Friday, June 18, 2004

Generation gap foolishness

I have to agree with those who see the problems that occur when younger people manage older people as a management issue rather than a generation gap issue. It is perfectly natural for an older person to resent being managed by someone younger, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are Generation X, Y, or E. It’s a question of mutual perception of value and credibility, not of generational values.

An older person can feel that their experience is undervalued by the company if a younger person gets the management role; the same person can feel undervalued by the manager if their experience and perspectives are not acknowledged or leveraged. Conversely, a younger person may feel threatened by an older person’s experience, may perceive that experience to be a barrier to positive change, or, worse, may not even know or care about the older person’s experience. The tension that exists between these people forms a barrier to clear communication, which exacerbates the problem. Each can end up thinking the other has attitude problems, and resentment builds.

It is not uncommon in organizations for a manager to have never seen an employee’s resume, and to know little about that person’s experience or perspectives. And it is very common for an employee to know nothing about their manager’s background. Mutual respect, the leveraging of the experience assets that each brings to a situation, and the creation of any kind of synergy, is unlikely where they are, effectively, strangers.

This can be avoided by good management practices and good interpersonal communication – the kind of basic management skills that anyone should have before being promoted into a people-management role. Knowing about Gen-X, Y etc. is likely to make the problem worse, not better: why try to get to know the specific value that an individual brings to your team when you can dismissively lump him/her into a superficial stereotype?

No comments: