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Thu 26 Oct 2017 03:37 PM

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Opinion: Time to embrace different generations

A successful organisation is one that combines years of experience with a youthful outlook on the future

Opinion: Time to embrace different generations
Logan Paul: the 22-year-old heads a new wave in digital marketing.

When one looks around an office in 2017, it’s hard not to be struck by the mixture of generations.

It’s not at all uncommon for a young employee – who was born into the age of the internet and has grown up with social media – to sit alongside someone old enough to be their parent, with decades of work experience already behind them. Although far too many may cringe at the thought, understanding what these generations can learn from each other can be critical for a company’s success.`

In this edition, we look at both sides of this equation. Our cover story delves into the life of Logan Paul, a 22-year-old American social media ‘influencer’ who earns millions of dollars per year.

Initially that revenue came from endorsing other companies. Now it mainly comes from selling his own “Maverick” brand. Representing the other side of the coin, we have GE’s John Rice, looking back on 38-year career working for a company founded 125 years ago.

The unfortunate reality is that many people of Rice’s generation dismiss the social media millennials who Paul represents. In his own words, he often meets (mainly older) business people who assume that his job “can’t be that hard”. On the other hand, many of Paul’s peers likely consider Rice’s demographic a relic of times gone by, and cannot imagine staying in a large corporation for what seems like an eternity.

Successful organisations, however, realise that success stems from leveraging the strengths of both generations. And GE itself provides an excellent model for others to follow. The company – founded in 1892 by none other than Thomas Edison, ‘the father of electricity’ – has evolved dramatically over the decades, to stay relevant.

It has also embraced social media, using ‘influencers’ to tell its stories in a way that will engage new audiences. For example, the company has done “Instawalks” with social media stars through aircraft facilities to make complex subject matter accessible to the masses, while trending hashtags such as #WhatsInMyBag shed light on the daily tasks of its employees.

Young people, for their part, can – or should – use opportunities to learn from the experiences of their older colleagues and bosses. The young people of today, after all, will be the CEOs and managers of tomorrow – jobs that will be impossible unless they learn about what has worked, and what hasn’t, in the past.

Perhaps more importantly, companies today must take into account that their new hires are very different from those who came before. Long gone are the days when an employee joined with the expectation that they would leave with a carriage clock decades later. As John Rice tell us, new recruits are more likely to head for the door if they don’t feel they are challenged, motivated and doing something “that matters.”

While older generations may dismiss this attitude as nothing less than a lack of commitment, it shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing. Young people can serve as ‘intrapreneurs’ who will help their older leaders take companies – no matter how old or traditional – to new heights.

“It’s an old saying, but the only constant is change. You not only have to believe it, you have to live it,” Rice says.

To make sure companies keep up with these changes, employees of all ages would be well advised to listen to each other. There’s no telling what they might learn.