The invention of the bridge changed the scope of transportation, commerce, and communication. Using engineering skills and brute force, mankind developed a solution to span great divides.
Considering the chasm that separates Millennials from older workers, corporations could learn a thing or two from these architectural marvels. A growing generational gap has sapped productivity and success from countless companies. Although Millennials have already become the largest generation in the workforce (Pew Research Center, 2015), the modern business environment falls short of the expectations of this generation.
Why else would a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicate that only 18 percent of Millennials (PwC, Millennials at Work report, 2011) plan to remain with their current employer for the long haul? Baby Boomers and Generation X managers find these trends frustrating, but that does not mean they can afford to simply ignore the preferences of young workers.
The root of the problem can be traced to a disconnect between the wants and needs of these age groups. Millennials crave personal development and a collaborative environment, which flies in the face of the competitive, individualistic drives so coveted by Boomers and Gen Xers. In fact, 38 percent of Millennials have trouble relating to older managers (PwC, Millennials at Work report, 2011).
Is this abyss crossable? Absolutely. But it will take human innovation, ingenuity, and moxie to break down silos and adopt a philosophy that speaks to both audiences through competitive collaboration.
Where Rivalry and Teamwork Meet
Competitive collaboration might sound like an oxymoron, but it offers a perfect middle ground between the expectations of older and younger workers. Small groups can foster a healthy sense of competition while working together on projects, meeting the needs of all team members at once. This approach fosters culture, hope, and prosperity in a safe and productive way.
Of course, a pivot toward competitive collaboration requires an investment and commitment from CEOs, executives, and supervisors to adopt the necessary leadership principles:
1. Practice servant leadership
The last thing warring factions want is a leader who imposes his or her will. Instead of slamming doors shut, open them wide. True leaders ask questions and then make decisions based on the answers of their employees. This process increases trust and promotes collaboration.
Millennials appreciate an open and honest dialogue; they feel more comfortable in a transparent environment. At the same time, Boomers and Generation X employees enjoy discussing and dissecting available options.
Once you establish a culture of collaboration, you can begin to add layers of competition to the mix. Be explicit with the group about when you expect competition in the form of a group decision. Be clear about ownership; some projects and tasks will require one person to step up as a leader. Illustrate how competitive collaboration works by living this principle. Your younger team members will learn to compete while still enjoying the benefit of teamwork.
2. Mix it up
We recently consulted with one company mired in disengagement and an "us against them" mentality. The office layout was littered with cubicles and old-school touches. It was the polar opposite of an environment where Millennials might want to work.
We suggested that the company revamp the corporate layout and its traditional landscape, but the company's higher-ups initially disagreed with our suggestion. As a compromise, the company dedicated one floor of the organization to personal development. We changed the structure inside and out, and the spirit of competitive collaboration helped triple production for that team. Meanwhile, production for the rest of the company remained flat.
The positive shifts for that team stemmed from a deliberate effort to introduce new ways of thinking and doing. Instead of embracing dated philosophies that were drowning the company, we tore down boundaries and built up individuals. We flipped the script and increased employee energy. Without the old trappings and mental blocks, this team could explore all available possibilities without shackles.
3. Introduce a new ecosystem
When languishing sports franchises hire coaches to revitalize a team, they rarely come to their new job alone. These coaches bring along trusted assistants who see their vision and believe in a specific system. After careful evaluation, the coaching staff outlines its processes and insists on complete collaboration. If the athletes show they can function as a supportive team, they can more effectively compete against opponents.
The same holds true in corporate America. When a new ecosystem is introduced, employees are forced out of their comfort zones. From the top down, everything changes based on upper management and its unique vision. For recent hires, this creates opportunities for advancement; if the current star player – a sales manager or IT leader, for example – cannot embrace the system, another player will step up to fill the void. Workers can quickly see how competition within the parameters of collaboration can lead to professional development and a stronger team.
Love it or hate it, Millennials have permanently altered the state of the workplace. Smart leaders will recognize this change as a chance for evolution; those who cling to the past will become footnotes in business history books. Instead of lamenting the massive generational crevasse between older and younger workers, build bridges to foster powerful – and financially rewarding – alliances.
Learn more about honing your company culture apart to retain great employees and sell your company to potential candidates by reading Glassdoor’s eBook, Culture Codes of Best Places to Work.
About the Author:
Michael Ray Newman is the president and CEO of ZZI. ZZI transforms businesses, changes lives, and trains people to be leaders. Michael has committed his life to helping others and inspiring employees with high energy and higher expectations. Follow ZZI on Facebook and Michael on Twitter.