What I Learned From Managing Twenty-Somethings

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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It could have been disconcerting, if not unnerving. It was difficult enough to deal with the change of doubling the size of the staff. The youthfulness of many of these new staff members, coupled with their social media knowledge, added layers of complexity and created perfect conditions for generational tensions. This was my team and my strategy. In one sense, the obvious one (age), I was absolutely the wrong demographic for this. I was hiring people the same age as my youngest son. I should have been resisting this kind of change instead of embracing it. And yet, there I was, in the middle of tweets and posts and blogs and flip cameras and online controversies and search terms and tagging and viral videos and all the rest of it. We all managed to survive, but it wasn’t easy. We learned a lot about each other and about our respective generations in the process. We also learned that a great deal of grace was required. When you’re in your early 20s, you know everything. But doubts start popping up in your 30s, erupt into a full-blown crisis in your 40s, and by the time you’re in your 50s, because of all that knowledge and experience you’ve gained, you realize just how ignorant you really are. It is at this point when you begin (notice I said begin) to accept that. In our case, the early-20-somethings actually did know more about electronic communication and social media than all of their elders combined. And the elders individually knew more about the company and its culture than all of the 20-somethings combined. We expected it would either be total kumbaya-group-hug cooperation or an all-out war. It turned out to be neither, but it leaned in the direction of the group hug (but not by much). Here's some of what we learned. Technologies are threatening. And they’re more threatening to 30-somethings than 50-somethings. Some of us want desperately to believe that Twitter and Facebook will go away and leave us alone to do our jobs. Others of us think that Twitter and Facebook are becoming our jobs, and we’re desperate to understand why. All of us share the belief that it is technologies like social media that are pushing traditional communications work out the door. (Goodbye, press release!) No one likes to be patronized. And the “we know better than you” works on both sides of age and technology. We discovered opportunities for people to share either their knowledge of new technologies or their knowledge about the company. Case studies of actual projects were always the most popular. Cut each other some slack. Lots of people know more than you do. Some of them are the age of your children; others are the age of your parents. You have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from, and you can learn a lot more from young people than about new communications technologies. You can learn how to be a lot more open and questioning, and not accept something because “that’s what we’ve always done here.” The 20-somethings turned out to be good teachers. We now have 30- and 40-somethings tweeting on Twitter and asking you to be their friend on Facebook – and they consider this part of their jobs. Have you dealt with generational conflict in the workplace? How did you resolve it? Have you led a team that knew more about the work to be done than you did? Did your job become superfluous, or did it become something different from what you expected? Photo by Ann Voskamp, used with permission. Post by Glynn Young.