I have celebrated more birthdays than I like to claim. During that time, I have observed my segment of the Boomer population go from fresh faced we-can-do-anything types to heavy movers and shakers in the management of all types of businesses throughout this great country. While addressing a business group recently on the state of our current workforce, I observed something shocking we Boomers have become our parents! We have become old, especially in our business management and operations thinking.
During my address about the current northern Nevada economic situation and how that has affected the workforce, I heard many individuals wonder "When will we return to the way it was?" The obvious answer is we never will return to yesterday. This seemed to shock them. They want the comfort and security of predictable sales met by a dedicated workforce satisfied with the paternal pat on the head offered as standard management reward.
To that way of thinking, I say: You're too old. One thing I have observed during my many years is that old people can be recognized by their inability to cope with change and move with the flow. This creates a logjam and everything around them comes to a halt. They don't realize that what got them here won't get them there.
Perhaps it would be best if such old people moved on and gave the impatient younger generations the opportunity to try their management ideas. We Boomers pushed the previous generation out of the way as fast as we could and now these same pushers are hindering the GenXers and Millennials from pushing them out of the way.
Fear is a four-letter word that seems to infect many of those who are too old. These managers believe change is occurring way too fast, they are afraid to hire for change, are often intimidated by the new younger individual, are slow to innovate and are definitely averse to risk. They should be aware that their hungry competitors don't share these fears.
None of this is meant to be insulting. Rather it is meant to be a wake up call to either adapt or step aside. For example, if you remember secretaries, dictation, newspaper-only help wanted ads, pink telephone message slips, or typed letters with carbon paper copies, then you are no longer the fresh face in the workplace. Do you remember these items fondly and miss them, or are you grateful for their current replacements? Do you long for a secretary who can print out your emails so you can write an answer for her to send, or do you enjoy the freedom of responses controlled entirely by you?
The answers to these questions will give you a broad idea of whether or not you are too old. Knowing that yesterday will never return, and that tomorrow will be different from today, helps keep your management style young. Living only in your past successes limits your flexibility to survive this business downturn and almost guarantees total collapse in any future events.
Being old does not have to be a problem. Older individuals can still be in control. But they must realize that business stability means the business survived yesterday. Period. Survival today and tomorrow will bring appropriate future stability. Survival today and tomorrow is not guaranteed however. It must be earned.
So how does an older manager avoid the above pitfalls and move ahead? Primarily by recognizing change and that change is the only constant in life. Change might be good, change might be bad. But change will happen.
When change is recognized, it can be dealt with in a positive fashion. For example, during this recession, individuals have learned that they need constant training that will benefit themselves and their employers. Many unemployed individuals have returned to various training facilities and have honed previous skills or actually learned entirely new skill sets. Many cutting-edge employers have either sponsored in-house staff trainings or reimbursed individuals willing to get new training on their own time.
Truckee Meadows Community College has seen record enrollments as more and more individuals seek education in all areas of interest to business. Older managers should also consider enrolling in classes to update their skills. Being a manager or owner does not guarantee all answers on all issues. In addition to TMCC, UNR Extended Studies and Nevada Association of Employers among others, offer many fine management courses that help bring today's business practices into focus.
Additionally, it would benefit all older Boomers to participate in sessions on generational differences. Most know of GenXers and Millennials but are they prepared for Generation Z? Have they ever heard of the Zs? A greater awareness and understanding of the younger workforce will enable them to become mentors rather than old out of touch bosses. Mentoring is a positive legacy that gives rewards long after the manager moves out of the workforce.
Employers benefit from all of this training by having a workforce that is up to date on industry innovation, can perform better than previously, and brings greater productivity which improves the bottom line. As the recovery gathers momentum, workers will be seeking even greater support from management for ever more training.
Older managers must seek out training that gives an edge to their companies and employees. Refinement and redefinition of all of the skill sets defined as necessary will help the company stay competitive. Today's workforce still wants to do a good job. Forward-thinking managers will define and offer what that good job is so they can attract the best workforce.
Older managers don't have to originate all of the ideas for their company. Bringing in others will help with that burden. An age-diversified staff can make the older manager younger because of their ideas. These ideas could include attracting a new customer base. Yesterday's customers have probably moved on, and failure to react accordingly will rekindle the fear factor.
As young Boomers, we never thought of growing old or that our ideas would become stale. We thought we would be young and innovative in our management forever. Now that idea is severely challenged. We must adapt or step aside. Age should not limit thinking. Exciting Boomer managers know that being Too Old is still down the road.
Prepare for bad times. Plan on good times. Think young!
Tom Fitzgerald is chief executive officer of Nevadaworks.