It seems as if all the buzz in the talent development community these days is about Millennials — and to be fair, not without some reason. Studies now indicate 2015 was the year when Millennials surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the workplace.
Driving the change itself are simple numbers — The Millennial generation (or “Generation Y”) is the largest generational group ever, surpassing even the post-WW2 “Baby Boom” of the 1950s. Moreover, some 40% of Millennials are still school-age — meaning more and more will continue to come into the workplace with each graduation cycle.
Millennials have proven to have many unique needs when it comes to employee training, onboarding, corporate communications and social learning — we won’t discuss those here, but if you’re interested, don’t miss our white paper, Engaging and Developing Millennials: How to Use Video to Help the Next Generation of Employees Succeed.
At the other end of the spectrum, having weathered the Great Recession, estimates now suggest that 1,000 Baby Boomers retire from the workforce every day. While it’s true that the Baby Boomer generation has redefined traditional retirement, with many Boomers staying on the payroll well past 65 or accepting long-term “transitional” roles rather than leave the office outright, many more (and counting) are now preparing to move on.
But hold on — something’s missing here.
The Baby Boomer employees that organizations are losing are tenured professionals, often in senior and leadership positions or roles that require 30-40 years of experience. Millennials aren’t exactly just stepping in and filling those shoes.
What about the generation that came in between?
Born between 1965 and 1980 and now more than a decade or two into their careers, the members of Generation X are now primed to take on virtually every important leadership role in your organization.
While only roughly half the size of the Millennial generation, Generation X still comprises more than 20% of the workforce. Those born in the first half of the group are approaching 50, and already many have risen to critical senior-level posts — not the least of which include Walmart’s C. Douglas Mcmillon, Google’s Larry Page, Yahoo’s Marissa Meyer, or Tesla’s Elon Musk, who already serve their organizations as CEO.
Yet while they are readying themselves to take on same the executive roles now held by Baby Boomers, you can expect your Generation X employees to prepare quite differently than their predecessors.
From the very earliest days of their professional careers, the members of Generation X were markedly different than their peers of a generation prior.
Having come of age when Vietnam, Watergate, and S&L Scandals were headline news, Gen Xers showed little enthusiasm for traditional bureaucratic or hierarchical organizations, and demonstrated notably lower loyalty to everything from employers to brands and even political parties. Older generations quickly diagnosed the group as “apathetic slackers”.
Fast forward a generation and what we’ve learned is that the driving force motivating much of Generation X is not some general disinterest — far from it. The professional passions of Generation X burn just as brightly as any before or since. Instead, what made this group so different from the Baby Boomers that came before are two key personality facets.
Generation X is Fiercely Independent
The apathy seen in Generation X by their older colleagues wasn’t a lack of concern — it was merely the outward manifestation of an independent streak unlike that seen thus far in any other era. Gen Xers tend to be suspicious of cookie-cutter programs and pre-established programmatic best practices. They tend to believe general policies do a poor job of addressing individual circumstances, and as such, they prefer to set their own agendas and derive their own interpretations of the answers.
It’s a psychographic profile that explains well why many Gen Xers had trouble adapting to entry-level positions — and also one that with some help may position this group well for leadership in today’s marketplace.
Generation X is Exceptionally Tech Savvy
Along with their distaste for traditional command structures, Generation X marked a notable shift from the Baby Boom generation for their ready adoption of technology. Millennials may be the generation that grew up online, but for virtually any technology you care to name, from the Internet and email to smartphones and personal video, Gen Xers were the early adopters.
One could argue that it’s this generational facet, in fact, that enables the first — the many waves of new technology that came about in the ‘90s and ‘00s have given many Gen Xers a toolset they can use to maintain their sense of independence while still doing productive work in a professional setting.
One of the central tenets of leadership training is that your principles don’t change just because your principals do. That’s no less true even as your organization shifts into the hands of a new generation.
For most organizations, the management and leadership training needed to groom your Generation X employees will be the same as that required for the executives already in place. What you need your leaders to know about business development, corporate compliance, and financial management, of course, won’t really change. Steady too, should be those strategic values that create the foundation for how your company does business.
While the content will remain, what should change, however, is your delivery.
Big-group training sessions will yield limited returns — Gen Xers don’t believe a broad set of rules can or even should apply equally to every individual. They believe solutions needs to be tailored to be meaningful.
Likewise, most face-to-face training sessions will likely diminish in importance — Gen Xers are leery of feeling as though they’re being told what to do, and generally prefer the opportunity to find their own solution.
So what might work better?
First, look to the power of leadership coaching and mentorship instead of formal classes. Coaching by definition creates a tailored solution that is still founded in the organization’s core values — this can be a strong way to help members of Generation X get the leadership training they’ll need without feeling like they are giving up control over the process.
Second, look to technology as a means to support coaching and training, as well as enable more self-directed on-demand learning. Video, in particular, can be an excellent medium for teaching repeatable management training concepts like Sarbanes Oxley requirements, hiring policies and other HR protocol, and essential executive-only internal organizational knowledge like trade secrets or expansion plans. When shared on a secure corporate YouTube, management training videos can be viewed anytime and anywhere, on-demand — a perfect way to give your new Gen X leadership additional information that’s in their control.
Watch an example of a coaching video created with Panopto:
Panopto’s enterprise video platform makes it easy to record and share just about anything — from formal training and 1:1 coaching sessions to social learning, knowledge management, and presentations from conferences, events, and even standard meetings. With Panopto your videos are automatically uploaded to a shareable library, transcoded to be playable on any device, and indexed so that every word spoken or shown on-screen can be found by search.
To learn more about how Panopto helps companies around the world improve their employee training programs, or for a free 30 day trial of Panopto, contact our team today.