It should be simple. Age should make no difference at all. You are charged with managing three people who are between 20 and 30 years older than you. The first meeting is a disaster with each of them explaining their expectations. What’s appalling is that their expectations are interpersonal, not work related. What’s going on here?
Welcome to the great generational divide. Your subordinates expect to do the work assigned. They are focused on how you will treat them. They want you to be fair, keep them informed on what you are thinking, spell out expectations, and occasionally have lunch with them.
You expect them to get on with the work, not bother you unless they have technical questions, solve their own problems, and be maintenance free. You expect to have staff meetings every year or so since they are a waste of time. Bonding should be left to Superglue.
You are in for a miserable time, if not outright failure, unless you alter your expectations and style. Remember, these people have forgotten more about office politics then you currently know. They can, without a trace, sink your career in the organization. How to respond?
1. You will have regular staff meetings — at least twice a month. You will ask one of them to prepare the agenda. It’s the best way to find out what they are thinking. They consult with each other so it’s a three for one.
2. You will monitor how they are doing, one at a time, rather than waiting for one to seek help. You will tell them that they are not to surprise you. If there is a problem you should be the first to know.
3. You will practice abbreviated small talk. “How are you?” doesn’t usually get an exhaustive response.
4. You will have lunch or a drink after work with them once a month. Pray that they will all be busy and unable to attend. It won’t happen but you can always hope.
5. You will learn to “break it to them gently” when you have bad news. You will not wait until a performance review to demand improved performance. If one of them can’t improve you will get rid of them mercifully — that means with notice and severance.
6. You will listen with extreme interest to any statements that begin with, “People are saying,” or “No one likes,” or “I’m not sure things are working out.” You will ask questions and get specifics. Never ask any of them to finger a source. Act as if he/she had the complaint and address it. (A favorite Boomer trick is to say, “Everybody,” or “I heard” when it’s the speaker’s idea.
Finally, you will treat each of them as unique. You will not talk about the staff or the team. Your career depends on managing older people because there are twice as many of them as there are people your age. Good luck and keep a (dark) sense of humor!
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