Taking Generations to the Next Level

fourgensI speak on the topic of Generational Diversity frequently. In fact, I’m talking to a group of HR folks in Lancaster, PA on Tuesday on the topic. And I enjoy it. I know I’m a bit of a geek about it, but I like talking about the actual theory that explains generational differences and some of the nuances around how we apply the knowledge of generational differences to issues like conflict, marketing, and organizational structure inside our organizations.

At the same time, I feel the compelled to make something crystal clear here:

The generations issue is seriously old news.

The theory explaining generational differences was published by Strauss and Howe in 1991. That’s more than two decades ago. One decade ago, there were scores of books being published that brought our attention to the generations issue, driven mostly by the entrance of the newest generation–the Millennials–into the workforce. It was a little confusing back then, and that’s why I wrote my short ebook on the topic, to try and cut through some of the hype and get clear on what the differences really are among the generations.

But even that was SEVEN years ago.

So if you still need to get caught up on who the generations are and how they see the world, then by all means, pick up my ebook or any of the other dozens of books on the topic and educate yourself. I really do think it’s important to understand generational differences. But we seriously need to get PAST the simplistic conclusions that we need to work on our cross-generational communication skills, and we definitely need to get past the idea that understanding generations will help us (leaders and managers) integrate them (Millennials) into “our” organizations.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the theory from Strauss and Howe’s other book, the Fourth Turning, which suggests that the transition we’re facing now is more than just the shift from one generation to the next, but it is the shift from one era to the next. This aligns with what Maddie and I wrote about in Humanize–which is that the end of the “machine age” in leadership and management is over, and smart organizations are adopting a more human approach.

So I don’t think it’s about integrating Millennials into our organizations, and I also don’t think it’s about turning the reins over to the Millennials who are the digitally savvy leaders of the next era. It’s about all of us figuring out what this next era is going to be and how we’re going to thrive in it. Understanding the Millennials is certainly key, since they grew up during the time when the forces that are shaping this next era were/are settling into place. They can serve kind of as a “secret decoder ring” for some of this (sorry for the Gen X metaphor there). But let’s up our game when it comes to conversations about generations. I’m really done with “how do we deal with the entitled kids these days.”