Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Your Gen X Employee: How to Make Winning Matter

A donkey is a powerful animal.  They are able to pull a lot of weight and mostly do it with little complaint.  However, there are times when a donkey will sit down and not budge.  They start braying loudly and just sit.  It is unexplainable.  To many Boomers and GenY folks this is exactly what seems to happen to their GenXer colleagues.  In this blog series I hope to help shed some light on why we GenXers appear to do this and what you can do to keep your GenX workforce  moving forward.

How to Make Winning Matter

I sat in a staff appreciation breakfast listening to the Chancellor of my university speak.  I was so full of angst I almost didn’t have an appetite.  Things have been tough here as budget cuts have affected me directly in a lot of crappy ways.  I was looking for her to acknowledge that she was asking a lot of us, that she wants to treat us better, that it wont be this way forever.  She said nothing of the sort.  All she said was, “I realize there are challenges, I’m not blind to them.”  Hard to believe. 

What did she talk about?  Winning.  Her message was “we are winning.”  She implored us to talk positively about the university in the community, to tell people all the things we are doing that make us winners and to be proud.  By this point you could look around the room and identify the GenXers.  They were either leaving or turned back to their tables talking and eating.  Meanwhile all the baby boomers are looking at the stage beaming.  Why?  Do GenXers not care about winning?  The answer is, no, not for winning’s sake.

If you work with GenXers and you’re scratching your head as to why they don’t seem to give a damn like you do listen up.  We can care.  We will care if you help us.  As I listened to the chancellor talk about all the ways we were winning and how important it was the only question I had was “so what?”  I should work to make her a winner so she can get an extra $100,000.00 a year at her next job she’s going to head off to as soon as she can?  How does that help me?   If you can answer that question for your GenXer employees they’ll go to the moon and back for you with a smile on their face.  

Baby boomers all believe that one day they'll be CEO too.  It's Ronald Reagan's promise: if you let the rich people get richer then think of how rich you'll get once you make it to.  You won't all be CEOs.  We know this, we've accepted it.  If you find yourself talking about winning and you see a GenXer crossing their arms and staring at the ceiling don’t start drawing conclusions.  Understand that we are stuck behind a blockade of baby boomers, we’re earning less than you did, and we are expected to do more.  Cut us some slack and take a minute to show us how meeting these goals will benefit us.  Be as specific as possible and, this is very important, do not make promises you can’t keep.  Once you break our trust you’ve proven that you're just another corporate laky.  We'll forgive you but we'll never trust you.  

We want to win too, but not just for winning's sake.  You need to tie organizational success to our own.  Tell us what will be different for us.  Avoid the boomer mentality of "when you become vice president you'll have x."  We don't see that as a possibility because you're never going to retire.  The workplace for us is not what it was for you.  We know this and you know it.  Admit it.  Don't be ambigous.  "I'll see what I can do for you" or "there is a possibility" are not going to do it.  Finally, if you can't do anything for us or are not willing to then just be honest about it.  We'll respect you.   

I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how having a winning football team will benefit me.   Because they don't I assume they can't.