Turning the Ship Around
with a Four-Generation Crew
In all organizational environments (e.g., corporate, law firm, and government), the information explosion of the past four decades is evidenced by information management concerns now bordering on panic. The long-term maintenance of this vast amount of information beyond its useful life is increasingly costly, putting organizations at risk while draining them of funding that could be used for growthoriented activities.
Teresa Pritchard Schoch, J.D., CRM
To get control of this problem is tantamount to turning a ship around. Implementing a records management strategy will require organizational- wide effort, communication, and cooperation. To succeed in this endeavor requires a paradigm shift; every person who participates in creating information must accept some level of responsibility, which is a change in the organization’s workflow at a core level.
Since cooperation and communication are paramount for success, it is important to recognize that the “ship’s crew” will be four generations of employees working side-by-side and to understand the values that will motivate each of them to achieve this important common goal.
Meeting the Crew
While there are many exceptions to any rule, generation labels exist based on the notion that people of similar ages experienced the world’s history simultaneously, resulting in a common world view that filters their thinking throughout their lives. The following labels create a starting point for them to understand each other as they work together.
- Traditionalists, sometimes called the “Matures” – Born prior to 1946
- Baby Boomers (Boomers) – Born 1946-1964 and its subgroup, Generation Jones – Born 1954-64
- Generation X (Gen X) – Born 1965- 1980
- Generation Y (Gen Y) – Born 1980– 1996
Traditionalists – Age 66+ (Born prior to 1946)
Also known as children of the “GI Joe” generation, this group is sometimes referred to as the silent generation. Specifically, its members are noted for:
- Growing up in the shadows of World Wars, so they like to keep the peace
- Echoing such mantras as “loose lips sink ships,” and “keep your nose to the grindstone”
- Being affected by the Great Depression, so they are savers and prepared for rainy days
- Living long enough to think their advice is valuable and sharing it
- Working part-time and, perhaps, making efforts to turn their work over to younger employees
Baby Boomers (Boomers) – Age 47 to 65 (Born 1946-1964)
Eighty million strong in the United States, Boomers had black-and-white televisions that they had to manually switch to one of three stations. They are marked by:
- Growing up with televised tragedies, including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.
- Witnessing man’s first steps on the moon, the first successful heart transplants, and a lengthy, unpopular war on the other side of the world
- Protesting, attending Woodstock, experimenting with drugs, advocating free love and peace, and rebelling against the traditionalists and what remained of the “GI Joe” generation
Boomers believed in power to the people, and they have maintained that power. Their sheer number made them a force to be reckoned with when they settled into the work force. Their work ethic is strong, and they often keep their heads down to get it done. They are competitive. And, they were the last generation that believed it was good judgment to stay with the same organization throughout their career.
Some of the Boomers were pioneers in technology, medicine, and science. This generation was determined to make a difference and leave the world a better place.
What they did not anticipate is that they would be the first generation to be sandwiched between taking care of their children, who may have been born later in their lives, and their parents, who were living longer because of medical breakthroughs.
The Boomer subgroup, Generation Jones (Jonesers) – Age 47-57 (Born 1954-64):
- Was too young to be involved in demonstrations or to participate in Woodstock
- Has always tried to keep up with the Boomers (the Jones)
- Are perceived as craving recognition rather than staying anonymous
- Include many current political leaders
Generation X (Gen X) – Age 31-47 (Born 1965-1980)
Gen X is half the size of the Boomer and Gen Y generations, weighing in at 44-50 million workers. They feel outnumbered because they are. Both the Boomers and Gen Ys seem a little flakey to them. They are known for:
- Being latch key kids, as theirs is the first generation growing up with a majority of households with two fulltime working parents
- Coming from blended families and single-parent households as a result of divorces becoming routine
- Being self-disciplinarians – with working parents, it was up to them to decide whether to do homework or watch what was by then 24-hour cable television programming
As a result of their latch-key childhoods, they are independent, resourceful, self-sufficient, and less trusting than other generations.
Gen X is not impressed with authority. They watched the downfall of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, so they will not be led simply by someone’s position. Their leaders must win them over with credibility.
Gen X is keen on developing new skill sets to maintain marketability. The more portable the skills, the more they will want to learn them.
They work hard and play hard on their own terms. This is the generation that invented extreme sports. Family life is very important to them, and they want to be available to their children. Sometimes misinterpreted as being lazy, Gen X would prefer to work four 10-hour-days each week.
They are very good at networking since they started at an early age, and they are more likely to be interested in higher salaries than their co-workers. In addition, they tend to be the least idealistic of the four generations.
Generation Y (Gen Y) – Age 15-32 (Born 1980–1996)
Gen Y consists primarily of children of the Boomers, who told them they could do anything they wanted to do with their lives. They are known for:
- Experiencing the repetitive visuals of 9/11 at a formative time in their lives
- Growing up in a time of war, killing sprees (e.g., Columbine), environmental decay, and crumbling institutions
- Being technologically savvy, as familiar with computers as with television
- Enjoying social networking on the Internet, sharing ideas
Gen Ys would cheerfully communicate these facts about themselves; they are complex, creative, contradictory, impatient, entrepreneurial, mobile, and like instant rewards. People are more important than money to the Gen Ys. They believe this is their world now, and it’s time to think differently. They will only take “yes” for an answer.
Gen Ys are as idealistic as the Boomers, but this young generation believes that having multiple idealisms does not work, nor will trying to impose them on the government like the Boomers did. They have not found their one consistent ideal, but when they do, they will implement it with a passion.
Getting Everyone on Board
When implementing organizational-wide changes, it will be important to include representatives from all generations and to be conscious about what drives them. But equally as important will be to avoid creating teams where conflict can be anticipated.
Most clashes in the workplace will occur between Generations X and Y. Boomers and Ys have more in common, while Xs will tolerate Boomers more readily because they tend to be in higher ranks.
While some Boomers were pioneers in technological development, many, along with the vast majority of Traditionalists, are still lacking in basic skill sets that the other two generations, particularly Gen Y, consider routine. However, the two younger generations should not judge too quickly; hesitation to participate in adopting a new technology may have more to do with weakening eyesight than with a gap in the older generations’ knowledge base.
In fact, some managers identify a non-generational group, sometimes referred to as “Generation C,” which has embraced technology as the solution to most work process issues. This group is likely easily identified in any organization; its members are:
- Adept at communication on a global scale
- Creative at using the tools they are supplied
- Cognizant that learning curves should be viewed as a challenge, rather than an obstacle
- Ageless, and they will gravitate toward leadership in technological decisions because they view technological advancement as inherently progressive
When interviewing employees at all levels, it is somewhat predictable who will agree to apply an organization- based taxonomy, or indexing scheme, at the time of a document’s creation. In general, the older the employee (outside of Gen C), the less responsive the employee will be to adding key strokes to creating a document.
Part of this might be explained by the concept that rank has its privileges, but another likely explanation is that younger employees have grown up with the notion that information’s accessibility is their responsibility when they create it.
But even employees that are opposed to full participation will most likely agree to one more key stroke to designate a document or other item as a record as long as they understand what constitutes a record and are educated regarding the importance of designating it as such. Once the item is identified as a record, another knowledgeable worker can assume responsibility for indexing it according to the organization’s predetermined indexing scheme.
Since Boomers and Gen Ys are idealistic, it is important for them to realize how critical the implementation of record capture procedures is to the organization’s long-term wellbeing. Even if the critical nature of the task is understood, some Boomers may be among the privileged that consider their time more valuable than others’ and that they should have limited responsibility in indexing efforts.
Pushback from the two older generations at any level could be based on fear or fatigue. Seemingly complicated learning curves are not as attractive to those winding down their careers. Remember, Boomers are the sandwiched generation. They may have responsibilities from multiple directions that prohibit flexibility in their schedules and their availability for additional work.
Mapping the Ship’s Route
Developing an organization-wide education program could get a little tricky. How the generations have learned about their world has been very different, and so are their learning styles and motivators. Therefore, it is important to always recognize those differences.
Recognize Learning Styles
While some individuals will learn faster through visual stimulation, others learn better by listening. However, these two components are easily combined. Visual learning is no longer limited to the written word. Images are matched by audio complements, often at speeds that move beyond conscious intake.
Traditionalists and Boomers tolerate meetings, while other groups want more control over when and how they get information. Consequently, for training relating to the essential paradigm shift in records management, there will need to be a variety of media with a consistent message.
Expect a Variety of Responses
If the program is to be effective, every member of the organization must acknowledge his or her willingness to comply with established records management policies and procedures. Pushback will be encountered, but maintain your ground with the understanding that every generation has its underlying stress that may lead to varying strong reactions.
Consider that many Boomers thought they would be retired by now, but are working longer to meet unforeseen obligations, as well as in reaction to an economic downturn.
Many Traditionalists are outliving their family and friends, and some are becoming frailer. They have earned respect, though, because they likely helped build the organizational foundation. So, don’t hesitate to ask for their advice.
Both Xs and Ys are aware they are responsible for their own retirement (i.e., that the Social Security and pensions enjoyed by the Traditionalists and some Boomers will not be in place for them). They need more than a mandate to exert the effort to turn around a ship.
Gen Xs are most concerned about their children’s futures and their underwater mortgages. They saw what happened at Enron, where employees lost their retirement savings when the company’s stock collapsed, and they need to know that working hard for the organization will bring direct results to their families.
For the Xs, the fact that long-term benefits from cost savings will trickle down to all employees of the organization also will be important. In addition, learning to develop skill sets for records management implementation will appeal to them because it will heighten their value to the organization.
For Ys, the ideas that they are helping the environment and maintaining ethical duties are important.
All of these factors need to be emphasized for motivating the change required for the long-term health of the organization.
Turning the Ship for Smooth Sailing Ahead
Understanding each generation’s needs will develop an environment allowing for a smoother transition.
For example, give the Xs more flexible work days, and share the cost savings across the organization.
Encourage the Ys as often as possible and note that what they are doing is good for the future, especially for the environment. Let the Ys know daily how much you appreciate the efforts they are making to accomplish the organization-wide goal.
Assure the Boomers that they are making a difference and that they will remain in the corner office.
When the Ys insist the theme song for this effort should come from their generation (“We’re All in This Together”), say yes. Correction, OMG, that was so four years ago. Apparently the current theme song is “Wave Your Flag” … no, wait, that was last year.
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Teresa Pritchard Schoch, J.D., CRM, can be contacted at email@example.com.
From July - August 2012