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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

Sharon Birkman Fink, Birkman International

The cosmetics industry takes as a given the importance of demographic differences in its customers. According to marketing specialists Kline and Company, the wants and needs of U.S. cosmetics, fragrances or toiletries purchasers at age 20, 40 or 60 are the subject of nearly $1 billion a year in market research. The necessity of understanding the demographic drivers of consumer trends is accepted as a given.

What About Employees?

But what about the human capital employed in the cosmetics industry itself? How much do companies analyze the demographics of their employees, who generate nearly $300 billion in annual revenue worldwide? The stereotype of young, glamorous employees at every level from the retail cosmetics counter to the research lab or executive suite is not realistic, but what in fact are the realities? The Personal Care Products Council, which represents more than 600 cosmetics, fragrances and toiletries producers, identifies 14 broad industry job categories. From beauty journalism to selling and merchandising, the PCPC sees some common requirements for any job in the industry: 

  • Creativity and imagination.
  • An intuition and awareness as to what the consumer needs and wants.
  • An enthusiasm and desire to fashion an idea into a finished product.
  • A sensitivity and perception of psychological motivations and trends in beauty.
  • A feel for the complex nature of cosmetic markets and the ability for decisive action

Viewing these traits for industry employees in light of overall characteristics and changes in workforce demographics leads to two inevitable conclusions. First, cosmetics producers must understand the implications of workplace interaction and responsibility transition among three age demographics. And second, companies should be aware of the personality assessment tools available to facilitate training and communication that will make the ongoing generational transition in workplace roles a smooth one.

The Coming Transition

With baby boomers set to retire at record numbers in the coming years, need for emerging young leadership talent will be a major preoccupation of all U.S. employers, including cosmetics producers. Boomers represent nearly half of the current workforce, and if they retire at traditional ages, the need to replace them will be enormous. To deal with such turnover, personality assessment tools, when combined with targeted training programs, can identify the capabilities of each person within an organization so that those with high potential can be nurtured and targeted for retention.

Every company should identify where leadership and talent gaps are likely to occur through retirement and normal attrition. The company should then plan a strategy to develop talent internally, or source it externally, or both. According to a recent study sponsored by Birkman International and Stanton Chase, only 18% of U.S. companies have a talent acquisition plan in place, with 31% saying they’ve planned but not implemented one and 51% having done neither.

The realities of high turnover and the need to identify new talent and capabilities must be viewed through the lens of workplace demographics. Most organizations now understand that there are significant generational differences in the primary demographic segments of their workforce. From the trainer’s perspective, there are three main age categories, and members of each group have their own characteristics and their own needs with it comes to the focus, content and delivery of individual development programs (IDPs).

  • Baby boomers, approximately 47 to 62 years old, typically view training as a means to career advancement, and prefer such IDP forms as classroom teaching, independent reading and one-on-one coaching.
  • Generation X, aged 26 to 46, value flexibility and view themselves as free agents not indefinitely tied to any organization. Their IDP expectations are above all for self focus and building a portable repertoire of skills
  • Millennials is the term now commonly applied to the youngest workers 25 and under. There are potentially 80 million or more of them. For millennials, everything is about speed, freedom, customization and interactivity; the more digital the better. Millennials want to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible and as personally as possible through IDPs that are multi-sensory, immediate, team-oriented and driven by positive feedback.

Personality Testing and Training

The goal of all organizational training is to accelerate the promotion of qualified candidates into positions of responsibility. The best way to accomplish this is through training that focuses on and develops the unique assets of each individual as generally embodied in his or her broad demographic group. Training should measure and understand whether personality traits mesh with specific job requirements and with the necessary skills to work with others or lead others productively and effectively.

Given this realization, the focus of training can then become measuring and understanding how a given individual's personality traits mesh with specific job requirements and allow that individual to work with or lead others productively and effectively. To support IDPs, the best personality tests analyze and report what motivates workplace behavior, and identifies the needs that drive behavior in positive and productive directions. Whereas we can generalize to some degree about certain outlooks or proclivities of generations as demographic groups, at the end of the day, each member of a generation will have his or her own strengths, weaknesses, productive behaviors and stress behaviors that may be similar to or differ from his or her generational cohorts. Personality testing identifies and brings those characteristics into focus.

Personality Testing and Communication

Effective personality testing has another advantage. Generational differences can cause tension, but miscommunication can occur between any employees with clashing personality traits or styles. The best personality assessment tools can address this problem by measuring key personality dimensions: usual behavior, underlying needs and motivation, stress behaviors, areas of interest and organizational focus. The resulting analysis breaks down communication barriers because it offers powerful insights into how peers think and act.

Once managers understand what drives the people they supervise, they can be more effective in relaying new ideas, solving problems, or persuading employees to change behaviors that create stress for themselves and others. Essential to the process is that personality testing is non-judgmental. It provides employees with a common language that neutralizes assumptions and judgments that people often make about each other. In that way, it helps create a foundation for reliable communication, trust and collaboration.

By helping employees understand how others receive and process information, personality testing can help managers build better functioning teams, workgroups or departments. Even more powerful is when assessment is used as a recruitment tool that helps those responsible for hiring to understand how job candidates will interact and communicate with other employees and clients in everyday workplace situations.

Complex, Exotic Ingredients

Cosmetics producers never combine complex and exotic essences and ingredients without careful testing and extensive analysis. Well, no complex, exotic ingredient is more crucial to a company’s success than the people who develop, make and sell its products. All employees have tremendous potential to transform the organizations where they work by exercising skills to be flexible, able to cope with change and ready to find new ways of solving problems. The best ways to realize this potential can be learned, cultivated, honed and enhanced through effective training programs that use accurate personality assessment to identify individual capabilities.

Sharon Birkman Fink is president and CEO of Birkman International, Inc., which provides a unique assessment tool that accurately measures internal needs, behaviors, occupational preferences and organizational strengths. She can be reached at 713-623-2760 or

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