For as much as the current generation loves to bash the 20-somethings entering into the workforce and assign clichés about their demeanor and work ethic, the reality is that this group will one day be the industry leaders and is currently among the group leading the charge of a digital revolution. So rather than thinking about what management practices will work best for “them” how can the current generation help pave the way for the future? If the value in the workplace to millennials is a better corporate environment, a reinvented virtual enterprise, BYOD policies and more flexibility on the whole, how are we modernizing to meet those expectations?
- Greg Schwartz, Chief Information Officer and SVP Information Technology, USAA
- Heather Hernandez, Senior Research Engineer, USAA
- Ryan O’Leary, IT Technical Director, USAA
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As the Millennial population continues to enter the modern workforce, tensions are growing in the disparity between the two incumbent generations, Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Misconceptions about the work ethic of those in Gen-Y have been raised in the media, but the ultimate goal is to understand that despite differences, those within a workforce need to share the same mission and can learn from each generation’s unique attributes.
One common trait among all generations is the desire to grow your career and have it be meaningful. And yet each age group carries around their “generational baggage.” Directors required to manage that potential on each side of the age spectrum need to consider these unique needs needs.
For the Millennials, the primary question is how to provide new college hires with a healthy diet of meaningful, substantive work. Often the misperception is that Millennials feel entitled to too much too soon in their careers, but technology and automation has made it such that traditional entry level jobs do not exist in the same way they did for previous generations. New hires are expected to immediately provide value in strategic roles, and many have proven the ability to do that if given the proper opportunities.
For the Baby Boomers, managers need to disarm fears about the rapid growth of new technology including Twitter and collaboration tools. This generation was grown on email, and increasingly the need to communicate through other IT provided methods is becoming apparent. Baby Boomers have engendered the mindset that being in the office endless hours shows a strong work ethic, but this idea is quickly changing as technology enables new generations to work remotely and at liberal hours.
And for Generation X, this group is currently weighing the difference they’re making in their work just as their younger peers have from the outset of their careers. Their goal involves wrestling with the question of legacy. It is slowly impacting the way in which people in Gen-X are communicating and engaging with those around them as well as reassessing the value of social media.
Amid all of these generational arrangements, an issue of respect, experience and tenure naturally comes into play. Gen-Y has a particularly forthright demeanor about the permissions and role they should hold within an organization, something that Gen-Xers and Boomers can be shocked by initially. Managers must walk the fine line of recognizing that while performance above tenure should dictate promotions and responsibility, there are certain things that only experience and growth can provide.
Those organizations observing some of the misconceptions surrounding Millennials are likely self-inflicting the problems. Issues of loyalty and engagement can be avoided if young hires are provided with meaningful work, if processes are adapted, if ideas are listened to and efforts are made to communicate more clearly and peacefully co-exist.
Sanjog Aul: Today’s topic is “Building the Workplace for Gen Y.” Now this is a very special topic for us today. It involves the age and generation gap that’s currently found in the workplace today and how the differences between these generations affect how we all work together. So to represent each generation, we’ve invited three people all from the same IT department at USAA. So to get started, representing the Baby Boomers is Greg Schwartz, the Senior Vice President and CIO with USAA. Next, our Generation X representative is Ryan O’Leary, who is the IT Technical Director of Development. And finally representing Generation Y is Heather Hernandez, who is a Senior Research Engineer.
Now, to basically set the stage, I’ll start with you Greg. We are trying to build an organization that will accommodate everyone working together. We have multiple generations and we all have to work toward common goals. So if we had to really work towards building that quality of interaction in how we reach our goals, is there a set of organizational goals that are being set out where we could identify how priorities are being put in place?
Greg Schwartz: From an organizational perspective, I really believe that what sets USAA apart from the industry and from our competitors is our mission statement. We really value our members here at USAA, and if you’re an employee here, you really feel that every day. I’ve been an employee here for 30 plus years, and I can tell you that as long as I’ve been here, we make all of our decisions on a daily basis, from a strategic standpoint and certainly from a tax bill standpoint on how we can better serve our membership. And that feels very inspirational if you’re a USAA employee because you know what you’re doing matters to your members. And we’re making our decisions in the best interest of our membership. As an employee not only is it inspirational, but we recognize that our employees are what really make it happen for our membership. So we do our best from an organizational standpoint to take care of our employees as well. If you think about all of those generations that we’ve had serving our employees, the mission is really what’s been enduring and inspiring for all of us.
Sanjog: Ryan, Greg painted a pretty good picture, or rather a beautiful picture of what the organization is. But looking from your vantage point, one that’s trying to execute on the strategies being crafted from the top, how do you see the organization?
Ryan O’Leary: I love Greg’s point. I view the mission as our “North Star.” It always guides us. Part of my job is to contextualize that mission in experience, to give it substance. And as a leader, I find it’s vital to connect the dots for my teams. The work that we do, the sweat of our brow: how does it move us towards fulfilling that mission? Part of my job then is to be the translator to both the Boomers and the Millennials with respect to what it is that we’re doing to drill down from a company mission into a department or an organization. How does the department existence help us fulfill our mission?
I find it’s vital to connect the dots for my teams. The work that we do, the sweat of our brow: how does it move us towards fulfilling that mission?
Sanjog: Heather, how long ago did you join this organization?
Heather Hernandez: I started as an intern about six years ago and then I went into this full time position.
Sanjog: Do you remember your first month? How did you connect with the organization, and how did the organization help you get comfortable in your role?
Heather: Right off the bat I realized how important communication and collaboration was at USAA, and it wasn’t just executives feeding information to me. It was me being able to talk to people who I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be able access at such a high level in other organizations. It was a really great opportunity for me and I really appreciated the transparency of the company.
Sanjog: And do you think transparency actually gave you that initial foothold to attach yourself to the organization’s mission? When it came to areas that you maybe didn’t feel as comfortable with, how was the communication between you and all the people involved? How did someone like Ryan help to translate the wants of a Baby Boomer in leadership like Greg?
Heather: I don’t think that we always need a translator. Sometimes it is important, but for the really important messages, we were told those things directly. It wasn’t a game of telephone where the message might have gotten jumbled in translation. I feel if there wert important things for our organization, we heard them directly and we could give feedback to those directions as well. And the thing that appealed to me was that our feedback was actually heard and listened to.
Sanjog: What challenges are continually morphing over time related to new generations and innovations coming into play that you have to plan for?
Greg: All generations have characteristics that define them and the Gen-X, Gen-Y andeven the Baby Boomers are no different. There is one characteristic or quality that I see that transcends generations, and that’s that you really have the opportunity to grow your career. It really doesn’t matter what generation we’re talking about. Our workforce strategy here is we’re really selling our new employees on a career and not just a job. We want to give them the opportunity to grow their careers and aspire to be whatever it is that they desire to be.
There is one characteristic or quality that I see that transcends generations, and that’s that you really have the opportunity to grow your career. It really doesn’t matter what generation we’re talking about. Our workforce strategy here is we’re really selling our new employees on a career and not just a job. We want to give them the opportunity to grow their careers and aspire to be whatever it is that they desire to be.
So for example, we hire a lot of college interns today. Heather is a great example of a college intern that we hired six years ago. One of the things that we clearly are doing a better of job today is listening. And Heather along with a couple of her coworkers six years ago who were part of this intern program came to us with an idea. And in fact they came directly to me, and I was the CIO at the time, with this idea. One of the things they wanted to do is they wanted to help improve the college hiring experience. They wanted to provide a network for new college hires here at USAA. And they even had a name for this program. They wanted to call this community “Nexus”, and when I first heard it, I was thinking “Oh my goodness. This is a great idea! It’s something we’ve never done before.” It was one of those ideas so new to the organization that you had to get a lot of people involved. We had to get HR involved, we had to get our legal team involved. We had to figure out if this was something we could do. And I’m proud to tell you that we listened. We figured out a way to make it happen. We have the social community now called Nexus, which Heather helped cofound. It is instrumental now in how we bring in new employees into our environment, and it’s a big part of what our millennial generation is very proud of.
Sanjog: What are some of the core characteristics of each generational camp? How have you been able to successfully manage those? Are there areas where you could still handle the generation gap better?
Ryan: For me, to the left are the Millennials, to the right are the Boomers. On the left side for the millennials, it’s really about, how do I feed them a healthy appetite of work? I use the analogy of a kid. You don’t want to feed them soda pop their first 10 years, or otherwise they’ll grow up with health problems. And when I look at a millennial’s career, how am I giving them good protein work where they can grow? On the right side, on the boomer side, it’s really about how do I disarm any concerns or fears around the rapid growth of technology? How do we show good examples that, let’s say Twitter, is not a celebrity status update tool, but it’s a powerful mechanism of getting information pushed to you?
For the millennials, it’s really about, how do I feed them a healthy appetite of work? When I look at a millennial’s career, how am I giving them good protein work where they can grow?
I have a great story. We were flying back from India on a 31 hour trip and we arrived in San Antonio and there was a bomb threat, and we were on the runway for three hours and we were exhausted and no one had information as to what was going on. San Antonio is not a city that necessarily gets bomb threats, and while we were in there, one of the people travelling with us did a hashtag search on “San Antonio bomb threat”, and he had up to date information on what was going on. This sort of special, beautiful moment occurred where all these people huddled around him and they were like, “How do you know this information?” And so he explained to Boomers and Gen-Xs alike that he was using Twitter as a way to get vital information as to what was going on. And it was an awesome moment because a lot of people had a realization. Number one, they learnt what hashtags were, but number two, they had misjudged what the tool was all about because they only see on the media that it’s a celebrity status update mechanism. And so that was a great example I saw of how all the dots are being connected.
On the boomer side, it’s really about how do I disarm any concerns or fears around the rapid growth of technology?
Sanjog: Heather, not everyone in your company is Ryan, and not everyone in your company is Greg. But there are individuals within your organization who you work with and those who you report to who you must figure out how to work with. What are some of the challenges you have noticed in getting everyone to be open and working well around you in a way you’d love?
Heather: There are always opportunities to be able to show how committed you are to what other people are already working on. As a new hire, you might come into the position, you don’t know a lot of the institutional information about the company, and that’s where a mentor can really be beneficial. I think that’s something that’s been helpful for me at USAA over the past couple of years. I think that there are always opportunities for just different training so that you can really dive deeper into some of the information and understand where people are coming from and why we need to do things a particular way, but then also having the confidence to say ‘well, what about doing this?’ I think millennials are able to sometimes not be so boxed in with, ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ and it’s an opportunity for everyone to be open to that kind of feedback too.
Millennials are able to sometimes not be so boxed in with, ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ and it’s an opportunity for everyone to be open to that kind of feedback too.
Sanjog: So you’re saying people from other generations may carry with them some of that “boxed-in” thinking? From your vantage point, does this undermine your collaboration?
Heather: I don’t necessarily think that it’s undermining. I think that it’s just you need to find a way to communicate with anybody regardless of the generation so that they understand where you’re coming from. I think that if you do feel like you’re being undermined, then maybe there’s an opportunity to explain it better or in a different way so that they can really understand. I think that it is important to just always kind of assume positive intent, because at the end of the day, everyone’s trying to serve the mission of their company and deliver what’s best for their members.
Sanjog: How do we improve not just the communication level going up, but actually having those people connect with each other?
Greg: Each of our generations are comfortable communicating in different ways, and I think our job as leaders is to open up those channels so that we can all communicate and effectively collaborate together. We’ve introduced new collaboration tools here. We’re trying to take advantage of how people work with the different generations. So for example, the best example I can give you is we have an employee portal. We call it Connect. On our employee portal is where we get access to information, and what we’ve done on that employee portal now is we’ve made our communities very visible to all of our employees. Now if you’re a Baby Boomer, that wasn’t something that you necessarily needed. But for our GenX and Gen-Y employees, that was something that was very important to them. They spend a great deal of time communicating via some of the Twitter-like capabilities that we developed here at USAA. And so you have to find ways with the different tools and the different collaboration techniques to bring these generations together. So I don’t think it’s confrontational, I just think they have to all peacefully coexist together, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
You have to find ways with the different tools and the different collaboration techniques to bring these generations together. So I don’t think it’s confrontational, I just think they have to all peacefully coexist together.
Sanjog: So “peaceful co-existence.” I love the phrase that you’ve used here. But Ryan, is it just a dream to think that people across generations are really connecting and bonding outside of work, or is the reality that we will just have to “peacefully coexist”?
Ryan: I don’t think it’s a dream. I think that one of the techniques that a lot of companies are employing in their software developments practices is Agile. A lot of big corporations are looking for ways to reexamine how they’re developing software integrating systems. In USAA’s journey, we’re a couple of years into this pursuit of Agile, and I’m finding that it creates a fertile multi-generational landscape of teams, that you’re really rolling up your sleeves and you’re working to get a goal accomplished. If you think of the old waterfall era where you had teams, it was easy to stereotype. You had the host main frame team was comprised of a dense group of boomers or Gen Xs whereas the UI mobile team was the millennials. Well, when you embark on Agile based teams that are self organized, you really tear down those barriers that are kind of vertical silos and you end up having disparate groups working together towards a common goal.
When you embark on Agile based teams that are self organized, you really tear down those barriers that are kind of vertical silos and you end up having disparate groups working together towards a common goal.
And I think that’s just critical. You can’t artificially create “teamness” by going to the movies together or going to lunch. You’ve got to really rally behind a common problem and kind of live in the trenches together, and so that to me is kind of the ingredient for creating authentic collaboration.
Sanjog: Heather, you surely want to continue to grow into a leader, but are there any attributes that the millennial generation has that you’d want to step back and clarify any concern or confusion among other generations?
Heather: I thought about the misconceptions around millennials for a long time and I actually came up with a list that I can go through. I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that sense of entitlement that people think Millennials have, the idea of expecting too much too soon. But something to consider is that when a college new hire starts, they’re not placed in the same entry level position as previous generation were. We have advanced so much in technology and automation that a lot of these entry levels position have been totally done away with.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that sense of entitlement that people think Millennials have, the idea of expecting too much too soon. When a college new hire starts, they’re not placed in the same entry level position as previous generation were.
We’re able as millennials, as new college hires, to come into these very strategic roles and contribute immediately, which I think is incredibly satisfying. But I think that people need to also remember that progression is not necessarily going to be based on tenure as much as it would be on how much we’re actually able to do.
Ryan: And we practiced that here at USAA. I think Heather brings up a really good point; we promote people based on their ability and not how long they have been with the company. One of the things that people like to say is that Millennials are not loyal. Well, they might not be loyal because you’re not giving them meaningful work. From the very beginning when they join USAA, we find out what they’re interested in working on and we try to give them the opportunities so at they can grow their skills.
One of the things that people like to say is that Millennials are not loyal. Well, they might not be loyal because you’re not giving them meaningful work.
They very much appreciate that, and we have a long track record here of hiring you know Millennials and I look back at our trends and how many folks are still here, and I’m here to tell you that they are very loyal. So that is certainly a misconception that is in the industry
Sanjog: How have you interpreted the younger generation using YouTube, texting, Facebook and other social media sources? Couldn’t it be frowned upon by older people who don’t understand it? On the flip side, couldn’t some people abuse it and have that be seen as a natural DNA trait for a millennial?
Ryan: A full confession here: I have been on the end of the judgment side. I exclusively remember a one-on-one I had with an individual, and they were on their phone, they were typing and I perceived them as texting. And I really got upset, I was like, “Are you checked out? What’s going on here?” “No I’m just taking notes,” they said, and it was a sobering moment.
Seeing social media sites upon somebody’s monitor or seeing them on the phone, doesn’t always mean that they’re checked out and texting; they could just be using that as a vehicle to get their job done.
Obviously we talk about cultural differences. I had lunch with one of our new hires out of our Plano office. Well, he’s from the Ivory Coast, and as we were having lunch he said his cultural upbringing is you never look people in authority in the eye. And he was really concerned around carrying some additional “cultural baggage” that he may have to overcome in the work place. So we started a dialogue on this. But my point here is I think there is “generational baggage” that we all carry with us. And so again, the great example is doing a drive-by and seeing social media sites upon somebody’s monitor or seeing them on the phone, doesn’t always mean that they’re checked out and texting; they could just be using that as a vehicle to get their job done.
Sanjog: Looking from your own perspective, what are some of Generation X’s interesting attributes that some could view as productive and others as counterproductive?
Ryan: I think Gen-Xers, if you really think about where they’re at in their life, I think they’re at this pivot point, where they’re beginning to think about what difference they’ve made in their workplace. They’ve potentially experienced some form of disappointment in their career or in their life, and I think the real enemy that is at stake is that of indifference, checking out or cynicism. These individuals are really wrestling with the question of legacy: What is my legacy going to be?
It’s very important to put life and meaning back into the words that we take for granted. Words like “mentor,” “trust” or “innovate”: they can lose their meaning. How are we putting vitality back into these words, in a way that gets people engaged and gets them motivated?
I find that in my role, it’s very important to put life and meaning back into the words that we take for granted. Words like “mentor,” “trust” or “innovate”: they can somewhat lose their meaning when these individuals have gone through work and they’ve experienced the mental relationship that’s equivalent of talking about football over the weekend; there is not a lot of substance to it. In my case, the way I look at it is, how are we putting vitality back into these words, such that we’re not taking them for granted, but we’re living them out in a way that gets people engaged and gets them motivated?
Sanjog: Are you just taking life too seriously sometimes? Could that reflect in the way you manage others or others in your generation?
Ryan: I personally oscillate from being serious and having fun, and I think it’s critical to have both of those ingredients. You can’t get so result oriented that you turn people into just yes-men. You’ve got to also focus on cultivating authentic relationships. And so I view it as a balance between those two ingredients, the need for results and the need to get stuff done, but also the need to develop people and help them realize their potential.
Sanjog: Your turn Greg. What are some of the particular attributes of your generation that are either productive or counterproductive for an individual as a person versus a professional?
Greg: The one that stands out the most that’s both a positive and a negative is the work ethic. The Baby Boomer generation is really defined by doing whatever it takes to get the job done. So sometimes the generation has set an expectation that being in the office, trying to out work the other person, is the way to get ahead, and clearly that’s not the signal that our generation really wants to send. I think as we’ve learned how people work differently, we’re beginning to understand how that looks to some of the other generations. The expectation that you’re in the office and you’re working versus if you’re not in the office you’re not working, is certainly a bad expectation with today’s workforce because we have the ability to work from anywhere today. So as I look at the baby boomer generation, that’s been, and it is still, a challenge for many of us to overcome.
The generation has set an expectation that being in the office, trying to out work the other person, is the way to get ahead, and clearly that’s not the signal that our generation really wants to send.
Sanjog: Could baby boomers be seen as people close to their retirements just biding their time to get their pensions? Are they creating the same value as those in other generations?
Greg: Yeah, and I can see how that perception exists today, and I would say that it probably does exist in different companies, and it probably does exist here as well. But as we evaluate individuals’ performances here, we really are about team here. Everybody’s got to carry their own weight, so the folks who don’t are probably not going to be part of our work force going forward. We treat everyone the same way regardless of what generation you’re in. So I can see how that perception exists in the market place, but we try really hard to make sure that everybody is contributing.
Sanjog: Heather, which attributes of the Gen-X and Baby Boomer generations would you like to see changed, improved or removed as a Millennial professional or employee working with these individuals in the future?
Heather: I think that to Greg’s point about the physically being in the office, some of my most productive hours are from 10pm to midnight. So if we’re able to have the opportunity, we can work remotely because the technology supports it. And if our manager supports that as well, then that’s really great, because at the end of the day we all want to accomplish the same mission and support our members.
Some of my most productive hours are from 10pm to midnight. So if we’re able to have the opportunity, we can work remotely because the technology supports it.
I think that another example of a perception that the other generations might put a lot of different weight in, I know that Baby Boomers and Gen- Xers have started their families a lot earlier in their careers than maybe some Millennials. So I think that its also important for us to remember that although the Millennials aren’t starting their families early, our friends are our family, so it is really important for us to be able to have that work life balance. So for baby boomers and Gen X to also see the Millennials friends as their extended family I think is a great thing that people can work on.
Sanjog: Are there ways in which the Millennials can better align with the Gen-X DNA such that you can maintain overall camaraderie among the three generations?
Ryan: We’ve all heard the old cliché “respect your elders”, and I think I would want Millennials to wrestle with how they respect the experience and the history that the boomers and the Gen Xers have. I view the Millennials as very hungry; I use the analogy of feeding their appetite, but its important that you have a healthy dialogue around the question of experience, and I’ve seen it as a very razors’ edged line that I’d walk as a manager where you’ve got very talented up and coming millennials and I’ve got to essentially have a healthy dialogue on the statement of, “you need more experience.”
There is often a negative reaction to the presumption that a person is limited, that their career is a function of time or tenure. It’s really critical that Millennials decompose that word and they develop a plan that involves, “how do I really grow”. Respecting your elders is an inward disposition or attitude that can help create that dialogue.
I find that there is often a negative reaction to the presumption that a person is limited, that their career is a function of time or tenure, as we mentioned earlier. So I think you can’t dismiss the importance of experience, but it’s really critical that Millennials decompose that word and they develop a plan that involves, “how do I really grow”, and I think this question of respecting your elders is an inward disposition or attitude that can help create that dialogue around experience and the need for it.
Sanjog: Does this issue of “respect” comes up in Gen-X because they believe experience is something they should be able to bank on, and suddenly Gen-Y is challenging that notion?
Greg: You’ve got it exactly right there. But I think sometimes it gets confused because a Gen-Y person really isn’t afraid to ask for something. Sometimes I think that gets misinterpreted as though they’re asking for something, and maybe the Baby Boomer generation or even Gen-X generation feels like, “Well why would they? Of course they shouldn’t have access to that yet! They’ve only been in the work force for six months or a year!” They can be very forthright with their request, and I think once you understand that, it’s really not disrespect; it’s just a part of who they are.
Millennials can be very forthright with their request. It’s really not disrespect; it’s just a part of who they are.
Sanjog: What do you think is a handicap the Baby Boomers have that has made it difficult for other people to communicate with your generation, be they people reporting to you or working with you as peers?
Greg: We grew up on email. Unfortunately, email drives a big portion of how we work here at USAA, and I wish that wasn’t true. We’re working really hard to understand how we can use better collaboration tools, so I would tell you that is an area that all of us, even baby boomers, recognize how much it drives their normal work day, and all of us would very much like to see that change.
Sanjog: Over your six years in the workforce Heather, have you changed some of your communication habits, be it texting or the way you speak in meetings, such that others can better understand you?
Heather: I think that it’s a combination. One thing to consider is that Facebook has only been open to the public for about seven years now and Twitter has only been open about a year longer than that, so Millennials have grown up with that technology, and we’ve gotten the ability to crowd source, to be able to post questions to complex problems and then get answers from multiple people.
I’ve really leveraged crowd sourcing, getting feedback, getting support and collaborating with my team. But I need to also show that I know this information too or I’m letting people know that I’m working on something.
As I’ve grown in my career in USAA, I’ve really leveraged crowd sourcing, getting feedback, getting support and collaborating with my team. But then I have also realized that I need to also show that I know this information too and that I’m just asking for another opinion or I’m letting people know that I’m working on something.
Sanjog: In the past, people have had to play along with the corporate approach in order to get ahead. Do you think people in your generation still subscribe to that mindset, or is that changing?
Heather: It’s constantly changing, and I think it’s adapting to whatever the workforce is of the day. I know when I look at a lot of my peers, I do see a very authentic group of people and they don’t want to feel like they have to be somebody who they are not because they feel so strongly in what they are doing. But I also see the company understanding that more and more as time has gone on too.
Sanjog: Is your promotion criteria changing based on new generational benchmarks and the value new generations can deliver?
Ryan: I think it’s easy to rest strictly on performance and to look at an individual only through the lens of performance, but I think at USAA we also look at potential. It’s a combination of both performance and results as well as that person’s potential. So those are the first thoughts that come to mind as it pertains to the question of
Greg: When I get involved in the senior level promotions, I can tell you that one thing that doesn’t come up is tenure, so it’s important to have a lot of experience, but what we are really after is performance and potential.
Sanjog: When you’re talking to a millennial, do you just allow them to deliver results no matter what the method, or do you expect that the processes and everything else counts?
Greg: No, there are a lot other ingredients to being successful. First of all, mutual respect with your fellow employee really matters here, and I hope it matters in most companies as well. We really are a team. In the software development space especially, we work together as collaborative teams, and so we are more about a team than we are about individuals. Now you have an individual career, but that individual career is about how they contribute and how they collaborate as part of performance. It’s not just about being the best coders or the best functional analyst.
Sanjog: How have you been able to make sure everyone maintains their personal DNA and avoid losing their full productivity and performance?
Greg: I’m not sure you can change anybody’s DNA. Absolutely, peaceful co-existence is the goal, and we want to take advantage of the unique characteristics of each generation. If you can put processes in place and tools in place to where everybody can work together, that really creates the kind of results that you are looking for as a company. One of the first questions we started with was from an organizational stand point: what’s the glue to keep this all together? I’m going to come back to that again. It’s really our mission: the people who work at USAA feel a special connection to the members that we support, and we take great pride in making decisions as a company that are in the best interests of our membership, and that is important to our employees regardless of what generation that you come from.
We do communicate differently, we do collaborate differently, we have different opinions about work of hours and some of the other things that we’ve discussed today, so what we try to do to create this peaceful coexistence is we listen.
Now we do communicate differently, we do collaborate differently, we have different opinions about work of hours and some of the other things that we’ve discussed today, so what we try to do to create this peaceful co-existence is we listen. We listen to each of the generations, but more importantly, we listen to our employees.
We get ideas from our employees, and then we act on those ideas. So I gave you an example earlier of the Nexus community, and the Millennial population just loves that community today. It’s a big part of how they communicate and collaborate together. I gave you the example of the employee portal where we brought our social communities to the forefront of the way we communicate. Another thing that we’ve done that’s been very successful is we learn that people like competition. You hear about it in industry, you hear about coding competitions and hackathons, and we had a great idea that came from a Gen-X and a Gen-Y person joining together. They came up with this idea of having a coding competition. It’s fabulous. It gives our employees the opportunity on their own time to take on some really pressing, significant issues or problems that we are trying to solve for each one of our lines of business here, and we’ve seen marvelous results come out as a result of that. We’re in our fourth year of that competition. We’re trying to take these ideas, we listen and then we try to figure out how we can make it part of the fabric of the organization that we work in every day.
We’re trying to take these ideas, we listen and then we try to figure out how we can make it part of the fabric of the organization that we work in every day.
Sanjog: Heather, as you work toward a leadership role, how would you envision running a company differently compared to what Greg is doing or how Ryan is managing people?
Heather: I think that is kind of a hard question because I can’t say that I have a lot of complaints right now. When I came in and even when I go recruiting at different college career fairs, the thing that I always start with is saying, out of college I was able to come into this company and started an organization from the grassroots up where we were able to create networking opportunities for the college new hires so that if they were moving in from another city, they didn’t feel like they didn’t have any friends. We gave them a group that they could immediately know people, and I think that the next thing that I got to do was do a coding competition. It wasn’t just that I got to create something, but I got to work on a passion project and I got to work with the business. And it was actually implemented into production. I think that these are things that, if I were an executive in the future at USAA I would love to continue doing. I want people to feel like it doesn’t matter how long you have been at USAA, it doesn’t matter who you are, come in to my office and talk to me because I’m going to give you whatever you need because ultimately we have the same goals as helping our members.
I want people to feel like it doesn’t matter how long you have been at USAA, it doesn’t matter who you are, come in to my office and talk to me because I’m going to give you whatever you need because ultimately we have the same goals as helping our members.
Sanjog: Ryan, as you look at yourself, in what ways do you look at your leadership journey and think either you or people in your generation should be doing something differently?
Ryan: For me, “approachability” is the word that comes to mind. I personally can get very preoccupied with the task that I’m working on; I can have a drive-by at my desk and my head will still stay glued to the monitor while I’m having a conversation, and really just emphasizing the need to detach from that task, look the individual in the eye and engage in a conversation is one thing that comes to mind that I think is just very vital in creating healthy relationships
Sanjog: Greg, one last question: What would you want to see happen across all generations within your organization such that they aren’t undermining each other’s ability to deliver and how they operate solely because of their age differences?
Greg: I go back to that mutual respect. I’d like to believe that it’s absolutely out there all the time, but I know that that would be naïve of me to think that. So I’d like to see more of that. I certainly would like as a leader to move faster. I think it’s very difficult with legacy processes and legacy tools to automatically embrace some of the new changes that are going on in the industry. I’m going to continue to be an advocate for that, and I’m going to continue to push for the organization to move as fast as we can to take advantage of some of this new stuff, but I’m going to continue to try to be a role model. By that I mean I want to be an advocate for Gen-X, Gen-Y and our entire Millennial population.
These young individuals are so talented, they are so innovative, and if you can adapt your processes and take advantage of it, you are going to have a lot of harmony in your work force.
I too have gone to many conferences. I too have heard many authors out there speak of the Millennial generation, and I’m here to tell you that many of the perceptions that are out there might be self-inflicted by companies that are employing those Millennials. If they give folks meaningful work, if they listen, if they take advantage of the unique skill sets that they are bringing to the table, these young individuals are so talented, they are so innovative, and if you can adapt your processes, if you take advantage of it, you are going to have a lot of harmony in your work force. And that’s really what we are trying to create here at USAA.