Talent Strategies for the Multi-Gen Workforce

Talent Strategies for the Multi-Gen WorkforcePosted by Dr. Michael Gelles on December 11, 2012

With four generations — Veterans, Boomers, Generation X and Millennials — currently in the workforce, it’s not uncommon for government managers to adapt their management style to their own generation rather than fully consider how to manage a multigenerational workforce. On the contrary, all four generations are ultimately looking for the same thing in the workplace— an opportunity to serve the public interest in an engaging way, work-life balance and opportunities to develop professionally.

However, the question remains: Even if Federal workers want the same things, how can four generations work best together in today’s increasingly cost constrained environment? Below is a five step approach to effectively manage multi-generational workforces who are better equipped to deliver on their agency’s mission.

  1. Embrace flexibility
    Establish clear performance standards and provide flexibility in a way that each employee meets those standards. This will allow each generational segment—and each individual—to tailor his/her employee experience to his/her interests and needs. For example, while many Millennials might choose to get their HR issues answered through an online instant messaging system, Baby Boomers strongly prefer to pick up the phone and talk to a live employee support person.
    Just as a consumer goods company’s competitiveness is dependent upon its ability to produce a collection of unique products that appeal to targeted consumer segments, Federal agencies must develop a suite of options that enables employees of all generations to be successful through the method(s) of their choosing. This, of course, does not mean adapting every talent solution in a dozen ways to accommodate all employee generation segments. Rather, it means developing talent solutions that can be self-tailored by sophisticated employee “consumers.”
  2. Foster collaboration
    One way to foster collaboration is to breakdown internal organizational silos so that employees from different functional areas and skillsets have an opportunity to interact and work together. This can be done in many ways, such as assigning cross-functional teams to tackle new projects, introducing tools to increase cross-functional communication, or creating opportunities for relationships to develop organically.
    To be successful, agencies have to change their mindsets to encourage and recognize collaboration. This can be done by setting clear goals for collaborative projects, empowering employees and managers to experiment when solving problems and aligning reward structures to support collaboration.
  3. Provide technology
    Fostering opportunities for collaboration is critical to generate knowledge sharing across a multigenerational workforce. Although basic technologies such as email and teleconferences are used frequently throughout the federal government, more advanced technologies, such as Wikis, have proven as excellent tools to jumpstart and manage this collaboration.
    Surprisingly, the agencies with the highest rates of collaborative success provide these technologies in a non-prescriptive manner. That is, technologies that are offered to the workforce, rather than forced upon them, receive greater buy-in and support across generations. While measuring the value of collaborative technologies is difficult; there is evidence that the use of wikis has increased the speed, accuracy and inclusiveness of reports created by Federal employees.
  4. Develop talent
    Agency leaders must make intergenerational dialogue and collaboration a requirement for success. Agencies can work toward this goal by encouraging senior staff to develop younger employees, as well as employing effective means of preserving institutional knowledge. Consider utilizing development programs that will provide a formal forum for knowledge transfer between Baby Boomer and Millennial employees and vice versa. This approach not only ensures the transfer of valuable institutional knowledge across generations, but opportunities for Millennial to show older counterparts how to work differently, leveraging technology and collaboration at every turn.Cross-generational talent development can be achieved by rewarding team-based work, as well as making mentorship a performance expectation. These talent management strategies must also be underpinned by an effective performance management system so that managers and supervisors can actively groom their people and help them to succeed in the jobs.
  5. Establish methods of evaluation
    To adequately manage a multigenerational workforce, an organization must assess and evaluate that workforce and how the organization supports its employees. By performing such evaluation, the organization can better understand the talent it possesses and its future needs so that it develops the right programs to support its talent and deploy it more effectively.
    Evaluation doesn’t have to be cumbersome and resource intensive. Organizations can put in mechanisms to continuously capture feedback which will not only increase the quantity of feedback received, but also help create a dialogue around performance improvement that empowers and motivates employees to succeed. Some such mechanisms include performance management systems, performance dashboards and program evaluation programs.

In conclusion, to transform Federal agencies into a more cohesive multigenerational workforce, it is critical to focus time and resources on strategies that matter most. Developing guiding principles of multigenerational workforce transformation —flexibility, collaboration, technology, talent development and evaluation—are the key areas to focus on because they are the drivers that resonate with all generations. By implementing programs that address these areas, it is a win-win for multigenerational employees who become more engaged, managers who are able to support their teams more effectively and the public at large who reap the benefits of a more dynamic, effective, multigenerational government workforce.

Dr. Michael Gelles Dr. Michael Gelles is a director with Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Federal practice in Washington, D.C., consulting in the areas of human capital management and systems and operations.

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