Is Your Company Multi-Generational Ready?
A meeting held at CES in January 2009 became a key incubator for many ideas utilized over the last five years. Without knowing what to expect going in, this meeting revealed an important cornerstone for analyzing the prior dramatic changes in our industry and brainstorming ideas moving into the future. Within the room, Carol Campbell, Maureen Jenson and other key members of the Technology Integrator team had assembled approximately 50 dealers, manufacturers and other industry notables.
“What do you foresee as the most important developments impacting our industry in the next five years?” was the question receiving the most attention; as, every participant was asked to offer their insight. Proceeding counterclockwise from the four o’clock position of the table, I waited at the eight o’clock position to respond. My presumption was that what I had to say would certainly be covered by someone else.
Surprisingly, after many “just like he said” responses, the thought on my mind was still unmentioned. Jumping right in, I said, “this will be the first time in our working history where the extended lifetimes from health technology advances and the financial hits taken by Baby-Boomer retirement plans where we would see Baby Boomers not retiring while seeing our Millennial-aged children competing in the same market for jobs and business; and, that, this would result in bringing a whole new set of dynamics into the workplace and our businesses”.
Perhaps it was because our two Millennial-aged children had recently graduated college and this was more visible to me than some. However, after responding the room fell quiet. As I began wondering then and later if my words were resonating or not, as time passed these words proved to be an important understanding for my own and other businesses and organizations. Gratefully, this was also confirmed in fall of 2012, with the opportunity of questioning Maureen Jenson during our IPRO (Independent Professional Representative Organization) Conference in Austin, Texas. She stated that she clearly remembered the response and felt we as an industry “are very much in the middle of that very market influence right now.”
As a manufacturers’ representative and industry consultant, our privileged “observer-facilitator” position with manufacturers, distributors, integrators and associations allows us to confirm that with the rebound in business activity occurring in many markets, there are specific ESC’s and other market partners who are clearly “pulling away” from their competitors. Why is that? Many reasons exist. However, those who are embracing this nexus in time with a more multi-generational team approach are enjoying greater and more sustainable benefits. Some examples are:
1. Millennial owner with a new systems integration company and very few supplier relationships hires a Gen-X / Baby Boomer General Manager with extensive history and relationships with various supply channels to run the front end of the business.
2. New Millennial owner partners with an established Gen X/Boomer Interior Designer having great interpersonal skills and well-heeled Gen X / Boomer clientele enjoy growth from incredible multi-generational synergy.
3. Boomer owner makes intentional efforts for incorporating and nurturing Millennial-aged talent, ensuring they’re part of business planning; use of their insights for strategic and tactical product and technology plans.
The challenges of connecting, however, are still significant for many of us. Relating with multi-generational team members and clientele is not a one-dimensional path. Multi-generational connecting is best seen as a team sport. In the same way that recent books and articles are heralding man-machine interfaces such as Siri needing more refining; so, too, intergenerational methodologies and connections are needing improvement and refinement. These connecting issues apply both to internal operations and processes, as well as, connecting with a company’s external, targeted client market.
Recent research revealed a resource, Jason Dorsey (www.jasondorsey.com), a Millennial-aged speaker-presenter out of Austin, Texas. In an online presentation he addressed a multi-generational group by:
1. Pleading with the Boomers in the room to “never retire”… that Boomers had skills and abilities foreign to his age group ... like “you know how to do long division!”
2. Cautioning Boomers who were still handwriting instructions or memos and reminding them “many of us don’t read cursive; they don’t teach that in schools now!”
3. Advising Boomers to note that “a phone call to a Millennial is often not answered, while a text sent even a minute later will receive an instant response.”
So, we have some work to do. Connecting as a functioning team is critical. Using Mr. Dorsey’s example of a multi-generational team being asked to do a video presentation on Mt. Rushmore, he noted the older generations would likely have actually heard of Mt. Rushmore and know where it is. And the younger generations would know where to search and compile the information into a usable presentation. Working with a CEDIA-centric graphics and business development company named Relidy (www.relidy.com) and learning from strategic planning efforts with organizations such as CEDIA (www.cedia.org) and IPRO (www.avreps.org), there are some observations to be passed on for your company becoming more (or, showing you’re already on your way) multi-generational ready.
Principle One: Strategic use of resources for promoting and connecting with new clientele should not be a casual consideration. Here, multi-generational considerations are not only key, but surprisingly overlooked—even by seasoned professionals. For example, as reported to me recently, an organization creating a Millennial-targeted publication did not include a short text number for subscription responses, because the Boomer-aged directors concluded “no one uses text.” Clearly the effort was handicapped from the start.
Principle Two: Multi-generational solutions are best compiled by empowered multi-generational teams. Resist entrenchment in taking sides. Empowered teams provide hope for success. Examples of challenges:
1. Millennial-aged personnel are often appropriately critical of Boomer principals who may be electronic-communication averse and therefore miss important communications.
2. Many new Millennial ESC’s appear unaware that using “free” email address such as firstname.lastname@example.org as the business email is perceived by affluent clientele and manufacturers alike as a company not being around for very long. Purchasing a domain and email service can be less than $100 per year and should be step one of a business marketing plan made evident to all your market connections.
3. John Naisbitt famously coined the phrase “high tech, high touch.” Multi-generational connections are best achieved through refining a blend of high-touch interpersonal and high-tech connections. This blend is best devised and managed with an empowered multi-generational team.
There is an excellent positive example of a young ESC group in our sales territory who is leveraging technology for connecting with clientele, manufacturers and personnel in the field. Their iPad app, called SpringDeck (SpringDeck.com), is a non-Internet-dependent platform for delivering manufacturers’ installation and marketing materials directly to their sales and service personnel’s iPads in the field. A strong reason for their success so far has come from their willingness to incorporate multi-generational input from manufacturers and other partners.
Principle Three: Utilize the benefits of key associations. As a former CEDIA Board Member and current IPRO Board and CEDIA Advisory Board member, the number of ideas offered and generated in a multi-generational way is often outside of one’s usual consideration. Change only increases in speed. It is actually more likely, in a climate of increased change, that there is something developing in the market not hitting your radar. Connections made via associations are great areas for new connections and solutions.
Clearly we are already in the throes of a multi-generational world, and those who are acknowledging and also implementing this reality into their company culture and processes are already pulling ahead of the competition. •
Andrew Ard is a former CEDIA Board member, recipient of CEDIA Representative of the Year and has served as Chairman of IPRO (Independent Professional Representatives Organization) since 2005. As a member of the CEDIA Advisory Board for over five years and as a manufacturers’ representative principal for over 20 years. Andrew is currently Director of Residential AV with Elite3Pro, provides marketing services for Elite3Pro and business development with Relidy LLC and has served as consultant for manufacturers since 2007.
Andrew Ard is an industry veteran with over 20 years’ experience serving in marketing roles for key CEDIA manufacturers and service organizations. He is also a member of the CEDIA Advisory Board, former CEDIA and IPRO Board Member. Andrew is currently serving as director of marketing and outreach for Dallas Sight and Sound, a founding design-build system integration company and member of CEDIA, specializing in high-performance, easy-to-use systems that have been delighting clients for over 30 years.