How To Be a Change Agent Using Generational Strengths

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Generational differences can be either a stumbling block or a launchpad to a more innovative workplace. It depends on how individuals and organizations choose to handle change, invite feedback and foster communication and collaboration.

Members of Generation Y – those born roughly in the early 1980s to the early 2000s – are increasingly entering the workforce. At 86,000,000 strong, they comprise the largest cohort America has ever seen. Because this group is roughly three times the size of Gen X (generally born early-mid 1960s to early 1980s), the impact of Gen Y is bound to be significant. Gen Y, also known as the Millennial generation, have experienced life differently from previous generations. Case in point: they’ve grown up with the Internet. These unique experiences shape Millennials as a group, and they will have different approaches to work compared with their Gen X and Baby Boomer (1944-1964) colleagues.

Gen Y employees bring unique and necessary strengths to their work:

  • They’re great at collaborating and making work engaging.
  • They know how to get work done.
  • They are persistent advocates for customers and usability.
  • They’re native users of technology and welcome innovation that makes sense and improves communication.
  • They can provide meaningful insights into a massive market that comprises 21 percent of consumer spending, such as how they prefer to receive information and make purchases. For example, should you communicate using infographics, videos, social channels or email?

On the flip side, generational differences can contribute to the resistance young professionals face when advocating for change, particularly in traditional work environments. The problem with this is twofold: First, the organization that doesn’t invite the participation of younger workers may be deprived of opportunities to leverage great ideas in areas of Millennials’ core competencies, which often include technology, process “hacks” and improvements in work culture. Second, Millennials frustrated by opposition, may be limiting their options for career success either by not sharing their insights in a way that could be adopted by others or by leaving the company.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to the Reno Midtown Rotary Club on the topic of “Millenials as Change Agents.”  These local Rotarians are mostly Millennials, and are effective change agents in their own right. They’ve evolved the Rotary Club experience for their members and elevated the nature of service to the community. As role models, mentors, visionaries and collaborators, they’ve built in a good structure to incite and inspire other change agents.

Mentoring, collaborating and communicating are the keys that enable members of all generations to be successful change agents. Here are some tips for fine-tuning that effectiveness:

  • Start with a clear purpose: Define your compelling reason for why your organization exists, or at the very least why the change should be enacted. Answering ”why” can establish a powerful vision for the future, beyond the immediate changes suggested. Define it so it is clear and inspiring. Invite others to share in your vision.
  • Use “systems thinking”: Know your stakeholders and understand why structures, hierarchies and processes exist in their current form. Then involve influencers and look for tipping points where beneficial changes could more easily be achieved.
  • Engage experienced mentors: Honor the past and present while creating the future together. Why? Wisdom comes from people, and you don’t know what you don’t know. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg sought the experience and wisdom of seasoned colleagues such as Sheryl Sandberg.
  • Be persistent: Don’t let others’ fear of the unknown discourage you from leading positive change. Find a way to help them see past the unknown, and inspire them to want to explore the unbeaten path with you.
  • Make it stick: Focus on adoption, usability, communication and integration of the new “way” into the natural “way” people work.

Here are some of my personal favorite books for change agents: