Opinions Thu, 26 Jan 2017

How a young leader can manage older workforce

With youth comes a variety of challenges; the transition to adolescence, making huge decisions about your future and starting a career.

Young leaders may face the hardest challenges, with questioning of their authority, knowledge and lack of experience by their elder peers. Jordan Daykin, CEO of GripIt Fixings and one of Britain’s Leading Young Entrepreneurs gives his advice on managing an older workforce.

Old habits die hard: Don’t be the boss – at least, don’t appear to be’ – I once read. It’s important that business leaders endeavour to treat all staff equally, irrespective of their age, and as the old saying goes, treat those as you would wish to be treated – in the workplace this extends to not asking anyone to do anything you aren’t prepared to do yourself. This is particularly true as the owner of a start-up.

There are mundane tasks during the early days but this gives young leaders the chance to get stuck in with everyone – don’t immediately delegate. Old habits die hard, so give older employees time to get used to you as a leader and show them you’re on their side.”

Balance confidence with openness: It’s great to collaborate, but don’t give anyone the chance to walk all over you. Unfortunately this can happen as a young leader. Confront any problems up front, ensure your team knows your expectations and hold people accountable for their own work – this will also help their development and make your life easier. While a young entrepreneur may have boundless confidence in their product, they are not necessarily a confident person.

They are more likely than anyone else at work to experience insecurities about their own ability, so often have to work harder than you might think to portray confidence while not being authoritarian for the sake of it. The key is displaying confidence in your ability to make decisions while welcoming the team’s experience and skill sets. Respect from your elders can often come down to how confident they perceive you to be – hesitancy can quickly quash any feelings of respect, so when you make a decision, stick to it and take responsibility for it afterwards.”

With age comes experience: Young entrepreneurs with at least one toe on the ground will be aware that they lack the experience of their older team members, regardless of their quick road to success. This is why it’s so important to surround yourself with a team of experts with experience in their chosen fields. Older employees and the wealth of experience they bring is a hugely valuable resource and knowing how to harness it is an important skill.

In time you will learn to establish a balance between giving more experienced employees the freedom to take ownership over certain projects or areas of work with the bigger picture in mind – knowing when to take a step back is as important as knowing when to step in and lead, and leadership is about getting the most out of your team’s respective skill sets, not simply taking everything on yourself.”

He concludes, that as a young entrepreneur, you “will inevitably be faced with certain challenges when it comes to managing your elders. You need to have belief in yourself that your fewer years in business do not equate to you being any less qualified to manage a team or make decisions – confidence is key and you will soon gain the respect of your team if you are democratic yet decisive.

“Creating an environment that elicits commitment rather than just compliance is a difficult skill as a young leader, but it’s one that if you get right, you’ll gain the respect of your elders very quickly. If you can get the above formula right, you’ll notice that your older team members will raise their performance to higher standards and build their personality beyond its normal limitations – all for the good of the business.”

Alternatively, companies with an elder workforce at the top need to understand how to retain younger employees. Speaking to HR Grapevine, Sallie Barnett, HR Director at Joules, discusses how to maintain harmony across the ages: “Many organisations now have a workforce which is made up of four generations: traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation Y and Millenials.

Each of these generations has its own characteristics and preferences, and balancing all four is becoming ever more important. It’s key that our people leaders, who are predominately Baby boomers and Generation Y, understand what makes works perfectly for them and play that to your advantage so that productivity, effectiveness and efficiency can be maximized at all times.

Columnist: Bright Okyere