5 Tips for Managing Multiple Generations

by Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, DBA, CBMA, CFE, Lehman College – November 21, 2018
5 Tips for Managing Multiple Generations

The importance of being able to manage across generational lines is nothing new; demographic changes in the profession have been underway for years. That said, the importance of effective management, dealing with the issues and concerns raised by members of different generations, and retaining top talent at all levels throughout the organization is critically important. As the profession continues to be impacted by changes from virtually every direction — regulatory, technological and the practitioners themselves — managing these differences is something every practitioner needs to be aware of. Every firm is different, and only the people who actually work at the organization will know the precise balance to strike when it comes to managing and dealing with different generations. However, this is not something that can be delegated to one person, put on the back burner or not treated as priority. In order to thrive in the dynamic business landscape, being able to effectively manage, develop and retain talent across generations is an imperative.

Let’s take a look at five things CPAs need to know about managing staff, now and in the future.

  1. See through the hype. Millennials have been written about exhaustively, including how this generation is different from both the Baby Boomers and Gen X. And as the next generation of college graduates (dubbed Gen Z) enters the workforce, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. At the end of the day, however, practitioners want many of the same things. Clear expectations, being involved in the decision-making process, opportunities for growth and resources to assist with professional development cut across generational lines.
  2. Communicate where your staff is. Even though many practitioners want similar things, the method by which information and feedback is delivered can, and should, be different depending on who is involved. It can be as simple as using text messaging or other mobile-first methods to communicate with some staff, versus email for other practitioners. Face-to-face meetings and updates might work for some staff, whereas other staff may feel these are not as productive. Finding that balance both allows the firm to focus on higher-value work and helps keep employees engaged. Again, this is not something that is necessarily new, but if your staff feels the organization is not involving them, they are going to start looking for firms that are making those efforts.
  3. Don’t generalize. Taking into account that some millennials and Gen Zers might, for example, feel perfectly comfortable using text messaging as the primary method of communication, making sweeping generalizations is never a good idea. One of the fastest ways to demoralize staff and send them toward the door is to have them feel like they, and their individual contributions, don’t matter to the firm. The job market for accountants is very tight, and if a staff member (regardless of level) feels they are not being engaged with and developed as an individual, they will not stick around.
  4. Facilitate cross-generational teams. Working as a team is something embedded in the workplace DNA of virtually every practitioner and firm, and this also represents a fantastic opportunity. Different levels of experience can be complemented by other individuals that are more technologically adept, or by practitioners who are more knowledgeable about changing reporting standards. Every team is stronger with a diverse and robust membership, and by engaging staff with each other, the firm itself is stronger, performs better and helps foster a supportive environment conducive for retention.
  5. Leverage your talent. Some may think that having to manage multiple generations — sometimes four generations in the same firm —represents an obstacle or challenge for the profession going forward. There are, of course, challenges that come with this, but there are always challenges that accompany having to manage staff regardless of what generations are involved. Having multiple generations at the firm provides a true breadth and depth of experience, energy and insights. Establishing mentoring programs, reverse mentoring programs and setting up teams that cross generational lines helps keep staff engaged ensures that everyone, no matter what generation, feels like a valued member of the firm.

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. Sean also is the chairperson of the NJCPA's Emerging Technologies Interest Group (#NJCPATech). He serves on the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he co-chairs the Accounting Work Group. Sean is on the Advisory Board of Gilded, a TechStars ’19 company. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research.

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