Generationally Savvy Principals for Attracting and Retaining Top Talent to Improve Your Bottom Line

Editor’s Note: Anna Liotta recently conducted a short program on generational communication for the Washington Credit Union League’s Marketing/PR Council and received overwhelming positive feedback from attendees, who called her presentation “very important” and “dead on.” Below she presents a snapshot of that program and gives background on those generations with some considerations for your intergenerational conversations.

Effective communication in today’s multi-generational business world requires careful navigation. This is especially true in a workforce now comprised of four distinct generations – Millennials (Gen Y), Generation Xers, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists – all of whom bring their own ideas, expectations and fears to the job.  Due to their different formative experiences, each generation has a unique way of seeing the world and, ultimately, a different way of communicating. Leaders of high-performance companies recognize that the key to their success is creating an engaged, empowered and multi-generationally friendly culture.

No News Is Not Good News Any More

In successful companies, the cultural focus is on empowering people through company principles and not restricting them with company rules. Managers at all levels acknowledge “feedback” is important, but often they attempt to deliver the communication in their own generational style and in a way that meets their expectations and needs. This is where the breakdowns happen, leading to disengagement, disillusionment and, ultimately, costly turnover. To understand each generation’s perspective, we can begin by asking what in each generation’s formative experiences and training led them to consider certain frequency and tone of feedback appropriate.

Traditionalists (1927-1945) entered the workforce under the GI generation’s military format where the rule was “No news is good news.” If your boss wasn’t yelling at you, you were not in trouble. You assumed that you were doing the job right unless you heard otherwise.

Baby Boomers (1946 -1964) grew up with 80 million “competitors” for everything. Their childhood was like a perpetual game of musical chairs. When the music stopped, you’d better scramble for a spot because there was never enough for everyone. So, they didn’t feel good waiting to be yelled at or not, and they thought it was a huge success when they got the “annual review” instituted so they knew how they were doing and could compare themselves against their peers with data and documentation.

Gen Xers (1965 – 1977) grew up as the first generation of latch-key kids, with divorced parents and lots of broken promises both from institutions and leaders. They grew up with a healthy skepticism of corporate speak and visionary promises. Xers demand leaders keep it “real” when sharing their feedback. They want applied feedback that correlates to the job at hand, not just once a year when it’s mandated by policy. It doesn’t need to be formal or written down—it just needs to be authentic and pragmatic.

Millennials (1978-1999) are the latest generation to enter the workplace. As the celebrated and cherished children of mid-late Boomer or second family of early Boomers, Millennials are a force to be reckoned with. They have grown up with more attention and resources devoted and available to them than any prior generation. They burst in to the workplace hungry for daily mentoring and coaching. Millennials want be the best, and they don’t want to wait months to find out how they’re performing against expectations. If they don’t get feedback and updates on how they are doing, they can quickly decide this company was a bad choice and immediately begin the search for a new home.

Losing an employee for lack of generationally appropriate feedback is a costly generational mistake, as the price of one turnover can range from 50 to 150 percent of an employee’s salary. Simple steps can help management ease the stress and bridge generational communications differences:

Educate the team. Awareness can go a long way to create greater sensitivity and harmony. Take time to train leaders in the workplace about the differing generational perspectives and needs around feedback and consider consulting an expert on the topic. 

Plan for it. Whether launching a new project, orienting a new member to the team or reviewing a presentation, create opportunities to deliver both informal and formal dialogue and feedback. 

Leverage the differences. Hold a session with your team members to gain their input on feedback style and frequency. Create an option for a self career-planning format that team members can proactively fill-out and review with their managers.

Engagement from Day One. Evaluate how you engage the hearts minds and dreams of your team members. Create a day one welcome lunch, immersion or onboarding programs for new employees, monthly check-in chats, a buddy system where new employees can have a mentor who is not in their reporting line or a career pathing program to discuss the employees’ options and goals.

Leaders of healthy companies realize that when they proactively address the needs of their top talent their profitability and growth flourish.  The benefit of taking these steps will pay dividends in the long run. And, while they might seem cumbersome when revenue conversations are taking priority, following these steps will prevent costly turnover. 

Anna Liotta, a nationally known, award-winning speaker and expert on communication, leadership and generational issues in the workplace, is the CEO of Resultance, Inc., a consulting and training firm.  She can be reached at  or (206) 283-2905 or visit her web site at


Posted in Marketing & Communications.