How HR can ride the waves of generational change

With Generation Z now starting to enter the workforce and Baby Boomers beginning to retire, it is imperative that organisations understand the profound psychological differences in how the various generations think, act and lead, according to a recent report.

By understanding the personality traits that drive Generation Y, Generation X and Baby Boomers, the report said that managers will gain a clearer idea of how the nature of leadership is changing and be better placed to comprehend, predict and manage the behaviour of people from the three groups.

“Organisations need to understand what it is that motivates their employees and connect the dots between the motivational drivers of those in different ages and stages,” said Simon Moylan, executive general manager of talent management – Asia-Pacific for Hudson, which conducted the research report.

“Out-of-the-box thinking, innovation and a focus on strategic risks require a new kind of leader. Organisations should decide whether their leaders of today are the right leaders for tomorrow.”

The report, The Great Generational Shift, is based on psychometric assessments of more than 28,000 professionals across the globe, and observed that old placeholders no longer fit with Generation Z entering the workforce and Baby Boomers beginning to retire.

“Generation Y is no longer the baby, Generation X no longer the middle child and Boomers no longer the parent,” said Moylan.

“Everyone is moving up a step. The leadership implications will need to be reckoned with.

“Members of Generation Y are arriving at positions of seniority, and are bringing a new management style.

“Generation Y are masters of abstract and conceptual thinking. They are highly ambitious, socially confident and relational.”

However, Moylan said the research report found that they score much lower on traditional leadership traits.

Conversely, Baby Boomers – especially males – have plenty of traditional leadership strengths, being ‘decisive’, ‘motivating’, ‘persuasive’ and ‘strategic’.

Baby Boomers are also open-minded and innovative.

Generation X, which is sandwiched between the other two generations, appears socially progressive and an ambitious driver of change. They are stronger on traditional leadership traits than Generation Y, yet are more people-oriented and socially confident than the Baby Boomers.

By comparing the personality traits of the three generations, the report also identified the implications for thriving – and surviving – in a multi-generational workplace.

Baby Boomers, for instance, will need to embrace change, avoid judgements and adjust their expectations.

Generation X members will need to become natural diplomats as they move into (or occupy) senior management positions.

Generation Y members, often misunderstood by others, should seek workplaces where they can experience motivation and persuasion in action.

“More than ever before, it is imperative that organisations understand the profound psychological differences in how the various generations think, act and lead,” said Moylan.

The generations at a glance
Baby Boomers (born from 1946-64):

  • Strong on traditional leadership traits – ‘leading’, ‘decisive’, ‘motivating’, ‘persuasive’ and ‘strategic’
  • Open-minded and innovative

Generation X (born from 1965-79):

  • Socially progressive, change-oriented, confident and culturally sensitive
  • Counter balance to the more dominant characteristics of other generations

Generation Y (born in 1980-94):

  • Masters of abstract and conceptual thinking
  • Meticulous, highly ambitious, socially confident and relational
  • Severely lacking in ‘traditional’ leadership skills

What can organisations do?

  1. Understanding the unique profiles of your employees will be key in the coming years. Only by understanding their people can leaders truly move them.
  2. Map the traits a leader needs in your organisation to highlight any gulfs between senior management, the board and the rest of the organisation. Someone needs to play the role of translator, connecting the dots between the behavioural preferences of those in different ages and stages.
  3. Decide whether your leader of today is the right leader for tomorrow. The past decade of subdued economic conditions has seen the rise of the conservative leader who helps an organisation cut costs to survive the storm. As conditions improve, out-of-the-box thinking, innovation and a focus on taking strategic risks requires a new kind of leader, one who is bold and not afraid to challenge the status quo.
  4. Don’t leave the gaps to chance — close them. Implement a formal leadership program that addresses the gaps across both existing leaders and high potential employees. Bridging these gaps at an early stage will mean a pool of well-rounded leaders to choose from who are able to leverage the different strengths of all generations.

Source: Hudson, The Great Generational Shift research