When it comes to how much information and insights there are about a generation, the size and uniqueness of the group matters. Behemoth generations get examined closely. Demographers, sociologists, industrial psychologists, advertising researchers, and business analysts all spend oodles of time compiling and parsing data about BIG generations. Because of their sheer size, the predilections, attitudes and actions of large generations have a profound impact on society. Similarly, generations that are conspicuously different from previous ones get a lot of media attention and scientific study simply because they stand out. This explains why the nearly 80 million Baby Boomers and the 75 million Millennials have been the media darlings for decades. Those generational groups are both large and distinctive.
Conversely, smaller and less notable generations get overlooked. Meet Generation X (born 1965 to 1980), the red-headed step-child of 20th century generations. Gen Xers, as they are commonly referred to, have been largely ignored by the population patrollers. As the name implies, they have been Xed out of the demographic spotlight. Born from 1965 to roughly 1980, this somewhat overlooked generation today ranges in age from about 35 to 50. That may very well be part of the problem. This ‘generation’ doesn’t cover the usual 18-20 year span of most generations. Gen Xers also aren’t young and trending or gray and retiring. Some might even argue that they haven’t really redefined society. For the media, this generation hasn’t delivered much in the way of fire, fuss, or freshness. In most of the ways we take stock of generations – their racial and ethnic makeup, political, social and religious values, economic and educational circumstances and technological engagement – Gen Xers are somewhat low-key, smack between adventurous abundant Boomers like Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson and the engaging, modish Millennials like Mark Zuckerberg. That said, although many businesses are fascinated with Millennials, it would be wiser to focus on the well-educated Generation X, especially since many companies are now led by Gen Xers.
There are six generations alive in the U.S. today. Assuming that for the most part the GI and Silent Generations are retired, very soon we will have four very different generations (Baby Boomers (ages 51-70), Gen Xers (ages 35-50), Millennials (ages 15-35) and the newest iGeneration (now teenagers) working side-by-side for the first time in history. That’s due, in part, to the fact that people are living and working longer. These four generations will also be customers, with very different values, experiences and styles. They will likely also partake in very different kinds of activities. This is both exciting and challenging. How can a business manage such diverse audience of customers and employees? Knowledge is key.
Today, we’ll look at the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). Of all the generations living in the U.S. today, the most well-known and well-documented is probably the Baby Boomers. Born from 1946 to 1964, Baby Boomers were the children of either the GI Generation or the Silent Generation. The parents of Baby Boomers were patriotic, respectful of authority and accepting and trusting of government. Those parents also believed in absolutes, sacrificing for the greater good and following the rules. But the age of conformity, sacrifice and towing the line ended with the arrival of the Baby Boomers. Boomers are known to be mavericks, bucking trends and taking risks. What’s more, even what was known about this generation a decade ago is still evolving. Meet the “Me” Generation.
There are six generations living in the U.S. today. Each spans a period of approximately 15-20 years or so. The oldest is the GI Generation (born 1901-1926). They are followed by the Silent Generation also referred to as the Conformists or Traditionalists (born 1927 – 1945). Then came the well-documented Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) followed by Generation X (born 1965 – 1980) and then Generation Y also known as the Millennials (born 1981 – 2000). The most recent generation to emerge (born 2001 to the present) is being dubbed the iGeneration. They are also being referred to as Generation Z, plurals or Generation Wii.
So what is the purpose of labeling and defining generations? Most people in business, marketing and the media would say that the labels help them connect with and understand specific audiences. Called generational marketing, marketers use the trends and truisms for each group to customize their strategies in line with the values and qualities of the audience. For the media, the labels help to describe and ascribe cultural, social and political trends. But those labels are completely irrelevant to the people in those cohorts. The labels do nothing to shape the identity of the generations. It is life experience that shapes and defines them. Each generation is believed to share a host of qualities and characteristics that are a reflection of, reaction to, or rejection of events occurring whilst they were coming of age.
Indeed, it’s easy to overstate or over-generalize the qualities of a generation. Not everyone identifies with the labels of their generation. For example, the generation known as the Silent Generation, is viewed as one of traditionalists and conformists. Yet, much of what is now known about this generation shows that those labels may not be a perfect fit. While this generation may have followed many of the characteristics of the GI Generation before it, it also bucked many trends. And, given their net worth, it is a generation that businesses should understand well and engage. Continue reading
Each generation is different from the one before. Each develops its own unique set of qualities, characteristics, and values, as well as likes and dislikes. These are greatly influenced by or in response to the political, economic and social times in which they are coming of age. It is also may stem, in part, from some innate desire to be different than one’s parents. Generation Xers are different than the Baby Boomers before them. And Millenials are different from the Gen Xers that preceded them. Certainly, the newest generation now emerging – being referred to by various monikers including iGeneration, Generation Wii, the Plurals or Generation Z – is bound to differ from past generations as they are shaped by technology and the accelerating speed of change.
Some business owners, leaders or managers may want to ignore generational differences and just develop and market a company’s quality products or services to everyone the same way. That, however, is a potential mistake. The more a company is able to understand generational differences and reach those audiences in a way that speaks specifically to them, the more a company’s products or services will resonate… and sell. Thus, understanding the unique characteristics of each generation is essential. Continue reading
In most any business, employees are surrounded by customers, both external and internal.
The external customer is the person who uses the company’s services. For Staples, it’s the parent purchasing back-to-school supplies for the kids. For Chase Manhattan Bank, it’s the real estate magnate taking out a $20 million loan to purchase an office building. On the other hand, the internal customer is anyone within the company who works with a specific employee or relies on a specific employee to get their job done. It is the coworker who needs a clerk’s help to track down a file, or the manager who asks an employee to follow up with a customer or the two colleagues who work together to deliver a service. Regardless of whether external or internal, each employee should treat every person with whom they interact with the same respect and courtesy.
However, often employees think that customer service begins with the external customer and ends with the company’s management. Indeed, coworker kindness is often reserved exclusively for the company’s C-Suite execs and other mucky mucks while most other coworkers are treated with an appalling lack of respect, courtesy or cooperation. The typical workplace has at least one employee who demonstrates some rude, aggressive or even downright mean behavior to certain coworkers. This bad behavior often goes unchecked for a number of reasons. But, even if an employee’s bad attitude and manners are only demonstrated to or directed at coworkers – and never to external customers or management – it can still hurt a company’s bottom line. Here’s how.
To ‘burn bridges’ is a colloquial expression that means to destroy one’s path, connections, reputation, relationships or opportunities…. often unintentionally or carelessly. It can be personal or professional. Sometimes a bridge is burned due to an emotional response to an unexpected, negative situation. Sometimes, it is a byproduct of a contentious, unsolvable dispute. It is a behavior that might be generally thought of as imprudent, impulsive and unadvisable. Yet, people burns bridges all the time. In fact, people – across the spectrum from politics to business – seem much more willing to burn bridges. Relationships that were carefully nurtured for years are suddenly allowed to end…and end badly. Why?
To begin with, few people see themselves as ‘bridge burners’. Some might see bridge burning as the result of a bad situation that was impossible to avoid. Someone who recklessly ruins a relationship might view themselves as irreverent, brutally honest, tough, shrewd, blunt or temperamental. In fact, some might even see bridge-burning as necessary for success. And, it is true that some of the most successful business people in history were known for being blatant bridge burners. For example, Cornelius Vanderbilt, considered America’s first tycoon, was known for his contentious character and legendary feuds. While his genius and force of will did more than perhaps any other individual to create modern capitalism, he was highly combative and didn’t care what bridges he burned in his business dealings. The question then is whether burning bridges is sometimes unavoidable – or perhaps even necessary – to be successful in business? Are there instances in which burning a bridge is acceptable? Or should savvy professionals always seek to build and preserve bridges? When it comes to business, is it ever okay to burn bridges?
Most people would agree that pace of change is accelerating. Some would even say the pace of change has hastened to an alarming rate. News travels seemingly at the speed of light. Social media has accelerated the pace at which news hits and spreads virally across the globe. Software updates are being issued even before the kinks are worked out of the previous version. The next generation of smart phones is released scarcely before we’ve had a chance to even crack the glass on the previous device. Transportation is also getting faster with high-speed trains and supersonic jets revolutionized the time it takes to get from point A to point B. Medical advances are also being discovered more rapidly. Seemingly daily, innovations in medicines, devices and therapies are being introduced that combat the most devastating illnesses. And fashion no longer adjusts according to the seasons. New styles are popping up in magazines, programs and window displays every week. As soon as one trend gains traction, another look emerges pushing the previous one into design history.
Indeed, the lightning-fast speed of change is redefining concepts such as old, historical, dated and passé. There isn’t even time to get comfortable and used to something before it is outmoded and updated. In some ways, this is a good thing. After all, who can argue against advances in medicine? But, for businesses, it is difficult to keep up with such a relentless pace of change. As things change, people’s skills must be updated so that they stay current and fresh. Technology must be updated. Systems must be replaced. So how can businesses and employees keep up with the ruthless onslaught of change that seems to make something obsolete even before there is time to learn and adjust to it?