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Executive Podcast #210: Generating Competitive Advantage Through Generational Diversity with Tim Elmore

October 20, 2022
Executive Podcast #210: Generating Competitive Advantage Through Generational Diversity with Tim Elmore

There are currently four to five generations in the workforce. While this may seem to be a leadership challenge, it’s actually an opportunity to gain competitive advantage, if you know how to leverage the contribution that each generation brings to the workplace.

Part 2 of an interview with the author of, A New Kind of Diversity – Making the Different Generations On Your Team a Competitive Advantage, Dr. Tim Elmore.

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Perry Holley:

Welcome to the Maxwell Leadership Executive Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a Maxwell Leadership Facilitator and Coach.

Chris Goede:

And I’m Chris Goede, the Executive Vice President of Maxwell Leadership. Welcome, and thank you for joining. Well, we’re excited today for part two with Dr. Tim Elmore. I don’t use the doctor often, but man, we need to, because the content that we’re going to talk about is some tremendous research and some knowledge that we need to be learning.

Perry Holley:

It’s a diagnosis and prescription.

Chris Goede:

That’s right. Exactly.

Perry Holley:

Diagnosis and prescription [inaudible 00:00:48].

Chris Goede:

And so at the end of our episode, we’re going to let you know where that you can go and find out about an incredible assessment, also, the brand new book that’s out that we’re excited about. In the meantime, if you have any questions about our conversation today, maybe you’re even intrigued about, how do I bring this to my team? What does this look like? How do we have real conversations about different generations in our workforce? We want you to go to maxwellleadership.com/podcast and there you can submit that form and our team will follow up with you.

Well, as I mentioned, today we’re going to talk about part two, a new kind of diversity, generating competitive advantage through this diversity. In last episode we talked high level. And we gave some thoughts and kind of some things that you’ve thought and worked through. Today we’re going to give you a little bit more meat and some things that I think will even help you as you maybe evaluate what’s going on inside your leadership team or inside your organization.

Perry Holley:

Well, and I came out the last episode, we talked about, the X, the Y, the Z, I thought, “Wait a minute. I’m a baby boomer. Why don’t we have a letter?” How did Baby Boomers not get a letter?

Tim Elmore:

As a fellow baby boomer, I think our letter should be A.

Perry Holley:

That’s right. We’re certainly the first one in the line here.

Tim Elmore:

So, no, it’s cool. Well, let’s do talk about this. We have said already there’s at least five generations that are working somewhere at some place. So the oldest that might still be in the workforce today is one called the Builder Generation or the Silent Generation. They were born between 1929 and 1945. They were called builders, because they built so much out of so little, very resourceful. My dad is a classic example. He just passed away at 90 years old in 2020. So he was born in 1930. The first decade of his life was the Great Depression. And then the next five years, World War II. So frugal, grateful, conservative and resourceful.

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Chris Goede:

Haven’t I heard you talk a little bit about that generation, when you go out to a restaurant, may grab a couple extra Sweet’N Lows or napkins? Put them in old purse.

Tim Elmore:

That’s right. And we saved the wrapping paper every Christmas, because we’ll use it next year, like on holidays.

Perry Holley:

My mom was constantly wiping off tinfoil and folding it back and putting it back [inaudible 00:03:05].

Tim Elmore:

Yes. No doubt about it. My mom, believe it or not, even though we weren’t impoverished, we’d use our napkins at dinner time. She’d hang them on the clothesline so we’d use them the next meal. That’s just how I was raised. Now, let me just say this, these people, when they’re still around… Now, they’re past retirement age, but they might still be doing maintenance around. They might still be leading the organization. They could be doing lawn care. But they bring a fierce loyalty and sage wisdom. It’s that timeless stuff like discipline and work ethic. We kind of miss those today sometimes. So I love the contribution. May we find it again in today’s workers.

The next would be the Baby Boomers. Perry, that’s you and I. Boomers were called Baby Boomers, because we were born between 1946 and 1964. We were called boomers, because there was a boom of babies right after the soldiers got home from World War II, almost around the world, because it was a world war. So this was a global boom. And in America it was 76.4 million children born in 18 years. So because we were big, everybody paid attention to us. We were large and in charge. Things were expanding, not recessing. It was not a Great Depression. It was a great expansion. So we felt large and in charge. Now, boomers today bring stories, life coaching, just good, good wisdom and experience to the team. And I think we need to say, “Boomers, before you leave, coach us. Talk about what you’ve picked up.” John Maxwell’s a baby boomer. I learn from him every time he opens his mouth. And part of it is just the decades of wisdom he’s collected.

Chris Goede:

I like what you just said right there about the wisdom, that men and women inside your team, inside your organization, that may be on their way out, close to retirement, there is so much organizational… Sometimes maybe even they know where all the dead bodies are buried. But things that can make you as an organization more effective, more efficient. And so leverage that knowledge by asking to be coached or by asking them to coach, because I think you hit on a key right there, that we talk a lot about developing people. And there’s so much wisdom and knowledge in that generation. Don’t miss that.

Tim Elmore:

In fact, when they leave, if we’ve not done that, it will be like a wing of the library just burned down. And we’ve lost that knowledge and information. So that’s the boomers. Next come the Baby Busters or what’s also called Generation X. Chris, your generation was first called baby buster because the generation started with the launch of the birth control pill. So it was a bust, not a boom. It went way down from 76 million to 49 million. That’s measurable. So eventually, that you were called Generation X, because your generation did not want to be stereotyped with a name. And so you became the X Generation. Nothing. I don’t want to be called anything. Well, right now, you’re in the throes of your career. Xers really are the heart and soul of the workforce right now.

And because you were often a latchkey generation, maybe not you, but a lot of kids, both parents were working. Or, dad left maybe. And so the kid was coming home to an empty home figuring it out. So Xers grew up pretty resourceful. Pretty much, I’ll figure this out on my own. That sort of thing. And that’s good. We need to leverage that. They learned it at 16. So I would say they are a little bit more cynical than other generations, because of don’t tell me life’s wonderful. It’s not wonderful. Keep it real. But I think Xers bring pragmatic insights to the work force, contrarian thoughts. Because they don’t just see everything as rainbows and sunshine. I think this is helpful. Wouldn’t you agree you need optimists, of course, but you need the person that says, “Well, if it went wrong, what are we going to do?” And Xers often figure that out.

Perry Holley:

I think you do that a lot. Offer a problem solving approach. Nothing’s impossible. We can figure it out. But it’s very practical. I didn’t think about [inaudible 00:07:01] you said that. Very practical approach to solving problems.

Tim Elmore:

No doubt about it. I love the Xers on our team. Okay, the next batch would be the Millennials, who I’ve joked before about how we’ve thrown them under the bus for 10 to 15 years. Millennials listening, please forgive us. We know not what we do.

Perry Holley:

We can point out that the people recording this have already threatened to cut us off. They’re Millennials. And they’ve got control of us at the moment.

Tim Elmore:

That’s exactly right. So I’ve actually had bosses or employers say, “Ah, I don’t know if I can understand these Millennials, so I’m going to wait for the next one.” We can’t wait. The Millennials are now the largest population in the workforce today, over 50%. Depending on the industry, it may be more than that. But the Millennials are the largest generation in American history, 80 million strong.

Perry Holley:

And do they make up most of the leadership now? Are they in the leadership positions?

Tim Elmore:

I’d have to look at the data. I don’t know if they’re all the leaders, but more and more they’re becoming the managers and the leaders. People listening might be going, “I’m 35 and I’m leading this team.” And oh, my gosh, some are older. By the way, I hear Millennials say all the time, “I need help. I’ve got older people that I’m managing. And they’re my parents’ age and I feel awkward.” It can feel awkward. I remember early on in my career managing people that were older. And I wanted to say, “Please forgive me. I’m telling you what to do, but you could spank me.” I mean, mentally, but you know what I’m saying. That was probably an inappropriate comment to make.

But Millennials, oh my gosh, one of the reasons they feel audacious and confident is they were the generation that grew up with trophies just for participation. And we told them they were awesome for putting the spoon in the dishwasher. And it was our bad, not theirs. But listen to what they bring. They bring energy to a team. They bring socialness to the team. They’re a very, very social generation. They bring a love of family to a team. When I look to our Millennials, they often are the ones with the ideals. They love our mission. And they will remind others. And I go, “I’m so glad you’re here at 29 to remind us, we’re not here to make widgets. We’re here to train a generation of leaders.” It’s just good. And I really love them.

The next generation and the last one in the workforce would be Generation Z, following Generation Y or the Millennials. They’re sometimes called the Homelanders. One historian calls them the Homelanders, because their generation started at about the same time as the Department of Homeland Security, so 2001. Think about the last 20 year.

Chris Goede:

Of what they’ve been through.

Tim Elmore:

Yes. Terrorism, corporate scandals with Enron, Tyco, WorldCom starting about the time they started. Mass shootings, school shootings is on the rise. We’ve actually had more mass shootings today, this year, than we’ve had days in the year. So a mama sending her 12-year-old off to school can go, “I just know a bullet’s going to be flying in the cafeteria.” Now, it won’t be, probably. But it’s just a scary, scary time. But when they come into the workforce, let me tell you what we’ve noticed from Gen Z, young, team members, they bring a very savvy hacker mindset. Not just with technology. They get behind the system to find out how it works. And they bring an entrepreneurial spirit. So 72% of high school students today plan to be an entrepreneur. They don’t want to join something. They want to start something.

Well, if we can be an environment where they go, “If you join us, you’ll feel like an entrepreneur,” we’ll have them. We’ll win them at the heart level and say, “I want to be here.” I think we need to start internal gig economies inside our business, where they can feel like they can do gigs and do new things all the time. So that’s what I think they bring. And we need to capitalize on that.

Chris Goede:

If you did not take a ton of notes during that section right there, I’m going to encourage you to go back and listen to it again and take notes, because that was a wealth of foundational knowledge when it comes to knowing your team and understanding them. And what I love about it is that there are leaders right now in organizations, maybe even in your organization, that are in multiple levels of these generations and may or may not have been developed, may or may not have some leadership training. And so it’s going to be our responsibility to equip them. And the majority of what I’m hearing from you, the majority of the people that are in the workforce, it is more than just a paycheck to them. Different generations, but-

Perry Holley:

Purpose driven.

Chris Goede:

Yeah. And so what does that mean? That means that if you want to keep your turnover down, if you want to keep your engagement level high, you better make sure that you’re driving them with multiple reasons of why they need to stay inside your organization so that you have an engaged team member, so that they’re not running over… Because they won’t leave for just another dollar or $2 if you are giving them four or five other reasons, you’re developing them, it’s tied to the mission and to the purpose.

Perry Holley:

I just love this, too. I was thinking about as a leader of an organization, I’m a manager or I’m an executive and I’m looking on either side. You said this last week about, get to know the generations on either side of you. What you just gave is a little summary there, says, “What do I need to be thinking about to leverage, one, to help the business, but two, to really, as you’re thinking, to feed that purpose of those individuals?” I just love that to think, as I mentioned probably, I’ve always thought about how to tolerate the generation. No, no, I should be investing in knowing this. This is why this book’s so valuable. And you said it’s a dictionary and an encyclopedia. It helped me understand it. But also, it gives me a plan to help me deal with these individual generations.

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Chris Goede:

Well, in the book, you actually talk about how there can be, well, maybe I shouldn’t use the word can, there’s going to be conflict between the generations. Talk a little bit about, for leaders that are listening, how can you be flexible to what you’re hearing and still lead from a point where you don’t feel like you’re giving in to the individual? Talk a little bit about that.

Tim Elmore:

Okay. I’ll try to do the Reader’s Digest version of this answer. First of all, I have begun to notice, really over the last three decades, each new generation brings unique preferences, expectations and demands. And I think number one, employers need to understand how to help them distinguish between demands and preferences. There’s a difference. If you prefer communication to be on text message, but it’s not a demand, okay. Just know it’s not a demand. If you’re going to quit over that, maybe you ought to find another job. So I talk about those differences. I really do believe, in many ways, life is about managing expectations. I’ve often thought, if I tell my wife, for instance, “I’ll be home at seven” and I get home at 7:05, not a big deal. I get home at 9:05? We have a little conversation, because that-

Chris Goede:

You can have a leadership conversation.

Tim Elmore:

That’s right. Yes. Exactly.

Chris Goede:

And it’s going to be one way.

Tim Elmore:

So conflict expands based on the separation between expectation and reality. So let me just give you one example. I talked to a person recently. Tattoos and body piercings have become an issue and some, especially retail. So what the management said, “That’s not the image we want to show to a customer.” Well, I tell the story in the book about Maggie and Antonio. Maggie is the hiring manager at a quick service restaurant. Antonio interviewed. He seemed to be a great guy. He had a tattoo, but he had it covered up on his shirt, his long sleeve shirt, in the interview. Well, later he’s wearing a short sleeve shirt and she sees this big tattoo. Well, she sees it differently than he does. She sees it, “You violated… Why didn’t you tell me?” He goes, “This is a part of who I am. You’re questioning my identity.” And in essence, I’m summarizing too quickly here, but they began to butt heads.

I’m so glad for Maggie’s wisdom. And she said, “Let’s keep meeting until we come to a resolution,” because she didn’t want to lose him. He was a good worker, but he wasn’t honest with her. And she knew, “If I just say, ‘No big deal. Keep your tattoo,’ everybody else is going to go, ‘Seriously, you’re just going to let that go? Great. We’re all getting our tats, real quick.'” So here’s what she eventually did. She eventually met, meeting number four, I think, and said, “Antonio, I don’t want to lose you, but we’re going to have to talk to the team, because if you stay on the team, we’re going to have a way of doing this.”

Here’s what she did. She said, “Team, I want you to hear from Antonio on this in just a minute, but I don’t want to lose him, do you?” “No.” “We’re going to have him cover his tattoo, but we all know it’s there. Just know he’s going to wear long sleeve shirts so he doesn’t violate the brand that we have. You know he’s a good worker. So do I. I’m going to call corporate and see if they might reconsider that policy, but until then, that’s how we’re going to do it.” Everybody cheered, because they were all thinking, “How are you going to do this?” Maggie took a very difficult situation, found out what’s a preference, what’s an expectation, and was able to navigate keeping a good worker and not losing-

Chris Goede:

Fantastic illustration.

Perry Holley:

I love this about expectations. I’m thinking, a coaching client I picked up recently, almost 100% Millennial, and I sent a meeting request with a Zoom link. And they quickly sent back, “We don’t really do email.” I said, “What? Are you allowed? Is that allowed? You don’t do email?” And he goes, “Could you send it in a text?” And I’m thinking, “I don’t really know how to send a Zoom link in a text, but I’m going to figure it out,” because that was a preference that they had. But I’m fascinated by that. How do we get preferences? Should we be actively, intentionally seeking preferences and expectations from people? As a leader, would I be polling my team? How would I…

Tim Elmore:

I think in some teams, it’s totally fine to do that. In fact, they feel heard if you do. I feel like minimally employers need to say it right up front, when the hire is just made and there’s no history yet, say, “Here’s a norm for communication. Does that work for you? Here’s a norm for meetings and decision making rights.” A lot of times a 23-year-old can come in and go, “Great, I need…” “No, no, no. You’re going to weigh in, but you’re not going to make the final decision.” Those kinds of things that we didn’t have to talk about 40 years ago, we need to talk about. That’s what I would say. Talk about norms and make sure they’re all on board so that when decisions are made or communication is done, they say, “I can do that.”

Perry Holley:

This group shows up 100% through a text. And somehow it gets to their calendar. But I had to learn how to do it and it works fantastic. There’s some other groups, if I sent them a text about a call, we’d never see them. You need to know these things. So there’s a chapter in the book, and it’s going to be my question, the chapter’s called, What Makes This So Hard? Tim, my question for you is, what makes this so hard?

Tim Elmore:

You got an hour? Well, couple things. One, I feel as though, because generations come in almost like a cross-cultural relationship where I’ve flown to another country and there’s two different sets of customs and values, that we need to meet in the middle and understand. In that chapter, I talk about our scene today. And it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the book. I take the word scene, S-C-E-N-E, and I put it on a left column. And then the right hand column, I talk about the unattended consequences to that scenario. So the letter S, we live at a world of speed. Consequently, we may think slow is bad. Well, you and I both know some things happen very slowly. Marriages don’t happen quickly, good marriages. The letter C and scene, we live in a world of convenience. Our kids grew up with conveniences we never had. You know what they can assume, unfortunately? Hard is bad. Well, some things are really hard.

The letter E, we live in a world of entertainment that’s in our hand right now. So we’re overstimulated. I can think boring is bad. Well, I always tell teenagers when I talk to them, “I didn’t like boring when I was 16, but here’s what we know now that we did know then.” Neuroscientists tell us today our brains actually need boredom. They say it’s in times of boredom that we develop empathy and creativity, two really crucial things for people work. But we have stimulation. The letter N, we live in a world of nurture. We have nurtured these young people, rightfully so. Mamas didn’t want them to skin their knee. And I don’t know why I wave my hands when I say that, but sometimes that creates risk is bad. Oh, my gosh, our nation was built on risk.

And then lastly, the last letter E, I’m going to sound like your grandpa now, we live in a world of entitlement. We feel entitled to things that past generations worked for. If I grew up in a world of entitlement, I can assume that labor is bad. I shouldn’t have to work for this scholarship at this D1 school. No, you’re going to have to work. So what I say in this chapter is we’re all this way. None of us are super patient. None of us like inconveniences. But if we can have a conversation about that. I would even say steal that and put it on a whiteboard and say, “Let’s talk.” But that’s what I think. I guess, what I’m saying is I think the very technology that we love has also made it harder for us to do the hard relationship stuff we got to do a lot of.

Chris Goede:

I think what’s interesting about that, it’s fascinating, is that you could listen to that and go, “Well, that’s exactly what that generation is like.” What I want you to be aware of as a leader is that what Tim just laid out for us is in every generation. We look at different generations and say that about them. So it’s not just us looking at the Millennials and saying that. Or me looking at your older generation and saying that. But it’s that we need to be aware of this is happening in every generations using that acronym.

Perry Holley:

Did you not hear him say that the baby boomer was the best generation?

Chris Goede:

I didn’t [inaudible 00:21:22]. So, okay, this generation that I’m about to bring up, this may be the, at least I like the name of it the best. And at the end of the book you talk about this Alpha Generation. What is that? What do we need to know about that?

Tim Elmore:

Well, the Alpha Generation is the youngest generation of kids that we’re measuring today. The data is really fresh and new. And really, I would say, it’s in pencil.

Chris Goede:

Not in the workforce yet.

Tim Elmore:

That’s right. Not in the workforce. They’re children. They’re elementary school kids. And here’s what I love. When I look at the data so far, this generation is showing up in lag time studies more empathetic than the previous three generations at their age. Well, I think it’s because they’re exposed to the war in Ukraine at seven and four. But I love that. Maybe this is a generation that grows up more empathetic. But here’s what I love the most. I believe hard times create strong generations. Strong generations create good times. Good times create weak generations, which in turn create hard times. It’s a cycle.

But think about the Alphas and Gen Z. They’re growing up at hard times. The pandemic, the economy, the Roaring Twenties. If you look at the two generations that began the 20th century and the two generations that began the 21st century, Alphas and Gen Z, so many similarities. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. These kids could be the strong… Your granddaughter could be among the stronger… Maybe they’re looking back saying, “We’re stronger than those Millennials. We’re stronger than those Xers, because we had such a difficult…” But mom and dad and bosses need to lead them well and say, “This could be a fitness center for you right now a you grow up.”

Chris Goede:

I love, as you closed with that last illustration, you mentioned, “Hey, mom and dad, this is an executive leadership podcast where you’re leading teams and it’s organizational health and culture, but this content is just as relevant for you inside the home.” And/or more. We were talking about it before we went live on one of our sessions about, man, the conversations with parents around different generations really get personal. They really get heated. And it’s because it’s your precious commodity. It’s your children. And so absolutely love the content of this book. It will make us better leaders. It will improve the culture of your organization. We talk about the fact that we oftentimes have diverse teams. We need more diversity.

What we don’t do a good job of is inclusively leading people. And we hired, we brought on, we developed people for a reason on our team. And then we tend to forget why that was. And we tend to try to get them to fit into a mold or we want to do this versus letting them be maybe with a tattoo on their arm, to your point, but an incredible worker, who just oozes the culture and everything that you wanted. That was a fascinating conversation. So our challenge is, as I wrap up and this call to action is, you may be having some of those thoughts about some of the people on your team. You may be challenged with different generations. This content will set you free, if I could say it that way, as a leader. And I think oftentimes as a leader, we’re looking for stuff like that.

So your call to action is this, I want you to get this book. And not only that, but we’ve also developed an assessment for you. And I was joking, the first episode, about it being a GQ assessment. Tim was proud of me that I even jumped in there and maybe had a little swag when I said that, but it’s a generational quotient assessment that we want you to take. And then if you’ll visit newdiversitybook.com, you’ll be able to order the book there. You’ll be able to take the free assessment and be able to gather more information that’ll make you a more effective leader.

Perry Holley:

Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. And thank you, Tim, for being with us for two episodes. This was fantastic. I learned a lot. I will put the summary of the generations in the learner guide. You can find that and more information about our offerings and leave a question or a comment for us, all that at maxwellleadership.com/podcast. We love hearing from you. And we’re very grateful that you would spend this time with us. That’s all today for the Maxwell Leadership Executive Podcast.

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