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Tech Platforms Tackle Generational Conflict, Boost Succession Planning

New research showing Baby Boomer and Generation X leaders are retiring faster than anticipated has many organizations taking a fresh look at their succession management strategies. Experts say the new retirement wave, coupled with a growing disconnect between different generations in the workplace, can have significant bottom-line consequences for organizations.

One way that CI Financial, a global asset management company in Toronto, is addressing these issues is through use of a technology platform designed to break down generational barriers that can impact performance or productivity—and also help groom future leaders in the process.

The company implemented an AI-driven platform from vendor Ten Thousand Coffees (10KC) to make it easier to create meaningful, structured relationships between employees of different generations, such as Baby Boomers and Generation Z. “As our senior advisors plan for retirement, readying the next generation of workers to retain and grow our clients successfully happens when we create mentorships and networks between the generations,” said Manisha Burman, executive vice president and CHRO at CI Financial. “As we innovate with the 10KC platform we can do this at scale and with better efficiency for leaders.”

Countering Generational Stereotypes

CI Financial also believes the 10KC technology platform can be an effective tool for combating stereotypes and misperceptions that arise between different generations, issues that can make it challenging for those generations to work together effectively. The platform uses a “smart matching” algorithm that leverages over 50 different dimensions like tenure, location, business area, skills, performance ratings and more to match workers from different generations in networking or mentoring relationships.

“The platform not only creates better connections across generations regarding both job level and tenure, it helps bring together colleagues from diverse backgrounds,” Burman said. “This helps drive both our DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and our hybrid/return-to-office experiences.”

Two of the historic challenges with mentoring programs are scaling them across larger organizations and accurately measuring their outcomes. Burman said by taking a more structured or “programmatic” approach and leveraging the latest technology, the 10KC platform enables conversations and an improved understanding between different employee generations that may not naturally occur.

“We are all susceptible to biases of likeness and proximity that may create barriers to mentoring, particularly for bright, diverse top talent that is more likely to get overlooked,” Burman said.

How Generational Conflict Impacts Performance

Whether born of preconceived notions or negative personal experiences, the inability of different generations to work well together is increasingly impacting companies’ bottom-line performance. Recent research from the London School of Economics (LSE) and consulting firm Protiviti found that Generation Z and Millennial workers who self-reported low productivity levels said the problem was largely a result of the age of fellow employees.

Employees with managers who were 12 or more years older were 1.5 times more likely to report low productivity, the LSE study found. Overall, Gen Z and Millennial employees reported much lower productivity than Generation X and Baby Boomers in the study.

Experts believe the problem typically lies in both directions, as different preferences and attitudes that younger and older generations have about work—and the preconceived notions they hold about one another—can impair communication, collaboration and productivity in the workplace. Dave Wilkin, CEO and co-founder of 10KC, said lack of exposure and proximity to other generations can cause such stereotypes and misunderstandings to grow.

“Until people have meaningful relationships with those from other generations, they can’t develop a true understanding of them and create opportunities for knowledge transfer,” Wilkin said. “What we routinely hear from CHROs is that employees in their organizations inherently have a lot of bias and preconceived notions toward other age groups until they create a real, ongoing relationship.”

As Gen Z spends more time getting to know Baby Boomers, for example, they may find that the older generation is far more open to using next-generation technologies—and to considering new ideas—than they believed. Conversely, given more exposure and time to listen to Generation Z, Boomers and Gen X may see the upcoming generation is just as concerned about producing quality work on deadline as they are, but may need more feedback—and less top-down management—to perform at their best.

Indeed, the LSE study found that in companies using “inter-generationally inclusive” work practices, productivity was higher in younger generations. Those practices include things like enabling colleagues of every generation to have “similar levels of voice” when collaborating and advancing employees based on merit, regardless of their age.

Wilkin offers this real-world example of how preconceived notions and limited personal exposure can undermine generational relationships in organizations. A Baby Boomer executive who had been matched with a Gen Z employee as part of a mentoring relationship on the 10KC platform left a scathing review of his younger colleague after a few meetings.

“The older executive reported that the Gen Z employee was on his phone the entire time they met, appearing not to pay attention and not making much eye contact,” Wilkin said. But when HR later reached out to that Gen Z employee a different side of the story emerged. The Gen Z worker reported he had been furiously taking notes and writing action items on his phone as the Baby Boomer executive was talking, not ignoring him.

“It was a big ‘aha moment’ because the older employee simply assumed the younger worker was distracted on his phone the whole time,” Wilkin said. “But in reality he was listening closely and engaged in the conversation. The social skills of those two generations are often so different there can be big disconnects and perceptions when they interact.”

Guides, Tools for Making Improved Connections

Creating real connections across generations requires more than HR professionals simply asking Baby Boomer or Generation X leaders to start having more conversations or one-on-one meetings with younger employees, experts say.

“HR naturally knows how to have these types of conversations, but line managers often don’t know what to talk about or how to start the dialogue to help break down negative perceptions to begin building better connections,” Wilkin said.

To that end, 10KC provides conversation guides, ice breakers and other idea starters to help matched pairs find mutual ground and begin to build more constructive, meaningful networking or mentoring relationships, rather than “check the box” type experiences.

Experts say such support and guidance for line managers also is needed to address a growing disconnect about how leaders in older generations counsel Generation Z about career planning. Recent research from technology platform Intoo found that 54 percent of employees feel completely on their own at their companies when it comes to career development. Almost half (47 percent) of young professionals claimed they get better career advice from generative AI tools like ChatGPT than they do from their own managers.

Transferring Knowledge Among Generations

As CI Financial discovered, an internal networking and mentoring platform also can prove an efficient means of transferring vital institutional knowledge from workers approaching retirement to younger generations.

“The platform provides mentoring but also networking experiences to build relationships between generations,” Burman said. “That happens in groups, one-to-ones, reverse mentoring and other flexible formats to help reach more colleagues through the format that is best for their goals.”

Burman said high-potential employees and future leaders in her organization also can use the technology platform to access curated learning modules tied to the organization’s leadership competency profile and a defined leaders’ journey.

Wilkin said he recently heard from a chief talent officer who was concerned many employees on his company’s sales and customer service teams were set to retire within 10 years—and were likely to leave without transferring their hard-earned knowledge to younger employees on those teams.

“Most of those tenured employees hadn’t established relationships with any of the early-career workers in those departments,” Wilkin said. “That lack of knowledge transfer was creating a large amount of customer retention risk.”

The company has since launched new networking and mentoring programs to get different age cohorts to talk to each other about client issues. “That includes more opportunities to job shadow and mentor one another,” Wilkin said, “so over the next few years they can limit that client retention risk.”

Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing firm in Minneapolis.


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