How to Implement Successful Sales Training For a Multigenerational Workforce

One of the biggest talent management challenges facing sales organizations today is the need to effectively manage a multigenerational workforce. In fact, as Rebecca Knight points out in an article for the Harvard Business Review, this is 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 is now also common for people from older generations to be managed by people from younger generations, meaning there is no longer a clear generational hierarchy in most companies.

One area where this generational mix can potentially be most problematic is when it comes to training and developing staff members. In this article, we take a look at how organizations can implement a successful sales training strategy, which caters to multiple generations in the workforce.

The Five Generations

First, it is important to have a basic understanding of the different workforce demographics. The five generations currently active within the workforce are as follows:

  • Traditionalists or the Greatest Generation– This refers to those born before 1945. Although most have retired from the workforce, many remain. They are defined by 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– 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 work/life balance.
  • Millennials– Also known as ‘Generation Y’, 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, were born in the internet age and are comfortable with social media.

Of course, it is essential to understand that people are not entirely defined by their generation. Not everyone fits their generation’s tendencies exactly and there are other things to take into account, including culture and education. However, understanding the main five generations is an important starting point.

Varied 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. Add to that the fact that remaining Traditionalists will be gradually squeezed out by Generation Z and it makes sense to be forward thinking with your sales training methods.

In attempting to appeal to millennials, as well as Generations X and Z, it makes sense to embrace technology-based training. However, at the same time, the 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.

“Gen Xers tend to prefer working independently, while Millennials like to work in teams,” says Audie Mccarthy in an article for Training Magazine. “This is possibly a reflection of how the current education system puts emphasis on group projects, while the education model for Boomers and Gen Xers was for students to sit in rows.”

What this means is that 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 Baby Boomers like, while allowing Millennials to get their collaborative fix.

Meanwhile, the concept of reverse mentoring has become increasingly popular, allowing employees from younger generations to teach older employees about the benefits of modern technology. Meanwhile, the younger person gets to benefit from the experience, wisdom and expertise of the older person. 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 learn and grow.

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