build their credibility. Don’t treat Millennials as if they are too young to be valuable. Use their capability to access and share information quickly. Give them opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills to a visible project or assignment. Give them frequent and productive feedback.

The NYT article quotes Mike Marasco, leader of a cross-generational mentoring program at Northwestern University: “Millennials work more closely together, leverage right- and left-brain skills, ask the right questions, learn faster and take risks previous generations resisted. They truly want to change the world and will use technology to do so.”

Till next time,


Communication, Leadership, Management, Multi-generational workforce, People, Teams

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Managing Generation Xers in the Multi-Generation Workplace

October 28th, 2013

By: Karen Colligan

Generation XIf you read my last blog (which of course you did!) you now have a better idea of how to work with and manage Baby Boomers. But what if you’re a Baby Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) or a Millennial (born between 1980 and 2000) and you need to work more effectively with Generation Xers? THAT’S what we’re going to talk about this time.

Generation X refers to people born between 1965 and 1979. They grew up in the disco/pop/MTV era and witnessed the integration of the personal computer into our everyday lives. They are self-reliant (think “latch-key kids”), tribal and technologically literate. They work hard, but are more assertive in their quest for work/life balance than their Baby Boomer parents were.  They are adaptable, creative and willing to go against the system if necessary. They prefer not to have a lot of rules.

Here are some tips for managing and working effectively with Generation Xers.

Don’t require a face-to-face for information exchange. If you call and they’re not there, leave a detailed voicemail rather than just “please call me back.” Or write them an email.  It’s more efficient, and that’s what technology is for. And speaking of technology, you can attract, retain and motivate them by providing them with the latest technology and adequate resources.

Give them a task or project and let them fly. Gen Xers are motivated by the freedom to get the job done on their own schedule. They don’t do well with micromanagement.

Develop them. Gen Xers prefer managers who support their training and growth, and provide ample development opportunities. Give them stretch projects or put them in charge of something highly visible to spotlight their abilities. Provide them with frequent, specific and timely feedback to help them build their skills and position them for future career opportunities.

Value diversity and think globally. As this generation was growing up, the world was shrinking (in terms of perceived distance) due to the reach of new technologies and the influx of new cultures and nationalities into our communities. Generation Xers embrace diversity and want to work in environments that are not limited in scope.

Be genuine and direct. Generation Xers tend not to like managers who don’t “walk the talk.”  Demonstrate your competence and show that you trust them by allowing them to work autonomously. Make your interactions with them purposeful, rather than just “schmoozing.”

And, whatever you do, don’t forget to make time for FUN!

Next time we’ll talk about how to work effectively with Millennials.

Till then,


Communication, Diversity, Leadership, Multi-generational workforce, People, Teams

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As more and more peBabyBoomersople of “retirement age” keep working, either for financial reasons or simply wanting to keep actively engaged, the makeup of the typical organization now spans three generations: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y/Millennials. This can present a number of challenges for team members and leaders alike as they try to figure out how to effectively interact in light of differing preferences in communication, recognition, motivation and other areas that impact the generations at work.
Let’s start with a short refresher on these three generations, and then we’ll look more specifically at the “care and feeding” of each generation. Baby Boomers, those of “flower power” and “anti-authority” fame, were born between 1946 and 1964, and, according to AARP, make up about 38% of the workforce. Generation X, who grew up during the proliferation of personal technology, were born between 1965 and 1979. They make up about 32% of the workforce. Right behind them are the Generation Y/Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials make up about 25% of the workforce. And no doubt you’re wondering whether the next generation is “Z”, which it is, but since they’re not working yet we’ll leave them alone for now.
Many Generation Xers, or even older Millennials may find themselves in a position of managing someone from a previous generation. If you are in that position, and the person you’re managing is a Baby Boomer, here are some tips to manage and engage with them effectively.
Pick up the phone. While you may prefer a text or instant message, Baby Boomers grew up in a workplace where people actually walked to someone’s desk or office or at least picked up the phone to have a conversation. Eye contact, tone of voice and “personal” interaction are key to them for effective communication.
Involve them. Listen to their input and leverage the knowledge they’ve developed in their years of experience. Teamwork is a core value for them. Foster teamwork and collaboration.
Recognize them. Show personal appreciation for their contributions. And don’t assume that because they are approaching “retirement age” that they aren’t interested in promotions or further development. Remember, this generation put a man on the moon!
Provide flexibility. Many in this generation are in the “sandwich” position of still raising children while caring for aging parents. Consider offering flexible work schedules, telecommuting and personal time off to handle family responsibilities.
Respect them. Baby Boomers paved the way for many of the workplace rights we now take for granted, such as equal opportunity and gender equity. Show them that they can continue to make a difference.
Next time we’ll talk about the “care and feeding” of Generation X.
Till then,

Communication, Management, Multi-generational workforce, People

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