ANAHEIM, CALIF. — When the boss says, “Jump,” you say … ? That means one thing to Baby Boomers, but a Millennial would ask, “Why am I jumping?” or “Can I see you jump first?”
It’s not all that difficult to figure out how to communicate across generations, consultant Phil Gwoke told members of Quality Service Contractors at their Power Meeting here. You just have to figure out what each generation values and how they are accustomed to communicating.
Gwoke addressed both different generations in the workforce and how to sell to customers of different generations, especially Millennials.
Each generation shapes the next, Gwoke pointed out. The Traditionalists, parents of the Baby Boomers, were influenced by the Depression. They were people who saved empty margarine tubs. Fifty percent of Traditionalist men served in either World War II or in Korea. That was the genesis of the top down military style corporate structure that arose in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Every generation is shaped by the events and conditions in their formative years. There are differences if one is raised in the city or country, north or south. We can see the effects now of generations that were told to go to college instead of working in the trades, although that may be changing.
Traditionalists are loyal, patriotic, hard working, fiscally conservative and they have faith in institutions. While there is emphasis today on people being tech savvy or tech dependent, each generation is shaped by the technology of the time, whether it’s the dawn of television or the space race. Remember rotary dial telephones? Remember when there was such a thing as a long distance call? That creates an entirely different communication style from the one created by smart phones.
The influence of the ‘60s
Boomers were shaped by music, civil rights, the space race, the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam. Boomers had good Traditionalist parent who taught them that the individual can make a difference and leave the world a better place.
Boomers were also influenced by how many of them there were (and are), which created a lot of job pressure because there were always people waiting to take your job. Boomers worked 50 hours or more a week.
Millennials have a PR problem, Gwoke said. They grew up with Pixar, cell phones and they’re excited about change.
The messaging changed with Generation X, Gwoke noted. They were told that the world is a difficult place. There was an explosion of media with cable TV and with it MTV and CNN. The divorce rate was high and many Gen Xers were latchkey kids. They were influenced by Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Michael Jordan, Star Wars, AIDS, and the Challenger disaster. Think about the effect of seeing Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969 versus seeing the space shuttle blow up nine miles in the air in 1986. Because there was a teacher on board, Christa McAuliffe, school children all over the country watched the launch live.
Gen Xers are resourceful, independent, entrepreneurial, skeptical, and, seeing their parents work so hard, they invented the concept of work/life balance.
Millennials have a PR problem, Gwoke said. They grew up with Pixar, cell phones and they’re excited about change. They have been impacted by violence — the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, mass school shootings. If you ask Gen Xers who their hero is, they’ll say Michael Jordan, but Millennials say it’s mom and dad.
Millennials are diverse, tech savvy, collaborative and socially accepting. You can see it in their music where hits are often collaborations of artists of different genres. They have rejected Gen Xers work/life balance and seek work/life integration where work and life are the same thing. They want to like and have fun with the people with whom they spend the most time, their coworkers. They may be on social media during the day but they also work at all hours; there’s no separation.
Different workplace expectations
In the workplace, Boomers want activity to be professional, productive and effective. Gen Xers want it to be transparent, honest and efficient. Millennials want it to be relatable, authentic and they want access to all of the information used to make decisions. This can lead to a clash in styles. Boomers would say, “Because I said so,” but that conflicts with Gen Xers desire for transparency. When Boomers are challenged they feel as if the other person is saying they don’t know what they’re doing, but it could just be Millennials constantly asking, “why?” Millennials want access to all of the available information and that’s why they want a seat at the table, while Boomers are saying, “Who is this kid?”
Gwoke showed pictures of former GE Chairman Jack Welch and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. By conventional measures (money) Zuckerberg has achieved more than Welch with a completely different style. For Boomers, work and home were completely separate. Gen Xers believe in working twice as hard to get more done in half the time. Millennials believe that work is a state of mind and that you should be able to get your work done from anywhere at any time. Boomers need to look for results, not just hours spent. Gen Xers have to realize that Millennials can be extremely productive if you give them time to connect. Millennials have to acknowledge that the way they are disrupting the workplace can lead to generational tensions.
Differences between the generations call for different sales techniques.
The makeup of the workforce and of contractors’ customers is changing. Ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 every day. By 2030, 20 percent of Americans will be older than age 65. Half of Gen Xers feel stalled in their careers and believe that they will never be able to retire. By 2020, half of the U.S. workforce will be Milennials and internationally, 70 percent of the workforce will be Millennials by 2025.
The sales process is changing too. Gwoke pointed to the tagline for QSC: “Trust the nation’s best.” That works for Traditionalists and boomers; Traditionalists, in particular, will remain loyal to a service provider. Gen Xers, on the other hand, will ask, “Why should I trust you? What makes you the best?” then they’ll go online and do their own research.
Differences between the generations call for different sales techniques. Boomers value youthfulness, novelty and luxury, and they love being on the cutting edge. These are good prospects for smart home devices. Skeptical Gen Xers have researched plumbing and HVAC online already, so a hard sales approach won’t work. Gwoke suggested presenting yourself as a resource and a good first question is, “What have you already found out?”
Millennials want to spend money on experiences. Pay attention to television commercials aimed at Millennials and you’ll notice many of them portray experiences that seemingly have nothing to do with the product. Millennials like Chipotle because they can be involved in every aspect of making their meal. Focus on the ways that home comfort or endless hot water or smart home products will play a role in socializing with their friends.
Offer lots of choices; let them customize their purchase. Water still flows downhill, but for Millennials it flows in a special way. They also ask their friends what they should buy, so work those referrals for all they’re worth.