Stop judging & start listening: Senior execs can learn something valuable from their youngest employees.

I recently asked a 24-year-old member of my staff if she was Generation X or Y. Her response: “Are they still doing that stupid alphabet thing?”

The new generation has a lot to say about the other generations’ approaches to life, work and business in general–including the need to label everything.

In our multigenerational office, we discuss differences in professional expectations regularly. In a separate post, I cover what younger workers told me they had learned from their more senior colleagues. But we also got some great answers to the mirror question: “What does the senior generation need to learn from younger workers?”

1. “Why” really matters. The new generation wants to understand motivation, context and the larger vision for everything that they do. That means that the senior workers need to be patient and answer. The understanding of “why” can lead to smart changes as well as better execution.

2. ABC: Always Be Clarifying. Each generation has a subconscious shorthand that conveys huge meaning. Think of these examples, “Challenger Disaster,” “Camelot,” “Leave the gun; take the cannoli,” and “jump the shark.” Similar shorthands happen all the time in the professional sphere–and translate into misunderstood expectations. If you want yours met, then you need to ABC.

3. Stop being scared of technology. To the new generation, technology is neither expensive nor scary: It is absolutely necessary. My generation’s horrors of the millions poured into the Y2K myth and the false promises of ERP systems are irrelevant context for this generation. They are unafraid of technology–and they can serve as guides to lead senior generations to real business benefits.

4. Communicate frequently and briefly. I remember a time when people felt there wasn’t enough communication inside of companies and between providers and customers. Now it can be the opposite. The new generation communicates more often, in shorter bursts of information and throughout the process. They want the same from us. They are not used to the idea that communication would happen once a week at a staff meeting when a text message could keep everyone current instantaneously.

5. Vary your language and method. You already know the marketing rule: “Reach the customer where she is, how she wants to be reached.” The same rule applies to the new generation. Communicate using all of the tools available, including texting. Withhold your judgments: Just because you are not used to texting (or email, or even voicemail) does not make it bad. If you want the new generation to be more productive and effective, communicate in their language and method.

6. Explain your rules. Business protocols have changed quite a bit over the generations. There was a time in American business when the large company dictated many of the rules of its employees’ lives–including associations, dress code and even free-time activities. The new generation chafes at even the slightest perceived infringement on its choices. Be careful about the rules you choose–and be able to explain the “why” if you want the new generation to stay highly motivated.

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