The Great Divide

Bridging the generational divide with 360 degree mentoring and acknowledging that ‘talent’ is to be found in all generations.

I’ve been reading Gallup’s ‘State of the American Workplace 2017’. While it is US-centric and I am sitting in an exceptionally warm England right now, it does have relevance.

An item that caught my eye was “Millennials are more likely […] to say a job that accelerates their professional or career development is ‘very important’ to them. (45% of Millennials vs 35% Gen-Xers and 18% Baby Boomers).”(1)

As we well know, career advancement and opportunities stem from the ‘who’ we know more than the ‘what’ we know. An aspect of this is having the ability to get that influential individual to notice you/your talent. And this requires people skills, understanding how to interact or, as they say in Japan, ‘read the air’. This is not a taught module, we can book-learn, but putting it into practice still requires honing though life experiences. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

I have been debating with a few peers about whether the focus on the Millennial entering the workforce has been so successful that other generations may feel marginalised or disregarded.

On the one hand workplaces need to change to be efficient, challenge costs, attract talent etc. On the other is the risk of alienating your existing talent base – those who have been hired for a while, possibly a looong while. I’ve led workplace change programmes where it’s been a challenge get buy-in from non-Millennials. Some of it is education, some of it is assurance, some of it is ensuring that they are, and feel, heard. The common theme of resistance is the fear that the workplace will become uncomfortable, thus unwelcoming to them.

adult ball pit

‘Jump In’ Art Installation,  Ball Pit for Adults, London  |

‘We can inject a fresh approach in your space to support your way of working and creativity, as well as celebrating your department’s personality – which is quite fun.’ I said.

‘I don’t want ‘fun”, Bob scowled, ‘I don’t want something like a ball pit or a shed to meet in. I’m not in a playground, I’m at work.’

It’s an extreme RL example though it is clear: people have seen Google offices…and it is outside some comfort zones.

Adding to this is the debate about how to maintain the company culture with influxes of headcount or where younger people join the business and move on swiftly. And let us not forget IT changes – oh Lordy, let’s not even go there.

Is it me or is there a divide starting here? Which brings me back to my point.

We hear that people want to further their careers swiftly. We hear that people moan about the changes (and their IT). So we have a choice. We can either carry on moaning, working hard to grind down enthusiasm and youthful ideas about changes (I’ve been on the receiving end) or we can learn from each other.

ignore the laptop


We Gen-Xers and older have skills born of experience, the ‘battle scars’ if you will of projects, people, business culture. Where we may struggle is, as IT adopters, with changes in technology (I routinely teach non-Millennial colleagues how to use Gmail). The changes in moving away from an annual review, with documented school reports* employee progress to measure against can be a challenge, it requires a change in management skills. It requires change, full stop.

Where Millennials may struggle is how to navigate office politics, how to layer on information to give end users the illusion of control while stacking the deck in your favour**, or how to challenge a client without undermining or embarrassing them. These skills are life lessons. Some may already have these skills in natural abundance, others have a deep, aching paucity.

We are st risk of creating a ‘nether the twain’ environment. Remember: Space is easy; people are hard. Maybe it’s time to start focusing on the people.

An easy (and cheap) way of resolving this, and creating a win-win situation, is to instigate a 360 mentoring process. Assign a new hire to an existing employee mentor, preferably one that has been around the block a few times. The goal is to ensure ongoing, impartial support, people skills (office politics) development, cultural adoption and swift feedback in both directions. Bear in mind that each of the items in that (in-exhaustive) list have different meanings to different generations. It’s not about “gettin’ down with the kids, dude” but to do with developing understanding of how we each are optimised to work at our best potential. Each generation can teach and support the other.

But that’s the manager’s job, surely? Not always; what are the chances of a manager teaching their direct reports how to manage up?

There is much we can learn from each other. Let’s give it a shot.


(1)  Gallup 2017, Page 31

* I have been accused of being a Millennial in the past; studiously avoiding the risk of sun damage to my skin is evidently paying off..! One thing I do identify with is immediate feedback and continual development. No point saving it all up for year-end and citing examples that can barely be remembered.

** Example: they know asking for a pool or crèche is a non-starter. They also know they can argue loopholes into your data to argue for more desks or more space than is appropriate. This is why you stack the deck – and use the Framework of Influence to do so.





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