The Great Divide: Generational Management for Law Firms

I was at my daughter’s law firm this past year and realized that within one firm she had a 21 year old and a 73 year old working side by side. (And by the way the 73 year old beat everyone in the fitness competition in 2008). And I thought of the different thought philosophies that are now within firm management. Learning to work together is perhaps the hardest professional skill to master. Is it important? You bet it is! Are we as good as we should be, probably not. And just about the time we think we have down all the skills we need to be a true team player and we have taken every training course known to human kind on work environment, we are now thrown another curve ball.

For the first time in the history of our country, four generations are working side by side. This means that the person setting next to you probably does not think like you, act like you, or even want to be like you. All of a sudden getting someone’s cooperation or understanding takes on a whole new set of skills we have never needed before. And to complicate matters you are probably working with some one who doesn’t even know the very songs you are humming to yourself during the day.

And while we have been studied and analyzed for all types of factors in our work environment we have failed to take into account generational differences when attempting to understand each other. From Traditionalists, Baby-Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials, each of us have our own thought patterns defined by what we were exposed to growing up.

In an article I wrote for Soaring Eagles, I told the story of my 89 year old father who was very ill. I went to visit him a couple of months before we lost him and my baby-boomer sister showed up with the new game called Wii (I assume everyone but me and Dad knew what this game was about). And this 89 year old man got up with his oxygen tank and played a virtual reality video game and beat everyone. Was he playing for enjoyment like my baby-boomer sister? Absolutely not. He thought it was a good way for him to get exercise! And I came back, immediately bought a Wii game so I could become a sports jock, took two make-believe steps at bowling, tossed the pretend ball, and pulled a muscle to the degree I had to see a doctor, thus becoming the first Traditionalist in history to have a sports injury from a video game.

The point simply is this. We have so much we can learn from each other that are more than professional skills. The skills we learn from each other, no matter the generation, are about life and about how to live life. Each generation brings something to the work force whether in knowledge, advice, or plain old know-how.

There is more than one way to skin a cat and each generation can show the other. To survive in tomorrow’s workplace you are going to have to have a greater understanding of the person sitting next to you and frankly even those you work for or manage. Communication begins with understanding.

And when you have an understanding among generations and you take the very best of each this translates to a
positive work culture where each person is valued for who they are not what you want them to be. And your job becomes just a little bit easier.