Friday, November 21, 2008

Manage old p-ple

Managing Older Subordinates!!
It requires a balance of maturity, diplomacy and assertion

How many times have you wondered what subordinates, who are senior to you in age, think of you? With a younger workforce at many leadership positions, it is now also a part of the Indian corporate culture to have older people report to a younger boss. In a country where age is revered, respected and rarely defied, this phenomenon puts the younger boss in a tricky position!

Motivating and managing older people, requires a balance of maturity, diplomacy and assertion. Inherent resentment towards a young confident supervisor, inability to take instructions from someone who is half their age, competitive feelings, etc are complex emotions that influence the older workforce in their interaction with their superior.

In India, familial cultures tend to replicate themselves in the workplace. There are no written rules on culture, but in general, a boss is looked upon as the older sibling/patriarch, whose knowledge and capability is greater than his subordinates. Managers like to look up to their bosses but many a times it is hard to concede to someone younger in age.

It is not sufficient to have a title and authority to get your managers to work with you. An older workforce has to feel wanted, needs recognition and does not like to be constantly reminded that a younger person is monitoring his performance! Here are some ideas to help you get by in dealing with an older subordinate:

1. Don't be self-conscious, be aware: Treat older employees the same way you do your younger employees. However, remember that your 57-year old employee's needs and reference points are different from that of the 37-year olds.

2. Be clear: Do not leave ambiguous instructions assuming that they have years of experience and will know what to do. Giving them, explicit explanations of your expectations of them should not be construed as slighting their experience, but a method of managing business needs.

3. Show respect for their experience: Give the older employee credit for his expertise. Show respect for your older managers' experiences and leverage it to benefit the team. They may not have grown in management cadres, but they do have a treasure of knowledge, practice and familiarity with tasks that can help you be more efficient.

4. Retrain: After a certain age, it may be arduous to upgrade basic skill sets. But your older employees need not be stuck doing the job they have been doing for years. Help them gain new capabilities. You will be surprised at how quickly some of them adapt and learn.

5. Empathise with their situation: Sometimes it is difficult to relate to a person's viewpoint if one has not yet experienced that stage of life. Be patient and understanding of their issues and challenges. Talk to them freely to appreciate their problems.

6. Alter your motivational strategy: Think of what motivates your older employees and use those to egg them on. A seasoned manager may have a completely different set of motivators compared to the younger one and good leadership must be sensitive to this.

7. Don't be "the boss": Do not waste time positioning yourself as the superior. You will gain acceptance if your business/unit does well and they enjoy your leadership. Do not wield your power and authority to remind them who you are!

8. Recognise their issues: Older employees face problems and have personal situations that are not the same as those of younger managers. Gestures like giving time off for health checkups or helping them for their children's wedding go a long way in enhancing the relationship.

9. Develop internal coaches: Older employees can be good mentors to younger managers. Use their knowledge and understanding of the organisational processes, history and culture as guiding forces for a new generation.

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