X, people born between 1964 and 1989, are our rising stars many of whom are just
entering into their prime. Born
into a precarious world when a cold war between East and West threatened atomic
destruction and growing up knowing that life is tenuous, they seek instant or
early gratification via a marketable academic talent or streetwise ability.
Generation X, the progeny of the post WW2 baby boomers, certainly are street
wise! Conceived in an
optimistic peacetime against a background of hitherto unknown wealth many
Generation Xers were latchkey children  disconnected from their
extended families and neighbourhood communities.
Some witnessed the separation of their parents before the onset of their
Xers soon learned, of necessity to be emotionally independent and self- reliant
and, with one or both parents working, they demanded material compensation for
lack of parental contact. Then
as now children and young people were targeted as consumers with ample spending
power. Generation Xers have
been trained to collect branded products as rewards for ‘good behaviour’
from an early age. The speed
of technological advance and force of fashion mean that many of these rewards
are ‘hollow’ because they soon become outdated and in need of replacement.
shaped the Xer’s philosophy.
potential talent and creativity of Generation Xers has a hard sugar-coating of
destructive self-love. Many
well-educated Xers finding themselves unemployed or in work that did not require
a university education, became frustrated and bitter, and now face a potential
second defeat with middle age approaching.
X tends to distrust institutions.
They adapt poorly to the hierarchical systems common in family business,
often preferring to create their own employment or even forming their own
companies. Older style
management tends to react badly to them, considering them to be ‘spoilt’ or
managers then react by seeking to exert more controls through micro-management
offering salary incentives, or bonuses as a means to push up productivity.
Completely failing to appreciate the psychology of Generation X they
then blame the employee when these ‘incentives’ don’t work!
A major criticism of Generation X is a lack of company loyalty.
Xers are seen as people who move rapidly where the rewards are greatest.
Generation X requires a revolutionary approach.
Each employee needs to be carefully evaluated, coached and developed.
Their ability to take initiatives must not simply be acknowledged, it
must be positively encouraged with possibilities for immediate implementation.
A Generation Xer expects instant results and rewards.
In many respects this is more akin to the company’s founder than its
senior managers. In
today’s digital environment this attitude is precisely what business needs
even though the company style will – and must - change.
criticism of employee initiative is that an incompetent or dishonest employee
might easily cause damage. When
Nick Leeson a stockmarket trader, managed to conceal his losses on the Singapore
Exchange his employer, Britain’s oldest (merchant?) bank, was ruined.
Complexity and incompetence in the hierarchy of supervision had allowed
this to happen. When a
top-heavy micro-managing culture prevails in a context where decisions must be
made quickly, decisions and procedures may suffer.
Digital systems flexible enough to enable entrepreneurial flair but
capable of intelligently monitoring performance will reduce costly errors
Kelleher CEO of Southwest Airlines, operates from a style that he calls
‘Management by Fooling Around’. He
says: “I would sooner have a company that is bound by love, rather than
currently own 10% of the company through the issue of stock options.
Those whose initiative contributes to the company’s success are known
as ‘Heroes of the Heart.’ Southwest Airlines is a very successful company.
management pundits argue forcibly that Generation X can only be managed by
tearing up traditional employment contracts and engaging highly qualified or
experienced project workers.
Employees will be obliged to take charge of their own personal, technical
and career development, hoping to become highly qualified ‘knowledge
such a system, the Generation Xer is a commodity to be bought and sold on the
basis of ability, fashion and quality - as expendable as last year’s brand.
Buying in such freelancers may become the only option for small
companies may prefer to retain their investment in employees by offering more
flexible contracts, home working, sabbaticals for development and training,
secondment to charitable organisations, or internal transfers where initiatives
and creative endeavour may find new challenges.
Generation Xers can be wedded to a company if the employer acknowledges
the Xer’s need for immediate results, and importantly
seeks to satisfy the need for love rather than ephemeral reward.
Turkey some members of Generation X are re-evaluating Life’s purpose.
Many of the Ag17 Group  which continues to provide
voluntary support to victims of the earthquakes of 1999, are highly skilled
professionals from industry. The
Internet enabled them to respond to the first shock within four days.
During later shocks they were on the road with equipment, manpower and
support within four hours. Yet
many of these people are frustrated in the workplace by outmoded management
practices and self-interested competitive thinking.
One member of the group said: “Before the earthquake, I thought life
was about a good education, a good job, a new car, a comfortable flat and
furniture. Now I know that it could all disappear in a moment.
It doesn’t stop me buying a new car, or carpet, but I recognise that
the rewards of life lie elsewhere.”
individuals with the respect that you would give the boss!
Xers share the entrepreneurial mindset, but it needs to
2) Simplify the company, and share information digitally.
Xers need fast responses and the information to act. They don't like to have to manage multiple layers of managers it wastes their time and squanders their talent.
3) Create teams around projects, and keep them focused.
Xers have short attention spans; to keep them engaged
they need to feel a hub of communication.
4) Coach individuals in manager management.
Xers will develop as people, as they learn to listen and
appreciate others. Generation
Xers will benefit from mentors who can help to rise above the office politics
and competitive power-plays that drives the previous generation of employees.
5) Trust your systems and your staff
For the Xers, their work is the most important in the
company. Keep yourself
informed, and show interest but let the Xer manage the details.
6) Encourage creativity
Use your Xers as a 'corporate brain'; second them into
looking at issues beyond their normal areas of expertise. This exchange of ideas will benefit everybody involved.
In this way new ideas will be introduced into the company, and the Xer will
learn new concepts to bring back into their daily work.
7) Acknowledge achievement at individual and group levels
Create projects where individuals may shine, but are more
likely to do so through teamwork, than individual effort. Then reward both. In that way everybody gains
 The term is used sociologically to denote children, both of whose parents were at work, who had their own house keys and would be responsible for themselves after school until a parent returned.
 Derived from the date August 17, 1999.
This article was originally
published in Executive Excellence Magazine.
Text Copyright ©2001 Stephen Bray. Stephen Bray may be contacted at email@example.com.