Today’s post is a book review of ‘The Remix—How to Lead and Succeed in the Multigenerational Workplace’ by Lindsey Pollak.
This is a quarterly column where I talk about interesting books through the lens of remote work. I’m not paid for these reviews. I did inadvertently get this particular book as a review copy when I tried to pre-order it in Canada. You can see my previous review here.
I am a big fan of Pollak’s work. She’s a leading expert on the multigenerational workplace, and her newsletter is pithy and well researched. The book is no different. Let’s dive into some highlights.
Differences in World View
Chapter one covers the five generations present in today’s workplace—Boomers, Micro-generation Jones, Gen X, Micro-generation Xennials, and Millennials. Most of us have seen charts that try (and largely fail) to simplify these generations down to stereotypes. Pollak manages to place each generation in it’s historical context, while maintaining nuance. I loved the discussion of differing world views. She cites research from the Pew Research Center, which shows that “40 percent of Baby Boomers and 37 percent of Traditionalists believe…most people can be trusted.” Only 31 percent of Gen Xers and 19 percent of Millennials feel the same.
So much of today’s work runs on social currency. It’s really helpful to know if you are starting at zero with people or not. Age isn’t destiny, but if you have a younger workforce, Pollak’s research suggests that you will likely have to spend more time building trust.
This was certainly true when my company went remote. I took on a sizeable number of Millennial direct reports when we left our offices behind. Those folks didn’t know me and they didn’t automatically trust the emails coming out of headquarters. I spent a lot of time getting to know them as people before we could work well together. We ended up in a good place, but the collective company learning curve could have been shorter if we’d had this book in 2009.
As Pollack says, “generational characteristics provide clues—never promises—as to how certain people or actions might be better handled.” Armed with this information, you can avoid the pitfalls that come with assuming everyone shares your level of trust in authority.
And in case you’re wondering, I’m in the ‘Xenniel’—or ‘Oregon Trail’—generation. My basic world view is ‘trust but verify.’
The Remix is for Everyone
The balance of the book helps leaders navigate talent acquisition and retention, people management, training and development, and culture. These sections are geared toward decision-makers, but they’re also useful for anyone who wants to introduce new ways of working into their company. The section on remixing communication is worth the price of the book all by itself. If nothing else, it gives you studies and research you can quote when talking to management about revamping your communication system.
This book isn’t focused on the remote worker, but many of the communication ‘remix’ ideas work well in our digital environment. I’m thinking of the concept COPE—create once, publish everywhere—in particular. It might seem weird for an employee in an office to send another employee in the same office a short video message instead of just popping over to talk. In the remote environment, a short, engaging video is a welcome change of pace. Pollak has a very detailed example of how to COPE for those of us that like to see an idea in action.
Common Sense Is Not So Common
In my time as a manager of Millenials, I have:
- Taught someone how to tie a tie
- Discussed the pros and cons of accepting the out-of-state university offer
- Dispensed (requested) marital advice
- Explained how to call in sick
- Given too many pep talks to remember.
As Pollak says, ‘common sense’ isn’t so common. Or rather, it’s dependent on your lived experience.
Skills that previous generations learned at home now have to be learned on the job. It isn’t because Millennials are broken, either. It’s because technology keeps marching on. And you know what? It’s a privilege to be the person that teaches someone a skill. We should all be on the lookout for ways to help our colleagues and direct reports fill a skills gap.
The training and development section of ‘The Remix’ gives some ideas for things you might need to teach your multi-generational workforce. Millennials may need to learn how to answer a phone properly. Baby Boomers may need help navigating Slack. Really, we all need to up skill in one way or another.
Overall, ‘The Remix’ by Lindsey Pollak is an empathetic, optimistic manifesto for people who want to lead successful companies with an inclusive, multi-generational workforce. If you read it, let me know what you think.