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One of the biggest talent management challenges facing sales organizations today is the need to effectively manage a multi-generational workforce. This is actually the first period in history where businesses have had to contend with five generations working side by side.

Each generation has its own values, beliefs and preferences. Delayed retirements and the increased prevalence of university education mean it’s more common for older generations to be managed by younger generations. This means there is no longer a clear generational hierarchy in most companies.

One area where this generational mix may be most problematic is training and developing staff members. Let’s look at how organizations can implement a successful sales training strategy, which caters to various generations in the workforce.

The Five Generations

First, you should have a basic understanding of the different workforce demographics. Here are the five generations currently active in the workforce.

  • Traditionalists — These individuals were born before 1945. Although most have retired from the workforce, many are still working. They have a strong work ethic and respect for authority, but may struggle with technology.
  • Baby Boomers — Born between 1946 and 1964, many Baby Boomers are approaching retirement. They grew up at a time of social change, and are defined by their competitive instinct, optimism, adaptability, and consumerism.
  • Generation X — These individuals are still widely represented in the workforce, Gen Xers were born between 1965 and 1980. They have a greater appreciation of technology, are independent thinkers, and prioritize the work/life balance.
  • Millennials – Millennials were born between 1981 and 1997. They are defined by their comfort with technology, their adaptability, their liberal social views and a fondness for collaboration.
  • Generation Z – Born after 1997, Generation Z represent a fairly small proportion of the workforce. They are more likely to be university educated, grew up with technology, and are comfortable with social media.

Training Methods

Millennials have been the dominant generation in the workplace since around 2015 and it is projected that they will account for 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Remaining Traditionalists will be gradually squeezed out by Generation Z and it makes sense to be forward thinking with your sales training methods.

Therefore, it makes sense to embrace technology-based training. At the same time, baby boomers and traditionalists in your workforce are often used to more traditional, individual classroom training and they may benefit more from this type of learning.

According to Training Magazine, most members of Gen X prefer to work independently while millennials enjoy working in teams. Your training should be varied, so that it caters to different preferences. You should combine classroom learning with more modern, technologically-driven methods and mix things up regularly.

Cross-Gen Collaboration

One of the best talent management strategies for bridging the gap between generations in training and coaching is to introduce an element of cross-generational teamwork. For example, group training exercises adhere to some of the structured training that boomers like, while allowing millennials to get their collaborative fix.

The concept of reverse mentoring has become increasingly popular, allowing employees from younger generations to teach older employees about the benefits of modern technology. The younger person gets to benefit from the experience, wisdom and expertise of the older individual. Collaborative approaches can also diffuse some of the awkwardness that comes from younger managers telling older people how to do things.

Ultimately, the generational divide in the modern workplace does not need to present a particular obstacle for training. If sales leaders provide a variety of training methods, are willing to adapt based on audience and encourage collaboration between the generations, training can be effective and employees can help one another.

Monika Götzmann is the EMEA Marketing Director of Miller Heiman Group, a global sales training and customer experience company. It helps organizations train and retain best talent through their employee development programs. Monika enjoys sharing her insight and thoughts to provide better talent management solutions.

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