Managing Multi-Generational Law Firms: Mentoring the Mixed Work Force

By Cheryl J. Leone, Law Firm Coach

This is part three of a  four part series on generational management for law firms. Remember: Today we have four generations (almost five) working side by side and none of them talk the same language! (Read part one and part two.)

By gaining knowledge of what drives people, it becomes necessary to figure out how to bridge the generational gap in such a way that it helps you manage yourself and others. To be successful in management of your employees you need to understand the steps to good generational management.

Accept there are differences. You can not apply your generational conditioning to others. This starts out with defeat and ends with defeat. I knew a Traditionalist lawyer who insisted that everyone arrive on time or before. He had Millennials and Xers working for him who were staying late, enthused over a project, or liked who they were working for. To him it only mattered that when the clock ticked the arrival hour you were hard at work. His turn over rate was exceptionally high. He wasn’t thinking about what drives his people he was trying to drive them from his generational viewpoint.

Appreciate the differences. Each generation brings something to the table. It may be the wisdom of the Traditionalist, the optimistic outlook of the Baby Boomer, the independence and self-reliance of the Xers, or the team spirit of the Millennial; each provide something for the firm to build on. And together all generations can be an awesome power when brought together.

Manage the differences. Each generation views management differently. A good management driven law firm, supervisor, or owner will understand what motivates these generations and how to make them work together. The rules (hopefully few) can be in place. How you motivate people to see the vision and achieve the goal based upon what makes them tick is management at its finest.

Last year I was in a law firm where one employee was 17 and one was well over retirement age with the rest in between. It had a thriving positive work force. It focused on the individual but with structured guiding principles for the firm. It took into account what makes the generational employee happy. I returned recently and thought it interesting to see a young law clerk with an earring in her ear, a paralegal in blue jeans, and the very over retirement age worker dressed very upscale; talking and having fun listening to each other. This law firm has the firm come together once a month for breakfast and about themselves not work. It is absolutely amazing to watch this breakfast event as each generation gives serious consideration to what the others say. They share stories of their lives and they understand each walks a different path.

Traditionalists are mentors at their finest. If you are smart don’t be so quick to lose this vast knowledge they have obtained. They can learn new technology but in a different way. They weren’t raised on computers so they want to have visual input and given time to see how it applies to what they learned in the past. Nothing is finer than to see a Traditionlist say “a-ha!” as they see a new way to do things. And I can guarantee you they will then make leaps beyond what you considered. They are independent and rely on their past living experiences but if allowed to be mentors and validated for what they know they can drive your organization beyond vision. Of all generations Traditionalists are not looking to retire but to contribute. Don’t stereotype Traditionalists; they are not following the expected rules of retirement. Millennials will actually seek out the advice of a Traditionalist. Traditionalists provide insight into the past so that the future can be obtained. Contrary to popular opinion Traditionalists are not rigid but rather open to new ways and new things; they are looking for validation of their experience, their knowledge, and their insight into why rather than how.

Baby-Boomers are looking for a balanced life. With aging parents, non-stop child rearing (remember they are giving you the Millennials) and a fear that what they have will not be enough for themselves let along their parents and their children, baby-boomers feel they are on a treadmill. Boomers were the ones who began the sixties with an attitude of pop psychology and wanted to talk about issues rather than be told. They want feed-back and documentation in management issues. They do not need constant hand holding but they do expect honest evaluations and reward. What is interesting is that the baby-boomers probably invented the 60 hour work week but as their lives are being lived they are trying to pull back and balance the work style with the personal life style. My personal opinion is they are the most discontent generation yet and had to face they will never have it as good as their parents did.

Generation X is the technology force. Their physical activity was which button to push to play a video game. They communicate via technology. They have had instant gratification and they want immediate response. They can multi-task and expect immediate feedback. Annual evaluations mean nothing to them. They are helping this world move at lightening speed. They want a casual, friendly work environment. They want and expect a way to learn and increase their skills. They want their employers to be flexible and they want more freedom to decide how to get the job done. They dislike authority figures. Many an Xer has been lost to another business because someone didn’t see how to play the game. This age group is also leading businesses into the 21st century and their needs are playing a big factor in corporate America and in professional practices. I see more law firms today than ever before with a casual laid back style coupled with interactive work on all levels and they seem to be the ones who get it right. I also find it interesting that when provided with this type of work environment the hard work ethic is actually better than ever before.

Millennials have arrived in the work force. They have never known a world without cell phones, personal computers, pagers and every other technology device known to man-kind. They are pre-programmed as to expectations. They embrace each new gadget as if it is normal while the rest of us sort of watch in wonder. They have high self-esteem, are confident, ask lots of questions, and are eager to learn new things. This makes them want to change careers if something else interests them. They are collaborative and they turn to authority figures or parental figures for answers. Hence, their great interaction with Traditionalists. They do not believe they have to stay within a rigid structured work place or job. And they can be harnessed by providing the right type of environment for them. Because they are the newest generation into how to manage field new ways are being developed daily that will bring their full potential into the work force. Yet there is little doubt but that they are going to need diversity with respect to work challenges, they will want to have an interactive work place, and they want optimistic nurturing to help them grow.

Each generation requires a different management style but all generations want to know the rules, they want to know the expectations and they want to have a vision to follow.

This is part three of a four part series on Managing the Multi-Generational Law Firms. The fourth article is entitled Closing The Generation Gap in Law firms

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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