Is the Generation Gap Gone?By Bryan Shirley
Keeping your business healthy — and sustaining this industry — requires a deep understanding of how the generations can work together.
Generations are very interesting, and to me, people in general are even more fascinating. It’s really what makes our world spin. There are countless books and presentations by generationalists, offering explorations of the personalities of generations. Although the ranges of years vary (as well as the analysis of behaviors and attributes), the information boils down to this:
|Born Between||Generation||Key Aspects|
|1925-1945||War (“Silent”)||Hard workers, traditional, radio babies|
|1946-1964||Baby Boomers||Long work hours, team players, large population|
|1965-1976||Generation X||Latchkey kids, question everything, not joiners|
|1977-1998||Millennia (“Gen Y”)||Multi-task, civic-minded, value education, technology|
For the first time in history we have four generations working sideby- side in the workplace. This dynamic can create substantial issues relating to teamwork, compatibility and productivity due to the varied personalities and their individual needs and wants.
I see this as a huge opportunity to obtain a wonderful cross section of different perspectives and views on life. You need to embrace all generational players of this extremely diverse team, especially in our current situation of rapid change and uncertainty. What better way to target all potential markets and customers!
In the rep world, we often hear that finding, hiring and keeping good salespeople is one of the “biggest challenges facing reps today.” In years past, we used to see many more 2nd and 3rd generation rep companies; this is not so today. My theory on this is twofold: 1) the kids come to mom or dad and say, “Hey, you are always so worried about losing a line, and you are always at some sales meeting, or entertaining customers or principals… Why would I want that?” Or 2) the mom or dad wearily looks the kids in the eye and says, “Go to med school!” We need to help this tradition get back on track. It is possible, and the multi-generational family business does work; there are many successful MANA members who are family businesses.
Moving forward, we have to better understand the upcoming generations and also understand their specific abilities relative to our risk/ reward business. The term “sales” doesn’t always generate great perceptions, but it will continue to be a sound career choice as our society and culture change. We all need to educate industries, associations and academia on manufacturers’ reps.
As part of this effort, MANA is working with the University Sales Education Foundation (USEF, see www.saleseducationfoundation.org), which has helped 37 colleges and universities create formal sales curriculums, so students can earn a degree in sales. The schools are listed on the USEF site. This is a great program that will enhance awareness of sales in academia, while likely improving the perception of what it means to work in sales, especially for future generations.
I invite you to reach across the generational aisle and grab hold of someone one-third your age (or three times your age), set down your laptop and PDA, stop your e-mail and your Twittering and go share a cup of coffee. You might be surprised what you learn — and what you have in common.