Understanding the Multigenerational Workforce

21st Century organizations have a responsibility to retain workers from the most diverse population of all time. Five generations conduct business in all industries while new commerce emerges through online venues each day. The vocabulary for each generation includes communication challenges for organizations to overcome. The World War II generation, Baby Boom generation, Generation X, and Millennial generation, and Generation Z can share unique attitudes, expectations, values, and motivations, but they must be uncovered through communication.  Organizations can increase productive communication by applying successful models for change. Unfreezing, gaining support from top leaders, and diffusing innovation will unlock these techniques.

Unfreezing for Change

“Kurt Lewin was the first to develop the notion that change should be planned rather than allowing unintentional or accidental processes to occur, and he first described three levels of change: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing” (Stichler, 2011, p. 9). Because the vocabulary for each generation in the workplace includes communication challenges for organizations to overcome, Lewin’s model for change can help.  The model increases communication by compelling change, institutionalizing the change, and then anchoring it for the future. It is simplistic with three stages; however, the institutionalizing process can be lengthy, and this method will continue a hierarchical form of leadership.

Over the course of time, this model for change has been criticized by scholars for over-simplifying the change process (Cummings, Bridgman, & Brown, 2016). Generation X and Generation Z, who are savvy in recognizing the need for change due to being sandwiched between the large generation groups of Baby Boomers and Millennials, may be attracted to the simplicity of Lewin’s model.  Research indicates that “Generation X will be responsible for leading the way toward solutions in this generational shift moment” (Ai-jen Poo. 2017). Lewin’s attempt at documenting a process for creating cultural change in the workplace uses the motto of, “Keep it simple”.  Generation X is self-reliant and results-oriented because seminal news in their formative years include viewing the Challenger disaster and the Berlin Wall coming down.  Generation X and Generation Z are ready for changes. They are optimistic and straightforward.

Planning cultural changes allows an organization to consider pitfalls and interpersonal needs.  However, it requires a leader to bear the mental load of responsibility and courageously have the final say.  The vocabulary for Generation X in the workplace includes communication challenges for organizations to overcome and unfreezing, changing, and refreezing can help. While Lewin’s model increases communication by compelling the changes, institutionalizing the changes, and then anchoring the changes for the future, it leaves out a sense of collaboration and on-boarding.  On-boarding is necessary for the Baby Boom generation, and the Millennial generation to overcome communication challenges.  The hierarchical form of leadership implemented in this method would need to include employees joining the process.

Top Leaders for Change

            Organizational culture is ingrained over time.  Top leaders network with employees through compatibility, skill-sets, and passion for a mission.  When additional culture changes need to shift John Kotter’s model for change broadens Kurt Lewin’s model with additional stages of the process (Appelbaum, Habashy, Malo, & Shafiq, 2012).  Broaden from three to eight steps to affect change, Kotter offers additional tools for overcoming communication challenges with multiple generations inside the organization.  This method appeals to more people because it is inclusive.  The final stage of Kotter’s model is the anchoring, and it requires top leadership to underpin the change through policy.

kotters-8-steps-for-leading-change-1-638Successful models of change have common elements of commitment, necessity, the strategy of inclusion, and understanding that the changes will take many years. Kotter’s model for change may be attractive to the World War II generation and the Millennial generation because it implores people to remain civically aware and sacrificial while enduring the stages of change. Kotter’s eight stages reveal the hardships of tasks like, removing barriers and enlisting volunteers.  Leaders must work to generate short-term wins. These wins can bridge the cohesiveness of compatible values, like family and social concerns that are at the forefront of the World War II generation and the Millennial generation.  Kotter’s change is popular, but because of its duration and lack of scientific data, there is not a consensus on the results of its effectiveness (Appelbaum, Habashy, Malo, & Shafiq, 2012).  The top leaders of the organization must be devoted to the long-term process of this model.

Companies, businesses, and organizations form because there are needs and a group of compatible people working to meet those needs.  Cultural habits in the business may be authentic, but those that encumber the work require change.  John Kotter’s model of eight steps toward change will help devoted leaders. This long journey will reveal and empower multiple generations inside the organization. The vocabulary for the World War II generation and the Millennial generation includes communication challenges that organizations to overcome by learning Kotter’s model. This method appeals to many people because it is comprehensive.  However, the final stage is essential.  It requires the top leadership to fortify the change through policy and example.

Diffusion for Change

Motivation is vital to accomplishing change inside a multigenerational workforce. The largest group of the population is the Baby Boomer generation.  Organizations that lack the power of this large group of people will struggle to accomplish their mission. While they are known for their achievements, and their work ethic being linked to the people, places, and things they trust, they must also see the authentic implementation of values. Baby Boomers working alongside the other generations can be demanding.  Their communication challenges can be explored and harnessed through applying Everett Rogers theory of Diffusion of Innovation.  Everett Rogers identifies a process for predicting the ways that innovation becomes mainstream.  Diffusion of innovation looks at the predictable ways in which accepted revolution finds its way into mainstream acceptance (Guder, 2009). Leaders can unlock good communication by exploring this model.

According to Stichler (2011), “Leveraging the enthusiasm and wisdom of innovators and early adopters as change champions, the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of those most resistant to change (the late majority and laggards) can be managed” (Stichler, 2011, p. 10).  The Baby Boomer generation was the first to have birth control, telecommunications, and multicultural employees in the workplace.  Rogers (2003), explains “the five characteristics of innovation are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability” (p. 15).  The Baby Boomer generation wields extraordinary influence on the workplace for another decade or longer. Leaders must understand what it takes for the employed Baby Boomers to adopt a change, then they will understand how to implement them.FT_18.02.15_GenerationsBirths_projected

Retaining motivated Baby Boomers is vital to accomplishing change inside a multigenerational workforce. The largest group of the population is the Baby Boomer generation.  Numbering 72 million people, (Fry, 2018), the group is beneficial to accomplishing success. Baby Boomers care about the people, places, and things they trust, so it is essential to understand the values and drive for them. Baby Boomers are demanding and have the significant life experience to validate their opinions.  The vocabulary Baby Boomers use may create communication challenges, but they can be overcome through applying Everett Rogers theory of Diffusion of Innovation. His process for predicting the ways that innovation becomes mainstream will reveal the values that can be shared in the multigenerational workplace.  Diffusion of innovation studies can help business leaders identify what will help people accept changes in their organization. Leaders can unlock good communication by understanding this model.

Conclusion

Current organizations have a responsibility to recognize the wisdom in their personnel team from the diverse generations of the population. Generation Z, the next generation, has started entering the workforce in 2017.  Business, industry, and commerce are speeding up through user-friendly online businesses. The terminology and values for each generation mean recognizing the past and updating learning to adapt for business survival. The World War II generation, Baby Boom generation, Generation X, Millennial, and Generation Z can share attitudes, expectations, values, and motivations.  Organizations can increase productive communication by applying successful models for change. Using the techniques of Lewin, Kotter, and Rogers to understand unfreezing, gaining support from top leaders, and diffusing innovation will unlock good communication techniques.

References

Ai-jen Poo. (2017). Generation X: Being the Change We Need. Generations4(3), 90–92.

Appelbaum, S. H., Habashy, S., Malo, J.-L., & Shafiq, H. (2012). Back to the future: revisiting Kotter’s 1996

change model. Journal of Management Development31(8), 764–782.

Cummings, S., Bridgman, T., & Brown, K. G. (2016). Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt

Lewin’s legacy for change management. Human Relations69(1), 33–60.

Fry, R. (2018, March 01). Millennials expected to outnumber Boomers in 2019. Retrieved from

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/

Guder, C. (2009). Second Life as Innovation. Public Services Quarterly5(4), 282–288.

Kotter, J. P.  Kotter’s 8 steps for leading change [Chart].

Retrieved from: https://www.slideshare.net/TRACCiiS/kotters-8-steps-for-leading-change

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York: Free Press.

Stichler, J. F. (2011). Adapting to Change. Health Environments Research & Design Journal (HERD)

 (Vendome Group LLC)4(4), 8–11.

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