by Niki Rabren, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing, 3sage Consulting

Generation Speak: Is There an App for That?
Five Key Takeaways from the Conversation

Leadership Issue Era they were born Life Paradigm Attitude to Authority
Greatest Generation
1900 - 1928Manifest DestinyRespect them
Silent Generation
1929 – 1945Be grateful you have a jobEndure them
Pig in a Python Generation
1946 – 1964You owe meReplace them
1965 – 1983Relate to meIgnore them
Gen Y
1984 – 2002Life is a cafeteriaChoose them

Source: Dr. Tim Elmore, Founder and President, Growing Leaders

If you missed the WIT Forum Wednesday, March 16 at Maggiano’s Buckhead, you missed an insightful look into the generations that represent today’s workforce, primarily the Boomers, GenXers and Millennials. The chart listed above is a representation of some research the Moderator, Dr. Tim Elmore, Founder and President of Growing Leaders, shared with the audience. Through Growing Leaders, Dr. Elmore provides public schools, state universities, civic organizations and corporations with tools and training designed to develop young leaders who can impact and transform society. As a result of his research, Dr. Elmore recently published a book titled Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.

Here are five key points I took away from the discussion:

1. Generational “traits” do tend to play out in people’s career.

It was interesting to note the following “generational traits” seemed true of our panel:

Boomer: They have more “stickiness” at a single company than other generations. Our Boomer expert, Mike Grindell of 22squared, and had been an executive 16 years at The Coca-Cola Company. His bio indicated only two other major corporations he’d worked for previously: Citigroup and Federated Department Stores. He was truly a “big institution” guy.

Gen Xer: One statement the GenX panelist, Denise Reese of Wipro, made was that her career is a “means to an end.” She loves to travel, so it’s no secret that she works in a job that requires her to travel overseas; she’s was educated in the UK, etc.

Millennial: The Millennial panelist, Bill Bounds of MailChimp, said that he always grew up thinking that he could be this or that and never felt obligated to pick any career over another. He feels like his life will be about amassing a series of work experiences, and does feel like “life is a cafeteria.”

2. People are as much a product of their environment and parents as they are their generation.

While the generational traits did seem to play out nicely for each of our panelists, it was revealed that their upbringing may have had as much to do with their choices as the circumstances put for on an entire generation.

Boomer: His Midwest parents were college professors and encouraged loyalty and stability. It’s easy to see how he’d become a “big company guy.”

GenXer: Her father was in the military and she traveled the world and changed schools frequently as her family followed her father’s various stations.

Millennial: He grew up with progressive parents who encouraged him to do anything and try anything from a career perspective, even if they thought it might fail.

3. There’s always opportunity to embrace a characteristic from another generation if it suits you.

Panelists, as well as audience members, stated that they were somewhat confused by the “labels” of their generation, because they identified with one or more traits from another generation. Whether you were born in 1973 (GenX) and also view your life as a cafeteria, or you’re a Boomer who feels it’s more appropriate to “endure” authority than “replace” it, ultimately our unique experiences shape who we are and what we value.

4. The key to understanding anyone’s behavior or actions is understanding the context through which the behaviors and actions are made.

Isn’t this true of any diversity issue? Dr. Elmore provided great context and history associated with each of the generations, making the traits he associated with each generation understandable, relevant, and by their own admission, “correct.”

In addition, the more we discussed how different we all are, the more we realized how similar we are. To quote Tim Elmore, “We all want to be a part of something very important, but almost impossible to achieve, don’t we?” That got a resounding “YES” from everyone in the room.

5. There’s something to learn from every generation.

At one point in the panel discussion, the Boomer panelist mentioned his own struggle to understand his Millennial son in the career choices he was making. It was a very sweet moment when the Millennial panelist provided some advice as to how he might have the conversation with his son, showing his support and encouragement.

And it made me think: mentors don’t always exist in the generations that arrived before us. Sometimes, the most poignant learnings can be made by listening to those who’ve experienced far less.

Niki Rabren is the Executive Director of Sales & Marketing for 3sage Consulting, LLC, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that helps companies realize greater enterprise intelligence by implementing innovative information management strategies and technologies. Niki has volunteered with WIT for the past 7 years.