Effective Feedback Bridges Generation and Communication Gaps

Leaders should take age diversity in the workplace seriously

Our workplaces are more diverse than ever, and it’s important that we acknowledge and embrace that diversity – including age diversity.

More millennials enter the workforce every day, even as more baby boomers defer retirement. Meanwhile, some members of the veteran generation continue to make valuable contributions to our businesses.

Each generation, as we all know, brings its own characteristics, qualities and quirks to the workplace. Good leaders understand this and know how to tailor communications to specific generational audiences, ensuring the messages are not only delivered, but also enthusiastically received and put into action.

Sharing effective feedback is an important aspect of any leader’s skill set, which means good leaders understand how to shape feedback for the generation receiving it.

Here’s a quick look at the major generational groupings and characteristics you can take note of to ensure your feedback is heard and utilized:

MILLENNIALS (born between 1980-1995)

  • Use their impatience to your advantage, by being specific and getting to the point.
  • Shape goals and deliverables for rapid turnaround and accomplishment.
  • When needed, use feedback to demonstrate that for some tasks, slow and steady is the best way to go.
  • Capitalize on millennials’ technology comfort levels—email, texts, video chat and GoToMeeting can be effective with millennial audiences.
  • Make summary lists of feedback and invite the millennial employee to do the same; and compare notes and show how you can learn from each other.
  • Use humor and, if appropriate, irony in your feedback sessions.

GENERATION X (born between 1965 – 1979)

  • Gen-X-ers love a challenge, so make sure your feedback, like their work, includes stimulating and thought-provoking responsibilities when presented.
  • Implement flexibility and nonstandard approaches when possible.
  • Be cognizant of their dedication to family time, and negotiate a fair balance between their home life and their professional responsibilities.
  • Offer opportunities for further training and education if you—and especially they—feel their potential are not fully engaged.
  • Reward positive performance quickly.
  • Provide written copies of evaluations—a tangible copy that they can take home.

GENERATION JONES (born between 1954-1965)

  • Be aware of the stage of careers your Generation Jones team members are at—they’re liable to be discerning or even resistant if they don’t like the options or choices you present.
  • Put this discernment and desire for choices into the structure of your feedback, discussing the options that most appeal to them: some might prefer more flex-time to a raise, for instance.
  • Feedback sessions should include big questions and large career issues: long-term goals, security and late-stage career growth opportunities are important to members of this generation.

BABY BOOMERS (born between 1946-1964)

  • A diverse group still eager and willing to embrace innovation and experimentation. Boomers want to prove they are still cutting-edge capable.
  • Big goals are especially important to Boomers—they want to make sure at this stage of their careers that they are “making their mark.”
  • Your feedback sessions should include discussions of the employee’s overall goals for this phase of their career.
  • Retirement and financial security are vital to Boomers, and your feedback should acknowledge and address these concerns through planning, strategizing and reaching agreed-upon goals.
  • Productive communication involves careful listening—invite Boomer’s to contribute their own feedback, and show that you’re willing to learn from their experience and opinions.

THE VETERAN GENERATION (born between 1922-1943)

  • Be aware that at this stage of their lives, employees may not have the stamina or endurance they once possessed.
  • Shape your feedback to the changing nature of the employee’s capabilities, making sure that you acknowledge their continuing contribution even as you are realistic about changes in their abilities (number of hours they can comfortably work, etc.).
  • Make clear that you want this phase of their career to be as rewarding and fulfilling as possible – and work with the employee to design a schedule of responsibilities that delivers this.

While different generations utilize various feedback skills and techniques, try to take every opportunity to bring members of various generations together and embrace their different styles of thinking. Older-generation team members can share their experience with younger ones, while the younger folks can help make their seniors more comfortable with new methodologies and technologies that have transformed.

There are no real generation gaps — only communication gaps. Your use of generationally-targeted feedback strategies, along with cross-generational dialogue, especially feedback, will establish and enhance your workplace as one featuring multi-faceted communication and opportunity for employees of all ages.

Marjorie (Margie) M. Mauldin, Feedback Revolution author, speaker and Denver-based Executive Forum’s founder and president, works with Fortune-100 companies, government agencies and municipalities on leadership and feedback training — helping them improve their results, outcomes and business relationships.  For more information, visit ExecutiveForum.net, ilovefeedback.com or twitter.com/ExecForumCO.  For questions, please contact Margie directly at Margie.mauldin@executiveforum.net.