Test the M Factor – How Boomers, GenX and GenY Can Get Along Better

By Barry Pruitt

Whether you are handling a baby boomer who is frustrated with the work ethic of a Gen Xer or you are mentoring an impatient Gen Y employee who has lost his cool with the technical skills of older team members -- at some point the whiteLynn Lancaster and David Stillman-The M-Factor - How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace flag has to go up and work must proceed. 

The more you learn about successfully mixing generations, the more smoothly your team can get on with its work. After all, you hired the people you felt could bring the right talents to the table and get the best work done, every day.

In the M Factor, by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman (HarperBusiness, 2010), the authors explore the universe as it is seen from the eyes of someone born between 1982 and 2000.  The lifestyle preferences and perspectives of the “Millennial” generation has been shaped by their hovering parents, schools that concentrate on high self esteem and their own agility with technology. 

The first part of the book gives us a run down of all these qualities, and the second half gives us lively stories of communication blunders and failures between Millennials and other generations. 

This is an informative read, and highlights an entitlement attitude of the “under 25” set; and give you reasons as to why this generation has these “inwardly focused” traits.  Do you work with (or manage) people who are under 25?  Then consider this book as a primer for communication, so you can avoid many of the pitfalls that others have fallen into. 

Here are some thoughts on helping your team members improve their performance, regardless of the generation mix in your company:


Give boomers credit for their historical memory and bank of experiences. Coach them in their goals and challenge them to grow in their skills and career by providing guidelines for improvement.

Generation X

Help Gen Xers continue to gain skills that will make them marketable to any employer.  Offer development opportunities that appeal to their focus on training and gaining transferable skills.

Generation Y

Establish yourself as a “teacher” versus a traditional “manager” for your Gen Y employees. Give ongoing feedback that includes ways to immediately improve. Stress their positive traits and take the time to inquire about their goals and tie them back into daily job tasks. 

Here are ways to refocus your diverse team on the mission and move ahead:  

Start by re-energizing. Ask yourself and your team why you are here. Take a moment to refocus the group on the overall mission and the project mission. What can this group accomplish that no one else can? Even this 10-minute detour in a weekly meeting will help everyone involved to remember their common ground, and reestablish the group identity. In Rhythm we call this a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual planning meeting. 

Next, ask team members to tell you how they are contributing to the group’s mission, today or this week. Simply put, take any theoretical or abstract talk off the table, so you can make the work (for today or this week) relate very directly to the greater goal. At Rhythm Systems, we accomplish this through status criteria and Red-Yellow-Green dashboards. Read more about this in Execute Without Drama.

Finally, integrate more collaboration to leverage the strengths of each member. This is especially useful in a cross-generational setting, because each age group can offer its’ own unique background, skills or experience set.

I challenge you to test your M factor. Incorporate the above ideas to reenergize your team, gain clarity on Red-Yellow-Green criteria, and build dashboards for regular, consistent meetings. Here’s a quick test of your M Factor and generational reality:

Check the Action Steps below to test your Gen X knowledge.
1. Upon entering the workforce, what is the most important incentive Xers look for from employers?

     a. Lifelong security with one company

     b. Opportunities to develop skills that will help them on their next job.

     c. Money

2. Xers grew up during an information and technology revolution affecting entertainment, telecommunications, education, and everyday home life. What was the impact on most Xers?

     a. They developed short attention spans.

     b. They became disenfranchised cynics.

     c. They developed a unique comfort and facility with information and technology.

3. Some perceive Xers as being disloyal. What reality does this perception reflect?

     a. Job security is dead and dues-paying is an obsolete concept.

     b. Xers are immature and arrogant.

     c. Xers want to climb the corporate ladder as fast as possible.

4. Many Xers spent a great deal of time alone as children, either because both of their parents worked, because their parents did not live together, or because their parents were permissive. As a result, what is the most common personality type among Xers?

     a. Xers are nihilistic and unfocused.

     b. Xers are independent and self-reliant.

     c. Xers are neurotic and dependent.

5. Economic conditions often have a considerable impact on a generation’s perspective on their economic future. What is the most common perspective among Xers regarding their economic future?

     a. They are likely to have careers based on long-term jobs in established companies.

     b. Their economic future is hopeless.

     c. They must rely on their own skills and abilities to achieve any measure of security.

6. How do Gen-Xers generally view established institutions like the federal government and large companies?

     a. They are wary of institutions because they have witnessed so many institutions falter.

     b. They find institutions more trustworthy than individuals.

     c. They believe in established institutions because those institutions are powerful and efficient.

7. Xers are eager for rapid feedback and constant markings of recognition for their hard work. Why?

     a. Xers do not want to work hard for their rewards.

     b. In an uncertain world, Xers are always trying to measure the return on their investment.

     c. Xers want to get as much as they can from any situation and then exit quickly.

M factor Answers—1B; 2C; 3A; 4B; 5C; 6A; 7B

If you made it this far, you accepted my challenge to test yourself. The answers will give you self-awareness, but that's not enough. Remember to integrate more collaboration to leverage the strengths of each member, utilizing your awareness from the 7-question test, and build a strong team by utilizing each age group's unique background, skills or experience set.

Rhythm Systems 2X People Plan Tool for High Performance Teams

Barry Pruitt


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