Do you believe in generation differences? That was the opening statement at the 8th edition of Talk The Walks hosted by Anura De Alwis. Answering this was Prof. Lalith Gamage – President and CEO of SLIIT. There are generational differences. But you cannot categorize them based on Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials, Prof. Lalith explained. It depends on the environment that you live in. They can vary based on the access to education and access to technology.
You can’t just judge people based on their generation
It’s not fair to generalize or stereotype people based on the generation of the person. You have to look at the individual’s characteristics and behavior. At the same time, it’s important to strike a balance between generations, explained Dinesh De Silva – CEO of MAS Bodyline at Talk the Walks. In terms of complimenting each other’s’ skills and creating competition as well. While competition is good, too much competition can negatively affect the performance of a company.
With the diversity of generations, comes the diversity of the way things are done. For example, while the older generation would refer to books to gather information, the younger generation can simply look it up on the internet and have significantly more access to information than previously possible.
Training has also undergone a change
What initially would be a training course or mentoring program has now transformed into a combination of this plus a delivery of content via an online platform. Take education for example. Despite it being predominantly classroom teaching, the teaching itself is now being carried out in a digital manner.
In certain scenarios, students might not even go for classes. But because of that behavior, we are changing the way we think, Prof. Lalith explained at Talk the Walks. So, yes, there are differences in the way things are done. But the key element is to understand these differences and customize your content to deliver an inclusive experience.
From a manufacturing point of view, Dinesh explained that MAS Bodyline has transformed from a customer-driven organization to a consumer-driven one. You need to understand the thinking, behavior, and understanding of the consumer. When you run an organization such as what MAS Bodyline does, you need to cognize to those profiles and structure your designs and capabilities to suit your consumers.
Getting the older generation onboard is tricky
While working with people from different generations, it can be tricky to get the older generation to adopt newer methodologies and working techniques. For example, an older employee in an organization might prefer sending an email rather than a text message or a WhatsApp message. Prof. Lalith explained at Talk the Walks that you need to understand the environment they are in. Lack of communication is a common factor when trying to bridge the gap between generations. This can be between the management and the employees or vice versa.
Prof. Lalith elaborated that a company regardless of whether they be an organization or educational institute needs to adapt according to customer behavior. If you don’t, then your customers/students will go somewhere else. He further added that students always bring new elements into the picture, so it’s not difficult to change.
How do you retain your employees?
Dinesh explained that empowering employees is the key. Whether it be giving them a new title or giving them the option to explore a job role, everyone has an aspiration that they aim for. The key here is to capture their aspirations in a short period of time and help them work towards it. As an organization and a corporate citizen, we need to understand their need, Dinesh further added.
It can also be something like appointing team leaders, customized meal plans or even travel leaders to make sure everyone in a team has a method of transport. “All these methods empower our employees to work better”, Dinesh added. The point to all this is that if the employee does leave the company one day, he/she would have learned enough and gained an insight so that they can adapt accordingly to whatever new job role they are applying for. In some cases, it can even help them start up their own business as well.
Speaking of empowerment, each generation might prefer a certain kind of rewards for their efforts. With the older generation, they might prefer remunerations and promotions. The younger generation might prefer something a bit more different. This can range career development to more social interaction such as the number of likes on a Facebook or Instagram post, etc.
What about achieving a work/life balance?
Dinesh explained that more than a work/life balance, it’s more about a collaboration between the two. It’s about thinking out of the box and having a diverse experience. The younger generation also wants support during their failures and a lending ear or mentor when they have challenges. In essence, the younger generation is opting for a more experimental stage of work where they want to explore different outcomes at work.
But to do all this, one needs an education. So how does the Sri Lankan education system fare with regard to delivering an explorer generation? Prof. Lalith emphasized that the Sri Lankan education system needs a complete overhaul. Parents of students in Sri Lanka only have one goal for their children: to get 3As for the GCE A/L exam. Everything around the family revolves around this goal. This, in turn, leads to its own set of problems such as peer pressure for students which can have drastic effects.
If there are enough higher education opportunities, you don’t need to rely so much on pushing children to spend countless hours at tuition classes, etc. Once that is done, you can move down to lower levels in schools, and give students new avenues of learning and exploring the world around them.
These opportunities can also help create better leaders
“A leader should be able to visualize something”, Prof. Lalith explained. In order to develop a vision, you need to develop a strategy. Once that is done, you need all types of people, regardless of what generation they are from to execute this strategy.
The strategy might involve automation. So then what? Would people lose their jobs? Dinesh explained that with innovation and with a thinking-out-of-the-box attitude, you can create new jobs and thereby, secure new employment opportunities for your employees.
And that wrapped up Talk the Walks
With a quick wrap up by Anura, the 8th session of Talk The Walks came to an end. It was indeed quite an interesting one where everyone learned a lot about the generation gap and how we can bridge it. If you are interested in viewing the full session, you can do so by clicking here.
You can also check out the other Talk the Walk sessions that we attended as well