In Step Are You
With Generation X?
use only, not to be reproduced or used in any way without permission)
Are you tired of reading about the unfortunate, misunderstood
Generation X? Are you tired of catering to these folks, only to have them leave your
organization? You may have no choice in the matter. A March 16, 1998, article in Fortune
magazine states "... with the U.S. unemployment rate at 4.7%, about the lowest it has
been in a quarter of a century, companies are no longer in the driver's seat." Your
choice is to continue to be at war and try to mold them into a clone of yourself, or, you
can consider how you might set aside your motives, values, and goals - accept them as they
are and help them be the individual contributors to your organization that they want to
There are about as many definitions of who comprises Generation X
as there are authors. So, we have taken an average set of ages. This quiz is for leaders
who are over age 35 (in 1998) with direct reports aged 20-34. This quiz asks you ten
questions about how you communicate with and lead Xers. The goal is not to
"pass" this quiz, but to start an honest self-evaluation process that will help
you create win-win relationships. (See related article in this web site on Coaching Generation X for the drivers of this group's
- You are advertising for a positions in your department. In the
advertisement, do you:
- Describe the 100-year history of your stable, well-established
- Discuss the opportunities for learning new skills and working in a
challenging, results-driven organization?
- Emphasize the benefit plan, stressing your excellent
- Use quotes/testimonials from your senior employees that describe
how much they like working at your company?
- Explain that you are looking for self-starting, motivated people
that can make a difference?
- During an interview with job applicants, what do you emphasize the
- The work-out room and outside picnic tables.
- Your flexible work schedules and job-sharing program.
- The benefits new employees get after working for one year.
- The company's desire for every person to learn as much as they
want and be successful no matter how long they are with the company.
- The casual atmosphere and your policy on what type of clothing is
- As a leader, what do you think are the most important behaviors
you can exhibit?
- Your interest in people's personal lives.
- Your mentoring skills.
- Your hands-off style.
- Your ability to relate to this generation.
- Your belief in their ability to take on varied tasks.
- You are working on next year's training for your department. What
does this look like?
- You have a lot of training scheduled for the first six months of
- A majority of your courses can be done individually in a
- A catalog lists the courses and times available, stating that
anyone can take one course each quarter if they can document a job-related need.
- Your courses are available on-line.
- Employees are encouraged to look elsewhere if you don't offer the
training they need.
- How do you delegate work/make assignments?
- Assign a lot of work so people don't get bored. Make these
assignments based on what they have done well in the past.
- Discuss the task and help them divide the work into manageable
- Clearly define the task and associated deadlines.
- Tell them they should come to you first with any questions or when
they need help.
- Parcel out pieces of a task so they are not overwhelmed.
- As people set out to accomplish a task, do you:
- Encourage them to be creative and innovative in how they
accomplish a task and ask questions as needed.
- Give them detailed instructions and procedures for how the job has
been done successfully in the past.
- Let them know who can be of assistance within your department and
throughout the company.
- Discuss why the task needs to be done and help them see their
- Require daily approvals of the work accomplished.
- How do you go about giving feedback and performance evaluation?
- Let the person review the performance appraisal form so they can
be prepared for their quarterly review.
- Plan some time every day to talk to the person about how their job
is going and see if they have any concerns or questions.
- Provide quick, specific, accurate reflections of their
- Give feedback when it is requested.
- Review their work several times each day.
- When people participate on your project team, what are the
characteristics of the team?
- The team is comprised of representatives from every
department/area so everyone knows what is going on.
- You are the leader throughout the scope of the project.
- The team is empowered to make decisions and implement solutions.
- Your project teams generally take 6-12 months to resolve their
- Members of the team are selected based on the skill or knowledge
they can bring to the project.
- How do you provide recognition?
- Bring in donuts for the coffee room.
- Have an Employee of the Quarter award.
- Pass out T-shirts when your department achieves its goals.
- Frequent, immediate "pats on the back" to individuals
when they do something well.
- Schedule department lunches to honor specific individuals each
- When you try to have some fun at work, you:
- Post cartoons on a bulletin board.
- Have a "costume" day.
- Celebrate every person's birthday.
- Schedule fun events after work or on weekends.
- Pass out mugs with the company logo.
- A=2, B=10, C=6, D=4, E=8. Twenty-somethings will be most
interested in a job that is challenging and rewarding - they want to add value. They are
not interested in the company's history or the accolades of 20 year veteran employees
since they have no trust in companies. They believe in themselves and are not looking for
a long term career with one company.
- A=4, B=8, C=2, D=10, E=6. Xers are looking for the WIIFM to work
at a company, as well as a chance to contribute. Stress the WIIFM and you'll get the
contribution. Give them flexible work hours and they will be more productive. Work-out
rooms and picnic tables are a token start. But, what does the rest of the office look
like. Is it parceled out in cubicles and offices (for managers, of course), with policies
on who gets how much space and what type of furniture? Is the work-out room only available
during lunch or before/after work - how about any time of the day? Can you loosen up on
the dress code? Can they get benefits now.... one year is too long to wait (they may not
be with you then).
- A=6,B=10,C=4,D=2,E=9. The best way to lead this group is to be a
mentor so they can learn and grow. They will probably come to look upon you as a surrogate
"work parent." Take an interest in their "causes" (this group has a
high rate of volunteerism). The minute you say "that's not in your job
description," you will lose these folks. Likewise, the minute you say "I
remember when I was your age .... " they will be turned off. Their life is totally
different than yours was.
- A=4, B= 10, C=2, D=9, E=6. This generation is self-motivated and
wants to learn at their own pace. Training is the number one motivator with Xers because
it increases their portfolio of marketable skills. So you train them and they leave? When
you satisfy their thirst for knowledge, then you will reap the rewards if you let them
apply their new skills on the job.
- A=2, B=10, C=8, D=6, E=4. Due to a shorter attention span, these
people can get lost in a large project. So, help them set daily goals and tell them
exactly what is expected and when it is required. Let them know "what is on the
test." Then, let them manage their own time. However, don't treat them as babies who
can't handle the whole task or make the mistake of assuming they need a lot of (busy) work
to be challenged.
- A=9, B=2, C=8, D=10, E=4. Don't micro-manage these folks and
stifle their creativity with "the way we've always done it." Be patient with
their questions about "why" they are doing something. They are not questioning
you, but just want to understand the big picture and their part in it. Don't be the only
person they can come to for help. Offer them a variety of people from whom they can learn.
- A=2, B=10, C=9, D=6, E=4. While Generation X does not want
over-your-shoulder managers, they do want constant feedback. Does once a day sound like
too much? It doesn't have to be a sit-down thirty minute discussion. Surely you can find a
few minutes each day to talk to your people and see how they are doing.
- A=6, B=4, C=8, D=2, E=10. Xers have a low tolerance for meetings
when nothing gets accomplished and ever-ending bureaucracy rules. While they are
independent workers, they crave the relationships that teams provide. But, they want to
contribute something to the team based on their expertise and expect the other team
members to be selected based on their skills, not the prevailing political wind or because
"every department must be represented." If you're not serious about empowering
teams, they'll see right through you.
- A=6, B=2, C=4, D=10, E=8. As with feedback,
twenty-somethings need recognition as proof of their ability to add value and
produce results. Don't base all recognition on team or department successes - recognize
the individual within the team. When recognition is for the entire department, make it a
social event (i.e. lunch)-7 donuts left in the coffee room is cold and reminds them of the
breakfast they ate alone while their parents were getting ready to go to work. Employee of
the Quarter? Three months is a long time.
- A=4, B=10, C=8, D=6, E=2. Companies have to loosen up when they
think about having fun. Ask people what would be fun for them. It probably won't be what
you think is fun. Be careful, don't ask for input and not be ready to implement it. This
one area might be the greatest test of your flexibility and paradigms.
- 80 - 100 points: You are well on your way to
understanding and supporting the needs of this generation. Hand them the remote control
and put them in charge of their work life. Allow them to have ownership of their work by
creating "businesses within your business" and pay their dues based on
performance, not seniority. How about letting them wear shorts and wander through the
halls barefoot or bring their pets to work? Yes, this is happening now!
- 60 - 79 points: You've started to accommodate this
diverse group of people. But, you may need to examine your paradigms even further. You may
be talking the talk, but you're not walking the talk. This generation can see through
"phoniness" quicker than any other. If you don't make drastic changes now, they
won't stay around to see if you do in the next year.
- Below 60 points: You are in denial that change needs
to occur. Xers don't come to you with that built-in trust and respect of organizations and
your authority. You earn this because of who you are and what you do. Again, quoting the
March Fortune magazine article, "The stereotype is that Generation X thinks
it's entitled. But the people who sound like they have entitlement mentality are
companies: They think they're entitled to have a work force that works like their parents
did. But, it was big companies that in the late 1980's and early 1990's ended the
traditional employment contract."