The Traditionalist and Change

Think about the oldest and the youngest employees in your company and how they work. Do they approach work the same way? Probably not. They won’t approach or deal with change the same way either. This will have significant impacts during your ERP modernization or Business Transformation and is important to recognize.

In the last few posts I have discussed Change Management as Risk Management around generations in your workforce; you will mitigate your risk significantly when you address change successfully with your people. Since change happens at the pace of the individual, how do you help hundreds or even thousands of people change effectively in your organization with up to five generations working within any given organization?

Last time, I wrote about the Baby Boomers and how to help them experience successful Organizational Change Management (OCM). Today, I’m discussing the oldest generation currently in our workforce: the Traditionalist.

The Traditionalist

Born before 1945, many in this generation have retired, but not everyone! This generation has seen a more significant change in the world than any other group, and younger generations often dismiss the idea that Traditionalists will be willing or able to change their work environment. By extension, younger generations also tend to dismiss the value that Traditionalists bring. But, it’s amazing how a little information can change that thought and help people work together.

Here are some generalizations about the Traditionalist (keeping in mind of course that these are generational themes and don’t define every individual):

  • They believe the top-down approach to leadership is the most effective. They trust their leaders to know where the organization is going and what needs to be done to get there.

  • Based on this trust of leaders, they may not require significant detail or depth of explanation on the change initiative as a relates to the overall strategy.

  • They respond to an emphasis on transition.

So, what do you do with this information? Here are a few quick thoughts to help the Traditionalists make a successful change, so they can make a valuable contribution to the changes ahead.

First, present the vision and make sure that it is communicated from the top. This should be part of any change initiative, and there is no exception here.

It is very important to validate the work the Traditionalist has done in the past. Acknowledge the value they have brought and then help them separate from the old way of doing things. Create safety in the uncertainty of the in-between. A roadmap is helpful here. Show them point A to point B and what the road can look like in between. It can take the fear and guesswork out of the fuzzy middle when everything seems in an uproar, and it may feel like the direction is lost.

Include Traditionalists in your project teams. This will make them part of the change while positioning the company to benefit from their organizational knowledge. They have the knowledge and background that is missing in the younger workforce. Traditionalists were often there when certain company cultures were formed or remembered which mistakes were made during previous transformations. If they can be reminded that they have this background and expertise so to speak, it will help them see that they still have a place in the changing environment.

One quick note to keep in mind on this point: because a change of this significance is always hard, it is a common occurrence for those with longevity in your company to become vocal naysayers. When they have seen a lot of change through the years, they will most likely have examples from the past of a similar initiative that failed.

While doubt is understandable, it is important to remind everyone that you will learn from those failure points. Doing so will acknowledge the past and the Traditionalist’s experiences. Then encourage your team with the present reality: much has changed in the past few years alone. Just because something was a failure in the past should not dictate its preoperative demise. You will need to strike a balance between bringing in the value of learning from the past and preventing a derailment of the project over a naysayer perspective.

In some cases, a Traditionalist may choose to work on the periphery of the project because of retirement plans, however, because of their knowledge and first-hand experiences, it is important to involve them in the change you are seeking for your company. Doing so not only allows you to capture valuable and often undocumented knowledge, but it also means they won’t feel left behind- something which is, unfortunately, a common situation in the face of the ever-changing workplace of today.

Remember, change with your ERP modernization or transformation will only be as successful as your people who work there, so give all members of your workforce the opportunity to be part of the change.

The final post in this series on generations and change will feature the other end of the generation spectrum, Generation Z. Please keep an eye out for that post. An overall understanding of each generation in the workforce can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your tactics.