Are Generations Different When It Comes to Change?

A colleague from way back—a marketer I greatly respect—recently asked me if it might be possible to target different messages about change to different generations of workers—different segments, if you will.

This friend has been teaching Marketing on a college campus, and he’s mesmerized by Gen Z and how differently they approach everything. It’s funny, I told him, I was asked a question like this after a recent speech: “How do different generations handle change, and do we need to approach them differently?” This topic must be top-of-mind to many.

There’s no debating that different people approach change differently. In my book, I point to five different people-types that we might run across during a change, but they don’t fall against generational lines. In fact, I don’t talk about generations at all. Could I have missed something important when writing my book? Certainly. (Every book does.)

But the answer is in there anyway. It has to do with people and authenticity.

Once upon a time, organizations thought they could send different angles on their messages to different audiences. Investors, media, employees, the public and policymakers may have heard different twists.

But two things have changed:

1-New communications technology allows all our stakeholders to see what we’re saying to all our audiences; even if we have the best of intentions, we can look duplicitous when we give one twist to one group, and something different to another.

2-Our employees—especially younger employees—expect authenticity from us…in our purpose, in what we say and do, in everything. Given our past actions (see above), they’re skeptical when we couch things differently to different groups.

So, segmenting our messages may bring us better results when marketing, but it will likely bring unintended consequences when we’re leading a change. It may be natural to interact more casually with younger employees, but the message can’t be different. It has to stay true. Our people are watching…they even watch us go to the bathroom (kinda).

During a change, authenticity is fundamental across all generations. Older people may be surprised by it and even unused to it, but to them it’s refreshing, not a turnoff. Younger workers demand it. And while different generations may be more accepting of Change, getting people to want to change takes consistency and real-ness.

So we have to be consistent. We do this by modeling the change through thick and thin; by getting our hands dirty and focusing on inputs, not just outcomes; we pull our people to the change; we listen to (and really want to hear) them.

This is how we win at change…by being authentic about the change. It often means that we as leaders have to change ourselves for the change to be successful. That’s not always easy, but we didn’t take the higher-paying job and think it would be easier, did we??

Let me know what you think. I look forward to being in touch.

Al Comeaux

Primed for Change Community

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Generations

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