For the first time in American history, we have four generations in the work force working simultaneously. Each one communicates and processes information differently. With the generation gap playing an increasingly larger role in businesses and families all over the world, it's important for financial advisors to begin to learn how to talk and manage these different age groups, particularly when it comes to legacy planning.
The average age of most advisors is the mid-to-late fifties, placing them squarely in the baby boomer category. Whether you work in a team with younger co-workers, or are positioning your practice to offer multi-generational advising, understanding these differences in values, priorities, and approach to work/life balance need to be understood in order for advisors to be agile, remain relevant and retain younger clients from high-net-worth families.
Too often, boomers misinterpret an individual from the behavior and intent of that younger person's generation. It is human nature to make assumptions about someone's actions, especially when it is different from your own. But, in order to communicate effectively, you need to put into context the developmental stage, previous life experiences and social and cultural influences that affect an individual.
Critical Behavioral Insights
The following are some generalizations that boomers may make, along with strategies and expectations they can employ when speaking with younger professionals and clients from X, Y and Millennial generations.
Contrary to popular belief, younger generations aren't any more shallow than previous ones. In fact, they're some of the most value-driven members of our society. They crave meaning in their work, just like you do. It's not enough to explain the "what" and "how" of a young professional's work. You must show them the "why" by communicating the meaning behind it. You'll be surprised at just how responsive they'll be.
Work Isn't Everything
The best and worst thing about younger generations is that they don't value hard work the way boomers do. They value smart work. They multi-task better, identify and prioritize better and are able to get a lot more done a lot quicker. It's not because they're smarter—it's just how they were raised. The Internet, cell phones, social media—even when it comes to having fun—there's always a lot to get done in a young professional's life.
While these qualities make them efficient, energetic and insightful, it also has led to dips in the quality of what they produce. Young professionals see the means of getting work done well instead of perfect as a trade-off for balancing a family and spending time with their kids. The boomer generation spent years divorcing each other and fighting in the household. This younger generation refuses to succumb to that. As a result, the time it would take to be focused on the details of work are instead reallocated to their family life. Maybe it's not the best for business, but it's the best for them.
The last piece to remember is that with the kind of technology we have at our fingertips, we can change how work is done. You can accommodate your younger employees by allowing them to work remotely. Keeping strict office hours on some days, while allowing them to work from home on others, can be a huge boon to younger professionals whose focus may be more on their home life. Young professionals thrive on trust. Give a little, and you'll get a lot in return.
Your job is to help them achieve that balance they crave so much. Encourage vacations. Allow them to leave early. Let them spend time with their kids. However, be sure to inspect their work carefully and make sure that what's being done is, in fact, getting done the right way. Help them find balance.
Don't Be Defensive If You're Being Misinterpreted
Remember this: Younger generations have been raised with more methods of communication than any previous one. They're able to communicate on multiple fronts and don't have a lot of time to be wasting on ambiguity. You need to be clear and concise when communicating with them. Don't leave things to assumptions. While younger generations have a reputation for being soft, they're really not. They like direct, frank and honest communication.
Try to Learn About Each Other's Perspectives
Younger generations work hard and play hard. They're able to get a lot done in a very short period of time. Older generations appreciate nuance. They work hard and play when it suits their work schedule. They're detail-oriented and career-focused. There's nothing wrong with either approach. Sharing those perspectives is important, as there's much to be learned from your experience and their exuberance and passion. You won't agree on everything and that's okay, but having a basis for understanding makes bridging gaps a significantly easier process.
Just because your younger employee doesn't like showing up to work until 10 a.m. doesn't mean they don't care or can't do a good job. Just because they spend less time working and more time playing doesn't mean things aren't getting done. Just because a younger adult child of your client doesn't respond immediately to your request, or do things exactly as you or their parents want them to, doesn't mean they are shut off from learning how to do the task. Step away from your judgements and look for ways to help complement their weaknesses, rather than just complaining about them.
Define a Goal
If you're working with younger family members as clients, be sure to define the future from their perspective.
Ask questions like: What vision do you have for your own future? What are you concerns? What about your family values and expectations? What current form of communication would you like to see addressed? What would you like to know, but feel uncomfortable to ask?
Whatever it is, sit down and talk. With the younger generation, collaboration is everything. Even when they're not the ones with the final say, they like to be in the loop. Keep them present, and make decisions together about the future.
By sharing your understanding of these generational differences in approach to business, family and money, you will provide an invaluable service to your clients. Consider offering to facilitate a family meeting to help your clients plan and map out a future with their children. The inclusion of their children in these critical conversations will go a long way towards forging a positive, trusting relationship between family members. No doubt, your role in guiding this process can help you maintain the edge on retaining the younger generation as clients.
Dr. Denise Federer is a clinical psychologist, executive coach and founder of Federer Performance Management Group. She has been a consultant to the financial industry for 25 years.