Bridging the Generational Gap for Effective Change Management

Strategies to Manage Change That Impacts Millennials and Baby Boomers

Whatever your organizational change project, you are likely to employ a change management model to execute change. John Kotter’s change model breaks the change process into eight steps:

  1. Create a sense of urgency

  2. Form a powerful change coalition

  3. Create an engaging vision for change

  4. Communicate the vision

  5. Remove resistance and obstacles to change

  6. Create short-term wins to maintain motivation

  7. Build on the change

  8. Anchor the changes in organizational culture

For most organizations, resistance to change is the primary barrier to making successful and sustainable change. While management view change as something that is happening to the organization, for employees all change is personal. Not all people respond equally. Effective change management accepts this reality, and develops strategies to tackle resistance to change.

One way in which to understand how change affects different people is to consider how it affects different generations; for example, the different dynamics of millennials vs baby boomers in the workplace. Change managers who understand these differences will be able to predict the responses of baby boomers to change and those of millennials, and therefore be able to develop strategies to combat adverse reactions and the resistance to change that follows.

Resistance to Change Is an Emotional Reaction

From our understanding of emotional intelligence, we know that our emotions shape our thoughts and actions. Greater social awareness leads to better recognition and understanding of how others feel, and what their response is likely to be in any given situation. This knowledge enables us to empathize, build trust, and develop relationships through effective communication tactics. 

The first step to managing resistance to change is therefore understanding that this resistance to change exists because of the emotions that the change ignites. 

The second step is to understand what reactions such emotions are likely to create. Only then can a change manager communicate effectively to combat resistance to change.

The Traits of Millennials Vs Baby Boomers in the Workplace

Many studies have shown that there are clear differences between the character traits of different generations. Some of the sharpest that exist are the differences between millennials and baby boomers.

Millennials are natural risk-takers, and tend to be poor planners. They are curious learners, and ambitious. They are often considered to be spoiled and dependent upon technology, and prefer to work autonomously. They are also highly educated and influenced to work hard by their baby boomer parents.

Baby boomers are goal-focused, disciplined team players. They are usually confident in social situations, and are often open to new ideas and practices – providing they can see the benefits and consider the change to be improvement. Their emotional and mental responses have been shaped by their life experiences – they were teenagers during the Cold War, nuclear armament, civil rights movements, and Vietnam.

Communication Preferences of Millennials and Baby Boomers

Effective communication is critical during organizational change, so it pays to understand how to communicate with millennials and baby boomers.

Millennials developed into adults as the Internet age began to explode. They are digitally adept, likely to be texters and instant messengers, using their smartphone to do so (research has found that 93% of millennials own smartphones).

Baby boomers grew up as the world transitioned to telephones in the home. They are more likely to prefer voice communication, and even more likely to engage with face-to-face conversation. Compared to millennials, baby boomers are more likely to own a phone to make voice calls – only 68% of baby boomers own a smartphone. However, they are avid email users.

When developing a communication strategy, change managers should ensure that the diversity of character traits and communication preferences are considered and included. You must regulate people’s emotional responses to change and communicate effectively to do so.

Consider Commonalities

Considering only the differences between generations can cause problems for change managers. Across all generations you will find commonalities. 

For example, the motivations of employees are generally dictated by factors such as career objectives and personal circumstances. There are married, family-oriented people in all generations. There are those who are highly value-driven in all generations. Others may be motivated by their passions – hobbies and interests or side business, for example.

Technology is an area where differences are expected, but common ground is not unexceptional. There are technology optimists and technology pessimists across the generational divide.

Develop a Strategy That Embraces All

The best change management strategies embrace differences and commonalities. They help people overcome their fears by using collective strengths and communicating to all effectively. Change managers assess people across groups and as individuals, and develop tactics to accommodate all. 

Understanding and predicting a likely response will help managers create strategies that negate the negative and accentuate the positive. Understanding that each employee is an individual will ensure that focus is on actual values and emotional responses, rather than generic attitudes to change.

Contact us today, and discover how we could help your multigenerational organization change successfully.


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