THE BABY BOOMER TORMENT

As a boy of fifteen growing up in the mid-sixties I was constantly reminded that the notion of respect could not be compromised with my parents, elders and in fact to anyone I should come into contact with. Any views I might have held regarding a range of subjects were given scant consideration and dismissed, how could a person of such tender years have anything to contribute? I was not alone, this was the norm and society operated a regime which either ostracised or cast aside any spotty faced youth daring to question authority and challenge the status quo.

Of course that strict doctrine employed by the older generations has somewhat changed over time but without being totally removed and thank goodness at least the notion of respect is still being championed as it still holds significant value in our society. Those beliefs as heartfelt and noble as they may have been are leaving us with a conundrum which today is being reflected in the world of business.

This is a clash of traditional conventional views and a new emerging business world (albeit so far it has yet to prove its credibility) whether to maintain the long held belief that decision making be left in the hands of senior people or by involving the younger generation allowing them to take flight and find their wings in business.

As a baby boomer and involvement in management education I feel I have the currency to comment and give some feedback on what I see and hear in the market place.

Put yourself in the position of a baby boomer who has been raised and taught throughout their respective lives to uphold those principles, maintaining that life’s hard fought wisdom came at great personal sacrifice and have earned them the right to take this position; in many cases they do not see the need to change a hierarchal system which has served them so well. The introduction of what some consider radical modes of thinking and informality is an anathema, causing them to firmly oppose such behaviours.

Therefore what we have seen in recent times is a natural reaction as they try to defend their position and principles, for some they feel their life’s work and efforts is being diminished. What we are witnessing is a backlash where a sense of denial is being exercised by stubbornly resisting this fundamental change, probably to the detriment of growth and development of business. The reaction of many upcoming people is revealing a deep growing sense of frustration that their ideas are not being treated seriously and has a major impact on their motivation.

Our problem is we come from a standpoint of telling and instructing which is directly opposed to a new culture of consulting and engaging, a very hard practice to break and change. I think it is clearly time for us to come forward to accept the truth as painful as it may be; there are many in our midst who cannot accept the changes and no amount of education and cajoling will alter their position, the reality is that the prospect of continuing personal frustration will have no end. One’s personal views have to be respected but should not be at the expense of potentially harming an economy and our country’s future fortunes.

Before my fellow brethren chastise me for at my point of view I do have a degree of sympathy for their position but we cannot keep making a lot of noise whilst not searching for a solution, we need less talk and more action regarding this impasse.

To the above end I make the following open suggestions to the protagonists.

  1. If you feel you cannot in all good conscience alter your feeling to the changes that are happening around you, it may be time to as they say to “leave the stage” and maybe delegate the task of handling people and culture matters to someone else in your organisation. Or an even more outrageous suggestion is if it is possible exit your business.
  2. In terms of the changing of the guard it would be in there best interests for them absorb as much of the wisdom held by the older generations, there is a great danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water here. There is no reason it can harm their futures and in fact enhance it. The opportunities for the next generation could be enormous if handled the correct way, they have entered the workforce at a time when they are equipped with skills never offered to those who have gone before them although their weakness being they are short on life skills, a vital important ingredient in managing a business. There is some substance to the adage regarding the “folly of youth”, take time to reflect and your time will inevitably come.
  3. The vast resources of experience and wisdom accumulated by the baby boomer generation is extremely valuable and should be channelled into mentoring in the basic principles of how a business operates without stifling new ideas and practices. The people who choose this path in the latter part of their careers will possess strong skills in listening and engagement and not just pay lip service to the unfortunate mantra of maintaining what has gone before.
  4. In order to protect their investment business owners and leaders may want to review the subject of the development of managers. Is a there a need to introduce thinking which looks at how we impart knowledge and rather follow the often seemingly vaunted message that leadership training alone will be the panacea for developing strong skilful managers?

By examining alternative methods such as educating people in Awareness of issues which surround business which would follow a more modern approach outlined above more appropriate. It is clear in my opinion the existing methods of development are no longer totally effective and a high degree of apathy towards participation is now present.

Australia business has slowly begun the process of transition of business to the younger generations, this will gather pace in the next nine years, remembering that over 90% of all entities are SME’s and that time will be a crucial factor in ensuring that owners give themselves the best opportunity to achieve a satisfactory outcome, what for some has been their life’s work.

Somehow by whatever means a common sense solution must be applied, like most problems the “ostrich” approach as we have seen countless times before will only result in the culmination of a massive problem.

Strangely enough what is required in this particular instance is a degree of Respect for each other’s point of view before any real progress can be achieved, at the moment that looks a long way off but I remain hopeful we can eventually get it right.

Funny how history has a tendency to repeat itself!