Managers today might lead teams with Baby Boomers and Generation-Z members. How does a good manager lead such a diverse set of employees?
Guy Smith: Hello and welcome again to another episode of the Tough Things First podcast, a weekly dive into management leadership and a bit of Silicon Valley as well. I’m your host this week, Guy Smith, and I’m going to dive into a topic here that I personally find fascinating. This may not have happened before in our society, but we’re at a point where we have four different generations active in the workforce right now, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, the Millennials, and Generation Z is just now entering the workforce.
In Silicon Valley, we’ve got an eclectic mix of young turks and gray beards, so Silicon Valley is a good place to kind of think about how you lead such radically different people, and who better than to ask than the longest-serving CEO in Silicon Valley. That’s of course Mr. Ray Zinn, and how are you today, Ray?
Ray Zinn: Well good, Guy. I’m trying to get over a cold, but we’re managing our way through it. This is an interesting topic that you’ve got today. So let’s kind of dive right into it.
Guy Smith: Yeah, I’m really fascinated by this because from a leadership standpoint, from an organizational policy standpoint, there are a lot of different parts of the fabric that are tugging against each other. So let’s start with the extremes. The Baby Boomers are on end and we’ll stop with the Millennials at the other end for the time being. For me, contrast the motivational differences you see between Boomers and Millennials. What is it that they respond to differently in an organizational setting?
Ray Zinn: Well one advantage that I have of course is that I’ve been able to span at least three of those generations. I don’t know if you consider me a Baby Boomers but I did come out of the second world war where I was just a youth. And my grandparents, which would be in the pre-first world war, they had a different environment they were in. Horse and buggy was still the fare, as you would. Cars were just coming into being. The way people traveled, the way they moved together as families, was entirely different than it was for me when I grew up. I grew up, basically our families were all kind of together and we didn’t move anywhere. I mean, we stayed in the same spot. So our cultural differences were minimal and there wasn’t the huge immigration issue that we face today, with a more diverse society.
Each generation does experience different cultural changes, and I think that’s the biggest different. Recognizing those cultural changes and differences is key to running a successful workforce. My tenure at Micrel, which I started in 1978, I actually had 17-year-olds working for us at the time, and then by the time I sold the company they actually were grandparents. So it was kind of interesting to see this whole span of people going from basically high schoolers to being grandparents.
Guy Smith: Well let’s talk about the Baby Boomers vis-a-vis the Millennials for a second. I just finished reading P.J. O’Rourke’s book about the Baby Boomers generation, and he made the observation that the Boomers started by saying they weren’t going to obey any rules, and then immediately became their parents. So that generation held on to a bit of the previous generation’s work ethic, raising the family, keeping a steady job, those were centrally important. The Millennials tend to have some other attitudes towards corporations, especially the way the corporation presents themself ethically in public. What other contrasts are you seeing between these two groups? How do they differ?
Ray Zinn: Well you just mentioned it. I mean, there’s a difference in the way they view their job, the way they view their work environment. So if you go back to the ’60s, which we had the free love and experimentation with LSD, and all that sort of thing, that hippie era. People were carefree and they were just more interested in experimenting. So the Baby Boomers, as you call them, were influenced by all of this hippie environment that we had back in the late ’50s and ’60s. The Millennials, when they came about, their huge influx, especially in Silicon Valley, of immigrants. So the workplace began to change a lot with the immigration from Vietnam and from the Philippines and China, some of the Asian countries, had a big influence on Millennials and the way they viewed their responsibilities in the workplace.
I think it’s really, the generational differences, because of the environment that has changed so much is what’s caused the differences in the way they view their work environment.
Guy Smith: Well, and these attitudes directly effect the way they view the corporation, the way they view their teammates. So here’s the part which I’m having trouble with having been in management roles myself and that’s, how do you effectively lead a team that could potentially have people on it that have 40 years of difference in their lifespan. People who were born when Elvis was still not quite yet the king of rock and roll to kids today who have never owned a CD and have always streamed music directly to their devices. That’s a large gap of ages. How do you form a cohesive team? How do you manage such diversity on a day-to-day basis?
Ray Zinn: Well at Micrel we had people that were in their 70’s still working, because people are working longer now than they did in the past, in other words they’re not retiring as early, and we had some at the company that were 17, 18 years old. So these were like grandparents to these other employees. I think the Millennials tend to be less respectful of age. In other words, they didn’t care whether you were two generations ahead of them or a grandparent age or not. So again, they didn’t grow up in the same environment. They didn’t have floppy disks and that sort of thing. They weren’t around to see the rapid changes in technology that the older folks had seen.
To get them to work together we had to really get them to understand each other and where these differences amounted to. So I don’t know that we could put on finger on say, “Okay, what should we do different in the way we manage them?” other than to recognize that you might have your grandchildren working for you as opposed to just your peers. Because people are older in the workplace and they don’t see things the same way that you do, speaking now to those who are Millennials. Like in all things, we have to learn to get along and to understand where each other are coming from so that we don’t step on toes and actually disturb the relationships that are so important to keep the company running smoothly.
Guy Smith: Is creating that meeting of the minds, that cross-cultural exposure and education, something that front-line managers need to be working on at a hands-on level?
Ray Zinn: Well, I mean the Millennials have to learn to get along with the other people too. In other words, they have to learn to accept the fact that the Baby Boomers or the older group are not as socially active. In other words, they might not understand when you’re talking about Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Messenger. To them, they barely know how to operate a computer. So we have to make sure we understand each other’s language and what we’re interested in.
So I think, again, the point is getting along means you have to accept the differences and where each other has their work experience. The older generation are willing to put in longer hours, whereas the younger ones are not. I mean, they’re not used to putting in the 10, 12, 15-hour days. So we just have to accept the fact that there are going to be differences and then work with those differences.
Guy Smith: Well and given that the Millennials generation, one of their themes is inclusiveness, them being inclusive of the older workers in the workforce seems like a natural point of education on them. I tell you what, let’s be a little bit speculative here. The next generation, Generation Z, these are people who are born starting in the mid-1990s, when practically every household already had an internet connection. They have a much different view of the world than even the Millennials had. They make up 25% of the population and they’re just now really entering the workforce. What should we be thinking about in terms of leading and managing this new born-in-the-internet-world generation?
Ray Zinn: Well there’s going to be less differences between that Generation Z and the Millennials because the technology, it is very similar to what the Millennials grew up with. So you’ll see less differences in the way they view social responsibility, and just the whole environment of the internet and social media, and actually how to execute on a business plan. The older generation of course are focused on just the nuts and bolts of running the company whereas the younger generations, even the Millennials and Generation Z, are going to be focused on, “How do we use this tremendous horse power that we have with these super-speed computers and the internet?” Things are just going faster and faster and faster, artificial intelligence, the robotics and so forth, where these younger people are really going to be faced with a entire different responsibility.
If you think about, the studies say that within the next 15, 20 years there may be as many as 40% of the population of the world won’t be working because of just having the robotics do it. Whether it be a robotic vacuum cleaner or some other form of medical roboticism. So the techniques that we use today will not be used in 20, 30 years from now.
Guy Smith: That’s a good point, and I think there’s going to be a mega shift in terms of people’s attitudes towards work when so much of the routine work gets replaced and people have to rethink how they’re contributing to the workforce.
Ray Zinn: The real differences are going to get less and less between the newer generation than there’s between the older generation. The older generation saw much more rapid technological change than the Generation Z and the Millennials have seen or will see. So we need to bear that in mind as we go forward. I know some of these companies aren’t even hiring individuals over 45. I got a friend that was applying at a local high-tech company, you don’t have to put your age down on your application but you can’t hide how you look. So when he went in there, and he has a very good resume, he’s a very competent and highly educated software engineer, they took one look and the interview lasted about five minutes. He had heard, indirectly, that they just weren’t hiring anybody over 45. This friend of mine is 63.
So they want the groups to be more of the same clan, as you would, of the same educational and social background than to have these huge differences between those that are in their 60’s and 70’s and others in their 20’s. So I think that’s the reason some of these companies are, even though legally they can’t do that, they are limiting the workforce to being younger.
Guy Smith: Well and I suspect that they’re shooting themselves in the foot by doing so. There’s an essential quality to age, experience, and wisdom, and if you don’t have that in your organization you are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Ray Zinn: For the past, yep.
Guy Smith: Yeah. My father, he was a satellite engineer and he ended up going back to work for the company he worked for as a young man as kind of a senior scientist. His entire job for about 10 years before he finally retired was he would sit and wait for a young engineer to come in and say, “Oh, I’ve got this great idea. Why don’t we try it this way?” And my dad would smile and turn to him and go, “Well when we tried that back in 1971 this is what happened.” Yeah, and he probably saved his companies millions of dollars in just not repeating the same mistake over again.
Ray Zinn: There’s some value, by the way Guy, in having this diversity. Culturally we have a lot of diversity, but we need the diversity in age also in order to have a well-rounded company, is my belief. Those companies that are limiting the age levels to the younger generation, as you have said, I think are making a mistake.
Guy Smith: Speaking of this whole age difference thing one thing I want to point out to the audience, Ray’s second book, The Zen of Zinn, I believe is a good management leadership reading book. One of the reasons is that in that book, Ray dives in quite a bit into the interactions between people, businesses, society. These are the cross-sectional perspectives that the Millennial generation is holding onto. And so Zen of Zinn, after of course you finish reading Ray’s first book Tough Things First, I think it’s going to be required reading for any of the entrepreneurs out there because it’s going to give you that rather wholistic view of how you integrate all these different components together in a way that makes sense for you, for your business, and most importantly for your employees, ’cause they’re the ones who are helping you create value in the world.