FloridaTrend.com, the Website for Florida Business

Generational diversity

(Mark Wemple)

At a recent conference, I heard generational expert Kim Lear talk about the multi-generational workplace. She went through the four generations we are most familiar with — traditionalists of the “Greatest Generation,” Baby Boomers like me, Gen X-ers and now the Millennials.

One question she asked really got my attention. In pointing out generational differences, she asked, “What are your memories of NASA?”

People my age tend to associate NASA with success, teamwork and engineering brilliance — because our dominant space-related memory is man landing on the moon. The attitudes of younger people, however, have been shaped more by images of the Challenger explosion, which leads many of them to associate NASA with failure, death, engineering miscues, etc.

We all perceive the world differently. No, I didn’t fight in World War II or Korea; I didn’t suffer through the Depression; I didn’t attend college when it cost $125 per semester. But I do recall when airline flights were more comfortable, when cars had lap belts instead of shoulder harnesses and when we could live just fine without computers or smart phones. Our children have no such recollection.

The simple lesson is that people view the world through their own experiences.

This edition of Florida Trend with its Best Companies coverage (online here or on page 114 of the August issue) is the perfect time to reflect on this generational diversity. A successful company today understands that people are different. The Greatest Generation that established the top-down management style is no longer running America. Instead, companies have had to adopt a more inclusive style where everyone has a say and where everyone feels important.

Personally, I’m not comfortable with a workplace where shoes are optional or where everyone votes on who gets raises. But maybe, just maybe, I’m too old-fashioned. Maybe that style is the future.

We need to understand that people are not all the same. The accounting staff has a different mindset and different skills than those in sales or marketing. Observant Jews may have different scheduling needs than observant Catholics. Some of us work most effectively in the evening, not at 8 a.m.

A successful enterprise may succeed by marketing to one specific group and hiring people who most resemble and understand that group. Or they may succeed through diversity, welcoming people of all ages, colors, faiths and skills and helping them work together.

I think flexibility is the operative word these days.

Technology takes centerstage in three major pieces this month: The feature on the High Tech Corridor, which runs across the belly of the state and encompasses hundreds of enterprises at the forefront of innovation; a section on research at universities and other centers of excellence; and a report on the energy industry, which is rapidly modernizing as it moves to new fuel sources.

Fitness update: Once again I was pleased to participate in the Leadership Florida 5k, finishing in 30:30, which was terrific for me. I completely lost sight of the leader, Jacksonville attorney Giselle Carson, after 500 yards — but she competes in the Ironman and is a member of the Seven Continent Marathon Club, so I don’t feel too bad.

— Andy Corty

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