Today’s workplace is on the cusp of a massive generational shift. In ten years, boomers will be the smallest generation working, while millennials will become the largest generation in the workplace over that same period of time. Every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. That does not necessarily mean they’re all leaving the workforce, but they’ll have the option to do so if their finances are in order.
This shift is creating some difficulties in the workplace. I hear about them every time I speak with a client group or even just in conversation about what I do for a living. Most companies are well aware of the issue. How they deal with it, though, makes all the difference.
I’ve discerned three primary responses to the generational shift in the workplace. Organizations are either:
- Doing nothing—status quo
- Throwing their arms up in disgust
- Embracing the shift
Take a guess which approach is essential to long-term sustainability and success.
How can you begin to embrace the shift? You need to start thinking differently.
This means you cannot maintain status quo and expect millennials to adjust to the way you do business. Organizations stuck on that approach will potentially see the biggest losses—of talent, opportunities and positioning. As the old quote says, “change or die.”
Start by being open minded to different ways of doing things. Consider alternate ideas and solutions even if they’re completely foreign to the way business has always been done. Invite discussions across all generations to get everyone’s perspective and suggestions on how to resolve the problems your organization is facing. Yes, some of the ideas you gather may seem crazy or out in left field, but don’t dismiss them until you understand them completely. I have seen some of those crazy ideas actually sprout legs, get up and run—forming new lines of business. How will you know if that’s possible if you squash the ideas from the start or, worse, never invite them to the table?
A couple months ago I was playing ring frisbee with my six-year-old daughter. She started horsing around and ended up throwing the frisbee up on the roof. Where it landed, I could just see the edge of it. Frustrated that she’d created a problem I now had to fix (sound familiar?), I decided to give up some control and asked my daughter to get the frisbee down—understanding of course that a six-year-old would not be able to remove an object from the roof of a ranch house. Right?
Well, that little stinker ran straight into the garage, and moments later I heard metal scraping across the garage floor. You might be assuming, like I did, that the noise was an aluminum ladder. Nope. My daughter emerged with a 14 prong steel rake. She hoisted the rake up to the edge of the roof, hooked the Frisbee, and pulled it down.
Now, let’s think about this. If I had “taken control” and retrieved the frisbee for her or told her to get the ladder because “that is how we do it around here,” I would have stifled her creative solution. And I have to admit, her method was probably a lot more efficient and required far less effort than my ladder approach.
So you see? Being open to new ideas sometimes means you have to give up not only control but also your presumptions of the best way to get a job done. My daughter certainly taught me a valuable lesson that day. There’s more than one way to get a frisbee off a roof.
And there’s more than one way to solve your organization’s challenges, too. Will you open your mind to change? In today’s shifting landscape, it’s absolutely vital to long-term success.