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DeaReti 07-07-65

Retiring the Generation Gap

How Employees Young & Old Can Find Common Ground


Jennifer J. Deal

John Wiley & Sons, 2007, 260 pp., ISBN 0-7879-8525-2



In business they say that the old fogies never want to change while the young bucks show no respect?  Not so, says Jennifer Deal, a research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership.  Based on a seven-year research project, she concludes that generational conflict "fueled by common insecurities and the desire for clout" is more perception than reality.  Young and old want just about the same things: they simply express them differently.  [Do you agree or disagree? dlm]


The research was initiated to answer frequent questions from clients about employee attitudes and behaviors.  Ten principles emerged that apply across generations.  In each chapter an issue and the related research are described, a principle conclusion is stated, and some applications are suggested to help "retire the generation gap."  The analysis is thorough, but prescriptions are light.  [And I often wonder how well surveys accurately represent reality. dlm]  


The generations: (6-7)

       Silents                   born 1925-1958

       Early Boomers       born 1946-1954

       Late Boomers        born 1955-1963

       Early Xers             born 1964-1976

       Late Xers                      born 1977-1986


"No generalizations are true, including this one." (9)


"Most intergenerational conflict shares a common point of origin: the issue of clout--who has it, who wants it." (11)  When the rules are challenged, so are the people who make the rules.  Older people think they should get to make the rules.  Their behavior is the standard.  When the younger people begin to believe their own opinions and stop following the rules, the generation gap ensues.  The generation gap has everything to do with the desire of older people to retain their clout and younger people to get it.  This in turn often has its roots in issues of confidence and security (13) 


There is no overall consensus on the most important values.  The top ten chosen most frequently across age ranges were family, integrity, achievement, love, competence, happiness, self-respect, wisdom, balance, responsibility.  (15)  Spirituality was either central (in the top three) or irrelevant (below the top ten).  Wisdom rated highest with the oldest generation and progressively lower with succeeding generations. Conclusion: "All generations have similar values; they just express them differently." (14) 


Deal says, "Values are what you believe is important, not what you do to express those beliefs."  "The generations don't differ in what they value; they differ in how they demonstrate those values." (21)  "…conflicts about values are not about the values themselves but about how people express those values."  "It's what they do that causes the conflicts. (22)


There are more differences within generations than between them.  Conflict is more likely between individuals than generations, more about behavior than values, about feeling valued and respected. (27) 


"Everyone wants respect; they just don't define it the same way."  And we all think we deserve it.  "What people meant by respect fell into three categories: (1) listen to me; pay attention to what I have to say; (2) give my opinions the weight I believe they deserve; and (3) do what I tell you to do."   "Older people primarily talked about respect in terms of give my opinions the weight I believe they deserve and do what I tell you to do.  Younger respondents characterized respect more as listen to me and pay attention to what I have to say." (33)


"In essence, older respondents thought that experience should count for more than raw talent, and younger people thought that experience shouldn't count for more than raw talent." (35)


Trust Matters.  People from every generation and every level say that people don't trust each other.  They are less productive and spend more time covering themselves because they don't trust management to do the right thing.  Most people trust their peers, their direct reports and their boss.  There were no generational differences but those in mid-career were less trusting.  About half--including upper level managers--don't trust upper management or the organization.  (51-53) 


Whether people stay is related to how much they trust their bosses and their organization.  Trust is very important for retention and efficiency.  (58-60) 


The quality chosen most frequently in the top ten was credibility (69%), defined as "believable, ethical, trustworthy; has few hidden motives."  All generations listed it in their top ten.  But what do leaders need to be so that everyone will recognize "credibility?"  Perhaps being as you want others to be or behaving as you would like your leaders to behave.  (80)


Office politics is inescapable and it is a point of conflict between generations.  Everyone who thinks others are winning dislikes it.  "People from all generations are concerned about the effects of organizational politics on their careers, on being recognized for the work they are doing, and for getting access to the resources they need to do their job." (86)  People are generally told that good work is more important than politics but often it's not true. (87) 


Perceptions cause large-scale problems.  Often those at the top think they got there on merit while those below think it was politics.  This affects trust in upper management.  The fact is that political skills are important at every level.  Everyone has to interact with people. (96-7)  [Is the author using the word politics to refer sometimes to favoritism and manipulation and other times to people skills? dlm]


"No one really likes change."  People of all generations think that people of other generations are not accepting of change.  (100)  "People of all generations are apprehensive that organizational changes

Will increase their workload

Will decrease their authority and power

Will decrease their resources (both budgetary and human)


People also often believe that changes are often


Not communicated effectively

Disorganized"   (103)


The oldest generation was most likely to say it liked change.  (106) [Perhaps they are thinking of retirement! dlm]


"In fact, what we see is that older people are at least as likely as younger people to blame older people for causing conflict about change."  "…older people are blamed for conflict about change, though they don't necessarily dislike it more than anybody else does."  "In general, people from all organizational levels are uptight about change…." (107)


"It is critical that executives set up systems that support and reinforce the change.  Many change initiatives fail because no one has bothered to realign the functional structure of the organization to reflect the change." (113)


"People like changes that they think will make things better for them personally, and they dislike (dread, in fact) changes that they think will make things worse."  "Fundamentally, resisting change is about being threatened by it and not about chronological age…." (115) 


Is it true that younger people are intrinsically disloyal to their employers?  No.  Loyalty is measured by how long people stay with an organization and how hard they work.  "…younger people don't change jobs more frequently than older people did at the same age."  "…the rate of job change probably has more to do with the economy than it does with the temperament and loyalty (or lack thereof) of any particular generation." (130) 


What does the organization need to do to retain employees?  Top answers to surveys included career and job issues such as opportunities, growth and challenge; improving compensation; living out its values; doing business better; providing better balance between job and the rest of life; and improving communications.  (149-50)


"People of all generations said they want to do a good job at work, but they also want to have a good quality of life, which work often hampered." (161) There is often more work than can be completed during working hours.  "Many of the comments also included references to extreme stress."  (162)


People of all generations said they wanted the same things:

¤     Opportunity to advance within their organization

¤     Learning and development'

¤     Respect and recognition

¤     Better quality of life

¤     Better compensation" (165)


Four areas of focus for good retention:

1.  "An organization should have a plan in place to help people at all levels and of all generations understand how they can move within the organization.

2.  An organization should have a plan in place to help people get the development they need so that they can grow in their position.

3.  An organization should review its compensation policy.

4.  An organization should make an effort--a real, honest, concerted effort--to recognize the good work each employee does." (166)


97% of survey respondents said it is important for them to learn on the job. (173)


The top ten areas where people said they want training are leadership, skills in their field, team building, problem solving, strategic planning, managing change, computer training, vision, communication skills, and conflict management. (173) Those in the executive ranks put leadership, strategic planning, team building, managing change, and vision in their top five. (178)


How do people want to learn?  There are few differences among generations.  For soft skills they want to learn by

1. On-the-job training

2. One-on-one coaching

3. Peer interaction and feedback

4. Discussion groups

5. Live classroom instruction. 


For hard skills, they want

1.  On-the-job training

2. Workbooks and manuals

3. Books and reading

4. One-on-one coaching

5. Live classroom instruction (182)


Web-based training, satellite, broadcast TV, and distance learning programs, etc. were the least preferred methods. (184)


"…if you're thinking about using CBT [computer-based training] as a stand-alone for teaching soft skills, you need to think about it again…and again…and again--until you change your mind!  …without live practice, they aren't likely to learn people skills." (192)


"Everyone wants to know how he or she is doing and wants to learn how to do better."  People of all generations would like feedback from a coach.  (194)  "Coaching is first and foremost a way to facilitate learning." (195)  "…one-on-one coaching was one of the most frequently chosen developmental options for learning both soft and hard skills. (196)  People of all organizational levels prefer a senior colleague above everyone else. (198)  They want coaching to focus on their job, their career, or leadership development. (201)  "If you can set up coaching relationships for your people, do it.  Coaching is one of the most versatile, efficient, and targeted methods for learning that exits." (207)



"There are always going to be conflicts."  "But at least now you know that such fundamental differences aren't really the cause of these problems; you know that the people involved probably want similar things.  Knowing this, when you see a conflict that others identify as being caused by the generation gap, you know that you need to look deeper for the real causes of the conflict." (210)


"Remember that whenever you go into any conversation, the relative clout of the participants is part of the dynamic."  Issues "are often more about how much respect, deference, and control people think they should have…." (211)


The Ten Principles from the book: (213)

1.      All generations have similar values.

2.      Everyone wants respect.

3.      Trust matters.

4.      People want leaders who are credible and trustworthy.

5.      Organizational politics is a problem--no matter how old (or young) you are.

6.      No one really likes change.

7.      Loyalty depends on the context, not on the generation.

8.      It's as easy to retain a young person as an older one--if you do the right things.

9.      Everyone wants to learn--more than just about anything else.

10.   Almost everyone wants a coach.



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