Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - October 1, 2008

What I've Learned: The Generations (I)

In the last issue I reflected on things I heard over the summer months, in conversations with hundreds of bankers from all across the country and from institutions of every size. My bank school and other seminar activities help me see what's on the minds of bankers and managers in the field at any given time, on the industry "buzz" at the moment.

I have already written about "best practices," and how ineffective it is to just grab ideas from successful companies and plug them into your own environment without tweaking them to fit. The other prominent theme I bumped into over and over again this summer, the "differences between generations" discussion, suffers from a similar problem with "lack of reflection before adoption."

I've heard plenty, believe me, about "millennials" and "Generation X" and "Gen Y." In banking circles, these intergenerational communication bottlenecks are feared both internally and externally. Bank management and HR focus on how to provide training, policy, and other communications to the younger employees recently brought on board, while marketing and sales functions look for "magic pills" that will open the doors, or at least the ears, of the next generation of potential customers. We'll focus on the internal communication challenge first, and I'll talk about reaching customers in the next issue.

Most of these conversations seem to imply that if you don't communicate along the right "channels," it is your fault that the message isn't received!

Honest to God, there are consultants out there who do nothing but coach management on how to communicate with "Generation Whatever," and if that's where you want to put your money, that's your call. But it would be a lot more efficient, and probably a world more effective, to just remind everyone of the give-and-take that is fundamental to successful communication.

In my view, "communication" includes accommodation and compromise. I don't say things exactly the way you want to hear them, and you don't give me things exactly the way I prefer. We meet halfway, meaning that we both make the effort to transmit our messages clearly, and we both make the effort to receive one another's messages clearly.

With that give-and-take in mind, resist the temptation to spend too much time and effort on customizing your "communication channels" to fit "generation profiles," while you spend too little time working out what needs to be known, who knows it, and who needs to know it.

Take the current economic crisis. The world of financial services is wildly different than it was just a year or eighteen months ago, so we need to make sure that our young employees know how to respond under these new (for them) conditions.

Who knows about surviving in an economic downturn? Your employees who went through the last one, of course, your older generation of workers. Managers should reward young employees who meet more experienced staff more than halfway, when it comes to learning about financial services in hard times. The employees who make the greatest effort to gather the knowledge they need to act in ways that benefit the bank are the ones who are on the right "wavelengths," regardless of their age.

Work to create a culture of communication where everybody works at it, where no one has the "right" to overlook important information just because it isn't delivered exactly the way they want it. Sending and receiving, through compromise and accommodation, are what it means to be part of an organization, to support shared strategies, standards, and values.

Let your competition tie themselves in knots perfecting their generation-specific communication channels, while you respond quickly and effectively to changing economic conditions.