Remember the old days? You know, the old days of human resources when:
* Employees gave you ``an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.''
* Employees had just come back from The War. The veterans felt like they were already two to four years behind in life because of the war, so they worked around the clock to make up for lost time and to build ``the good life'' for their family.
* The only job hoppers were those employees who ``drank too much'' or those few who had grown up with a ``silver spoon in their mouth'' and just didn't know the meaning of a ``hard day's work.''
Let's face it, we all knew who those people were because communities were smaller and everyone ``knew someone who knew something about so and so's family.''
* Policies and benefits were written in a ``One-Size-Fits-All'' capacity, and everyone was happy to have them.
* You were hired into a company and pretty much planned to be there until you retired and got your gold watch.
* Employees were proud of their work, they knew what they should do, and they pretty much just came in for 40 years and did it with pride and satisfaction.
We all know people like those just described. They are our parents or grandparents, our neighbors or our fellow employees. In the tire industry, they were the backbone or the forefathers of today's dealerships.
They provide most dealerships' leadership along with the next generation called the Baby Boomers.
No doubt, we've all heard of the ``boomers.'' Born between 1946 and 1965, they've often been called the ``Me'' generation.
They rebelled against the safe and secure world of their parents-until, perhaps, they were downsized, and then they were jealous of the safe and secure world of their parents.
They seemed to have an innate distrust for authority and didn't just keep procedures in place because ``that's the way we've always done it.''
They questioned. They revised. They prided themselves on their ability to survive in ``shark-infested waters.''
Boomers wore bigger-than-life suits, used ``name-dropping'' writing devices and had the confidence that was necessary to bring in the computer generation and the global entrepreneurial economy.
They were, and continue to be, on the forefront of dealerships' management.
So what do these generations have in common? Behind closed doors, they both agree that they are confused as to how to manage the new generation of employees. There have been countless times over the last decade when an excellent businessperson has sat in my office and admitted to being flummoxed over a communication or motivation issue regarding one of his or her newer employees.
They question what motivates this group, born from 1965 to 1979, and called ``Generation X.'' They are even somewhat annoyed by the Gen-Xers' seeming impatience with policies and procedures that, according to management, ``have worked well for years.''
My experience has been that managements usually are frustrated because they are looking at this generation of workers from their own experience base. Although understandable, this is a mistake.
Let's explore the experiences of this Gen-X generation in order to understand better how best to optimize their performance.
Who are the `Gen-Xers'?
Members of Generation X are often products of homes with high divorce rates and dual incomes-circumstances that made them the first generation where being a ``latchkey kid'' wasn't unusual.
They graduated during a time of downsizing, re-engineering, restructuring, displacement or any other buzz word for ``you no longer have a position here.'' If they have not been personally affected, they know someone who has been displaced.
They really don't know anyone in today's industry who has 40 years of service with a company and is close to retiring.
By 30, they will have had at least two post graduation jobs, tried to start their own business and probably will have gone back to school to begin work on an advanced degree. All these actions may have been done by the previous generations, but certainly not in their first decade of employment.
Gen-Xers typically leave their jobs for the following four reasons: to devote more time to family; to pursue a job with more responsibility or greater flexibility; to go back to school; or to start their own business.
They've relied on themselves for many daily needs because of busy parents and, therefore, have a well-developed, independent and entrepreneurial streak.
They rely on increasing their skill base by learning from access to multiple mediums and a few key people. They've grown up in an age of remote controls, microwaves, cell phones, pagers, computers, answering machines, the Internet and hundreds of TV channels.
They often have formed bonds with teachers and coaches with whom they spent extended time.
A work force factor
These and other factors have led to a group comprising more than 35 percent of our work force and who have the following overall characteristics:
They increase their talent base by acquiring skills through aggressively seeking new opportunities both within and outside of an organization. They build their own set of marketable abilities vs. acquiring skills that may just be valuable to one organization, so they can take these skills with them wherever they go.
The result of their inability to rely on institutions and companies for long-term security is that they rely on themselves for security.
They are fiercely independent because growing up they had to face daily problems with their own thought processes and abilities.
They are goal-oriented, creative thinkers and workers who are used to managing their own time and tend to meet goals with little or no direction. A tidal wave of technology and information is routine for this generation.
In most instances, they don't know what a hardcover encyclopedia is, but they can access anything in a matter of seconds with a computer and a click of the mouse.
As a result, they process information with sometimes seemingly alarming speed and are comfortable sorting, categorizing and manipulating data in a way that previous generations can only admire and rarely duplicate.
Their speed at manipulating data gives them a need for immediate feedback-which the manipulation of data can provide. They adjust quickly to change because the immediacy of feedback does not allow them to become ``set in one way of thinking.''
How can your dealership best use this powerful portion of our workforce? Let's consider some approaches:
Recruiting-As we have discussed in previous columns, itemizing the qualities needed for a particular position before the interviewing process will increase your probability of success. Providing Gen-Xers with a realistic job preview by having them interview with someone who is presently in the assignment is ideal.
Remember to market the job to what this generation is seeking-that is, building relationships while learning marketable skills that help them solve creative challenges and produce tangible results.
New Hire Orientation and Training-As hard as this is for many of us to understand, these new hires do not want to hear the message ``Welcome to the family.'' Why? Because given their work-world experiences, they really don't believe a company can be a family anymore.
It is important to stress a mutual-win relationship. This can be achieved by their pursuit of their goals that should align with corporate goals.
They should receive rewards for individual hard work and creativity. Let them design their own training while you oversee their progress.
The tire retail, commercial and retreading industries are rich with extensive training resources. Many of the large suppliers have a plethora of training classes, videos and Web sites which they make available to their dealerships at a very reasonable cost.
Make the Gen-Xers aware of all your internal and supplier learning resources. They will probably design a program that is beneficial for them and others.
Communicating and Mentoring-Gen-Xers require open, ``information-rich'' lines of communication. They gravitate towards employees who can teach them and projects that are new and demanding.
They are especially open to mentors because they typically had good relationships with teachers and coaches. They view mentors as individuals they can emulate, share their experiences with and who will push them to achieve the seemingly impossible because they believe in them.
Motivation and Compensation-This generation wants to be fairly compensated for a job well done.
However, money only becomes their primary focus when these other key ingredients are missing from their assignment: acquiring new skills; having solid working relationships; and tackling demanding problems that provide them with feedback and results.
If these ingredients are missing from their job, an overly generous compensation program will not retain Gen-X workers in the long run.
Compensation incentives they value include: the autonomy to plan their work schedules; the ability to change their creative approach; and increased responsibility as they achieve results.
Retention-Flexibility in schedule and fluidity in job assignments are critical to the retention of these employees.
Additionally, management should avoid the six management pitfalls as outlined by Bruce Tulgan, author of The Manager's Pocket Guide to Generation X:
* Poor time management on the part of the Gen-Xers' manager, which then makes the project ``an emergency'' for the employee.
* Micromanagement-Outline the project and then watch them fly.
* Fear-based management-Not only will this not work, but they will make the manager who uses this approach the scapegoat for all of their jokes.
* Management without adequate feedback.
* Unwelcoming corporate cultures-They want to be treated as valued employees not as Legos who are easily replaceable.
* Poor communication.
They're the future
I have met two employees over the last decade in the tire industry who epitomize the talented Generation Xers. One came to the business through the sales avenue, the other through service.
They both ended up in sales and were unique personalities who excelled in their environments.
They ultimately worked for a late Baby Boomer or a first year Generation Xer.
These employees demanded technical tools that, initially, the company did not possess. Fortunately, their manager provided them with these tools and then watched them rock and shock their regional tire world by acquiring accounts previously considered ``locked up and locked out.''
They accomplished this by providing customers with a reason to make a change, giving them data and facts in an easily understandable and indisputable manner.
They relished every training opportunity provided and both considered their manager as one of their mentors.
Their schedules were flexible, as is often true of excellent salespersons. They were top performers and placed very stringent demands on themselves.
They both have become very successful and hold senior executive positions in tire dealerships.
Those descriptions of workers given at the beginning of this column notwithstanding, I would suggest that these days are the ``good old days'' of human resources.
Your management has the opportunity to harness the technological age and employ talent just by knowing how to manage this new generation.
Generation Xers are bright, flexible, creative, goal-oriented individuals who are eager to prove themselves.
Healthy organizations will recognize them as stallions who need to be guided with a light touch on the reins-and will ride with them into the future.
Sources: ``The Manager's Pocket Guide to Generation X,'' by Bruce Tulgan.
``Managing the Generation Mix, From Collision to Collaboration,'' by Carolyn Martin and Bruce Tulgan.