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To win in business your strengths not your age matter

13 July 2015

Whilst business in Australia remains strong and has proven its resilience against historical and current global challenges, there looms a new trend unlike anything we have experienced in the past. The implications of this trend will be felt across all aspects of business and life and will change the world of business as we know it.

For the first time in history we are living with 6 generations spanning over 100 years and are working with 5 generations over a 50 year duration. What this means is by 2020, there will be more 65 year old Australians than one year olds, grandparents may be working with grandchildren in the same organisation, all jobs will be flexed, email addresses will be the acceptable business address, and online communication and collaboration tools can replace physical visits to office, stores and sites. Take banking for instance, with figures showing virtually 90% of banking done online the need for retail space will diminish, there will be a new type of customer service which is still being defined by both customer and bank.

Yes, things are changing. Fast. Businesses will need to work even faster to anticipate emerging trends and customer behaviours all the while providing solutions and options ahead of their competition. This is indeed the new currency of business.

Professional services, insurance, banking, finance and legal are under relentless pressure to continuously provide new ways of doing business as people are taking greater responsibility for their own investments, finances, and business concerns and are willing to ‘shop around’ for best rates, and going to local providers for competitive rates which offer great service without the extra cream. But the good news is that we all know there is a new breed of staff who understand this trend and are also more entrepreneurial and more comfortable with working out different solutions than before. In addition, our worlds have been gamified, and this is paying off big time as both customers and staff are problem solving together by thinking in more challenging ways.

What we also know is that business must provide customers with sophisticated processes and give them immediate and accurate access to information and solutions, help with their concerns or entrepreneurial opportunities in record time – and at the same time actively involve customers in the process behind how they are working with them.

Bottom line is the traditional style relational manager or service provider will relate differently and the traditional style customer has new habits as described above.

This new way of doing business is driving the pace of change faster and more furiously than we have ever seen before - irrespective of whether people are digital natives of 22 or mature mavens of 72. Customers of all ages are becoming friendlier with the figures and not as intimidated to have commercial conversations. Women are taking greater part in all decisions, are maintaining higher levels of independence and are not so quick to ‘sign here’ on request of their male partner.

Things have really changed. The message is loud and clear. Old standards, systems and methods must undertake a total transformation which truly gives the customer easy opportunities to connect, collaborate, and communicate in ways that are congruent with every other transaction they make as part of their daily activities. Each interaction and communication must be accurate, fast, accessible and user friendly, and it no longer has much to do with the older relationships but who is best suited to help the customer – irrespective of age, gender and position.

While it sounds like a brave new hard world, here is the good news for business. They are in a unique position to allow their new or existing customer to drive the trend of what products they want as well as the type of relationship they need. By letting the customer be the guide, by listening more and judging less, businesses are in essence setting up a  Generational Trust Account – one that increases the financial, social, commercial and communication outcomes with different people – once again, irrespective of age, position and gender.  

This Generational Trust Account, of course will become more valuable every time the business offers a process or communication that makes the customer experience better. It is as though a deposit is being made and the Trust account is becoming of higher net worth.

But beware – if the business falls back on its promise or does not continue to provide exceptional forward moving processes to ease the stress or concerns of the customer, the Trust account can be closed at any time. No questions asked.

It is said that “it is important to dig a well before we are thirsty.’ (William Feather)

Australians are thirsty for commercial prosperity, results and a great life style. And they are looking for ways to actualize this quickly. Therefore by helping their diverse customers achieve their goals they can bring about innovative solutions in the most efficient ways to their customers and build their profits. The key is to focus on diversity and not be generationally biased.

Here are some great ways to boost your trust account business and ensure the pipeline into your organisation is strong and attractive to future employees.

1. Establish a Generational Neutral Culture from the top down. Even in the conservative banking environment, the new norm will demonstrate less tolerance for generational bias and stereotyping, especially if it gets in the way of people’s career journey or future – younger or older. Don’t make assumptions about people’s stages of life and the reasons they do or don’t do things as it is a totally flawed concept. There is an urgent need to have regular conversations with staff about their experiences and wants and by doing this, eliminate the risk of people staying too long without making a difference or leaving for the wrong reasons.

2. In order to build your “GTA” your Diversity and Inclusion Manager must come into the Board meetings, leadership team meetings, and business planning meetings so that you ensure a connection between people, projects and possibility. Ideally, and where feasible, some decisions that are made at an executive level need to be done in partnership with a strong HR Diversity and Inclusion Manager who can assist by bringing the best cross sections of talent to any given project. This is critical so that perspectives can be better understood and experiences learnt from. Build the case that having a cross section of all ages and stages in business is indeed a business imperative and not just a ‘nice to have'.

4. Create regular opportunities for people to share what they are doing across the organisation from all areas of the bank so collaborations can take place, networks can be built and (reverse) mentoring can evolve.

5. Resist the temptation to revisit the past as a favourite teacher. Constant reflection and drawing back to “how things were done” is unhealthy. Remember, it is the future that gives energy. Customers want what’s NEW, and will refrain from lamenting a past if you provide innovative solutions to old problems.

6. Bring together fresh teams of people who exhibit complementary skills – social, technical and analytical – and who are keen to harness their collective knowledge.

7. Gamify your team’s projects and set up a presentation of The Fast Five - Five Generations, Five ideas, Five Minutes each – to contribute their best idea or solutions. This means everyone has limited time and resources to come up with a result. 

8. Take the results to the business in an online context. Get customers and staff to vote. Take out the personal or the generational and vote on the best idea challenge, not a generational challenge.

9. Next, senior leaders will need to create a culture in which staff can have autonomy and purpose in their work. To varying extents, every generation needs to understand they are part of the bigger picture. Everyone needs to have a reason to connect with others, including those older and younger, and so build their company ‘tribes’.

10. Then, management need to provide the conditions for entrepreneurship and innovation to coexist so that creatives can create and ‘analyticals’ can analyse – and enable people to work to their strengths, not ages.

These are just some of the great ways banks can help build a generational trust account in this era of multigenerational management.

We find that this approach works best when it is coordinated by an overall ‘multigenerational champion’ working a team of ‘generational champions’ – one from each team. This multigenerational champion can be an experienced manager or it can be an external resource with the relevant skills and experience.

Working with multiple generations will be a given in the coming years, as will the need to change constantly as the world also changes. The best leaders will see this as an opportunity rather than a problem, and the potential to realise the opportunity will come from taking a thoughtful, coordinated approach.

Ricky Nowak CSP is an Australian Speaker, Author and Leadership Facilitator who helps leaders connect and communicate to their people so their staff are hugely productive, happy and resourceful.