As younger people join the workforce, many advisors find themselves managing a multigenerational wealth management team. Leading people of different age groups—each with their own unique values, behaviors, and methods of communication—can be challenging. But these differences also present an opportunity to leverage and capitalize on the diversity and new ideas that multigenerational teamwork brings to the workplace.
The Challenges Inherent in Generational Differences
Research has shown that childhood experiences and the environment in which children are raised impact that generation's point of view. Bear in mind that profiles of age groups are based on generalizations and are not intended to be all-encompassing. (You're not exactly like all the other members of your generation, are you?) But they can offer valuable insight into why generations tend to think and behave in certain ways.
Baby boomers. This large generation comprises those born between 1946 and 1964. In general, they were raised to vie for opportunities. Faced with a highly competitive work environment, boomers often focused on one career path and strove to reach the top of their field. They are described as having a strong work ethic and as willing to sacrifice for success.
Generation X. Those born between 1965 and 1980 grew up while institutions were failing and their parents were divorcing or getting laid off. As a result, they tend to be "options thinkers," always planning for what could happen. Gen X is described as valuing a work/life balance. Many would rather be rewarded with extra time off than a step up on the corporate ladder. Gen X tends to explore many career paths.
Generation Y. This generation comprises those born between 1980 and 2000, a group of roughly 80 million people. They were raised to believe that they could be anything they wanted to be, so their expectations are high. They value flexibility, and they tend to "work to live" rather than "live to work." They are also ambitious, have a reputation for being self-assured, and often expect to be promoted quickly, even if that isn't a realistic goal. Gen Y tends to be less formal than previous generations, particularly in their communication style, and they are tech savvy.
Given these differing outlooks and approaches to work, it's not surprising that there are certain challenges inherent to a multigenerational wealth management team. These differences, however, can also be the source of creative solutions, fresh ideas, and energy—as well as your firm's stability and future success. Commonwealth's Practice Management team suggests adopting one or more of the following best practices to help you tap into the power of your team.
Best Practice #1: Tailor Your Communication
Across all generations, employees value communication. But it can be most effective if you vary your communication style and the type of information you emphasize based on age group. Here are some pointers to consider:
- When providing feedback to boomers, share your appreciation for their dedication, hard work, and long hours. They tend to prefer face-to-face communication that is open and direct, and they want their questions answered fully. To demonstrate flexibility in your thinking, provide boomers with options.
- In communicating with Gen X, present a clear understanding of your expectations, the desired results, and the rewards you'll provide for high performance. Once you've laid out the facts, asking for feedback will promote a participatory process, something Gen X values. This group can have an informal communication style; although face-to-face communication is the best option, e-mail is also acceptable.
- Gen Y values feedback and reassurance, and they are likely to ask for it if you don't provide it. They want to do meaningful work that contributes to the organization or team, so be sure to explain how their duties contribute to the firm's success. Gen Y also tends to be visual, so try to show them what you mean when possible. As with other generations, face-to-face communication is preferable, but Gen Y is comfortable with e-mail, voicemail, and even instant messaging.
Showing that you value employees' input and ideas is a communication strategy that crosses generational boundaries. Giving your staff opportunities to contribute can generate unique approaches to a problem or project, as well as create a sense of camaraderie. Brainstorming sessions are a great way to generate new ideas; just be sure to create a safe environment where no idea is considered too outrageous.
Best Practice #2: Leverage Technology
One of the frustrations that boomers may express about members of Gen Y is that they may not retain information, resulting in a lack of accuracy. But consider it another way: because of the volume of new media resources they grew up with, members of Gen Y may have learned to be selective in allocating their attention. Leveraging technology, a tool the younger generation is particularly comfortable with, can help address these concerns.
Here are some ideas for using technology to ensure that your Gen Y employees understand your expectations:
- Ask them to e-mail you a response that confirms an understanding of the project or task you've just assigned.
- Suggest that they create a to-do list on their iPhone, iPad, or other device.
- Recommend that your Gen Y staffers use an electronic tickler system for automatic reminders about due dates and track their work.
- Provide opportunities to use their social media expertise, if it fits with the role. For instance, a Gen Y employee might jump at the chance to manage your website content, SEO, and social media marketing.
Best Practice #3: Offer Development Opportunities
Growth and development opportunities are important for recruiting and retaining talent, but they're particularly important for Gen Y staff—who might just be the next generation of financial advisors. Creating a thoughtful development plan will help show younger employees that they'll continue to have new opportunities for career growth. Again, when mapping out a development plan, be sure to seek the employee's participation.
Consider courses offered by the College for Financial Planning and Dale Carnegie. And be sure to incorporate mentoring into your plan. It doesn't have to be a formal process; a regular question-and-answer session can help staff gain a deeper understanding of your business and give them a forum to provide feedback. Reverse mentoring, when a younger employee acts as the mentor, can be a productive way to help others adopt new technology and promote teamwork.
Best Practice #4: Work to Create an Open Culture That Embraces Change
As a new generation enters the workforce, it's clear that open communication and a willingness to consider fresh ideas are the keys to management success. We all have a lot to learn, and the most effective strategies today may not reflect what we've done in the past. To continue to grow alongside the next generation, we must embrace change. By managing to the strengths of each group, you'll position your firm to gain a competitive advantage and foster an environment in which staff across all generations can thrive.
Are you currently leading a multigenerational team? We'd love to hear about your challenges and successes in doing so. Share by commenting below.