Leading Multiple Generations in the Hotel Sales Workforce
By Todd Ryan Director of Sales & Marketing, Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel | May 05, 2013
I have been called apathetic, cynical, disengaged and outright lazy. I have been considered hopeless, unmotivated and have been called a slacker all by people of whom I have never met and all older than me. Like, gag me with a spoon! I am a member of Generation X; the MTV generation. I simply added that last part solely because I can remember MTV when they actually played music videos. If you were born roughly between 1966 and 1976 you may be able to relate to the way our elders described us. I found it interesting that a group of older people that I had never met felt as if they knew me, especially as I entered the workforce. On some level, I was focused on proving them wrong. Yet, it was frustrating that few of my direct leaders had little to no interest in understanding what made their employees tick. There was an assumption that you had to be like your leaders to advance in your career and take the exact same steps they did in order to rise through the ranks. Potential and ability be damned! You had to put in as much time, gain as much experience, and travel a similar path as they did if you wanted to succeed.
If you are a leader, how often do you put yourself in other people's shoes? Sure, there are times when a sales leader may go on calls with a seller or work directly with a customer but do they step back and assess the nuances of the process to gain a little more perspective? After leading sales departments for five years, I was given the opportunity to join a pre-opening sales team wherein I was back in a direct selling role. Once the hotel opened and my role reverted back to traditional leadership, I felt even more aligned with the sales team as I had been able to better understand what they were going through on a day-to-day basis. Things had changed dramatically since I last had an active sales role. Technology was light years ahead, the number of ways in which sellers were requested to respond to leads had increased and become more streamlined, the customer demographic changed, the lead time given to hotels prior to a groups arrival and shortened and the manner in which customers bought was evolving. I soon realized that I had been away for five years and that I was able to be more effective as a leader by having gone through that process and walked a mile in their shoes.
Take that a step further. When leading other people, how many times have you really tried to understand the people that work with you every day? Forget the day-to-day activities that a seller must go through in order to advance a sale. What about what really influences the way they think and the way in which they make decisions? What about how they perceive the world and why they have that particular view? What about the way in which they grew up, the time period in which they grew up, the place they grew up, or even their family dynamic? These all have profound influences with respect to how we approach our daily work and our careers, and with the number of generations in the workplace and a world that shrinks by the minute through globalization, effective leaders need to understand this now more than ever in order to succeed.
Sometimes I wonder how many people stop to think about this when leading other people. It wasn't that many years ago when you didn't really have to understand other people. In some cases, everyone in the workplace was the same. Generations lasted decades. We all know that the world is rapidly changing and with it seems that generations are not separated by 15-20 year increments but by five or seven.
My Grandfather opened his own business in 1955 at the age of thirty-four. At that time, most of the people that he hired were primarily within his own generation, those born between 1922 and 1945. This generation has many names in social science circles, though one thing is constant; this Generation's lives were shaped by two World Wars and the Great Depression. For him, it wasn't until the mid-1960s and early 1970s, when the Baby Boomers started entering his workforce that a new generation would be working for him. At that time, he was leading two generational viewpoints until the later part of the '80s when yet another generation would enter, Generation X. By that time, he was getting ready to turn the business over to some of his children, but for nearly 30 years, the workforce was somewhat consistent in terms it's employee dynamic.
My father, on the other hand, was born in 1950 and eventually landed in the hospitality business. Like many Baby Boomers of his age, he took advantage of good economic opportunities and worked hard to advance his career. By the time he began to strategically lead others in the early 1980s, like his father before him, he had to primarily deal with only two generations working for him. As the 80s gave way to the '90s, Generation X started entering the workforce. Some Baby Boomers may not have had a direct reporting relationship with this generation if they reached executive level positions that tended to require years of experience to obtain. However, many mid-level management Baby Boomers were now leading three separate generations with a vastly different cultural values