Our generation gets a bad rap for supposedly being behind the times and slow to learn. Experts, however, tell us that nothing can be further from the truth. Here is some advice and reassurance for boomers who may be wondering if the times have indeed passed them by and there's nothing they can do to catch up.
Steve Sims and Doug Stephen are two top executives at two top companies in the training field, and I spoke with each of them recently to get a clearer sense of how boomers are doing and how they match up to younger generations.
Doug is Senior VP of CGS, a global business applications, enterprise learning and outsourcing services company. He works extensively in the development of training programs targeted to all age groups, and is quick to debunk the myth that boomers are behind the curve. For Doug, individual personality differences are much more of a challenge than generational differences.
Steve Sims is on the same page. As Chief Design Officer of Badgeville, a Silicon Valley company that uses gamification to drive productivity and engagement for organizations, he observes that personalization of learning tools is what determines training success, not age or generation.
Gamification may be a new concept for boomers, but it derives from the same kinds of socially-based motivational tools we're all familiar with from our youth. It is not about playing games or video-games per se, but uses the competitive and collaborative aspects of game playing to facilitate learning and team-based performance. Remember S&H Green Stamps? The kind of motivation that spurred you and your family to collect those stamps, paste them into those books, and redeem them for merchandise, is the same kind of motivation that is at play in today's corporate gamification systems, where you earn badges for hitting milestones and deadlines. In a competitive environment, badges and other similar concepts are ways to engage employees, and focus them on success in a fun and collaborative way.
For Doug, training generations together is key. The only difference he observes between boomers and younger generations is that boomers will tend to read the technology as something that they have to learn in order to gain the knowledge. Younger generations will use the technology to go right to the knowledge without spending a lot of time figuring out how to use the technology. So there is a slight conceptual delay as boomers feel the need to master the tech first before they can use it. Millennials and gen-xers just jump right in. But once all generations are on the same page, the differences are all individual. Some people are visual learners, while others are more verbal. At CGS, Doug will often develop a core learning module, but then develop a set of different methodologies around that module so that each trainee can interact with it in their own way. Once again, generational differences play very little part in determining success.
For Steve, there are two factors necessary to successfully implement training across generations. First, it is vital to remove what he calls "friction," from the training process. This goes to the design of the training systems so that they can be picked up and used effectively by all trainees, regardless of age or learning orientation. The second factor is effective "onboarding" of a training methodology -- the proper introduction, messaging and ramp-up of a program. This process answers trainee questions and dispels doubts before training begins. Properly executed, these two factors allow different types of learners to adopt the training tools effectively.
Both Steve and Doug agree that there are far more similarities across generations then there are differences. In fact, as Doug points out, it is vital to have all generations learning together. He doesn't believe in the idea of training older workers separately from younger workers on the mistaken notion that they "learn differently." If there are any differences, bringing them together in a learning environment is actually the best way to iron out those differences, but more importantly it promotes and effects the kind of synergies that will produce great results in the real work environment.
Despite this good news, there are still two points that boomers should consider in order to "up-level" their game:
1. Be better "self advocates."
Millennials are often accused of acting entitled, but Steve sees this phenomenon a little differently. To him, millennials are good about asking for what they want, and are looking for transparency and feedback from their supervisors. He identifies this as "self advocacy." Millennials want to know exactly what is expected of them, and want to know exactly how to go about achieving success. Boomers are more used to figuring things out on their own, or just somehow muddling through. Steve thinks that we can and should learn from millennials how to become better self advocates for what we need. This is particularly true in a fast-paced, rapidly changing workplace where teamwork is more prized than ever, and working in close synchronization with others is essential.
2. Remember that learning is now a life-long practice.
Boomers grew up to believe that our education would likely carry us through our careers. Today, things are changing too fast, and the need to constantly grow and acquire new skills is much more accepted by younger generations. Boomers should take advantage of the multiplicity of online and offline learning and training options to step up and to be more open and willing to expand their repertoire of knowledge and skills.
If Boomers can be more nimble and adaptable and willing to learn, then they are going to be powerful and effective solution providers in this new economy. Boomers' experience and wisdom, coupled with their acceptance of lifelong learning, make them essential and effective complements to younger generations. Younger workers may understand new methodologies, but they can benefit from our experience to help them actually navigate solutions and figure out effective strategies. Encouraging and supporting older workers to stay in the workforce represents a win-win for organizations looking to stay ahead of the curve and remain competitive in the digital age.