Managing Multi-Generational Law Firms: Through Knowledge Comes Understanding

By Cheryl J. Leone, Law Firm Coach

Part 2 of a 4 part series

I attended a meeting in 2007 that contained a course on management of multi-generational workers. As a Traditionalist even I was a little shocked to hear that HR people are getting calls from parents for the Millennials wanting to know how they did in the interview. My first reaction was I would never put up with that. The HR guru was quick to point out this type of thinking could make me over-look an exceptional employee. He then explained that Millennials were raised by “helicopter parents”. The term was given because Millennials parents hovered over every waking moment of their lives making sure their child could succeed in tomorrow’s competitive environment. These parents created opportunities for their children and then taught them to seize the moment. I have actually come to believe it might not be bad to have mom and dad on my side when motivating junior.

Characteristics of each generation tell you what to expect from them. The Traditionalists are extremely dedicated and loyal. They will do what it takes to get the job done. They have a respect for authority and believe in duty and patience. They believe in tried and true but not magical solutions. They don’t think they have to retire. Interestingly, savvy business owners are starting to rethink the Traditionalists role. They are seen them as stability for the business and are encouraging this age group to keep working and they are.

Baby Boomers (44 to 62 years old) were raised to believe the world was about them (because it was going to be). They are the me generation. They will have to work longer and harder with less return on investment to achieve what they want to achieve. They will not do as well as their parents, and this is a hard fact to swallow. But they are optimistic and believe they control their own destiny. They are team players and workaholics. Success must be visible; i.e titles, recognition, awards, and money. They are hard to convince that someone else might have more knowledge. While they want to have the solution themselves they are willing to put their knowledge into a team work environment. You can’t tell a baby boomer what to do but put them into a team and they will make you succeed. In a negative work environment, a Baby Boomer will talk to management and only reluctantly leave if no solution. However, they want to be part of the solution. As they age I think great management people will find a way to accommodate their personal needs, such as parent care, so they can continue to work and the law firm will benefit from the knowledge.

Generation X (Ages 28 to 43) are from the latch key kid world. They are 51 million strong. They are independent, self-reliant and skeptical. They seek challenges and are not team players. They are indifferent to authority and they are loyal to people instead of companies. They are risk takers and more entrepreneurial than any other generation. They grew up in a world of fast paced technology where everything you wanted to know was at the type of their fingers. They are the product of one parent households. Because their parents (baby boomers) are retiring now in record numbers with less expected assets. I personally believe they will be known as the Elder Care Generation. Their loyalty is to their boss or a vision. Xers want to work with you not for you. This means they want ownership of their job. They think annual performance evaluations are a waste of time. They want instant feedback and want work to be interesting. If you tell them the job they will get it done. Xers are motivated by the job not the time. If it can be done in 6 hours they will assume they can go home even though it is an 8 hour work day. Xers are usually more focused on their own personal goals. While some say they are hard hearted the truth of the matter is they learned to stand on their own two feet and they expect others to do the same. They learn to move on after negative events and not waste time thinking about the impact on others. Before you dismiss these Xers, remember they are the ones trying to save the world. They believe it is now you worry about tomorrow. They are proactive green thinking individuals and they see the big picture.

The Millennial Generation (ages 9 to 27) are some 75 million strong and are just entering the work force. The impact of this generation is still under study. Remember this is the generation whose parents were involved in every career decision. Get to know mom and dad’s role and you win. Whether you like it or not they will be involved in career moves. Your Millennial is very responsive to structure and encouragement because they grew up in this environment. They have an almost over-developed high self-esteem. Perhaps it is because they have been showered with attention or given more opportunities than any other generation they are almost cocky in their attitudes both at work and at home. Threaten to fire the millennial, and he or she will simply update their resume, send it out, and leave.

Millennials are typically team organized. They were involved early on in soccer, gymnastics, pee-wee football and every other game or activity they could be exposed to. This also leads them to want structure in what they do. Again remember that Mom or Dad had organized their lives with posted lists of things to do each week that would give them the great life. Technology is a part of their lives and they don’t understand why the boss won’t let them listen to music on the IPOD or text a message occasionally. Their cell phone is an extension of their body. They want work to be fun. One of my theories is if it takes a Conga line on Friday to motivate someone then Conga line we shall.

Where does this leave you? If you are a smart employer you are going to be challenged to bring these generations together so that you win and they win. It means throwing out preconceived ideas about what the employee wants or what you will do to manage your staff or run your firm. If you have any supervisory authority or you will be having supervisory authority you need to start figuring out how to make today’s mixed up work force achieve your vision or your goals.

About the Authors

Principals Dave Favor and Cheryl Leone are the founders of Catalyst Group, Inc. with its corporate offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. Rounding out the Coaches is Attorney Carl Solomon of Columbia, South Carolina. They share a common value and belief system that everyone deserves a chance to work for themselves and do it in such a way that it is profitable, enjoyable and respected by others. For more information email our Head Coach.

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