Creating a Work Culture for All Generations

Stephen R. Covey

During his many years of working with groups around the world, Stephen R. Covey (best-selling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) had the incredible opportunity to personally observe how organizations best leverage the unique contributions of everyone in the workforce, regardless of their age, generation or style.  After studying a wide-range of diverse groups including Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as Grameen Bank, and global organizations like Marriott Hotels International, Covey found that an important step in building and sustaining long-term results required the thoughtful process of creating guiding principles.  These principles provide organizations and all employees with a baseline which provides clarity around performance and results.

More than a decade before all of today’s popular press stories on the problems created by the “different” work styles of each generation, Covey focused on the importance of setting guiding principles and clear expectations as the foundation for any organizational culture.  This culture foundation, with a clear understanding of expected behaviors for all employees and groups, is quite often overlooked by many organizations.  Typically, culture is an afterthought as organizations progress from their initial period as a start-up and into the growth and maturity phases.  Some organizations see the value in communicating clear guiding principles.  The Container Store’s Seven Foundation Principles is an excellent example since each principle, like “1 Great Person = 3 Good People,” includes a specific written explanation and a supporting video.  Another example is Hubspot’s Culture Code.

Workplace Culture Alignment is Essential
In order to maximize the efforts of each generation in today’s global workplace, it is imperative that the true culture of any organization actually recognizes and rewards the efforts from all levels of employees and stakeholders.    It is essential to make an objective review of the existing culture in an organization.  This type of review will highlight areas in which performance priorities and actual workplace behaviors are not aligned.  For example, some organizations have a stated goal to provide customer service to a variety of consumer generations but do not have any way to ensure customer support teams contain a diverse mix of generations or understand differences among consumer generations.  One approach that can be easily applied in any organization is the use of a “Culture Alignment Roadmap”.   In this example, the Culture Alignment Roadmap serves as a way to specifically focus on areas that may require a shift in company policies, goals, measures, communication, rewards or employee behaviors to better maximize the active participation of each generation in the workplace.

Now is the Time to Engage Each Generation in Your Organization
A truly inclusive workplace culture, based on guiding principles which ensure each generation is highly engaged, will help produce the results every organization (be it a start-up, family-owned business, multinational, or NGO) needs to deliver long-term results.  The ongoing challenges of our global economy, combined with shifting demographics in the workforce require a proactive way of thinking about how every generation needs to work together in all of our organizations.  Rather than complaining about how each generation in the workplace or each work sub-group seems to be so different and problematic, now is the time to leverage the energy and integrate the combined talents and strengths across each group.

Starbucks is an excellent example of an organization that embraces diversity and inclusion and being a responsible company to foster a deep sense of purpose that appeals across generations.  Many other organizations are now starting to use a variety of approaches to better focus on the positive capabilities of each generation and harness a plethora of talent to better optimize results.

Taking Action
What obstacles currently stand in your way to leverage your own unique contributions in your organization and what are some actions you can take today to ensure you make a positive impact?

What ideas or suggestions do you have to build a culture that engages and optimizes the energy of each generational member in your workforce?

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Tom Morehead is Global Managing Director of Crescendo, a Management Consulting firm which helps companies strategically optimize Leadership, Teams, and Culture. He also serves as an Executive Coach and Lecturer at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. Prior to Crescendo, Tom held key leadership roles and delivered business transformation at several companies including Quaker Oats/Gatorade and Zurich Financial Services. He is co-author of the 2014 book - Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed, founding faculty member of CultureUniversity.com and a blogger @GlobalCoachTom.

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