They’re back and they’re taking over. Are we ready?

I was recently talking to a team of franchisor marketing executives about communicating with franchisees when I realised the entire team, including the manager, was around 30 years of age. While they listened politely, I couldn’t help but sense they were thinking “yeh, yeh we know what you’re saying, anything else?” And I found myself thinking in response, “I know you think you know what I’m saying, but do you really know?”

Please don’t write me off as a Gen Y bashing Baby Boomer. I’m not. For the last seven years most of my work team have been Gen Y and they’ve been fantastic. But I have to say we have worked together on developing their face to face communication skills, their patience in working with older people and their willingness to stick at the difficult jobs.

A recent Ernst and Young study on perceptions of managers, surveying equal numbers of Gen Y (18–33yrs), Gen X (34–49yrs) and Baby Boomers (50–68yrs) has found the Gen X managers lead the pack when it comes to competence, decision making and generally being best equipped to manage in the current and future economic environment. While Gen Y managers are seen as being enthusiastic, highly tech savvy and the most comfortable with diversity, they are also rated as being the most difficult to work with, the most likely to have an attitude of entitlement, and lacking in communication skills and “executive presence”. Baby Boomers are seen as the most productive, hard working and nurturing, but the least tech savvy or collaborative.

Based on this research and my own observations, the two generations most likely to clash are Gen Y and Baby Boomers. This is because they are most likely to share negative traits such as being cynical and condescending, they have the biggest gaps in their mastery of technology (a vital discipline today) and they are most likely to project parent-child dynamics into their working relationships. In saying this I’m not meaning to exaggerate generational differences, just to highlight this as an emerging trend likely to impact on the franchise relationship.

Given that most franchisees are Baby Boomers, it is important that franchisors support the growing number of Gen Y managers in developing relevant communication and relationship management skills. This is particularly important in the world of franchise marketing where getting franchisee buy-in is essential. Like all differences, if framed in the right way with tolerance and good humour, these generational differences can emerge as strengths. The way young people are helping their technology challenged elders is a great example.

Leading and influencing franchisees has never been easy. I think the emerging generation gap between young franchisor executives and older franchisees is an area worth thinking about.

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