With three distinct generations in the workplace today, the impacts are phenomenal. Firm leaders are challenged to balance and blend each generation’s unique historical context, motivators and somewhat differing values systems to create a unified team and a sustainable firm.
To ensure that the generations co-exist and collaborate, it is helpful to understand the differing perspectives and to encourage each workplace generation to have empathy for the others. In addition, firm leaders should encourage all team members of every age to “give up” their resentments and old stories about the other generations and focus on teamwork.
This blog is intended to be an open letter to members each of the three generations at work, honoring the differing perspectives and (strongly) suggesting changes each generation should make to create a higher functioning, more inspiring and productive workplace.
And, if you feel yourself resisting these suggestions, remember the wise words of engineer and consultant W. Edwards Deming, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
To The Baby Boomers (born from 1946-1964)
As a Baby Boomer, you are likely to hold a partner or manager title and be in a position of authority in your firm. Entrepreneurial and hard-working by nature, you and your peers gave birth to many of the firms that exist today and drove the automation of the profession’s business processes and communications with the advent of the PC. Thought of as disruptive and lazy by your superior for wanting to use a spreadsheet instead of a 10-key or pencil, you were a change agent in your time.
Unfortunately, you have settled into middle age or retirement age and have started to act like the “old guys” you used to ridicule for not using email or printing it to review. You complain about your young staffers being too attached to their mobile devices, “wasting time” on social media (which is as revolutionary in communication as email was for you), wanting to “take short cuts” and more. It’s a pity that you don’t see that the Millennial professional (born after 1981) is your echo – a direct reflection of your younger self – so that you might encourage the disruptive innovation and wonderfully entrepreneurial ideas these young people have.
Further, if you’re an older Baby Boomer, you may be distracted with ideas of retirement, winding down or pursuing outside interests like grandchildren and travel “before it’s too late.” Or, you may be complacent with your station – having finally arrived, paid off your predecessors and settled into your leadership and the “big dog” role. Many Baby Boomers I meet want to rest for a while at the summit. But alas, the market is changing – and changing fast – and rest is not an option.
As a leader in your firm, you must give up your comfortable, safe rut and drive some very challenging changes in your practice. These challenges include:
- Moving to anytime, anywhere virtual and flexible work
- Learning to manage more people with less space
- Building a firm that can train, manage and replace an increasingly shorter-term workforce
- Selling to a different, younger buyer
- Delivering services that offer more value to clients as compliance services become less relevant and profitable
And more. If you don’t drive these changes, your firm will become less attractive and will experience more turnover, find it more difficult to find new people and will not produce the successors needed to secure the firm’s buy-sell and long-term sustainability.
Please shake off your complacency, Baby Boomers and find your mojo again! Look to the horizon and define a unified vision that includes innovation and change. Begin facilitating your team’s move to the new future. If you’re not engaged in and attracted to the firm’s future – how can you expect anyone else to be?
To The Generation Xer (born from 1965 – 1981)
Sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and Millennials, you have the most significant challenges to face and changes to make.
First, you feel like your deal has changed. Originally hired to be the “do-er,” implementer and back room support to the Baby Boomer, you reluctantly find yourself thrust into your firm’s leadership, management and business development functions without a lot of mentoring or preparedness.
In addition, you may feel tremendous pressure to be as fast and as entrepreneurial as your Millennial counterparts. Threatened by the potential, savvy and confidence of your younger team members, you may try to subordinate or discourage your Millennials by “putting them in their place” and convincing them they have to “wait their turn.” The trouble with this is several fold:
- Millennial CPAs can work almost anywhere and do not have to “wait their turn” for much, if anything
- The retirement of the nearly 80 million Baby Boomers is going to leave a gaping resource hole that the 50 million Gen Xers cannot fill. The Millennial is a critical element of YOUR long-range HR staffing plans. Millennials are sure to be elevated faster into leadership and responsibility out of necessity and organizations that cannot attract, keep and develop them will be at real risk of obsolescence
- Millennials have unique attributes and a world view that will disrupt, change and improve the firm business model, business processes and more. Subordinating them will quell their innovation (while they prepare their resume) and the firm – and YOU – will lose the possibilities that come with the Millennials’ game-changing insights.
Please stop repelling and start attracting others! Quit looking at the Millennial like they are your irritating younger brother or sister. Get over the unfairness of the market and power shift – it is what it is. Being bitter will only drive away the talented resources YOU NEED to leverage yourself and achieve your own growth and earnings goals. Accept the Millennials as your peers when they ascend faster than you did. Embrace the young upstarts and dig into your changing role in leadership.
To The Millennial (born in or after 1982)
It’s a great time to be a young CPA or technologist! The world is your oyster. But having market power won’t let you off the hook for gaining the expertise and experience needed to solve complex problems and deliver lasting solutions. Your challenge is to first acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. And then invest – in yourself and in learning – so you can deliver the disruptive innovation and new and wonderful ideas firms and clients will need to sustain in this new age and new market.
So, resist the urge to fly at the surface and rely too much on your search engine and fast thinking for answers. Dig in and develop a specialty. Learn everything about it you can. Buckle down and study for – then pass – the CPA exam and any other certification you need for your specialty.
Learn about your firm’s current business model and processes and why your elders think they are the best option. Avoid snarky or righteous thoughts (and comments and social media posts) as you learn. Avoid peers who encourage them as they are part of the problem – not the solution. You see things that need to change or don’t make sense clearly. Give your superiors the benefit of the doubt and share your ideas for change constructively – and from a position of study and facts. Be a solutions developer, not just a problem-pointer-outer.
You are our nation’s heirs apparent. You are our great hope. Develop the skill and knowledge to deliver on that promise. We’re counting on you!
About the Author
Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and management coaching, consulting and training firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. Learn more about the company and its services at www.convergencecoaching.com.