One of the questions I get most often asked is whether the high performance organization framework I developed stays the same through time. In the past I have shown that the factors and the characteristics of the HPO Framework indeed hardly vary through time. But another interesting question in this respect remained unanswered:
What is the influence of the different generations that work in organizations on high performance?
A generation is defined as a group of people born within a specified birth year range who grew up in the same historical and socio-cultural context. But also share formative life experiences, such as pop culture, economic conditions, world events, natural disasters and technology. As a result they developed core values that are different from those of other generations. There is a long-running debate in both the academic and managerial world in how far these values affect people’s attitude, commitment, ways of working, and work values in the workplace. And possibly create tensions between different generations. Such tensions may hamper the successful implementations of projects and lead to increase in employee turnover, difficult communications and poor morale, and managers are generally advised to approach generations differently. A logical question is therefore whether these values also create differences in the way different generations look at high performance and the HPO Framework.
Investigating generation X and Y
A while ago I had the good fortune to be in a situation where I could investigate the answer on this question. I and my colleagues were allowed to conduct an HPO Diagnosis in an organization which had a management trainee program for young professionals, all of Generation Y (born between 1982 – 1999). This two-year program consisted of a series of consecutive internships, in various units of the organization. We distributed the HPO Questionnaire among the trainees and their direct supervisors, who all belonged to Generation X (born between 1965 – 1981).
- We asked both groups to first rate how important they considered the HPO characteristics to be on a scale of 1 to 10. This served to assess to what extent Generation Yers (the trainees) and Generation Xers (their managers) thought the same about the building blocks of high performance.
- Secondly, the respondents were asked to rate how well their organization performed on the HPO characteristics, again on a scale of 1 to 10. This served to evaluate to what extent the two generations shared views on the company’s performance.
- Thirdly, we asked them to generate ideas for improvement of the HPO scores.
After comparing the scores and ideas of both generations it turned out there was no difference whatsoever. The research results clearly show that for the two generations there was no significant difference in their views on HPO, the importance they attached to the HPO characteristics, their performance scores for the company, and their improvement actions. If there was any noticeable difference, it was as expected in the methods and tools that the two generations wanted to use to realize their improvement actions: the trainees were inclined to use social media for this more often than their managers did.
Conclusion: don’t treat X and Y generations differently
The practical implication of this research result is that managers who manage a multi-generational workforce should not approach and treat people differently because of the generation they belong to. Instead, they should view people as individuals with their own particular quirks who will change over time because of changes in their private lives and working lives. Managers should therefore really get to know their employees – their individual strengths, weaknesses, personalities and expectations – and treat them accordingly and not according to generational stereotypes.