Why Different Generations of Clients Need Different Solutions

Have you thought of what it means to have employees and clients in different generations? Accountants should consider the following statements about the people in their firms and their client rosters. If you're answering "yes," it may be time for some self-examination.

  • You are approaching attracting and retaining clients of different generations all the same way.
  • You are approaching attracting and retaining employees of different generations all the same way.
  • You think members of multigenerational teams all have similar wants and expectations.
  • Knowledge transfer among generations has more speed bumps than fast lanes.

In the last several years, many organizations have realized that their staff needs to learn about generational differences. Usually they bring in a speaker (sometimes that’s me) for an hour or so to explain the basics—and then check off the box that they addressed the issues.

It’s a good first step…but for real change to occur, deepening understanding, repetition, and practice is necessary. Savvy organizations are undertaking yearlong or longer initiatives and community building to address intergenerational challenges, locally or globally, as relevant. That type of dedicated effort will earn them an advantage in recruiting and retaining both engaged employees and loyal clients/customers.

Know the Generations

Generations are defined by the similar formative influences – social, cultural, political, economic – that existed as the individuals of particular birth cohorts were growing up. Given that premise, the age breakdowns for each of the four generations currently in the workplace are approximately:

  • Traditionalists, born 1925-1942   
  • Baby Boomers, born 1943-1962
  • Generation X, born 1963-1978
  • Generation Y/Millennials, born 1979-1998                     

IBM and American Express have realized how central inter-generational initiatives are to productivity in their core businesses. IBM is leveraging learning resources and building employee communities in person and online in many countries to strengthen collaboration. With surveys and other means, IBM is assessing what different generations need and is providing recommendations to business units globally on attracting, developing, and retaining talent of different generations.

American Express, realizing that its shift in business strategy away from travel to financial services and other technology-oriented businesses requires younger demographics, also has been focusing on intergenerational challenges.

Educational institutions are getting sensitive to the large demographic changes as at least a third of their faculty and administrative staff heads toward retirement age. For example, Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs & Development department, having done some generational programming in the past, is starting on a yearlong generational focus as one of its diversity initiatives required of all colleges and administrative units by the university.

Some of the strategies to include in your cross-generational diversity initiatives are:

  • Small facilitated group discussions.
  • Educational materials and interactive courses appropriate to different markets.
  • Mutual and reverse mentoring and mentoring circles.
  • Significant roles for senior management as advocates and participants.
  • Knowledge transfer and succession strategies.

As firms, other organizations and institutions develop affinity or employee resource groups (ERGs) or business resource groups (BRGs) and other internal and cross-cultural communities, they need to be sure to cross-pollinate them. Just as gender diversity groups focused on furthering women’s careers and as leaders greatly benefit from bringing men into the conversation, diversity and inclusion initiatives for each specific focus need to bring all the generations into the conversation. Cross-generational conversations will facilitate understanding of all the views and attitudes that must be part of the solution and the pursuit of harmonious change.

This piece originally appeared on the author's blog.

About the author:
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is president of Practice Development Counsel and a recognized expert on workplace intergenerational challenges, author, speaker, and facilitator. She is the author of The Rainmaking Machine (Thomson Reuters/West) and owner/manager of the Cross-Generational Conversation group on LinkedIn. Reach her at pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com, www.pdcounsel.com. View her YouTube videos at her Generational GPS channel.


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