Q: I'm 28 years old and have just started a business where I'll be managing several employees who are in their forties. I know younger managers supervising older workers is a common situation today, but I feel I need some advice on how to make this new intergenerational challenge a success.
A: Because technology is second nature to the new generation of employees, younger managers supervising older workers will be a common occurrence for at least another decade. However, I believe too much is being made about this new trend called "intergenerational management." Managing older employees is no different from managing younger employees-the same skills are required.
When my consulting firm first went to work in Italy, I was a little apprehensive because of things I'd heard about the way business is conducted there. After our Italian consultant spent a few months in the United States polishing his English skills and enhancing his understanding of performance management, he was ready to return home and apply what he'd learned. As we talked over lunch, he said, "Performance management will work very well in Italy." I responded, "I'm sure glad to hear that." He asked, "Do you know why?" "Why?" I said. "Because Italians are people, too."
The point is that people are people no matter where they live, no matter what their job, or no matter how old they are. If a manager understands the science of human behavior and how to apply it, it won't matter how old the manager is or how old the person being managed is. You may say that such an approach is too simplistic, but the fact is that there are laws that govern human behavior and behavioral laws apply to everyone.
To help you with your situation, I would suggest the following:
Spend time with each person getting to know what's important to them at work and at home. Learn the things they like to do and the things they don't like to do. Find out what their goals are and their aspirations in your organization and beyond. Although this may sound time-consuming, it's an investment of your time that will pay great dividends in the future.
Make sure you don't make promises you can't keep. While most people wouldn't do that deliberately, whether deliberate or not, it has the same effect-future promises can't be trusted. Misunderstandings in this area arise because people tend to talk generally about what might happen and how good things are going to be in the future. People often hear things are going to happen that were never intended, and when they don't come about, they're disappointed in the organization and in you. Older employees may test you early in the relationship to see if you can deliver. If you fail the test, your effectiveness as a manager will be dramatically reduced.
Pair yourself with positive consequences. Be on the lookout for small accomplishments you can positively reinforce in some way. It's important that this occurs early in the relationship. By early, I literally mean the first day-not at the end of a week or month.
If you're diligent and vigilant about these three things, I think you'll find the problem of "intergenerational management" isn't really a problem at all, but an opportunity to find more profitable and personally rewarding relationships at work.
Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.