Avoiding the Generation Traps in Business Operations
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Avoiding the Generation Traps in Business Operations

Avoiding the Generation Traps in Business Operations

Change can be uncomfortable and may also bring fear of the unknown. Leading through change requires inspiring faith in people to navigate new challenges together, with a high degree of confidence they will not only survive but thrive in the process. However, before leaders inspire faith in anyone, they're going to need to earn respect. And those NextGen leaders who commit to education and learning the business without taking shortcuts will be those who build the rapport necessary to earn respect from seasoned key leaders along the way. There is no secret sauce. It'll take commitment and hard work to achieve your career goals. Anyone can be given the corner office, buy or be gifted the keys to the castle, and be given an undeserved paycheck, but one has to earn respect. As an old football coach of mine once said, "You should treat others with respect all of the time, but you should only respect others who have earned it from you."

But what about generational differences? For the most part, generational differences are a variation on the same theme. Every generation wants to add value and achieve personal, communal, and professional levels of success. As I work with clients I am often asked, "I'm so frustrated, Dan, how do I work with "Jane" or "Bob"? They're industry veterans and we keep butting heads. I think they view me like I'm too young to have a good business idea" or "Ugh! I don't know about this young generation, they appear like they are afraid of hard work and all they want is time off. They don't seem to change their minds about working more hours no matter what I say. It's like we live on different planets."

My response is usually along the lines of no matter what decade we're born in, we're all human, so we must have more in common than not. The Great Generation looked at the Baby Boomers with disgust, the Boomers did the same with Gen X and now the Millennials and so on. I think it's both typical and natural for the more established generation to focus on whatever represents the "worst" of the young up-and-coming generation because they just seem to "do things differently" and everyone knows that things were better in the "good old days."

Just a few weeks ago a client (I call him Jimmy) told me a story about when he was working for his family's business just out of college. He wanted to implement new marketing and acquisition ideas with the owner and GM - who happened to be his dad and older sister at the time. Jimmy said that he drove way out to rural neighboring counties looking for buying opportunities, he'd come up with marketing events with local professional athletes, and he'd arranged for bands to play at promotions on Saturdays. All of which were "revolutionary" for their business at the time. Yet, again and again, Jimmy said that Dad and Sis shut him down on new initiatives. Even after he told them that marketing "pretty much pays for itself!" Frustrated after a few years of this, Jimmy left the business and he moved on to start his own in a completely different industry.

I listened to the frustration in Jimmy's voice about one missed opportunity after another. Now in his sixties and a highly successful, accomplished entrepreneur, clearly he had potential to be a great asset to the business. Was he inexperienced at the time? Sure. Did he have unrealistic expectations? Certainly. Was there a critical gap in communication between him and his more experienced dad and sister? Definitely. And even though family dynamics were involved, many of Jimmy's challenges could have been attributed to generational differences and potentially overcome through better communication, along with an elevated sense of self-awareness. This would have gone a long way towards helping Jimmy successfully develop in the business. At any rate, his story is almost forty years old and Jimmy is not a Millennial. Yet his story is a lot like one happening right now in almost any business across the country, whether it's a family interaction or a manager/owner interaction. So an important question to ask is: How can we work to shift the focus to talking about what we have in common instead of our differences?

 Dan Iosue is an associate of The Rawls Group, a business succession planning firm. Dan specializes in dealing with the issues that must be resolved by business owners to implement succession strategies geared towards building business value. For additional information, visit www.rawlsgroup.com or call 407-578-4455

Published: July 3rd, 2019

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