It’s no secret that baby boomers, Generation X-ers, and millennials all have their own leadership styles. With boomers unable to retire as soon as they’d hoped, all three generations are meeting up in boardrooms across corporate America – and their unique leadership styles don’t always mesh. This can be an opportunity or a disaster, depending on how the leaders involved approach the situation.
To better understand what’s in store for this multigenerational C-suite, we spoke with Elaine Varelas, managing partner of executive and leadership coaching firm Keystone Partners. What follows is a transcript of our email Q&A session, minimally edited for style and clarity.
Recruiter.com: Millennials are starting to age into C-suite roles for the first time. How will this impact corporate cultures and the way businesses operate?
Elaine Varelas: Millennial leaders, as most other leaders, want to do things their way. They value transparency and speed, and they are willing to live with the impact of these things – both good and bad. Millennials’ desire to share information quickly via social media platforms has given HR the opportunity to influence the C-suite to take a highly visible role in setting, redirecting, and championing workplace cultures to drive organizational success.
Millennials know what they want in their work lives, and they plan for others in their organizations to benefit from what they value. Millennial leaders recognize that employees desire continual development – ongoing learning and skill development and frequent feedback. They value work with purpose, autonomy, flexibility, and promotional opportunity. They also see their organizations as major community partners, offering financial contributions [to their communities] and encouraging active volunteerism [among employees]. To succeed in these organizations, HR leaders will accommodate millennial leaders with speed and consistency.
Salary confidentiality is no longer sacrosanct. Millennials are much more likely to compare notes, and companies need to be able to explain differences in salary. In tight job markets, [a company may have to] raise salaries across a job band in order to remain competitive and to recruit and retain the best talent.
RC: Baby boomers and millennials differ from one another in many ways, and so far the business media has focused on the disconnect between these generations in the workplace. Any tips for boomers who want to coach the next generation of managers? For millennials who may get mentored?
EV: The differences between boomers and millennials have provided great material for comedians, social media, and musical satires, but the differences are not all that extreme. Regardless of generation, most employees want meaningful and challenging work, managers who support them, appropriate compensation, and the ability to learn. They do not tolerate boredom well. Millennials will let employers know if their needs and wants are not being met, while boomers are stoic in their disappointment.
Coaching and mentoring opportunities exist on both sides of this generational divide. Millennials recognize their need for an in-depth understanding of economic cycles they have not yet experienced, and boomers have expertise to share on this subject. Millennials need to understand historic risk, even if they think it will never apply to their organizations. Boomers must deliver their coaching based on best practices, not tradition, and with the transparency milennials value. Managers from older generations – boomers, traditionalists – will find mentorship roles with the next generation of managers and emerging leaders if they listen well, are nimble, and respect the talent of new leadership.
RC: With company brands now plastered all over the internet, and with current and former employees able to leave reviews of their employers online, executives must take more active roles in creating positive corporate cultures. How is the newest generation of C-suite executives handling this responsibility?
EV: Creating an award-winning corporate culture is the millennial approach to sourcing top talent. Millennial leaders are so strongly committed to developing positive work environments that this task becomes part of every communication at every level of the organization. Employees at every level see the commitment and are willing to sign up for the “new corporate agreement”: Instead of a gold watch at the end of a long career, employees get opportunities, career development, new skills, fair pay, and continuous developmental feedback along the way.
Next-generation C-suite executives recognize the importance of building sustainable corporate cultures that help organizations compete in the future. HR has long known that talent drives business, and that culture lures and keeps talent. Long-term recruiting will also mandate an enhancement of the candidate experience. Managers and HR will reimagine the process as a sales experience for prospective employees where every interaction ends in goodwill whether or not an offer is made, accepted, or declined.
The competition for the best talent will hinge on creating true purpose and work that really connects with employees. Younger candidates will review employer brands; look at social responsibility investments, flexibility, and development opportunities; and decide where they want to work based on these factors.