Supremely Better: A Multi-Generational Workplace

Personally and professionally, I get a lift from counting among my colleagues Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials — and I definitely am more aware by encountering, engaging and collaborating with each, individually and collectively.

I’ve never enjoyed hanging out solely with people just of my age group.

Personally and professionally, I get a lift from counting among my colleagues Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials — and I definitely am more aware by encountering, engaging and collaborating with each, individually and collectively. And that’s just counting “age” as diversity. There are many other components of diversity: gender, race, religion, politics, geography, national origin, veteran status — but I’ll focus on age here.

Mentoring is increasingly a two-way street, and even better a hub-and-spoke. As seasoned marketing and communications professionals, we have a lot of experience to share. But better believe it, I learn every day from younger colleagues — and I appreciate every lesson I get. Likewise, there’s always someone with more experiences (or different experiences) to keep an open door to. Here, too, I sponge. Simply said, there’s very little to “grow” by surrounding yourself with people exactly like yourself.

Yes, there’s community in like-mindedness.  But even recognizing like-mindedness means continually challenging and exploring other points of view.

Here’s What I Learned in 2015….
• Student debt is burdensome: There’s no sense in comparing your experiences as a Boomer new graduate years ago to those entering the workforce today. Unless someone enjoys a full-tilt academic or athletic scholarship, chances are young adults are carrying a hefty amount of student debt.

Education inflation has far outstripped the cost of living — college costs today are a world away from what I experienced just three decades ago. As a result, very few grads can stand on their own at 21, even if they want to. Few starting salaries allow them to live on their own, while repaying debt. Families with grown children are staying together for longer, as an economic reality, at least financially so.

Is there a professional takeaway here? I’m not altogether sure how this affects risk-taking, or the timing to pursue advanced degrees, but the zeal to contribute in the workplace, and receive commensurate compensation, is perhaps heightened.

• You really don’t [have to] retire: On the other scale, woe to any business that sends senior execs packing prematurely. Some businesses might offer early retirement packages to move more expensive workers off payroll, or just lay folks off — but are they harnessing all that experience before they do so? Is there a knowledge sustainability plan? “Peak earning years” must translate to “peak productivity” — the dynamics of business no longer allow anyone to rest on his or her laurels and nominally contribute.

Alternatively, I’ve come across more and more firms who are “hiring back” would-be company retirees as contractors, and as project and long-term consultants. For the aging, many of whom have under-saved for retirement, this removes the shock of a suddenly missing paycheck and a perception of being no longer valued, enabling them to contribute to business growth while softening the financial blow. For business, where experience is a teacher, common mistakes of the under-experienced are avoided. The bell curve of post-peak earnings, and the idea of “retirement” are being redefined, out of necessity.

• Mentoring should be bi- or omni-directional: When a project team, or workplace environment, is cross-generational, there will be better outcomes. In marketing, where target audiences may involve one or more age (or other) demographics, it simply makes for a more informed strategy to have architects who share personal knowledge and experiences of the market. So older teaches younger, vice versa, with in-betweens, too. I know of agencies pitching new businesses who ensure such diversity is “built” into the campaign planning team. That’s smart.

Here’s to a healthful, prosperous New Year, at any age.

Mentoring: Give a Little, Get a Lot

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring

Last summer, I heard that my alma mater was launching a mentoring program between graduates and enrolled Seniors. Even though I no longer reside in my college town, I quickly volunteered to be a guinea pig for remote mentoring.

The woman running the program was hesitant at first—her vision was to put grads and students together face-to-face and create events that would bring the mentor/mentees together outside of 1:1 meetings.

Even though I reside in the San Francisco Bay Area and my college is in chilly Ottawa, Canada, I convinced her to team me with a student who was studying abroad for a semester so neither of us would be on campus.

Luckily I was paired with a wonderful senior named Mitch who was spending a semester in The Netherlands and studying marketing. We hit it off immediately, swapping stories about our pasts, our work experiences and talking about his goals when he graduates (to work in sports marketing). Mitch proved to be intelligent, inquisitive and eager to learn about the real world of marketing and advertising.

In our weekly calls, I answered a lot of questions (about marketing strategies and tactics and concerning specific job functions in the industry), but we also talked about some very practical things like how to put together a solid resume and a LinkedIn profile. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that in this social media crazed world, this very bright student was not that familiar with LinkedIn and how to use it to his advantage. Upon having further conversations with my college graduate son and his friends, it seems none of them were particularly savvy about LinkedIn and how leverage it to their advantage.

Helping Mitch with his resume was a fascinating exercise in marketing. His first draft provided a laundry list of all his summer jobs, but didn’t successfully position his experience and his growing expertise. As I quizzed him on what he actually did at each job, I helped him extract the salient messages he needed to convey about his skills and accomplishments—it was similar to working with a client to help them clarify and synthesize a product’s attributes and benefits, and how they stacked up to the competition.

For example, during his Junior year, Mitch worked for a marketing agency that was helping Microsoft increase its mindshare among college students. He described that job as “Independently reach and educate University students regarding the benefits of Microsoft products while entrusted with expensive technology.”

After some probing into what he was REALLY doing and the knowledge and skill set it required, we rewrote it to read “Manned an on-campus booth and answered questions about various Microsoft software products while retaining proficiency in Microsoft Windows 8.1 and the Microsoft Office Suite of products. Using Microsoft-provided software / hardware, performed a Pre- and Post- Attitudinal Behavior Study.”

Now he sounded impressive!

What was most exciting, however, is that this week Mitch advised me that a Netherlands-based sports organization that he follows on Twitter had tweeted about an opening for a marketing assistant. We quickly got to work refining his resume to match all the skills the job description required and crafted an introduction letter that further highlighted his skills.

We also did a LinkedIn search to determine who the position would report to and poured over the hiring managers resume. I encouraged Mitch to spend time on the company’s website, social media sites to become immersed in the brand, its mission, brand positioning, communications messages and key issues the company is facing.

Yesterday Mitch was contacted by the hiring manager and asked for work samples and to set up an interview. We then went to work prepping him with questions he might ask during the interview process. Honestly, I was as excited as Mitch was!

As I finish this column, I’m waiting to hear the outcome of that first important job interview, but either way, I’m confident that this young man will be a marketing rock star and any firm would be lucky to employ him. And, I relish the opportunity to help another grad enter the world of marketing fully knowledgeable with the skill set to market themselves successfully.