Bridge the Gap With Multigenerational Networking
It's no less important than an age-varied workforce.
There's an exciting transition happening in the workplace. It isn’t the availability of more resources breeding an increased number of successful startups, nor is it technology’s all-encompassing influence ushering businesses into the 21st century. While these transformations are accountable for continually adapting the business landscape, the transition I am referring to is generational.
Multigenerational companies aren’t novel, yet having five generations coexisting in the same workplace is. Historically, it’s always been “tenured” versus “new," i.e. the experienced professionals who were close to retirement and the novices who were poised to take over once they stepped down. Dividing staff this way today is not only wrong, but it threatens the well-being of your business and associates.
Workplaces are more diverse in age and rich in experience than they’ve ever been, though to some, this diversity has been seen as a deterrent of growth. And while bridging the generational gap will involve trial and error, its advantages ultimately far outweigh its challenges.
This internal fluidity will not happen immediately; its evolution is contingent upon one thing: you. Reconciling the age differences within your company requires open, candid conversations. Yet, before these conversations can occur, leaders must first understand the significance of these differences and how they can be wielded to complement your organization. Networking can help with this, if you follow these simple guidelines.
Discover Their 'Why'
In part, every generation’s work ethic has been molded by their particular upbringing. The historical, social and cultural markers of their time all give weight to their professional values, how they define success and impact the way they perform. Each generation has its own strengths and weaknesses, goals and methods, even if some characteristics overlap. I don't believe in stereotypes, but the reality is we are individuals with our own unique goals. and the generation we were born into can provide useful context.
Traditionalists and baby boomers typically possess a strong sense of loyalty towards their company. They work for stability and security and believe that putting in hard work and long hours will help them achieve professional recognition. Gen Xers are more independent; they fare better in flexible environments that support a more sustainable work-life balance. Millennials and Gen Zers typically value personal development and tend to be more energetic multitaskers. They are also the digital pioneers, renowned for their innovation.
I lead a multigenerational team at our steel-distribution company, Pacesetter. Some of my associates have been in the industry for decades, while others have just graduated from college. Many CEOs fear that leading multigenerational teams will be too complicated, yet through networking and experience, I’ve found that we make it out to be more intimidating than it really is. If you want to understand each generation, know this: They all want to work for a purpose, but what gives them purpose (their "why") can be quite different.
Try attending networking events and talk to as many people as possible. When you ask the right questions, you discover what gives certain people purpose, how they spend their time, what makes them feel productive and how they measure their success at work. This insight will likely represent the values of your own team and can inform your outlook. I'd also encourage you to ask similar questions to your own team. Understand your company's unique mix of individuals and the circumstances that shaped them.
Benefit From Diverse Perspectives
Entitled. Flaky. Sensitive. These biased, and largely untrue, stereotypes frequently come to mind regarding younger generations in the workplace. Stubborn and inflexible, on the other hand, are character traits typically applied to older employees. Stereotypes beget resistance and divide workplaces when, instead, diverse viewpoints should be celebrated. Besides, at the end of the day, the needs and desires of your team are not that different.
It’s important to approach networking with an open mind and sincere curiosity. Oftentimes, professionals are uninformed about networking’s intent and assume it means merely connecting with like-minded people. Building a professional network with individuals in your industry who share common interests and goals can help push you, yet only so far. Welcome in peers from different backgrounds and a variety of industries. Push the limits of your comfort zone to learn and grow and open yourself up to new resources and ideas.
Individuals of all ages stand to gain a lot through multigenerational networking. Millennials and Gen Zers bring a depth of digital know-how that can change the way Traditionalists view their internal processes, while Gen Xers can learn from the discipline of Baby Boomers. Yet, at the same time, some older generations are tech-savvy and some younger generations are very disciplined. These traits can be fluid, and all perspectives work together to keep a company relevant and competitive.
Staying Relevant In Your Industry
Perhaps the most distinctive benefit of a multigenerational workforce is not its internal impact, but its external leverage. Every industry is constantly evolving to keep up with the latest technological innovations and changes in buyer behavior. If those two aspects don’t match up, you risk becoming irrelevant in your industry. Multigenerational workforces tend to be more collaborative and engaged as associates continuously learn from one another, which gives a company a competitive advantage.
This learning should not only extend to your team, however. As you build relationships with other leaders through networking, you get a glimpse into what works and what doesn’t work within their particular organization. In the future, you can use this network as a place to seek guidance. You’ll be able to see situations from a new perspective, which can help you establish the right approach for your company.
Aviva Leebow Wolmer is the CEO of Pacesetter Steel Services, an innovative steel distributor with a unique focus on technology, talent, and strong family culture. Her vibrant, technology-driven take on American manufacturing services has made her a pioneer in the steel industry and serves as a model for innovation in traditionally antiquated fields of business. Follow Aviva on Twitter!