A very experienced sales manager came to my office recently and proudly told me about the dedicated young sales talent on his team. They were, he said, enthusiastic, bursting with self-confidence, and more than eager to take on their tasks and more.
But in his admiration, I also heard a little nostalgia and felt instinctively that he was thinking about his age. This made me think of the challenges today’s companies face resulting from multiple generations working together.
Different generations have different demands regarding corporate culture and cooperation. From baby boomers and Generation Xers to millennials and “digital natives” – all generations in the workforce are linked by virtual work, flextime, work-life balance, health management, and much more. This is rapidly changing the work environment and dissolving familiar structures. Hierarchies are flattening and management margins are expanding as new knowledge, cutting-edge technologies, and digital transformation are adopted and integrated into the work environment.
It is not surprising that along with fascination, doubts and fears are emerging as well, especially among older colleagues: Can I keep up this pace? Will I meet the requirements? Will the younger ones overtake me?
In my view, many companies focus particularly on young talent; it is all about new blood and “early talent” sponsorship, because they are our future. But we must not neglect our older employees, because they are our backbone. As Henry Ford said, “You take all the experience and judgment of men over 50 out of the world and there wouldn’t be enough left to run it.”
Modern companies recognize and act on this idea. From board members to team leaders, they integrate it in their corporate culture and actively promote an environment of openness, mutual acceptance, and respect. Mutual understanding of the different strengths and abilities of all employees and lively exchange and learning from each other is the foundation of innovation.
The most successful teams place a strong emphasis on diversity and on the enrichment of young and old, tapping the energy and spirit of youth and the maturity and experience of older colleagues. This is the fertile soil on which success thrives.
My sales colleague and other experienced colleagues assist young sales employees after they complete their training, accompanying them on their first career steps and familiarizing them with the company’s business environment. He remarked with a smile, “You know, we do not need to be afraid of the younger ones, because they may well be quicker – but we experienced ones know the shortcuts.”
For more on this topic, see Age Is Just A Number: How Peer-To-Peer Learning Can Strengthen A Multigenerational Workforce.