You probably don’t think you do and certainly don’t purposely do it but chances are it may be happening.  The truth is that today, with 4 generations working side by side in most organizations, communicating is not as easy as it used to be.  Here’s an example.  I was at a client site yesterday and when I arrived, my client was in a tizzy and clearly flustered.  Apparently, they were testing their crisis management procedures and one of their key alert messages was left on people’s voicemails both at work and on their cell phones. 

The reason he was in a tizzy was that a large portion of their employees had indicated they had not gotten the alert and the managment group couldn’t understand why.    How could so many people miss the alert?  Were they purposely ignoring this step? Were they not giving a lot of importance to crisis management? My client explained that the process is clearly documented and that everyone is trained on how the system works. To make matters worse, word had gotten to the management team that some employees were complaining that they felt left out of the process.  They felt shut out.  Management was perplexed to say the least. 

Clearly, it was the wrong day for me to pay a visit to discuss the project they had hired me for.  But it turned out to be the perfect day to give my client an easy but overlooked lesson in generational communication.   I have seen it happen many times and the problem is so subtle and so imbedded in generational communication preferences that it easily gets missed.  In fact, instead of dealing with a much simpler problem,  it gets blown up into a much bigger issue.

After asking a few key questions, I realized the problem was that the organization was relying on its employees to buy into 2 basic premises that they clearly were not.  The first is that the organization assumed that just because people know and are trained on a procedure that they will actually follow it when they need to.  Time and time again, I have seen employees act in the exact opposite manner as the “procedures” require them to act.  Important things are often documented and not regularly tested to ensure the correct behavior is drilled into everyone’s thought process.  If you want it to sink in,  you have to put it in practice often. 

Most organizations don’t have the time or inclination do that. Even though crisis management is a key risk mitigator for all businesses today, organizations rarely test their crisis management procedures more than once or twice a year.  Will that frequency ensure you get the behavior you’re looking for in a crisis?  Probably not.  Employees are creatures of habit and extremely busy with their day to day work.  To get their attention and cooperation on key initiatives, you need to get them to practice, practice, practice. Otherwise, they will act as they choose, not as you need them to. 

The second premise was that the organization once again assumed that all employees accessed the same communication channel which in this case is the telephone/ voicemail system.  Big mistake.  Even though everyone has an extension at work and they can access voicemail remotely, how many people today do that?  Years ago, the percentages would have been high but today with the proliferation of texting, instant messaging,  emails and so on,  not everyone automatically checks their voicemails – at work or on their cell phones.  There are too many other ways for people to reach them when they need to.

I think most Veterans and Baby Boomers today still do a lot of their communication by phone or cell phone and have the habit of checking voicemails frequently.  Maybe some Generation Xers do too, even though I think they are more comfortable with emails.  Generation Y?  No clue that voicemail exists.  They don’t use it, don’t listen to it, don’t want it.  I can’t tell you how many times I left voicemail messages for my Gen Y staff only to find out days later, after I was frustrated and upset, that they never checked their voicemails. It simply didn’t occur to them to do it.  So you see what can happen when you use one form of communication to reach a diverse population.  The results are hit or miss.

In today’s hectic and technology rich world, savvy companies know that they must embrace multiple communication channels to ensure they are not shutting out segments of their employee base.  Veterans and Baby Boomers will get a voicemail alert, but for Generation Xers an email or better yet, a voicemail imbedded in their email will work, and for Millennials a text would do the trick.

Understanding how each generation communicates and what makes them tick is not a nice to have anymore.  To ensure that you are not unintentionally shutting out or neglecting your employees, you need to recognize their preferences and communicate your message in a variety of formats they will all embrace.

So how about you?  Still relying on traditional communication channels that no longer reflects the generational makeup of your team or organization? Maybe it’s time for a communication makeover?  Get your team to chime in on their preferences and you’re sure to never shut them out again.