ProcureCon Dispatch: Managing Generational Diversity

ProcureCon 2010 kicked off this morning in Dallas, Texas with a series of round table discussions for procurement executives sponsored by IQNavigator. And while it's always stimulating to hear first-hand from front line procurement professionals -- their current challenges and coping strategies -- the high point of the morning was a panel discussion with Ann Manocha, Director of Indirect Supply Chain for KLA-Tencor Corporation and William Knittle, Global Procurement Director of BP America. Moderated by Brian Owens, SVP of Market Strategy for IQNavigator, the refreshing topic wasn't the economy, but how to best manage and motivate your mix of "boomers, gen X, gen Y and millennial" team staffers.

Brian defined boomers as born pre 1965, gen X and Y between '65 and '80 and millennial as born after 1980. The audience consisted of approximately 65%, 20% and 5% respectively, while it was generally agreed that the procurement work force mix is about 50/25/25. This co-working generational age mix is probably much like it has always been, but technology induced cross generational methods and styles of communication have changed dramatically, creating new management challenges to maximize performance.

Bill Knittle suggested that cultural diversity has usurped the melting pot philosophy with which boomers came of age. The obvious and increasing cultural diversity of a global economy is now augmented by intra-cultural preferences. Ann Manocha observed that boomers clearly prefer face to face interaction while their younger peers say "just text or IM me," and emphasized that all preferences need to be welcomed and embraced.

Aside from communication preference, it appears from the discussion that there are other fundamental differences among our co-working generations. Principally -- and at the risk of over generalizing -- XYMers are "competent, fearless and highly motivated with a touch of corporate ADD." Qualities, the panel suggested, that are likely to cause them to switch jobs every 5-7 years -- a critical and urgent ROI challenge for their current managers. Boomers, on the other hand, were characterized as "life/work balancers who like to mentor and leverage their experience but do not like to be intimidated."

In conclusion, judgment and exclusion were deemed the enemy of diversity. And while there aren't any one-size-fits-all strategies for maximizing multi-generational team performance, it was also agreed that the best performing teams comprise all age groups. Judging from the resounding audience enthusiasm, this is a topic worthy of far more investigation and discussion.

William Busch

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