Five reasons why the Gen X - Gen Y divide is the next talent management bridge.

Generation Y are not just younger versions of Generation X.

Generation X look at Generation Y and see themselves. Gen X don’t see themselves as old, so when they look at younger men and women they resonate with much of their youthful exuberance. The consequence is that Gen X see an idealized younger version of themselves in Gen Y and treat Gen Y as if they are just younger Gen X’ers. In reality, Gen Y have been formed by a very different world to the world of Gen X’s youth. Gen Y are their own unique demographic segment with a value system and worldview that is different from generations that are older than them. For effective management and development of Gen Y talent the first thing Gen X needs to do is come to terms with the unique requirements and needs of this different generation.

Generation X are not the young kids they once were.

This is a logical extension of the first point. Generation X are now in mid-life, but they have always been the counter-culture whippersnappers adult society has been coming to terms with. Consequently, the penny hasn’t dropped for Gen X yet that they are now THE ADULTS and there is a new group that has picked up the “counter-culture whippersnapper” mantle. As long as Gen X retains the misperception that they are still the young ones in the work environment they will not be in a position to offer the wise leadership and development support needed for Gen Y [and soon Gen Z] talent.

We didn’t get the Baby Boomer – Generation X integration right.

The corporate world doesn’t have a great track record of adjusting to the needs of a new generation of talent. The Silent – Boomer transition was relatively seamless so the talent management landscape was stable for most of the 20th century. In the 1990’s as Gen X moved into the workplace the landscape shifted. Talent management as a corporate discipline developed in response to the disruption Gen X brought. But, we didn’t get it right… Baby Boomers never quite settled with the different style and needs of Generation X and so Gen X clawed and battled their way into management and executive hierarchies. Looking around we may say that everything seems okay now, but in reality we are more in a state of détente than fully functional integration. We don’t have a process template from the Boomer – X’er experience that can be used as an effective reference point for the X’er – Y [Digital Natives] transition.

Generation X are now in management.

Gen X are in positions of leadership and authority. Most of the talent development and management processes will need to be signed off, approved, or paid for by a Gen X’er manager. Gen X have been agitating for leadership responsibility for 15 years. It is now here, but X’er need to be able to rise to a challenge that is nothing like they have expected or been prepared to meet.

Generation Y may actually have more in common with Baby Boomers than with Generation X.

Gen Y have been called the “Echo Boomers”. This is indicative of the reality that Gen Y have a closer resonance with values and worldview of Baby Boomers than with the younger Gen X’ers. In the corporate world, however, Gen Y are being managed by Gen X managers with Baby Boomer executives. The temptation for Boomers and Gen Y to side-step Gen X and follow the path of least resistance will be real.

Talent management as a discipline is still relatively new and has lessons to learn. We need to audit the Boomer – X’er process for lessons that can be applied today. Then, we need to be prepared to learn new lessons unique to the challenges and opportunities of the present reality.

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