Figuring out how to train a multigenerational sales team presents unique challenges for sales leaders, but understanding the difference between generational learning styles will help you be more effective.
There have always been differences in age and experience levels across sales organizations, from recent graduates to those nearing retirement. This presents a business imperative and an opportunity to identify the differences and similarities in learning and communication styles and the implications for coaching and training a multigenerational sales team.
Understanding the Learning Styles of Generations in the Workforce
These days, there can be up to four generations in the workforce. Connecting and communicating successfully across this generational spectrum can strain the ability of sales leaders and those in Learning and Development. The starting point is knowing your audience:
1. Traditionalists (those born before 1945): Generally speaking, most workers in this generation are strongly committed to their organizations. They value teamwork, collaboration, and the development of interpersonal skills. Their learning style is commensurate with these characteristics: they like teamwork and collaboration in the classroom.
2. Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964): Boomers tend to be very competitive and are success-driven. They look for professional growth, are receptive to change, and consider training to be one path to being successful. They are most comfortable with traditional instructor-led training that takes place in classrooms.
3. Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980): Typically, they are more willing and able than previous generations to use technology-based learning because they grew up with it. They appreciate the flexibility that digital platforms offer, and they almost expect to be connected with technology. They prefer short, focused training-on-demand sessions over long in-classroom training. They also pay more attention to work-life balance issues than previous generations.
4. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1997): This youngest generation clearly embraces technology and is tech savvy. Generally speaking, millennials deal well with change and are resilient. For them, learning needs to be hands-on and interactive. They like to have fun and enjoy games and simulations.
While traditionalists and baby boomers are retiring in increasing numbers, there remain those who either can’t afford to retire or who choose to keep working. Over time, the numbers for these groups will decline, but then Generation Z, those born after 1997 and beginning to graduate high school, will start entering the workforce in earnest.
How to Train a Multigenerational Sales Team
What does all this portend for those of us who manage, coach, or train a multigenerational sales team in one organization? There are three key elements to note:
- We have to incorporate a blended approach to learning.
- We need to develop a customized approach to coaching.
- We must learn to communicate differently, using a variety of vehicles and technologies.
To be effective as leaders, coaches, and trainers, we need to know our audiences. This means understanding where our organization currently is, looking at our multigenerational talent management strategy, and responding accordingly. There is no one right way to engage and develop every person across generations. Determining the best approach requires consideration of multiple options and platforms for training, styles of coaching, and ways of communicating. In essence, it requires a blended approach to managing, coaching, and training that appeals across generations, giving people a chance to work together, collaborate around skill sets, and experience the value of multigenerational teams.
Those in Learning and Development, who are themselves baby boomers or Gen Xers, need to hone their skills in using technology and provide true facilitation. This doesn’t always mean training sessions per se. Instead, the solution could be to create venues, forums, and opportunities for a multigenerational workforce to interact with one another, inside and outside the classroom, with simulations and collaboration in which all participants can learn to shine in every aspect of their jobs.
Breaking the Generational Gap in Sales Teams
If we don’t adapt to different learning styles within our organizations, and if we don’t break down barriers between generations, our performance will suffer – as individuals, as teams, and as organizations. But if we nurture an environment that recognizes and bridges the gaps between generations, there is a greater chance of engaging all people at all levels and effectively train a multigenerational sales team.