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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

By: Sharon Birkman Fink, Birkman International
Posted: October 9, 2008, from the October 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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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.