Monday, February 27, 2017

Training Across Generations

By: Elaine Carr

I must admit that any time anyone starts talking about generational characteristics, I cringe. I can see myself in every generation, and I only fit about 60% of the characteristics of my own generation. For Millennials it can be even worse as they are the target of more articles than any other generation—some of them very negative. While I enjoy learning about myself and using assessments to do so, I’m not finding a lot of the generational information helpful when we end up putting people into generational boxes where they don’t entirely fit. 

We still have to deal, however, with the issue of a wide range of people in training. This may
be more pronounced than in previous decades because of a wider range of participant ages as people delay retirement. Instead of focusing on generational differences, which might lead to unhelpful stereotypes, I prefer to focus on what the generations have in common.

Universal Needs
Achieve Global published a report in 2011 that identified some of the generational commonalities. All generations have four universal needs: respect, competence, autonomy, and connection.
  • Respect means that training participants feel valued as unique individuals.
  • Competence means that participants feel that their knowledge, skill, and experience—at whatever level—are valued.
  • Autonomy means that participants can make choices within guidelines to achieve shared goals, such as mastering skills and knowledge in the classroom, as well as how content is applied on-the-job to meet company and customer expectations.
  • Connection means that participants can collaborate with trusted colleagues and co-workers.

Supporting Universal Needs in Training
First, before focusing on participants, instructors need to think about how generational stereotypes might influence their own attitudes. Do you find yourself thinking any of the following?
  • “He’s too old to know how to work a computer well.”
  • “She’s too old to learn new approaches.” 
  • “He’s too young to know what the world is really like.” 
  • “Since she’s a Gen Xer and he’s a Millennial, they won’t get along.” 
  • OR any other stereotypes and misconceptions based on age and/or generation.
These attitudes can creep in and you should watch out for them in yourself and in your participants. Challenge these attitudes every time they arise. People of any age can operate technology well, can be stuck in their ways, can learn new things, can be na├»ve about the world, can have important insights, and can get along with each other or not. 

Other ways to support the universal needs in class include:
  • Ask respectful questions of people in the class and listen with an open mind. 
  • Ask about people’s interests, abilities, and experiences (rather than make assumptions). 
  • Point out commonalities between people’s responses and reactions—between their interests, abilities, experiences, and challenges.
  • Encourage everyone to be respectful of each other—and define what respect means for the class. (Does it mean that we never disagree with something someone says? That you address me as Mr./Mrs./Ms.? That you never interrupt me while talking? Or does it mean that we don’t demean, make fun of, or insult others? I would say yes only to the last question, but respect is one of those words that means different things to different people, so coming to a common definition is important.)
  • Acknowledge that everyone has skills, experience, and insights to offer and build upon those things. 
  • Allow for a range of productive work styles as much as possible rather than advocating only one approach to the job. 
  • Allow participants to make choices on how they will approach a project, an application of the content, or even a simple exercise whenever that is possible. 
  • Partner people across generations so that each can help the other, building upon each person’s strengths, and breaking down stereotypes.
  • Expect a lot from yourself and from your training participants. When you expect great things, you are more likely to see great things.  
We must get to know each person in training as an individual, and then capitalize on each person’s interests, abilities, and experiences. We must accommodate a variety of work approaches and attitudes, and adjust our presentation and activities to meet the real needs of the people in training.

These are standard best practices in training. Trainers have always had to be versatile, adapting the training approach to the real on-the-job needs of the participants. We have always had to get to know people as individuals and to capitalize on their interests, experiences, and abilities to make the training most effective. We always try to give people as much autonomy as possible in learning. And we work to make the training environment safe for trainees so that they can afford to fail and learn from that failure.

Standing by strong best practices in training is much better than trying to use generational characteristics as a shortcut to get to know training participants. Especially since people just don’t fit neatly into generational categories. Making assumptions about people based on their generation is just as inaccurate (and debilitating) as making assumptions based upon race, creed, gender, haircut, tattoos, dress, weight, height, hair color, or any other generality. 

Get to know training participants as the unique individuals they are and use training best practices to adapt to their uniqueness and needs.

A professional in the training arena for more than 25 years, Elaine has 18 years’ experience in the contact center industry. She has both outsourced (domestically and internationally) contact center services and worked in companies doing the outsourced work. The variety of business that she has experienced in the contact center world includes financial services, incentives, transportation, government, healthcare, insurance, retail, and utility services, giving her a wide-ranging view of the industry. 

She is a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP). What inspires Elaine every day is her delight in developing people and helping them do their jobs better. Currently, she is the Training and Development Manager for ICMI. 

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