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Embrace change through the generations

Profiling your staff by generation, then using the right engagement tools to suit their shared characteristics is a compelling way to spread your vision within an organisation. But it’s also unchartered territory for health and safety.

We caught up with Matt Riley, associate consultant at Tribe and our air traffic management and transport expert; fresh out of a recent development session for our new ‘Generation Safety’ Masterclass.

Launching later this year, this informal new Masterclass event will expand horizons for engaging staff, using generation-appropriate methods. Here’s his appraisal of current thinking on the topic:

“There’s an interesting combination of scientific purists and ‘hands-on’ people developing Generation Safety at the moment. Some of us are looking at the specifics; the research, evidence and psychology, while others are keen to roll up their sleeves and tackle what seems like an age-old problem of reaching different groups of people with different attitudes.

“That kind of reflects leaders’ attitudes in our industry. They’re open to new ideas and opportunities, but a different approach has to be proven to work, so evidence is needed too.

“I think people in industry are smart enough to know the generation approach is a worthwhile way of looking at things, but the way we can add value to that is by offering something that really works to fix their day-to-day problems.

“Generation Safety needs to be useful – something that goes beyond what you can find out yourself on Google. Something that turns theory into practice. In a way that’s the problem facing people who read this – people just want ways to get around the issues, and if a generation-based approach is the right one for an organisation, so be it.

“The challenge is that every large organisation now has people working in it from approaching 70 down to 16 perhaps. Go back 20 years ago and that didn’t matter so much because there was only one or two ways to get information to them, they were used to that and it didn’t change very quickly.

“There are huge opportunities out there now for introducing technological change. There’s a generation who are so familiar with new developments that they don’t think twice about them, but the trade-off is it’s harder to engage with them for longer periods on serious subjects because their attention is so flitting.

“The same goes for when and where and how people interact with each other. Those days when you had to be sat at your desk, seen to be working, is how older generations were brought up. But there’s much more of a shift in younger generations to more output based measurement, whether that’s working at 2am or 4pm because that suits their lifestyle.

“There’s the things in common too. Everyone wants the things that work brings along with it: adding value, being respected, earning wealth, being part of something.

“The real secret to all this though is that what Tribe do isn’t really focused on safety, it’s about leadership and communication. It just happens to be that if you get the safety bit right, it helps with everything else you do in your business. That also applies to Generation Safety. It’s really about how you communicate and get messages across, whether it’s about safety or whatever it is, is different depending on your audience and how they prefer to communicate.

“We need to be careful because there’s an assumption that something’s broken here, or at least needs fixing, when it might just be better to embrace it and get on with things. It just is what it is.

“Maybe the ‘issue’ doesn’t really belong to different generations at all, maybe it belongs to senior leaders who have to work all this out and make the most of the way things are.

“Generation Safety’s a really interesting, different way to think about culture change and people need to know about it. At the end of the day Tribe needs to get out there and stand up in front of people and tell them that.

“It’s easy to roll your eyes at the kids of today and think things were better way back when. Likewise, millennials can scoff at baby-boomers who seem out-of-touch. But I believe it’s all about embracing change. There’s a place for the old ways and the new ways. We’ve got to make the best of them both.”

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