Leading Multiple Generations in Your Financial Services Firm

Posted by Angela Sarver

August 19, 2015 at 1:30 PM

leading multiple generations in your financial services firmFor quite some time, you've probably heard about the changes that will take place in the workforce when the baby boomers retire. Guess what? Whether you're ready or not, the future is now. According to Dr. Bob Nelson of Recognition Professionals International, an association of human resources professionals, baby boomers (ages 47–66) represent 38 percent of today's workforce, while Generation Xers (ages 27–46) and millennials (ages 18–26) combined represent 57 percent.

Given these statistics, you might be experiencing the challenges of leading multiple generations in your financial services firm. If so, you're certainly not alone—I recently spoke with an advisor who had to decipher a "ttyl" text message from his millennial assistant. (If you're not a fan of texting, that translates to "talk to you later.") Clearly, generational change is upon us, and the techniques that worked well for managing boomers may not be as effective for leading Gen Xers or millennials.

To help you navigate the changing face of the workforce, I'll outline the differences between generations and explain how you can modify your management style to meet the needs of these diverse groups. (Keep in mind that the following descriptions include generalizations based on the literature and are not intended to be all encompassing.)

Introducing the Gen Xers

Generally speaking, Gen Xers believe in life first, work second. They tend to be informal and casual about authority, like to work at their own pace, and are known to be tech-savvy. Many in this age group have settled into their careers and are motivated to become experts in their fields. Because many have children of their own, keep in mind that these employees may be juggling work with raising families. In fact, according to Jon Warner and Anne Sandberg in their booklet "Generational Leadership," for these employees, striking a work/life balance is critical.

Gen Xers value freedom and pragmatism, which can make them appear self-centered and unwilling to commit to a general goal or cause. They also value leadership that is fair and even-handed. These are employees who work to make ends meet and will change jobs to gain a promotion, more variety, or a better salary.

The World of the Millennials

Millennials approach work as part of a lifestyle. They like to keep their options open rather than commit to one job or even one field. Now reaching their mid-20s, they are just beginning to decide what is important in terms of life, work, and relationships. Their lives are busy but not complex; the answer to almost any dilemma is simple because they tend to view situations in black and white. Many have the mind-set that they'll wait to address the more complicated issues when they get older.

As employees, millennials have a lot to offer. They can be:

  • Tech wizards
  • Quick learners
  • Resourceful
  • Hardworking
  • High achieving

On the flip side, they can be overconfident, given their level of experience. As the leader of your practice, you should keep in mind that millennials need to be challenged and desire frequent feedback.

Bridging the Generation Gap

If you're like most managers, you've found a way to manage that's most natural for you. This may be fine when leading your own generation, but it might not work as well with other generations. The following insights can help you adjust your management style to capitalize on the strengths that the new generations bring to the workplace.

Work direction. While boomers reached maturity in an age that valued employees who took direction and worked within a prescribed structure, the new workforce has been raised in a culture that values engagement and challenge. Although these employees appreciate a general structure within which to work, they want the flexibility to do things their way.

They also have a lot of ideas, so fostering an environment that seeks and rewards innovation is important. If an idea is presented, acknowledge it (even if it's something you can't implement). This will encourage creativity without impeding your ability to make decisions that are best for your business.

Personal development. Younger generations are driven to succeed. With this in mind, communicate your long-term vision, ensuring that your Gen X and millennial employees know there is a place for them in your organization for years to come. These employees will look to you as their mentor. If you can speak to their potential and how you will help them reach the next level, they will be less likely to seek a different opportunity.

Gen Xers and millennials also need the chance to learn and grow. They can process information very quickly. Although they may not have mastered a current skill, they are already thinking about what they can accomplish next. So, how can you use this to your advantage?

  • Create a learning timeline. This provides a realistic expectation for what they will learn and when. It also offers insight into their future development while helping them stay focused on critical skills that they should hone first.
  • Develop a new accountability structure using technology. For example, after they've reviewed a task or project, ask these employees to e-mail you a response confirming their understanding of the task or project and the direction you've given them.

Social interactions. The concept of teamwork isn't new to the workforce. But for the first time ever, you may be working with employees who have always functioned in groups—they completed group assignments in college, they participated on many teams, and they have social groups with which they interact regularly. Working autonomously may actually be a challenge for these younger employees. To help them meet this challenge, consider:

  • Assigning projects that allow your younger employees to work with one another
  • Creating opportunities for them to socialize at work

Feedback. You might be used to administering annual or biannual performance reviews, but this won't provide sufficient feedback for this new generation of workers. Instead, you must clearly articulate your expectations and provide frequent feedback based on their performance. They also need to understand how their contributions relate to your team, your clients, and the business overall. Immediate feedback when they've completed a task well—or confirming that they are on the right path—will go a long way in fostering a collaborative relationship.

Last but certainly not least, the most important element of managing younger workers is authenticity! If these employees aren't living up to their potential, tell them (they expect you to), so they can modify their behavior going forward.

Encourage Success, Achieve Success

Employees provide critical support to your firm, allowing you to deliver on the outstanding level of service you strive to provide to your clients. But, of course, the future will bring challenges. By effectively managing Gen Xers and millennials, you can fully realize their talent while continuing to strengthen the foundation that helps your business grow—and allows you to best meet the needs of your clients.

What challenges have you faced in leading multiple generations in your financial services firm? What are the benefits? Please share your thoughts with us below.

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