In any organisation, there are minimum three generations of employees working together. Generation X, namely those born between mid-60s to late 70s (or early 80s), would form a sizeable number of the employee population, especially at middle and senior levels. Addressing their learning is essential not just from the perspective of their individual development, but since in many cases these employees would be responsible for driving the learning of their teams, it has organizational imperatives as well.
Understanding Gen X
As with any other generational group, this is quite a diverse group, with multiple generations within. This is the group, which at a time when they were still young in the career or just about to enter one, has seen drastic shifts happen in all possible spheres, economic, political, social, and technological, be in the domestic or global context, with its accompanying changes to lifestyle and work context and conditions. This group is unique in the sense that they have had hands on experience of the both the old and new world, which has enhanced the adaptability quotient of many. From a learning perspective, it makes them amenable to various tools and approaches for learning, rather than sticking to one way only.
Hence the manager of a Gen X employee or the learning professional can effectively pick from a wide variety of approaches and methodologies to drive their learning curve.
Means to drive the learning curve of Gen X
Link learning to their role and growth – A standard menu card approach will not work with this group. A clear linkage to their role requirements and how it will aid them in their growth is essential. One needs to look beyond the classroom, at broader aspects of learning and give the GenXer visibility to the same.
Blended learning works best
While they are quite comfortable with technology based learning tools, this group values face to face learning and has reasonably good attention spans to sit through the classroom session. Hence rather than a stand-alone approach, blending multiple methodologies like classroom, on the job, online etc works better. That would give them the freedom to learn at their own pace as well as a structure, both of which are important to them.
Growth happens at a much faster pace as compared to earlier times and a key element needed as one moves up is cross functional exposure. This applies even in cases where one is growing on a technical and not a general managerial ladder. Does the organization have a process for job rotation? Does it facilitate short term stints?
Field based learning
While many HR professional talk about the well-known 70:20:10 principle, the 70 which relates to On the Job training (OJT) is rarely anchored as a structured process. A parallel of OJT for Gen Xers, considering almost all of them would be at middle or senior levels, would be field based learning. The field could be the customer field, vendor field or related to any other critical stake holder. Few organizations have mandated processes where they are required to spend a day in the quarter in the field for this purpose
This group values learning and is not averse to learning from youngsters. While many of them do it on their own, sensitizing them to the need as well as giving them opportunity for the same would help. This need not just be limited to technology based areas like usage of social media. Etiquette related areas as well as aspects like making impactful power point presentations are other areas where they would benefit
Opportunity to teach
Teaching could be the best way in which one could learn. Asking them to teach classroom sessions, mentoring youngsters will all be a part of it. Also wherever possible an opportunity to speak / teach in outside forums would enhance the impact manifold. These teaching sessions, would not just help in enhancing their technical knowledge, but as one my mentors used to say, can be a very important means for developing their leadership potential
Both Internal and external platforms of Community of Practitioners will ensure that sharing between experts happen and everyone benefits from the same. There can be a combination of online and offline platforms with a process in place to ensure participation. Bite sized learning sessions can be planned in these groups to facilitate knowledge sharing
While practitioner perspectives are important, the academia and its value add cannot be ignored. Involve academicians at regular periodicity to keep the Gen Xers up to date with respect to the academic perspectives.
Periodically sensitize them to the learning potential available online
While many of them are quite online savvy, unlike a millennial for whom the social media if often the primary source of learning and does not need guidance to explore learning there, a Gen Xer would often need to be told about the new learning potential available there. For eg. be it learning from twitter or through MOOC, they would need to be sensitized to the same.
Feedback based learning
This group values feedback as a means for improvement and learning; periodical feedback coupled with developmental plans needs to be incorporated as a means of ensuring their learning.
Certification and recognition
This group values recognition more than rewards and can be a motivator for learning. Also internal/external certifications on core topics would ensure that they stay up to speed.
Learning will remain a key differentiator that would give an organization a huge competitive advantage. The same needs to be driven with focus at all levels. While the approach may differ with different generations, key to all is an organizational culture that values learning and facilitates the same.
(The author is head, Tata Motors Academy)