A GenX Thanksgiving

Generation X, what are you thankful for? That was the question I posed to Generation X followers of the GenX Manager’s blog, Facebook page, and Twitter.

generation-xWe came of age in a time of great uncertainty, but it molded and shaped us into a generation of authentic, pragmatic and accepting people. We’re not the negative slackers anymore (and perhaps we never were). Our upbringing continues to influence us even today. Check what these GenX-ers are thankful for:

“Thankful to have been born during a time of independence. We weren’t hovered over. We took care of ourselves out of necessity. That made us problem solvers. We have the best innovators. We have real musicians that actually play music not computers. Our bands didn’t start out on the Disney Channel. We know how to pull our own weight and rely on no one else. Lastly, we are the kings of not giving a crap what anybody thinks of us either.” –Stacy S.

“80’s thrash metal!! \m/” –Lester W.

“I’m thankful there was not social media when I was a teen!!! But seriously, I think the timing of our upbringing made us a very creative and self-starting generation.” –David M. 

“I’m thankful for our communication skills. Not to sound like an old fart, but meaningful communication has gone down the toilet.” –Jim W.

“I’m thankful for the sense of independence I developed while growing up. It helped me tackle challenges and take initiative.”—Janet R.

“I’m thankful for my sense of adventure! My kids would rather stay home than be out. That also ties in with my independence. I’m also thankful for my ability to concentrate on things for a very long time. Is ADD an epidemic, or is it a condition of the brain being wired to respond to so many distractions? I worry about this.” –Sabra C.

“That I’m not a helicopter parent. We had to figure a lot out on our own growing up and I think we’re better for it. I am trying to raise my kids to have that same independence and problem-solving ability.” –Jennifer T.

“I’m thankful that social media wasn’t around when we were growing up!” –Tom H. (but a sentiment echoed by multiple respondents) 

“Growing up GenX made me aware of what’s really happening in the world. I don’t always accept what’s being told to us in the media and I try to verify reports that seem questionable. Maybe it’s a lack of trust, but our generation has been burned before.”–Brian B.

“I think Generation X doesn’t care as much what people think. People described us as negative, but I think it’s really just that we’re comfortable being ourselves and are less accepting of bullshit.” –Heather B.

“We have the best music.” –Joe R.

“I am thankful that growing up Generation X made us ‘doers’. We know how to get things done and aren’t afraid to take risks. I wish more people were like that, especially at work.” –Wendy D.

“That our kids are more like us than like Millennials. Yes, they might be addicted to technology but they’re also incredibly informed and tuned in to what’s happening in the world—more so that we were at their age. I think they’re going to be even more kick-ass than we were. “ –Debbie H.

“That we’re still badass. It’s just badass for a different life stage.” –Rob M.

It was so great to go through these and see how much that people of our generation appreciate how our coming-of-age positively influenced us. For me, I am thankful that there are so many people for whom the spirit of TheGenXManager.com is resonating. That being said, I am also thankful that –like Rob says—we’re still badass, that Depeche Mode is still together and touring, and that motorcycle jackets and chokers are back in style (although—true confession—never stopped wearing them).

Care to add to the list? When it comes to being a part of your generation, what are you most thankful for? Leave your comments below. Baby Boomers and Millennials, we want to hear from you too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling College to Generation Z

pexels-photo-267885Greetings from the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in beautiful Atlanta. Thirteen hundred higher ed marketing and communications professionals have gathered to learn and share best practices for recruiting students to their institutions of higher learning. That’s a lot of people whose job it is to tell other people that they should go to college.

It was at this conference in 2012 that Donald Heller, who was Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University at the time and our luncheon keynote speaker, had this to say:

“For the first time in your industry, you, as marketers, are being asked to do something you never had to do before—justify the value of a college education.”

Up to that point, it was widely accepted that a college degree—in anything—was a good investment that would pay out over time. But in 2012, with college costs out of control, a student loan debt crisis and an economy in a slow recovery with a very soft job market, he was right. It wasn’t enough to sell our own institutions. We had to sell college as a good idea.

Five years later, it hasn’t gotten easier. In response to the issue of the value of a college education, educational alternatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and skills-based education (micro credentials and badging) have become increasingly popular. These disrupters, along with a renewed focus on the trades as viable paths to lucrative careers, have changed the conversation about what post-secondary pathways look like.

We also have a generation of high school students that are far more skeptical of the value of college than perhaps any generation that came before. Generation Z watched their Millennial counterparts graduate college and “boomerang” right back to Mom and Dad’s house with poor job prospects and a big student loan bill. They watch their Generation X parents—the most indebted generation–write their own student loan payment checks while trying to save for their children’s education.

As college became more accessible in the second half of the 20th century, each generation has been more educated than the one that came before. That trend could break with GenZ. They’re true digital natives who grew up with any information they wished to access literally at their fingertips, mostly for free. To them, the prospect of four years (or more) in a classroom seems unnecessary. The numbers bear it out: 75 percent of Generation Z believes there are other ways of getting a good education besides going to college.

It certainly presents a challenge for the people whose job it is to sell college, but it’s one we can rise to. As higher education responds to the needs, expectations, and demands of this generation (and it is responding, albeit at the speed of academia), there are messages that can resonate with Generation Z in the short term:

Affordability: GenZ is a pretty financially savvy generation. They’ve already started to save for retirement. They are price sensitive and have high expectations of price to value. Prospective GenZ students are heading straight to the net price calculator on college websites and cost is a major factor in their decision-making.

According to a 2017 study produced by the Center for Generational Kinetics, 24 percent of GenZ students plan to pay for college through personal savings in an effort to reduce their reliance on student loans. Additionally—nearly 40 percent of GenZ students intend to work while they go to college.

For higher ed marketers, this means emphasizing a value message. Highlighting flat or discounted tuition rates, scholarship information and on-campus employment hold sway with this generation.

Practical skills: Members of Generation Z are as pragmatic as their Generation X parents. They want to know that their college experience is going to be meaningful to their post-college life. According to a 2014 study by Northeastern University, 63 percent believe it’s important for colleges to teach entrepreneurship and 85 percent believe they should learn about financial literacy in college. There is also a high expectation of access to experiential learning opportunities as early as their first year of college.

Many institutions are responding to this demand and building these types of learning opportunities into the curriculum. For those that are, highlighting these elements can bring a competitive advantage in the recruitment of Generation Z.

The intangibles: I am not just a higher ed marketer, I am also the GenX parent of a GenZ high school junior who knows that the linear path of four-years-of-college-after-high-school-graduation didn’t work out so well for her old mom. As she herself questions the value of college, she’ll remind me that after I flamed out my third semester, I stopped out and worked part-time and full-time jobs for several years before I realized that a college degree was something that I wanted to attain. Then I’ll tell her about the things I learned in college that had nothing to do with classroom content: time management, navigating complex institutions and dealing with others who have perspectives and experiences different than my own. These are things I wished I learned much earlier than I did in the working world where the stakes were higher.

If that were a college course, it would be “Adulting 101”. For Generation Z students, college is a place to acquire these practical skills in an environment where it is okay to learn some lessons the hard way. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “learning outside the classroom”, a phrase that higher ed marketers are particularly fond of.

As a higher ed marketer for a community college (full disclosure) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well-positioned community colleges are to respond to these needs. Shorter times-to-completion, an emphasis on applied learning and lower tuition costs tick many of GenZ’s boxes.

In discussing such issues with colleagues from around the country from colleges and universities large and small, it was widely acknowledged that reaching students of this generation cannot depend on messaging alone. As an industry, higher education has an opportunity to reexamine if the model that has been in place for decades—centuries in some cases—is the one that can be sustained in an era of rapidly changing technology, globalization and increasingly specialized industry needs. The best viewbook in the world can’t be an effective substitute for a relevant offering—and Generation Z is savvy enough to understand that.

 

But Millennials want different things, right?

I love Jeopardy. Growing up, I would play along with my parents, always relishing the few times I was able to beat Mom or Dad. These days I still try to catch it whenever possible, and I—like so many others– was utterly charmed by recent champion Austin Rogers.

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Millennials want what other generations want. It’s their response to not getting it that’s different.

The New York City bartender who wears secondhand clothes, doesn’t own a television and bikes to work embodied Millennial ethos as he proceeded to wipe the floor with his competition for 12 days to the tune of $411,000, bringing down lawyers, software engineers, journalists and project managers in his wake.

 

That’s how you do it, I thought as I watched. Tend bar. Host trivia nights. Play Jeopardy. That’s working to live, not living to work.

Over the weekend I came across “Adulting So far: Why I Quit My Software Engineering Job” by Jamelle Watson-Daniels. Expecting yet another Millennial quit-lit piece, I found it to be an astute examination of how organizations are failing at meeting the expectations of young, smart people. Watson-Daniels makes that point crystal clear:

“On some level, the outdated company cultures rely on people expecting the job to be a method of survival. But as we expand what it means to have a meaningful life and work to offer that same life standard to all people, this expectation is becoming null and void. I would rather get three roommates, not have children, and offer freelance tutoring than to be in this type of huge company culture.”

As a woman in her 40s with a family and a mortgage, I find it hard to relate to the last line—though I certainly understand it. But the part about having a meaningful life? That hits home for me, and probably does for many people.

We (GenX-ers and Boomers) love to talk about how different Millennials are from the older generations. But studies show that all three generations desire the same outcome: a sense of purpose, to feel that their work matters and that they are contributing to the greater good. A 2015 report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value showed that in a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from companies across 12 countries and six industries, about the same percentage of Millennials (25%) want to make a positive impact on their organization as GenXers (21%) and Baby Boomers (23%).

Turns out we all want the same thing. It’s just the response to not getting it that is different. Boomers will actively disengage. Active disengagement means that not only are these folks unhappy at work, but they go out of their way to express that unhappiness through words, attitudes and actions.

GenXers will grind it out unhappily, doing what they can to bring about organizational culture shifts. Or, they’ll start a business. Generation X is the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.

But Millennials will leave and not look back. They’ll tend bar and play Jeopardy. They’ll work side hustles to make ends meet.

For organizations, this has been a wake-up call. As more of the Boomer workforce continues to retire, they need to attract the next generation of workers, and quickly. And so the workplace is changing, with many organizations focusing on initiatives that foster greater work/life integration, flexibility and autonomy. While the expectations of Millennials generally get credit for the shift, all generations stand to benefit.

Policy changes are a good start, but it’s important for organizations to spend time connecting the dots to show employees how the work they do every day directly impacts the health and success of their workplace. If employees want purpose and meaning, build a compelling case as to how your organization—and their work—are contributing to the greater good.

 

 

 

 

Change Management: Tips for GenX Managers

Depositphotos_21382617_s-2015In the modern workplace, there isn’t much that doesn’t fall under the heading of “change.” When organizations have to respond quickly to shifting market conditions, changing regulations and rapid advances in technology, employees can feel like they’re in a constant state of flux. Organizations need to continually adapt and adjust in order to succeed.

For Generation X, whose coming of age was laced with uncertainty, change isn’t necessarily a negative. If an organizational change will solve a known problem or lead to an improved future state, pragmatic GenXers are likely to get on board. Perhaps even more importantly, they’re able to share the vision, get buy-in and support fellow employees through the change. Many GenX managers find themselves initiating change or implementing change, depending on the type of change and where they might fall on the org chart.

When the vision is yours: initiating change

Whether you’re a CEO developing a new strategic plan for your organization, a department head looking to improve productivity or a team leader who wants to modify a process, the steps are similar.

  • Build a compelling case: Resistance to change often comes from two places: 1) uncertainty of the impact of the change, or the employee’s role in it, and 2) prior changes have failed to deliver the intended results. This means that as a leader and an initiator of change, you’ll have to do a fair amount of convincing. It’s worth the effort. Tap into that GenX pragmatism and help your people understand why the change is needed and highlight the benefits of the change. Get them to envision a future state where the problem is solved.
  • Seek feedback and input: Good leaders are self-aware enough to know “they don’t know what they don’t know.” Bringing stakeholders to the table to weigh in can uncover potential blind spots and improve upon existing ideas. Additionally, seeing their input considered and even implemented will help stakeholders buy into the vision and become your champions of change.
  • Develop your communication strategy: Organizational communication is a tough issue on its own. Tying it to a change initiative raises the stakes even higher. Err on the side of overcommunication, using specific examples on how this change will allow the organization, department or team to better deliver on its mission. GenX managers—resist the urge to use email as your primary communication channel. Talking to people in person allows them to ask questions and feel heard, and may be an efficient way to work through some issues before they arise.

Being a change agent: implementing change

Okay, so it’s not your vision, but you are expected to provide leadership on implementing a change. This is a very common role in change management and is not without some potential complications. Some things to remember:

  • Visibly support the change: That natural GenX skepticism is good for anticipating future problems, but can be a barrier to getting the necessary buy-in from others. Visibly supporting a change doesn’t mean ignoring potential pitfalls. Those can be acknowledged—perhaps even solved–while still getting people to focus on the goal of an improved future state.
  • Realize the importance of your role as a leader. Strong leadership at all levels is one of the most important factors in change management. According to a recent survey by Eagle Hill Consulting, 94% of employees who were happier after a change said that their manager was a role model during the change. What you say and what you do matters.

Leading people through change can be a daunting task. Even seemingly small changes can have an impact on how people perform their day-to-day work. But done carefully and thoughtfully, change management can ease people through the necessary transitions that will allow an organization to improve.