Managing Multi-Generational Law Firms: Closing the Generation Gap

By Cheryl J. Leone, Law Firm Coach

Part 4 of 4 in a series on multi-generational law firm management

If you have read the other three articles of this series you will have come to the conclusion that management in the 21st Century has basically had to throw out the handbooks on how to motivate and retain a workforce in today’s world. The rules simply don’t apply anymore. The creative lawyer, whether and owner or a supervisor of others, has to understand that the focus is to create a high performance team of individuals who play on the strengths of their people. More importantly, those weaknesses are understood if not forgiven. A dynamic law firm will pull all these generations together and get them moving towards a common vision as a high performance team.

In order to do this you must simply start looking first at the commonalities of all generations, what their strengths are, and implement this into the grand scheme of employee management.

All generations want DEFINED GOALS. To do that you must be absolutely clear in your expectations of what it is you want. It is not about rules. It is about a vision of a goal or project end. It can be a firm vision or even a way to get case concluded every generation wants to know what your objective is.

The Traditionalist will work very hard, be loyal to the goal, will be committed to what is requested, and will want to do this at all cost. The Traditionalist likes to give insight into the solution but can get the job done even if not allowed to. The Baby Boomer will want to be part of the solution. Our Xers will embrace ideas and think big picture and global. They will want informality to reach the goal but they like to play the game. And our Millennials? They want to personalize the goal. They will want structure but they are very high maintenance as they rely on personalized relationships in the team.

MENTORING is truly the key to a high performance staff. But again you have to look for the commonalities in mentoring. While one might presume that the 62 year old worker doesn’t need mentoring, the truth of the matter Traditionalists want to learn new ways and think new thoughts. What they need is recognition of their insight based on experience and then rewarded for making forward motion progress. Working with a Traditionalist gives you a grounded viewpoint with respect to how best to work towards a new vision.

Mentor management means first and foremost you must understand yourself and where you come from. If you do not understand your values and attributes, your strengths and weaknesses, you can’t overcome them to help others. As a Traditionalist I have had to look beyond my generational viewpoints to get everyone on the same page. I may not appreciate the differences as I should but I understand them and I am willing to work with these generations if it gets the job done.

Mentoring of a Baby Boomer is more about how to help them balance their personal and professional lives; recognizing that they will try to drive the vision. Because they are independent they have to be part of a solution and allowed input to feel that they have ownership within your firm. And remember they make great team leaders so mentorship becomes about team play not individualistic accomplishments. And Baby Boomers’ want the recognition as well.

Xers I am convinced are a breed unto themselves when it comes to mentoring. Remember they are the polar opposite of the Baby Boomer generation (their parents by the way). They want open communication regardless of rank, title or tenure. They do not believe in the 60 hour work week. They will invest in loyalty to the person not the company. They must be kept engaged and challenged. Xers will challenge others particularly the leadership of a firm but they also want to be leaders. In some respects they are the best of both worlds. Xers are better being coached than mentored because mentoring is a collaborative transfer of knowledge. Coaching is hands on development of an individual. Xers believe they have the knowledge if you will open the door. Mentoring Xers is more subtle. It is not about the golden ring for them.

Millennials are, in my opinion, the easiest to mentor but again I am a Traditionalist and Millennials love Traditionalists or at least they like to listen to them. They do best in a structured, supportive environment. This also means they will like the more formal evaluations and feedback. They like personalized work and interactive relationships. They are used to authority figures helping them get ahead. Remember we haven’t had time to study their work habits as much as the others. Because they are new to the workplace they need mentoring more than the others. Your ability to have an impact on this generation is just waiting for you to get started.

These differences are easily overcome but the smart person understands management today is not telling people what to do but rather motivating people to do what you would like in a positive way. You must be able to motivate your work force to move in one common direction. Your role as a manager of your human resources is to get each generation to see the other for their worth. This calls into play creative management and it means that you must have a constant evolving workforce.

If your younger generation wants a form a Conga line on Friday and dance around the office one time I can promise you that the Traditionalist will just smile and keep working, the Baby Boomers will roll their eyes, the Xers will ignore them but the Millennials will be happy. In other words, it doesn’t matter if one generation gets supported in one way and another generation gets supported in another way. What does matter is you will give a balanced viewpoint to all generations, plug in things that matter to each, learn to mentor differently and in the end achieve the goal; a successful, well balanced, smooth running team.

High performance teams are nothing more than well mentored, well understood individual who come together for the common good. It is the leader of these bright, intelligent individuals who will make the difference.

Orwell so aptly put it when he said: “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Today’s smart supervisor lawyer will figure out how to allow them to think that while getting the very best out of each generation through understanding.

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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