Clarus Conversation: A Baby Boomer’s views

This month, we examine the strengths and challenges of intergenerational differences. Today, Cathy Wright, a Clarus principal and Baby Boomer, tells us how her work style was formed. Next week, Candace Phillips, just a few years out of college, will respond to Cathy and share the qualities of Generation Y (good and bad) and why the intergenerational transfer of knowledge is critical. In two weeks, Cathy and Candace will co-write a post on the synergistic results that can be generated when products of two very different generations collaborate.

As a colleague once told me, it takes 20 years to have 20 years of experience. In any project I’m juggling a dozen considerations my juniors may not ever have thought of—business strategy, client relations, profitability, training, and staff resources.  This ability comes only with decades of sacrifices that led to this opportunity for all of us. No doubt a younger colleague may have a better idea—there is always a better idea—but we can’t implement or even consider them all.

I promise, I’m not a curmudgeon. I use a MacBook Air, an iPhone 5, and dozens of apps. I can name a dozen rappers, and own a half dozen Wilco concert t-shirts. But my career was built on these 1970s HR philosophies:

  • Professional Development:  “Here.  Don’t screw this up.”
  • Employer Feedback on a Job Well Done:  [Silence.]
  • Employer Feedback on a Job Screwed Up:  See above.
  • Test of Fitness for Promotion:  Cancelled dates, field trips, vacations
  • Interaction with senior managers:  Possible, after a few years

The Dark Ages of HR.  I don’t recommend any of this as best practice. Yet, maybe we shouldn’t throw the Boomers out with the bathwater.  Each interaction was an opportunity to develop qualities of resilience, determination, and focus. And so I learned to deal with competitors, opponents, occasional difficult clients—indeed, the external world—who really didn’t give a fig about my feelings.

I love working with young colleagues and using the best ideas wherever they come from.  And I would argue that some of the best ideas come from experience.

I’m very interested in you, your career and interests. But we still have to deliver the work we have, on time and on budget.  Just as you are juggling work and your personal life, most of my generation is coping with some combination of aging parents, college tuition, and aches and pains. We’ve been taught to tough it out and get on with the job.

In my 10 years at Clarus, I’ve learned that great results can only come from the collaboration of co-workers with varying backgrounds. While intergenerational differences can present challenges, it’s our contrasts- and how we learn to deal with them- that ultimately make us a strong team.

At Clarus, when we work with organizations to improve teamwork around generational differences, we encourage more dialogue among age groups.  Somewhere between us, if we work together, we’ll leverage the best from everyone. So we thought we’d share the conversation in our own multigenerational staff.  We’ll be interested in your experience, too.

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