Skip the generational hoopla and look for these 4 workplace characteristics

Navigating the complexity of today’s workplace is challenging, yet once we give way to looking at behaviors instead of the generational hoopla, it can be manageable.

There’s a growing trend for employers to allow groups to work cohesively, regardless of generation. This means that employees are part of an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, have value, and commit to the organization’s goals because the organization has committed to them, first. I call this a Cohesion Culture™.

As leaders, we simply need to understand the characteristics in the marketplace that aid in making well-informed decisions. This understanding can then be used to offer open positions to the right candidates by putting the right HR Strategies & Practices in place to retain the talent we worked so hard to hire.

It’s Best Practice for leaders to first focus on the success of the individual before seeking a commitment from the employee to meet organizational goals. Leaders are then in a better position to actively align the employee achievement with desired organizational outcomes, resulting in success for everyone.

Generational Hoopla

It’s important to note that today an unprecedented five generations are working within many organizations—at the same time. But all that really means is people born from 1927 to 2010 are gainfully employed and that everyone can not be easily labeled with behavioral tendencies simply based on their year of birth.

The Millennial generation will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025. SPOILER ALERT: Every generation at one time or another has made up 75% of the workforce. This is not new and I’m still surprised so many people think this is unique.

What we are failing to see are the actual characteristics of ALL the potential employees and how they tend to act—not based on a year of birth—but based on how they interpret and live out core values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

Certainly, it is overwhelming to know that this generational group reflects at least 80 million people. However, what we do know is that not everyone within a generational group acts the same.

It is simply unsophisticated for the purposes of talent acquisition and talent retention to apply this thought process across the board, hoping to find the right talent.

Of course, there are historical and social events that occur during a person’s lifetime that can shape how they feel or react. But those life events actually shape all people living at that time, not just those within a generation.

Take the Challenger Shuttle disaster or Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. It would be insane to think that these two opposing experiences would somehow only impact the generation born around the time these events occurred.

In reality, these events shaped everyone who was alive when they occurred and, to some degree, shape how people now think about space travel from a historical view. People reflect upon these occurrences, as well as other non-significant life events that happen everyday, in a manner to help them make sense of their world. It’s called the theory of implication or attribution, and it’s application is not restricted to just one generation.

Technology Savvy vs. Technology Dependent

What is more important, for the purpose of selecting candidates and retaining them, is to study the characteristics or behaviors of today’s workforce and not just generational facts. These characteristics form the basis of how people think and respond to others. We know for a fact that technology is the real game-changer. It is the use of technology that influences how people of all generations conduct themselves in both work and social settings.

According to Dr. Tim Elmore, author of Generation iY, the Millennial group (Gen Y) was the first generation born within a timespan to have the capacity to surpass the previous generation in its use and understanding of technology. This group of people has become what we call “techno-savvy,” meaning, that during the 1980’s to 2000’s, individuals began seeking clarity of how technology worked, then using it for innovative solutions.

All other individuals living during 2000 and beyond have adopted characteristics that suggest they are “techno-dependant.” Once a person becomes dependant upon the technology—regardless of age—they cannot live without it, nor do they want to live without it. The benefits of these advancements can be enjoyed and celebrated by all.

So, in a very short time, people have moved from knowing and understanding technology to not being able to live without it.

4Workplace Characteristics

From my vantage point, it is technology and how it is integrated into one’s life that establishes our understanding of how people behave in the workplace. Leaders are far better equipped to make intelligent business decisions to hire, train and retain employees when they base their intel on common behaviors shared by a large population of potential candidates.

Going beyond a generational perspective to understand how people interact with each other can avoid costly employment mistakes later.

These four specific and identifiable characteristics set the stage for the employees now working in the new workplace. They reflect behaviors of current and potential employees —not by generation—but by attribute.

What are the attributes of these characteristics?

1. Entrepreneurial Spirit and Autonomy

By default, new employees entering an organization bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit. They want to know their boundaries and they prefer to handle tasks and responsibilities without someone micro-managing their every move. These individuals may act like a CEO, yet they do not necessarily aspire to be the one in charge.

Employers would do well to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, channeling its positive impact on belonging, value, and commitment, positively impacting performance. Employers wanting to acquire and retain top talent should also make sure job duties and responsibilities are well defined, provide latitude for making decisions, and give sufficient decision-making parameters to promote personal and group success.

Being an entrepreneur congers certain types of actions individuals take toward spending money, making decisions, and leading others. As mentioned earlier, not everyone who joins a company yearns to be the CEO and we do not want that either. What is needed, however, are people who act like it is their company, making choices without established and flexible guidelines that impact the bottom line. In other words, consistent with how an owner would think and act.

2. Collaboration

People want to be heard; they want a voice. The number one rule of collaboration is an agreement that everyone at the table needs each other. Then and only then can individuals assure they have an equal voice.

The collaborative spirit has been around for a long time. Take the Knights of the Round Table, for example. This group of warriors did not necessarily like or get along with each other, yet while at the table they had an equal voice and representation. King Arthur knew exactly what he was doing when he commissioned that table. With a round shape, there is no head of the table and, therefore, it’s less likely for individuals to be confused with whose voice carries the most weight in decision-making.

The second aspect of collaboration deals with trust. Leaders should think of their Cohesion Cultures as spaces where individuals freely exchange trust with one another. From my perspective, gaining trust occurs in the highest form of engagement when it is given away to others. Meaning, others are trusted quickly as needed contributors and everyone accepts the intentions as being pure to the outcomes of the group. This is especially important because the biggest contributor to dysfunction within a group is the absence of trust. With trust comes value and forms the basis for commitment.

3. Social Connection

People want to belong; we are born to cohabitate and mingle. People like to associate with people who share common thoughts, values, and beliefs. Although there may be some who prefer to be alone, they do not reflect the majority.

Technology is another way people obtain a sense of belonging. Through the use of social platforms, it is a simple way of allowing people to interact and be involved in conversations. This need is typically fueled by a person’s desire to be part of what is going on around them. It’s not always convenient to engage with others on a face-to-face basis given geographical expansion, as well as the growing adoption of virtual and cross-cultural teams. Therefore, many folks turn to technology to solve how they connect.

4. Purpose and Drive

People seek to have meaning and purpose in their life, turning to a higher power, the universe, and even other people to help them determine why they were born. From an employment standpoint, people want to know that their contributions make sense and have value—not only for them but for the group and the organization as a whole.

Once individuals feel connected, they are generally more productive. One way leaders can impact how people feel about their role is to acknowledge the work and connect it to desired organizational outcomes. When leaders explain the “why” behind the importance of what an employee does, meaningful work naturally occurs.

When leaders create a Cohesion Culture™, they include activities that allow value-driven behaviors to exist. More importantly for people to be recognized and their work celebrated. Leaders who understand how to tap into a person’s purpose can release an employee’s passion, which can result in the employee having a more positive attitude and greater commitment to the organization.

Within this realm, the leader must understand how to align personal success with company objectives. As the gap between the leader’s focus on the employee and the employee’s success narrows, the level of production increases and desired outcomes are achieved.

Cross-Characteristic Perspective

These four marketplace characteristics are a way to look beyond the generational aspect and into the behaviors and interactions of the workforce. Leaders may want to keep in mind that individuals who live and work in the United States will first look at cohesion from a personal perspective, then think about its impact on others. This further supports why commitment within a Cohesion Culture™ has the leader focusing on employee development and tying personal success with organizational outcomes for optimal achievement and engagement.

Leaders want to heed this advice because it means that the practice of creating a culture where employees feel they fit is consistent with the views of all the generations working today in organizations.

Having a cross-characteristic perspective arms leaders with the mindset to adopt and implement the behaviors consistent with creating Cohesion Cultures™. When employees feel they belong, have value and offer commitments to both personal and organizational success, then performance abounds. The resulting by-product of this level of performance is what’s known as engagement.

Dr. Troy Hall is the Chief Strategy Officer for South Carolina Federal Credit Union, a $1.8B financial cooperative with over 165,000 members.