During the past several months I have been asked to provide counsel and programs covering the issue of managing a variety of employee types within a firm. This blog is intended to provide some insights in assisting you in working with your various team members of different generations and taking a few moments to discuss a rather unique situation, gaining influence over one’s manager. The common denominator in dealing with co-workers whose backgrounds are from differing generations and finding methods to obtain support from your manager is based upon your capacities to adjust the ways in which you meet their needs rather than imposing any single technique in your business environment.
Let’s start with identifying some of the methods used to deal with Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millenials (or Gen Y) and the newest participants in the workplace, Nexters, Gen Z, etc.
Each of these categories of workers has its own values, experiences, beliefs and attitudes which are brought into the workplace every day. While these broad descriptions may not fit a particular individual, they attempt to capture the communication differences among the generations which have a tremendous impact on the work environment. Here are some Leadership Development hints on communicating better with your staff members from these generations.
Traditionalists (born prior to 1946)
In communicating with the Traditionalists, it’s important to realize that they are, by nature, private people who have worked diligently during the long course of their careers and have “put in their time/paid their dues”. In working with these employees, consider the following tips:
- Use inclusive language (we, us) to build trust. A Traditionalist’s word is her/her bond, so be that way with them.
- Traditionalists favor face-to-face communication, when possible. When not, formal written communication is received best by them.
- Don’t waste their time – they’re focused on their job and don’t have a lot of time to “chat”.
- Recognize that Traditionalists are slow to share their hard-won wisdom or to share their thoughts immediately. Give the relationship time to evolve.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
Remember that the Boomers are known for their sense of competition and their “workaholic” habits. In many ways their work is their life because they have been taught to climb the ladder of success in a highly competitive environment.
Consider the following tips when communicating with Boomers:
- Use not only impactful words (crucial, game changing, high-profile) , but also body language to effectively communicate.
- Be direct and open in your communication style.
- Answer questions completely and expect that the Boomers will likely ask for more detailed explanations.
- In your discussions, demonstrate flexibility by presenting options to the Boomers.
- Use either face-to-face or electronic communication to get your points across
Gen Xer (1965-1976)
For years Gen Xers looked to Boomers for support, guidance and training. They are now taking major leadership positions within business – but they really dislike office politics and policies, in general. They are often entrepreneurial thinkers and are ready to move on whenever possible. They’re very much interested in quality of life rather than just work alone. They use technology as a shortcut to success and they are highly productive using less time to do their jobs and, therefore, are able to lead a more “balanced” life. Gen Xers are multi-taskers and need a lot of stimuli. It’s important to them that they work in a challenging environment, focused on their individual growth in assignments that stimulate.
Consider the following tips when communicating with Gen Xers:
- Learn their language (acronyms) and use them
- Use email to communicate
- Present the facts in a straight-forward manner
- Solicit their feedback
- Share information with them often
- Use a more informal communication style
- Listen to them carefully
Millennials (1977-1990) and Nexter’s (Gen Z) -1991 to present
Workers in these generations are often described as individuals who continually question the standards and expectations held by society. These people know no limits and they define the workplace as they go. They are highly creative, well-educated and very adept users of technology. The internet is very much their playground and it has practically no boundaries. If there is a faster way for them to do their assignments, Millennials and Nexters/Gen Z will find a way to do it through technology.
Consider the following tips when communicating with Millennials and Nexters/Gen Z:
- Use language that paints visual pictures
- Don’t talk down to them – they will strongly resent it
- Treat them as colleagues in language and action and they’ll respect you
- Use email and voicemail as primary communication vehicles and be prepared to incorporate texting methods to reinforce messages “on the fly”
- Use visual communication whenever possible to keep them focused
- Continually seek their feedback
- Use humor to demonstrate that you don’t take yourself too seriously
- Encourage them to explore new paths or options
It is crucial to pay attention to the different communication preferences cited above, otherwise it is likely that your leader/manager messages will often be misunderstood. You will commonly find yourself engaged in restating or reiterating your objectives, goals, approaches and solution strategies. Much time can be lost and potentially the critical momentum required to accomplish crucial tasks in a timely manner will be hampered. Your competitors will love that! Many of these ideas, among others, are expanded and amplified in our Succeeding Generations Workshop (http://www.pacesllc.com/services/workshops/#succeeding-generations).
In a similar vein, it is helpful to consider use of special tactics and techniques in situations that are among the most tricky for leaders namely, how to gain appropriate influence with one’s boss.
Here are a few approaches which have proven helpful to others:
Ideally, you and your manager are focused towards common goals that are important to both of you. To “manage up” you should consider that you’ll need a specific set of skills such as knowing how to build a positive, productive working relationship with him/her, how to most effectively communicate with your manager, and finding ways to negotiate work priorities that help you get your job done with resources that your manager possesses. It is important to realize that you and your manager are, in some ways, mutually dependent upon one another. Your leader needs cooperation, consistency, honesty and reliability from you. Conversely, you look to your manager to create alignments with the rest of the organization to help prioritize and secure critical resources that you need to do your specific job.
To develop a solid working and influencing relationship with your manager, you should take the time to see his/her “world” by getting a better sense of what your manager is up against. This entails understanding the pressures your boss is facing, his/her perspective regarding your role, and finding common ground with your approach that achieves both the manager’s objectives and yours. It is also crucial that you become familiar with your boss’s strengths, weaknesses (both personal and organizational), objectives, interests and communication style.
Gaining these critical insights about your manager can be accomplished in several ways. For example, openly ask your manager about his/her management style, likes and dislikes, and any special requirements your boss might have. Another method is to speak with other staff members about their insights into your boss and ask for their feedback and advice. And most importantly, closely observe your manager while he/she is pursuing specific objectives and goals and analyze how they interact with others at all levels.
When trying to adjust to your manager’s work style preferences, consider a few ideas such as: does my manager prefer to be more formal in his/her approach? Does my manager become impatient if I veer off topic? How does my supervisor best process information? What decision making style does he/she use? And how does my manager handle conflict?
In gaining influence with your manager, remember this simple, but accurate, formula: Trust + Expertise = Credibility. To achieve such believability, start by being authentic and sincere, clearly demonstrating your boss that your ideas are worth considering. The more your manager sees you as sincere and committed, the more likely you’ll be trusted. Create or establish a history of trustworthiness by following through on commitments. Explore new ideas which encourages both of you to become more open, and therefore, more trusting of one another. Place your manager’s best interests first and be candid. If there are points in your ideas or solutions that you feel may be weak, share your concerns so he/she can be of help and ultimately trust you more because of your honesty about what you see as challenges.
- Research your ideas. Find out everything you can about the idea that you are proposing from individuals, reading and other available resources.
- Assemble information. Collect data from these sources that support as well as contradict your idea so that you are fully prepared to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your proposed solution.
- Get actual hands-on experience. Get involved with cross-functional teams that may generate new insights into your markets, products and business processes so you can take this information and present the ideas to your manager.
- Cite credible experts and sources. Support your ideas/solutions with knowledge gained from both inside and outside your organization – information which verifies why your approach might make sense in your organization.
- Demonstrate your proposed solution by establishing a pilot project using your ideas to show its viability, thereby generating serious interest on the part of your boss.
The credibility formula and the strategies mentioned and actions mentioned above, when practiced consistently and honestly (accompanied by using excellent listening skills), will serve to enhance your reputation for believability, technical competence and creative solution generation in the eyes of your direct manager and peers. Your supervisor will see you as a confidant, an ally, and a credible, essential resource in confronting the critical issues that you face, both tactically (day-to-day) and strategically (longer/broader term focus).
In this blog we have discussed techniques about gaining credibility with your manager such that you become, in effect, an important partner with him/her. While there is a rank and role difference between you and your manager, it is essential that you both view one another as partners. Partners don’t let their partners make serious mistakes or inadvertently look bad or remain uninformed or poorly prepared. Partners do remain loyal to the partnerships’ goals and objectives; place the good of the organization ahead of everything else; value and take advantage of different strengths, skills, perspectives and approaches; and learn to live with each other’s foibles or idiosyncrasies and not assume bad intentions on the part of the other. It is the obligation of a partner to be thoroughly accountable and responsible, even at the risk of personal discomfort or embarrassment. When one lives up to these responsibilities your manager and your peers will see you as trustworthy, ethical and an important ally.
These are a few ideas and considerations that we cover in our Leadership Development Workshop, Strategic Influencing, http://tinyurl.com/7zn42l9. There is much more depth and specific, usable information provided in these half and full day courses from PACES LLC.