The Generational Factors

by Jay Deragon on 09/12/2007

The Generational Factors

As online social networking continues to accelerate the differences in usage by generation of users becomes an important factor for strategic consideration for businesses.

It is difficult and dangerous to describe different generations’ characteristics since individuals within that generation do not always fit the characteristics assigned to them. This is especially true when you consider the demographic of users who have adopted the medium of online social networking.

Many writers and researchers, however, have developed generational profiles that are widely accepted (Karp, Fuller, & Sirias, 2002; Lancaster & Stillman, 2002; Martin and Tulgan, 2002; Raines, 2003; Strauss & Howe, 1991; Zemke, Raines & Filipczak, 2000). Some of these generational differences influence why we work, how we work, where we work and what we expect from our work.

Supervisors from different generations, therefore, might have different expectations from their co-workers and managers for how they perceive their supervisory tasks and what they desire in their work environment.[1]

Most Boomers prefer a workplace that provides personal growth and gratification, involves a team orientation, and rewards that include money, titles, and recognition. Many Gen-Xers prefer a more balanced personal-work perspective that takes into account their life outside the work place. They thrive in a workplace that is flexible, informal, fun and offers freedom in regard to work hours and dress.[2] 

Millennials are comfortable in a workplace that offers more supervision and structure and takes advantage of their multitasking capabilities. They prefer to be rewarded for their achievements and their technological savvy.

Anna Farmery, business coach and speaker writes[3] “The Boomers and Gen Xers have always seen working hard, long hours and serving your business is how you create value and how you gain success.”  “This is changing and if we are to understand and get the best out of the younger generation that we lead, we need to understand that they are slightly different.

They grew up with technology, they grew up with a certain independence…they want to be judged on output rather than input. Once us oldies put aside our cynicism, you can see that this is incredibly sensible! They are living what we have dreamed of! Also doesn’t it actually make sense  – judging on the value created rather than the hours put in!”

“The younger people understand that technology can help us, speed the change process, they can also help us achieve that life/work balance that we crave.” Traditionally rigid, hierarchical and boundary designed business realities are beginning to yield to more heterogeneous, organically-formed and identity-centric practices. Key themes in this change are business virtualization, growth in brand, changing management structures and relationships, outsourcing and service models and shifting legal boundaries and accountability[4].

Although online social networks are relatively new to business, the MySpace and Facebook generation has grown up with them. For these individuals entering the workforce, online social networking is simply becoming a part of the fabric of business.  Accordingly, the organizations that have determined how to best integrate social networking into their operations will be the ones that are most successful.

Customers have lost trust in traditional sales, marketing and service (the three areas commonly referred to as “CRM,” or Customer Relationship Management). According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, “the most credible source of information about a company is now ‘a person like me,’ which has risen dramatically to surpass doctors and academic experts for the first time.” The survey relates that in the U.S., trust in “a person like me” increased from 20% in 2003 to 68% today.[5] 

The connections enabled by social networks are the glue that put the humanity back into business to solve the trust problem. In other words, the organizations that will win are the ones that   enable individuals to use social networks to build relationships and communities with people they trust.

The McKinsey Quarter report,  April 2007 edition states “When companies experience organizational pain their first response is often a structural fix, sucj as decentralizing, breaking down silos, or shifting to a matrix organization.” “Many such efforts have only limited success because formal organizational charts mask invisible networks that employees use to get things done.Investing time and energy to understand networks can help companies measure the effectiveness of major initiatives and make organizational changes stick”. “In many cases, a key to success is focusing on “brokers”, who serve as bridges across a number of subgroups in a network and are easy to overlook because they occupy the “white space” of organizations.” McKinsey’s analysis is correct but the “white space” they refer to is actualized and seen within the medium of social networks.

This medium can provide significant value to organizations that learn how to use it to their advantage and more importantly to their customers and employees advantage.  Recent headline news has indicated that many businesses are trying to ban employees from using online social networks during work.What businesses are missing is rather than banning the medium embrace it, learn how to use it and unleash the power of the “white spaces

McKinsey refers to as networks of people who either enable or constrain organizational change. The younger generation can teach the older generation the new tricks of the trade if business leaders are willing to listen and learn.

What say you?


[2] Gordon, V.N., & Steele, M.J. (2005). The advising workplace: Generational differences and challenges. NACADA Journal, 25(1), 26-30. Karp, H., Fuller, C., & Sirias, D. (2002). Bridging the boomer xer gap. Palo Alto , CA : Davies-Black.


[4] Lancaster, L.C., & Stillman, D. (2002). When generations collide.

New York : HarperCollins.

Martin , C.A. , & Tulgan, B. (2002). Managing the generation mix.

Amherst , MA : HRD Press.
Raines, C. (2003). Connecting generations – The sourcebook for a new workplace .

Menlo Park , CA : Crisp Publications.
Strauss, W., & Howe, N. (1991). Generations.

New York : William Morrow.
Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (2000). Generations at work.

New York : American Management Association.


Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: