Today is Veteran’s Day. A time to remember the men and women who have served in our country’s military over the years. Some saw battle and others served in peace time. Some joined voluntarily and others were drafted. While their circumstances and experiences can vary greatly, there is one aspect of military service they all share; they all sacrificed their freedom to secure the same for others. From the moment they entered the military, they became their country’s property to be placed and utilized for the benefit of the whole. For those who served in World War II, that sacrifice was a shared experience with everyone back home as well. These are the Traditionalists; the men and women who poured our organizational foundations, and the ones who will gladly contribute to our success in the 21st century….if we learn to work with them.
Traditionalists, a.k.a. The Greatest Generation, are also referred to as Radio Babies, Veterans, and the Moral Authority. They were born between 1900 and 1945, and experienced both hard times and times of prosperity during their developmental years. Traditionalists are as unique as the influencers that shaped their behavior and expectations in the workplace. The very drivers that make them unique, also equip them to provide unique perspectives to younger generations; knowledge that can only be gathered by understanding key influencers, recognizing how they are manifested in workplace behaviors, and altering our approach to honor the differences. In short….respecting the generation that launched us.
With WWII, Korea, Corporate Growth, and the Space Age as key influencers, Traditionalists have a long history of self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. They struggled together and celebrated together, and the end result was financial success and geopolitical connectivity. Dedication and sacrifice were a way of life for Traditionalists, as both men and women signed up for service abroad, women dominated the factory floors for the first time in history, and everyone else collected metal, rolled bandages and rationed basic staples like sugar and salt. Duty before pleasure was the mantra that propelled them into greatness when they put the first man on the moon and laid a foundation for corporate success and financial security. They trusted their government, respected authority, and followed the rules; which describes, to a large extent, how they act and what they expect in today’s workplace.
When we speak of a traditional view of the workplace, we are talking about the Traditionalists’ view. With a work ethic beyond reproach, company first was, and still is, a way of life for this generation. They worked hard and played hard, but the play was always delayed until the work was done…and done well. College degrees were not necessary to secure a position with upward mobility, and years in the business were synonymous with success, thereby creating the age=seniority attitude they practice today. Traditionalists operate most comfortably with a firm, well defined chain of command. They are tremendously loyal and overtly respectful of authority, which is clearly a result of their military roots. The Traditionalist view, while vastly different from that of other generations in today’s workforce, is worthy of acknowledgement. If we are to gain the benefits they are positioned to provide, then it is worthy of our respect as well.
Now that we know how Traditionalists are hard-wired, and why they interact the way they do, the next step is ours. I like to say “with knowledge comes responsibility”, which is how I feel about the actions we take to get along with our more seasoned coworkers. Given the manifestation of their key influencers, we can honor them and maximize their efforts in the workplace with a couple of very simple actions. First, we can acknowledge their authority along with the experience and expertise they possess. Next, we can actively seek their input to leverage the knowledge they possess into the future. Following procedures is another simple effort, and one we may find informative when we seek to understand how and why they were developed. In many companies, the Traditionalists are the only employees with this knowledge. Finally, a little deference [to their authority] can be extremely liberating.
We have a very short window to harvest the knowledge our Traditionalists own. While we move our respective businesses forward, some laws of industry remain the same, and some challenges will be faced over and over again. When we respect the unique perspective our Traditionalists bring to the office, they will gladly steer us away from landmines, and guide us to sustainable success.