Sharon Ntshangase

Change Management for Different Generations

People are creatures of habit. We operate best when we know what is expected of us. When you move our cheese, we need to understand what the change is, why it's happening, and how it will benefit us. This is all in a day's work for change managers trying to build a case for change in any environment, whether the change is as a result of process change, organisational realignment or a system implementation. However, with the ever-evolving workplace, where managing transformation, diversity (religion, gender, age/experience etc.), and changing corporate culture is common practice, it has become important that change management become more sensitive in managing these expectations.

One of my favourite quotes from Spenser Johnson's 'Who Moved My Cheese' is, "...if you do not change you become extinct." This is how some millennials think their older colleagues work. They see them as sometimes being archaic or old fashioned while they themselves are characterised as always craving new challenges. Millennials view change as new opportunities. They are therefore seldom surprised or uncomfortable with change. Baby Boomers on the other hand expect the workplace to be more traditional, i.e. top down management. Like the Generations Xers, they are more cynical when compared to their younger colleagues. Generation Xers are said to be more concerned with career options and striving for a work-life balance. Change management needs to take more care when dealing with these differences. Change interventions should therefore be tailored with these different expectations from each generation in mind.

Take communication for instance... communicating with Millennials and Generation Xers, who are tech savvy, should be different to communicating with their older colleagues, particularly the Baby Boomers. As change managers, one needs to have a good balance and explore the use of technology, including the use of social media. But one needs to be careful not to alienate Baby Boomers who might still be stuck in the email era. A combination of communication mediums and methods may be a winning formula in this instance. Using snap surveys to assess the communication preferences of impacted stakeholders will also help ensure fit for purpose and tailored communications that meet all generational preferences.

Another challenge is training. A blended learning approach is usually the best strategy when it comes to the delivery of training. While Baby Boomers might still prefer more traditional, instructor-led training, Generation Xers prefer self-learning and the use of case studies or assignments based on 'real world' scenarios. Millennials on the other hand are more drawn to self-learning or e-learning. They prefer more informal ways of learning as they thrive in a multimedia environment. Change managers need to be smart when planning training interventions or skills transfer approaches. Another strategy is to use collaboration. Baby Boomers and Generation Xers possess a great deal of tacit knowledge within organisations, while Millennials have great tech knowledge. A more collaborative approach to learning, which involves pairing up different generations for skills sharing, can be the best approach. This then promotes more of a coaching style for managing change.

We as change managers need to be cognisant that as much as individuals respond to change differently, generational characteristics need to be considered and therefore change initiatives need to be customised as such.

So, if we were to use Spencer's parable of the 4 Protagonists, one needs to remember that different people react differently to change. This is influenced by various factors including our experiences, cultural backgrounds etc. Take Millennials for example, they always anticipate change. They are what Spencer refer to as Sniffers. Perceived as being too forward by their older colleagues, they have the right attitude and most of the time the appetite for change. While Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, who are often cynical and sceptical, are the Hem Haws in a changing environment. They are more cautious. There are pros and cons to characteristics of the different generations and the one generation can learn from the other.

Change Management for Different Generations Informatics

As Change Managers we need to be smart in identifying these differences and leverage off them to manage change successfully. There is so much each generation can learn from one other if expectations, attitudes, communication and skills are to be managed effectively.