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Overcoming the Leadership Gap Part 2: The Generational Shift

As I sit here in my skinny jeans and a side part in my hair, slightly questioning changing to a middle part tomorrow, I am struck with a question on how to balance keeping true to myself while learning from other generations. We are noticing three major themes when looking at this generational shift: retirements and entrants to the workforce, stereotypes and similar ground, and how to help all of your staff navigate these challenges.


Retirements and Entrants

Millennials (born 1980-1994, also known as Zen Y) are already the largest segment in the workplace and have been highly studied and compared. Some of the biggest comparisons being made are against the Boomer generation (born between 1946-1964) and Gen Z (also known as Zoomers born between mid- 1990’s and early 2010’s), those that are leaving the workforce and those that are starting to make their entrance.


While this last year may have slowed many planned retirements, it also triggered many Boomers to assess / reassess their overall plans for retirement. While many may be continuing in their current roles longer, there is an increased internal pull from many to continue their careers outside of the standard 40 hour work week. We will dig more into this shift when we review the Gig Economy.


Leadership gaps are clear when we look at retirement data from the Boomer generation, leaving senior management positions open while not enough of the Gen X population to fill. This leaves Millennials having to step up and being tapped for stretch roles. At the same time, Millennials are looking to be the generation with some of the shortest tenure at companies, creating challenges not only for recruiting replacements and backfills, but also the lost institutional knowledge. In order to combat this perfect storm of short tenure and needing Millennials to stretch into leadership roles, owners and executives should make an effort to engage, attract, retain and prepare Millennials by:


  • Ensuring regular meetings are occurring to focus on feedback, training opportunities, and information sharing

  • Deepening into being a mission driven organization and relate to their desire to improve society

  • Develop systems that reward skills and performance, over age or tenure

  • Assess ways to improve flexibility and project based work


Only looking ahead leaves half of the picture unseen, and is the same for not giving enough focus for the newest working population – Gen Z . As they are the first generation of true digital natives, this generation will cause all companies to reassess their entry level jobs in ways to attract and engage this generation. However, don’t think you can fit this generation into neat boxes, they are showing they do not like defining them self in only one way. As research is starting to show this generation is leaning to work in industries that interact with their personal lives, prefer independence, but not isolation, and looks for entrepreneurial opportunities within the stability a company can offer.


Leaving Stereotypes Behind

It is no surprise we found more articles discussing differences between the generations, rather than finding similarities that would bring them together as a workforce. Each individual has to start questioning their belief that we are so different from each other while working in the most age diverse

work population. These stereotypes have each of us acting and treating others outside of our own generation in certain ways, while also expecting to be treated like the stereotypes we have been labeled in our own generation.


Helping Staff Navigate

Openly talking about stereotypes is the first step to navigating how to ensure they do not lead to negative workplace events. In addition to open communication with all employees, organizations should continue to promote mission driven goals, identify ways individuals affect those goals, and understand as we age individual priorities shift increasing the need for flexibility.


The words ‘succession planning’, ‘skills assessment’, and ‘staffing plan’ should become familiar as companies assess their own generational split in their workforce. Beyond these background programs being developed, creating a culture of communication to share feedback, ideas and project status seem to be important to many generations. As a challenge and homework for each reading, ask yourself if you are giving the time and creating an environment to allow for routine and regular check-in meetings between managers and employees.


We are excited to continue our series that addresses some of the Leadership Gap symptoms we are noticing in the market today for talent. As a general reminder, these symptoms and potential remedies are hardly ideas we should look at in a silo. We hope you continue to join us over the next two months to continue this conversation and find ideas to start seeing how you can overcome the leadership gap you may be seeing in your company.

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