Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Bridging the Gap

A recent commentary from Mediapost:

By Lindsay Schutte Friday, September 4, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?
Let's get something straight. Disdain for a young, upcoming generation by an older, dominant generation is not a new phenomenon. The last go-around was between the civic-minded GI Generation and the rebellious Baby Boomers. The storyline of generational change may be different this time, but the sentiment survives.

As America has awoken to a new upcoming generation, age-based bashing has become all too commonplace. The latest targets are the members of Generation Y. The latest buzz-worthy story was in USA Today last month. The article is about research conducted by Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. The thesis of the story is that social networks make Gen Y narcissistic. While a thoughtful discussion about the research methodology may be in order, my bigger concern is about the underlying sentiment. Essentially, there is a "problem" with these young people.

I don't believe there is a problem with the people; there is a problem with the discussion. If we can get beyond the disdain and the negative commentary, then we may get somewhere. Bashing the upcoming generation is simply a disservice. They are who they are.

Since the goal of this column is to enable all of us to learn more about Generation Y, I want to suggest three ideas to keep in mind.

1 - If you want to engage in a conversation with Gen Y, then start by listening.

Generation Y is marked by an interest in sharing their opinions and preferences. If the news feeds on Facebook are a bit overwhelming, try another approach. In-person conversations seem old fashioned, but they are remarkably effective. If you are managing Gen Ys, then do your best to ask them how they feel. If you want them to buy your product, ask them to help you create it.

2 - Members of Gen Y tend to be confident -- use it to your advantage.

Sometimes when I speak with people who manage Gen Yers, they plainly state that they don't like the generation. "It is full of entitled individuals who don't show adequate respect." It may be true. However, most of the hubris comes from a place of confidence. Generally speaking, this is a generation of people who grew up working towards and achieving goals. If you want to teach, mentor, or manage them, leverage the confidence. Give them a task that seems too big, and then see if they can handle it. If they can, then you have another strong team member. If they cannot, well, life is full of lessons.

3 - Gen Y likes their parents.

It's true. Our research shows that parents are among the most influential people in the life of a Gen Yer, even when they are living away from home and are in their 20s and 30s. This is not a generation that was raised to rebel against their parents. They genuinely like them and rely upon them. Don't be afraid to leverage that relationship. If you want to sell something to Gen Yers, then try exploring the unique dynamics between Boomers and Yers.

Last, but most certainly not least, don't bend so much that you break. Sometimes a thoughtful discussion may be out of the question. So in the words of my mother, "If you can't say something nice, then maybe you shouldn't say anything at all."

Lindsay Schutte is Director of Frank N. Magid Associate's Generational Strategy Program. She works with new and traditional media companies, consumer packaged goods companies, and non-profit organizations to chart a research-based strategic direction, with a particular emphasis on generational strategies. Frank N. Magid Associates has provided research-based strategic insight for over 50 years. With clients in more than 25 industries and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Dallas, Frank N. Magid Associates upholds the highest standards in research, strategy, and client service. Reach her here.

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