A jump on tomorrow: Pondering generational transformation

Dec. 28, 2013 @ 09:01 AM

Every organization with workers representing more than two generations deals with tensions between the old and the young, the inexperienced and the veterans, the energized and the exhausted, between new thinking and a stick-with-what's-always-worked-well mindset.

The successful ones find a way to pull out of each generation the distinct strengths -- and to either work around or eliminate inherent weaknesses.

In the Richmond Region, the Greater Richmond Chamber recognized the need to embrace a youthful uprising through the uplifting of HYPE, its initiative for "helping younger professionals engage."

That type of thinking is going to be even more important given the size of the millennials, which many define as those ages 18 to 37, also called Generation Y. At an estimated 86 million, the number of millennials is larger than the huge baby-boom generation born between 1946 and 1964.

Imagine the potential.

The running joke among Chamber long-timers is that a parallel effort could easily be called HOPE -- helping older professionals exit. How do we know the millennials are making progress? Check the number of boomers, yes, including men, who are dying their hair for that youthful look.

News out of North Korea that Kim Jong Un eliminated an older competitor the old-fashioned way must have sent shivers up the spines of long-time workers and managers everywhere who have younger bosses.

Is that applause we hear coming from the millennials?

How can you not, they must be thinking, admire Kim's speed in removing the outdated, worn-out fixtures to avoid bumping into them.

Here's a case where experience didn't save the day. Where the listen-here-sonny-boy lectures became chronically tiresome. Where the generation gap was just too wide.

It was more than different music preferences getting in the way.

In case you skipped over our Nation & World pages, Kim's uncle, 67-year-old Jang Song Thaek, was executed this month.

For the record, Kim is 30. His brother is two years older. His sister is 26.

The Associated Press pinned the purge of Jang's older cronies on this take: "The kids look to be in effect kicking out the adults."

Even less subtle was the assessment by Andrei Lankov, described as a North Korea scholar: Kim "had to get rid of the grumpy old men."

We can bet the missiles that the North Korean leader also didn't wait for Human Resources, in-house attorneys or the bureaucracy to weigh in with a recommendation on how best to carry out his youth movement.

In companies and established organizations, it's termed succession planning.

In upstarts, it's smoothed over as understandable disagreement over direction.

By now, you're thinking the North Korea example was outlandish.

You're right. Just pulling your leg.

But I am, to some extent, capturing reaction to a 2013 top story about the importance of keeping millennials humming in the Richmond Region for a prosperous future.

Grumpy was putting it mildly.

But extreme makeovers like the one in North Korea offer their figurative lessons, too.

Smart organizations can advance with all generations of workers pulling in the same direction with thoughtful orchestration. Each generation has value. Each can contribute mightily. Ask questions but work the agreed-on plan as a team.

It's an approach that works for communities, too.

But it's also up to individuals to give their best. Results are results, no matter your age. Collaboration can be a prized value. If you're tired, take a nap and get back in there with gusto. Tradition is nice, but it's all about today and getting a jump on tomorrow.

Dumb (and dangerous) organizations take short cuts in dealing with generational conflict.

Tom Silvestri is president and publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.