Align Baby Boomers and Change

35% of today’s workforce is made up of Baby Boomers. As with every generation, there are some generalizations that impact their outlook on careers and their role in a company. As you prepare for an Enterprise Resource Planning tool (ERP) replacement or modernization, the Baby Boomer generation deserves a high priority as you develop your change management plan.

The requirements this group has for successful change align well with any major initiative: the need for an extremely well-thought-out strategy and transparent communication.

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, meaning they are in their 50s through early 70s. Because of their longevity of experience in the workforce and the proportion of workers (the aforementioned 35%), they are typically well-represented among the leadership positions in the company.

The youngest among them have been in the workforce as adults since about 1982. Even if they haven’t spent decades with the same company, they likely have the longest tenures within the industry and hold positions that are commensurate with the experience they’ve acquired.

Because they typically hold these leadership positions, and because of the wealth of knowledge they possess, it’s imperative that they have buy-in for any change initiatives at the inception of the project. The workforce needs to see that changes have approval from the top in order for people to believe that a sustainable effort toward progress is underway. The workforce can also gain valuable insight from their experience as change takes place within the organization.

Buy-in For Change Initiatives

To achieve their buy-in, here are some generalizations to understand their perspective:

  • The Baby Boomers came of age by changing every market they entered — the consumer, job, and stock market. Their generation challenged the cultural norms and sought to implement changes that aligned with their sensibilities of what is right and wrong.

  • Organizationally, Baby Boomers — like the Traditionalists before them — have a large degree of trust in leadership’s ability to create a strategy; however, they are a bit more cynical when it comes to the changes required to meet the strategy.

  • Boomers want to know specifically how the initiatives align with the strategy and how the changes will benefit their needs — a vital perspective to possess when considering a significant change.

  • If the change initiatives won’t meet their needs, Baby Boomers will want to make some changes within the organization, or they may leave to find what they need.

  • It is imperative that each of the three phases of transition (separation, in between, and integration) is clearly identified for the Baby Boomer.

In order to appeal to this group, a well-thought-out plan needs to be presented to them. This means that you will have to take time to jump into the details of what a large change will mean and how it will be executed.

Define the ultimate goal: It’s easy to get lost in the notion that the change initiative is the goal: something on which everyone will be concentrating. The change is actually the means to another end. Start with what you are hoping to achieve and quantify it. It’s better to say that you expect 15% year-over-year growth in net profit than to set the ultimate goal as “faster growth.”

List the benefits to the organization: This goes hand-in-hand with setting the goal. In respect to change management of an ERP system, you’re looking for increases in efficiency that lead to better uses of human resources, better planning tools that increase on-time performance and shorten lead-time requirements, or better analytical tools for internal information, so company leadership can recognize market opportunities sooner.

Explain the benefits to the workforce: When you’re planning a major shift in the day-to-day operations of your business, people will get on board if they understand the benefits they will individually enjoy. If salespeople are free to increase their customer base, then they will increase their commissions. If three minutes are shaved off the order entry procedure, sales support staff can process more orders.

Share the plan: Baby Boomers need to see the major milestones of a large initiative, so they can understand the logic of how you’re moving from your current state to your future state. The overall plan can be a work in progress when they see it, but more detail needs to be filled in for the early stages.

Also, make sure they know who is involved in the planning and what the process is for making adjustments as you move forward. Most change initiatives require gathering feedback from key people in order to benchmark progress. Baby Boomers want to know how to make their voices heard while contributing to the team effort.

Don’t sugar-coat the rough patches: Baby Boomers are going to question strategy. If you’re telling them that everything will be fine, then they’re going to think you’re lying to them or you’re blind to “obvious” problems. Either way, you lose credibility. The better path is to go over the plan and point out where the high-risk elements lie. At that point, you’ve shown that the current strategy has accounted for some difficulties, and you’re not flying blind and hoping for the best.

Each generation, as you have seen from previous posts, has specific requirements that will allow them to experience change successfully. Looking at the big picture, the pieces that each generation needs act like a puzzle. Together, they make your overall project stronger than it could be if you took only one approach. Baby Boomers help keep the company focusing on the strategic picture.

You can’t plan for a successful ERP project without this strategy, and a strong, quantifiable strategy with transparent communication will enable Baby Boomers to make a successful change to your new system and future way of work. It’s a win-win.