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Playing the new generation game


Understanding how generations differ and how you can unlock their potential is an increasingly important tool to have when coaching and mentoring, says Ken Scott, MD of training consultancy Develop’s Scottish office. Here, he outlines some of the main differences between the generations and their likely outlook on working life.

In the majority of organisations employees are spread across several generations, and understanding the values and experiences of each generation can help in establishing successful coaching and mentoring relationships.

There is no “one size fits all” model when it comes to getting the best
out of people, but we significantly improve our chances if we understand the
broad rules of engagement and “the psychological contract” we have entered

A generation is represented not by a strict time band but rather by sharing common experiences and having shared values. For example:

“The Matures”
(born pre-1945) will remember the Queen’s Coronation, Winston Churchill, the spread of television and holidays in the UK (Blackpool, Southend, Torquay, Rothsey and so on) . Their values are often associated with a sense of duty, showing patience and conforming to the status quo.

“The Baby Boomers” (1946-64) will remember Kennedy being shot, the Beatles and the three day week. Their values are based around the work ethic (the classic workaholic) and great effort being put into advancement (and associated status and trappings). Work often takes precedence over play with reduced family time being the trade off.

“Generation X”
(1965-77) will remember the miners strike (and associated social change throughout the Thatcher years), the fall of the Berlin Wall (when suddenly anything was possible). Values are associated with a sense of self-reliance, the importance of a work-life balance (new age Dads) and looking for pragmatic ways of doing things (which often appears a challenge to the rules and procedures associated with Matures and Baby Boomers).

“Generation Y”
(1978 onwards) will remember Prices Diana’s death (not that the rest won’t but it will be a defining moment for them), the speed of spread of mass media, the web, mobile phones, fast food. Their values are emerging as challenging old ideas, everyone is their own boss (my Dad was downsized so don’t expect me to swallow the mission statement and company rules without question).

It’s a real challenge for managers to tap into the different beliefs and values of each generation.

One of the ways to gain further understanding is through coaching and mentoring relationships, which as well as offering knowledge, support and expertise to those being coached or mentored, provide valuable opportunities for the coach or mentor to gain insights into their people and their organisation. This in turn informs the coach/mentor how best to tap into people’s potential, get their support and improve outputs.

Coaching and mentoring should be part of every manager’s toolbox of techniques for getting the best out of their people. Understanding how generations differ and how you can unlock their potential is an increasingly important tool to have in that toolbox too.


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