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Part II: Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce: The Employees’ Perspective Matters

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Scena Webb
May 11, 2018

Jeff Cates offers great insights on tips to a satisfied multigenerational workforce. He maintains that leaders shouldn’t dwell on the differences. Dwelling can redirect your efforts as a leader from moving the organization forward to focusing on differences that don’t stop your leadership goals. Mr. Cates advocates that keeping context in mind is one secret to success. I couldn’t agree more. Understanding where the posture of the workforce today compared to a historical context from the worker’s view will help you reduce chances of exercising unconscious bias.

I am an advocate of the advantages of diversity in the workplace and more importantly among leaders in any organization.

Diversity of thought coming from various perspectives, cultures, genders and life experiences offers a competitive advantage to gain unique perspectives called Zapp. The term Zapp comes from the pioneering work of empowerment in the workplace by William C. Byham. I have been a fan of Mr. Byham’s work since the late 1980s when I first became a supervisor leading a team of professionals in the military. The most empowering pearl of wisdom from Byham’s work is advice for the leader to create an environment where Zapp can happen. Essentially, the leader closest to the employees has the greatest leadership impact on employees view their role in the organization.

How can harnessing the power of generational diversity impact creating a competitive advantage?

Ryan Jenkins gives a great answer to this question in a recent article where he pushes the reader to go past being comfortable hearing and sharing ideas with people who look like themselves. He advocates that by hearing and receiving information from a diverse group, the greater the diaspora of ideas. These ideas have the potential to represent a larger audience, which in turn, allows effective leaders to plan and reach goals and milestones that target a larger potential client pool. There are a few things that can hinder the success of effective leaders.

Recent news articles are reporting the results of unconscious bias, such as the incident where an employee at Starbucks called the police on two gentlemen and resulted in an unfounded arrest. The leadership lesson here is that corrective actions were taken swiftly and reported 8,000 Starbucks stores were closing to conduct Racial-Bias training bringing 175,000 employees together for this important topic. Unconscious biases can affect insurance on the job. Bethan Moocraft challenges leaders to move past conversations on this topic and push for learning a definition of unconscious bias.

Focusing on the skillsets that individuals bring to your organization and leading those people toward the goals of the organization are essential skills for effective leaders.

There has been an increase in the conscious awareness of discriminatory practices taking place in organizations. News reporters and citizens are capturing events real-time leveraging technology to tell their stories. The lesson here is the same lesson from the first article in this series: Effective leaders must raise their consciousness about unconscious bias while leading organizations today. How can leaders achieve this goal? In my next series, I will share my empirical research on leadership dynamics and release parts of research I completed in 2011. The results of my research indicate that leaders must demonstrate the qualities they want shown in the organization. This public display is not just for the first-line supervisor or the project manager, but the effective leader must display effective qualities in their actions because guess what? Actions are what gets observed by the people who move the organization forward.

If you want to know if your organization’s efforts to reduce unconscious bias that is harmful is working, ask the workers.

In closing, review the number of reported discrimination cases or Equal Employment cases in your organization looking for the reasons why a person submits. Create an action-learning group to tackle some of the reasons that people file not the results. Carter McNamara has a great group of resources on action learning where effective leaders can gain insights into action learning. I advocate using action learning teams that are diverse and has team members that represent as many areas of your organization as possible. By representation I mean bringing together teams comprised of:

  • A good gender mixture that reflects the organization statistically;
  • A cross generational mixture representing Traditionalist (approx. 1922 – 1945), Baby-boomers (approx. 1946 – 1964), Generations X (approx. 1965 – 1980), Generation Y (Millennials) (approx. 1981 – 1997), & Generation Z (approx. 1998);
  • A cross of leaders at various levels of the organization; and,
  • A senior executive who can push the results of this team at executive meetings.

In the next series, I will offer practical guidance on how to implement the employees’ perspective in a real and practical way. After all, incorporating the ideas of employees increases buy-in for effective leaders. No leader can accomplish a mission without the willing efforts of the team. Your leadership quotient can increase and ways to effectively accomplish your organizational goals can become the norms if you embrace the challenge of effectively leading a multigenerational workforce.


Author:Ā Dr. Scena Webb is a military veteran having completed 21 years of naval service. She is the author of two books and owns a small business, Celebrate Incorporated, that offers coaching services for veterans and doctoral students. She is an instructor for Indiana Wesleyan University where she teaches graduate students in the Masters of Public Administration program.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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