Much has been written about new technology for training, shortened attention spans and participatory formats. All of these topics are important considerations for the skills of training leaders, the trainees, and how they work together across diverse demographics and personal and learning styles. However, we need a deeper dive into how generational influences impact learning styles and motivations.

The last three decades have brought the introduction of technological advances, cost constraints when training budgets have been slow to recover after recession cutbacks, and a greater mix of generations of both trainers and learners. Research has found that the most effective training generally includes both in-person and online, self-paced training. And a mix of generations helping each other brings additional components toward a successful outcome.

Today’s training leaders and people managers might be one of several different generations. Designers and deliverers of training need to reflect on the formational influences and experiences that informed and then created their perspectives. Each generation at work today, from baby boomers to Gen Z, has a somewhat different perspective and preference when it comes to desired leader traits and skills. Despite research on the value of diversity and collaboration, people of different generations are increasingly isolated physically, functionally or emotionally from each other by communication styles, media and lack of the perspective that would help them understand why people think and act the way they do. The potential for conflict or disengagement is high but does not have to materialize if different expectations, fears, motivations and preferences are carefully identified and considered in the design and preparation for training.

Here are a few typical key attributes of each generation to consider:

  • Baby boomers are lifelong learners, but most of their learning has been in person, and they recognize the advantages of having oral and body language to determine full and accurate meaning. They might not find totally online training conducive to their learning.
  • Gen Xers tend to be autonomous hard workers, self-reliant, skeptical, pragmatic and resourceful. They are protective of their time and less interested in working in groups than millennials and even boomers. Invite their suggestions. Let them come to their own conclusions, and trust them to follow through as they choose.
  • Millennials tend to like multi-tasking, be impatient and competitive, want fun at work, need quick feedback, and favor collaboration. Invite their ideas – and listen. Team or group coaching and training in short sessions with frequent quizzes and contests work well for them.
  • Gen Zers tend to think multi-tasking is good; be independent workers, entrepreneurial, industrious and serious; and prefer short-burst, visual communications. Be sure to personalize training and coaching, and meet at least some of the time in person. (See also considerations for Gen Xers, who are typically their parents and often their role models.)

Interestingly, younger millennials and Gen Zers are showing a preference for in-person meetings and the opportunity for exchanging information and viewpoints across generations.

Here are some strategies for achieving cross-generational synergies, which cannot be acquired, learned or practiced through internet searches but rather require conversations and relationship building:

  • Enhance employee orientation, involving all generations in order to clarify expectations on all sides and provide guidance early on.
  • Learn the keys to building cross-generational rapport, including how not to communicate among generations.
  • Train boomers, Gen Xers and younger supervisors to take the time to explain the context of assignments and how each person’s work is important to clients, other stakeholders and the desired results.
  • Design and assess mentoring, coaching and training with generational differences in mind to convey perspective, empathy, trust, relevance and personalization – crucial elements to success at work.

Remember, learning leaders influence by what they do and don’t do as well as how they do it. Bring a cross-generational approach to your training for both greater harmony and better, deeper learning experiences.

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