Leveraging strengths, valuing differences
Faced with these challenges, some credit union leaders are taking innovative, flexible approaches toward managing today’s multigenerational workforce.
Confronted with the challenge of guiding a multigenerational project team from three merged cooperatives through a complex core system conversion, Swigert knew her former employer would need to try some new, collaborative techniques to ensure success.
Her first step was to encourage those team members who had already gone through a conversion to share their frustrations and challenges.
“We had some of them talk about their journey and how they felt, so it validated how other people were feeling,” Swigert says. “They shared that they felt threatened and intimidated.”
Swigert also established a buddy system to support those who struggled with new technology.
“A lot of times we would pair a Gen X or millennial with a boomer to help them through,” Swigert says.
Swigert also created project committees that were both intergenerational and functionally diverse. In one meeting, a team member noticed that the representative from the accounting department was absent. The group decided to halt the meeting until the person could be brought in.
Tellingly, the accounting representative had previously worked at one of the two merged credit unions, while the other team members were from the other legacy organization.
“I knew then that they were starting to see the value different people bring to a project,” Swigert says.
Meeting millennials halfway
Another challenge credit unions face is balancing members’ expectations of professionalism with the desire of today’s young workforce for greater flexibility and a casual work environment. For some managers, it comes down to instilling different standards for different job functions.
“We have a business to run and we’re not a cool, hip technology company where people can ride their skateboards around the branches, and where teams hang out with their dogs all day,” says Schools Financial’s Langley. “We’re a professional organization that has to open the doors at 9 a.m. and close the doors at 6 p.m., and we need our employees there to make sure that happens.”
At Schools Financial, branch employees are expected to adhere to a professional dress code. But the standards are more lenient for back-office roles such as business analysts or marketing staff, Langley says. As a result, back-office staff are allowed to wear jeans a few days a week.
While creating a dress code where all generations feel comfortable is important, for Langley it comes down to focusing on the end goal and establishing an environment where employees of all ages feel comfortable and supported.
“It’s more about trying to understand what their needs, wants, desires, and career aspirations are within the framework of the organization,” says Langley, who self-identifies as a baby boomer.
He points to two of his younger colleagues as exemplars of the successful millennial mindset.
“We have a group of incredibly talented business analysts in our organization. Nobody’s older than 30 years of age and they want to be challenged,” Langley says. “I’m always challenging my managers to keep their team members engaged and focused. These are young folks, but they have such a positive impact on the organization.”
Those young professionals at Schools Financial agree with Langley’s assessment.
“If we have the right people in place, I don’t have to micromanage anybody,” says Angelito “JoJo” Cristobal Jr., retail sales manager. “I really try to get to know the people I’m working with. Not just in their current role, but what do they want to do? What did they do before coming here? I try to be intentional about recognizing areas of strength.”
When Cristobal interviewed Jennifer Jones for a business analyst role, he noted she had experience as a Microsoft Excel tutor. Today, he refers other teammates to Jones when they need help with the program.
Cristobal says he does that intentionally, so his employees recognize he pays attention to the skills they have and that “I value them not just for the work they do here, but as people,” Cristobal says. “I want to encourage them. I want them to grow. I want them to feel good about what they do.”
Jones values hands-on, collaborative supervision that stems from a place of mutual respect.
“It makes a difference when a supervisor doesn’t just care about getting the job done, but cares that you’re happy as an employee, that you’re growing, that you’re learning things, and that you’re challenged,” Jones says.
“That’s my approach with everybody regardless of age, role, or position,” adds Cristobal. “It really is about trying to figure out what makes someone tick as an individual, without any assumptions based on generation.”