According to the film about the genius behind the Apple brand (The Man in the Machine), Steve Jobs was renowned for appointing people under 30 into senior positions as he believed their creativity was less likely to be constrained by past experiences.
If you’re not assembling a group to design the world’s next iPhone, however, there’s a chance you’ll have people from four different generations at your next meeting. And your usual meeting format may only suit one of two of them.
Research on the different generations shows that, in very general terms, each age group works and learns differently. This would make sense as the most formative years in any generation’s life will have been influenced by the same world events, economic factos and social conventions – so they are likely to have at least some shared values and expectations, strengths and weaknesses that will not change with time.
The challenge is to understand the differences and find either common ground or compromises that will enable you to reach all of the people (in the room) more of the time. While different authors have slightly different takes on the personality traits, learning styles and their implications for meetings, there does seem to be quite a lot of common ground.
What does this mean for meetings?
Live and let live
Once you appreciate the differences, you can see where misunderstandings might arise and step in to address any negative assumptions.
For example, Generation X may do their best work when they’re home alone, while Baby Boomers like to be the last to leave their desks to demonstrate their strong work ethic.
So make sure everyone understands that both approaches have merit and enable the attendees to do preparation or homework as they prefer, such as handing in feedback forms 1) at the end of the meeting or 2) later by email.
Mix it up
You could also arrange to mix different delivery styles during your meeting so there’s something for everyone. This could be a short lecture (targeting Baby Boomers) followed by small group discussions (for Generation X) then an online or digital activity to engage the Millennials.
(1925-1945) Age: 70-90
- Learned a long time ago to put duty before pleasure
- Loyal to their employer, follow the rules
- Respond well to direct leadership
- Struggle to adapt to the tools of the 21st century
(1946-1964) Age: 51-69
- Learned in formal classroom and lecture-based environments
- Don’t see themselves as an ‘older’ generation – many will actually want to work past retirement age!
- Can struggle with some of the latest training tools
- Think ‘real work’ takes place during set hours in a set place – and they’re willing to put in extra hours to prove their worth
- They’re sensitive to feedback and like to have their hard work recognised with certificates and awards
(1965 – 1980) Age: 35-50
Learned in smaller and more informal groups so less impressed by authority
Like to work ‘their way’ when and where they want, using the latest technology
Sometimes called a ‘data driven’ generation, they prefer clear objectives and tracked results
Want a better work/life balance than the Baby Boomers and would prefer time off for a job well done to other rewards
GENERATION Y (MILLENNIALS)
(1981-1999) Age: 16-34
- Used to self-learning online and find and share their learning on social networks
- Very technically savvy, use technology to learn and work and socialise and play
- A job is just a job – and no job lasts forever
- They see ‘content’ as free and accessible online so will be quickly bored by presentations involving facts and figures they can find themselves in seconds
- However they appreciate the value of meeting online contacts face to face for building relationships so they enjoy discussions in less formal settings
(2000 onwards) Age: 0-15
- This ‘hyper connected’ generation is being shaped by austerity and technology
- They have grown up with the iPhone so they are used to scanning five screens at a time while fiddling with a handheld device
- They have a VERY short attention span
- They like to communicate via fleeting messages (eg Snapchat) rather than leaving a permanent trace, and with symbols (eg Emoji) rather than words. They are leaving Facebook in droves.
- They aspire to being ‘entrepreneurs’ rather than employees – you’ll have a job keeping them engaged with your company
‘What Millenials Want in Meetings’, a free report by the Skirt Team and Meetings Mean Business, posted 30 September 2015
‘Understanding Generational Differences’ by Sarah Vining, The National Conference Centre, Summer 2011
‘Here Comes Generation Z’ by Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg View, 18 June 2014
‘How to Engage a Multigenerational Meeting’ by Chris Ballman, www.successfulmeetings.com, 2 January 2015,
‘Meeting Multi-Generational Meeting’ by Greg Hunter, www.manageuprpm.com
‘4 Tips to Manage your Multi-Generational Attendee Base’ by David McMillin, www.pcma.org, 3 February 2014,
‘The Next Generation of Meeting Attendees’ by David McMillin, www.pcma.org, 26 June 2013