On the farm, talk around the table often turns to the future and passing the family’s heritage on to the next generation. At the 2019 Feeding Quality Forum co-hosted by the Certified Angus Beef ® brand  this fall, Rodd Welker had a room full of cattlemen laughing and reminiscing over generational characteristics. The Ohio-based head of Eagle Advisor Group, who specializes in human relations in business across age and other barriers, shared information on each generation, key differences and tips for finding common ground. Though the discussion was centered on family ranches, the pointers he presented to the ranchers and the brand’s own staff transcend to business and even family conversations.

“Each group of people born about the same time experience a lot of the same things in life,” he said, so the generations develop similarities, characteristics, preferences and values that shape their lifetimes.

Welker broke down the stereotypes, starting with Baby Boomers, “also known as the workaholics. They live to work.” Gen X grew up with traditional values as the children of Baby Boomers. This led them to develop a new concept of work-life balance. Gen X works to live.

Then there are Millennials (Gen Y), who were raised surrounded by technology. They understand it, “not only from a social perspective, but certainly in a work environment,” he said. Millennials want to accomplish. And Gen Z are immersed in digital media. “They have been on information overload since the beginning of their existence.” They expect the workplace to have and use technology.

“It’s pretty unusual historically that we would have as many as five generations in the workplace,” Welker said. “And I would also add that we have now the largest generation in the workplace, in the Millennials.”

Knowing those keys and how to engage every age group lets employers from feedyard to retail tap into new potential just waiting to excel.

“There is so much evidence that with a diverse generational team, you can accomplish so much more,” Welker said in a later interview. “You’re bringing in all those different backgrounds and experiences and expertise that I wouldn’t have as a Baby Boomer. But bringing in a Millennial on my team, what can we do now?”

We’re all people, with much to learn from and about each other, he noted. Finding common ground will connect better than focusing on differences.

“It really is about just building a relationship,” Welker said. “Learning their stories, taking time to invest in your people and not making assumptions to break down the stereotypes.”

Back at the ranch

Agriculture is at a turning point, with most farmers and ranchers over 60 and families exploring how to pass the torch. It helps to know how older and younger people see things and make decisions.

“Navigating transition in business is tough,” Welker said. “Bringing in the element of family makes it even harder.”

Passing along your life’s work doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and realizing things change with new generations and their ideas.

“Trust the process,” he said. “Family businesses especially find it hard to talk about the tough stuff and deal with the vulnerabilities.”

What most shapes a generation is parenting, and that’s true within each family. If you raised your successor by sharing knowledge and experience, then chances are you empowered them to take the job.

“It’s going to be different, but celebrate those differences,” Welker advised. “If you’re open and if you’re transparent, they will still ask for help. They want to know the things that helped bring about the family ranch—and where it’s been—if they’re going to determine where it’s going.”

Baby Boomers are forward-thinking, concerned about what happens next.

“For most of the ranchers, this isn’t the first generation,” Welker said. “I’m pretty confident that the generation before them had some of the same angst, same anxiety and same concerns. And it turned out probably pretty good for most of those businesses.”

Tips to succeed

Through years in leadership advisory, Welker developed tips to achieve multigenerational success.

  1. Develop the relationship. Be aware of your own biases and take time to invest in people.
  2. Be flexible. Instead of sweeping policies that affect everybody differently, try individualized policy and procedure.
  3. Avoid stereotyping. You may make assumptions, but test them. Be careful with words and accept individuals on their own merit.
  4. Initiate dialogue. Be curious, ask questions and ask people to share their stories.
  5. Foster learning opportunities.
  6. Find common ground. Focus on the things that unite rather than dwelling on what divides.