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Do different generations look differently at high performance organizations?

Many researchers argue that the shared values of a generation affect people’s attitude, commitment, and ethics toward work. It is also argued that generational differences may cause tension between employees and with that prevent projects – such as a transition to a high performance organization (HPO) – from being completed successfully. The purpose of this paper is to examine whether generational
differences in work values influence people’s perceptions of HPO, and if so, in what ways and how management could deal with it. The HPO Framework developed by de Waal (2012b) was used as a starting point for the study.

  • Design/methodology/approach – This study was performed at a Dutch multinational with a management trainee program. In this program, young talents, all belonging to Generation Y, followed a series of internships in various business units. A questionnaire on HPO was distributed among the trainees and their direct managers (all Generation Xers). The average scores for the five factors described in the HPO Framework were calculated for both groups. In addition, attention points were identified for the multinational, i.e. issues that needed to be addressed by the organization in order for it to become an HPO. The scores and the attention points were discussed in a workshop with both trainees and managers. Finally, the results of the workshop were analyzed and several weeks later presented by the authors to a larger audience, to validate the research findings.
  • Findings – The research results showed that there was a close match between the opinions of trainees (Generation Yers) and of managers (Generation Xers) concerning the general importance of the HPO factors, the organization’s performance on these factors, and the actions needed to improve on them. There were several explanations for the fact that generational differences did not influence the opinions of both generations on HPO. For example, the corporate culture in a multinational may be predominant over national culture, creating uniform thinking; or new employees adapt quickly to the organization and behave according to established patterns and thereby comply to the accepted way of thinking in the company.
  • Research limitations/implications – The practical implication of this study is that an organization does not have to target specific groups to convince people of the importance of HPO. It should be sufficient to hold an informative session for all staff on HPO before starting the joint HPO transition process.
  • Originality/value – This is the first study into how generational differences in work values could influence the opinions of various generations on HPO.
  • Keywords – High performance organizations, Work values, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Generation Yers


In today’s workplace one can distinguish three generations of employees: Baby Boomers or Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964); Do different generations look differently at high performance organizations?Generation Xers (1965-1981); and Millennials or Generation Yers (1982-1999) (DelCampo et al., 2011; Lyons and Kuron, 2014; Quinn, 2010).
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, and shared formative life experiences, such as pop culture, economic conditions, world events, natural disasters, technology, and as a result developed core values that are different from those of other generations (Mannheim, 1952; Pilcher, 1994; Schullery, 2013; Underwood, 2007). Many authors argue that these values affect people’s attitude, commitment, ways of working, and work values in the workplace; and also that differences in values may create tensions between different generations (Dittman, 2005; Gordon and Steele, 2005; Zemke et al., 1999).

Such tensions may hamper the successful implementations of projects and lead to increase in employee turnover, difficult communications and poor morale….

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