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Bridging the Generational Gap with Business Development

There are five generations in the workplace for the first time in history. People often view this situation as a negative—a conflict firm leaders must work around or manage.

However, with a change in mindset, we can begin bridging the generational gap and use it as a strategic advantage in business development and growth.

5 generations in the workplace

First, let's look at the five generations that make up the modern workforce, with characteristics of each according to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). Remember that "generation" is just one layer of a person's identity, and understanding their age doesn't replace the need to understand someone individually.

  • Traditionalists/Silent Generation (born 1925 - 1945). Tend to follow the rules and believe change is necessary only when something is broken. Have respect for authority and a hierarchical system. Value seniority and job titles.

  • Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1964). Like structure in organizations. They tend to challenge rules but are cautious about change.

  • Generation X (born 1965 - 1980). Tend to be flexible and see change as an opportunity. They are unimpressed by authority and expect their competence and skills to be respected.

  • Millennials (born 1981 - 2000). Have more fluid work styles. They expect to create rules and see change as equal to improvement. Respect authority figures once they've demonstrated competence.

  • Generation Z (born 2001 - 2020). Agile and seek balanced rules. They expect change as part of reality. They want to be engaged and will push back against one-way conversations with managers.

If these descriptions resonate with you and the individuals in your firm, remember the same is true in your clients' organizations. This is a demographic trait—not just in the accounting world.

Leveraging the generational gap

The generational diversity in your firm can be used to its advantage when it comes to business development and growth. By highlighting the different generations in a firm, it is possible to show clients and prospects the depth and breadth of a team's skills, knowledge and experience. In other words, you demonstrate that your firm is a team of experts—not just one person.

By acknowledging the strengths of each generation, you can also better leverage their collective knowledge and skills to meet client needs. For example, Traditionalists have had decades of experience in the profession, which can be used to build trust and add value to businesses. Baby Boomers are often the rainmakers in firms, actively involved in their communities with a knack for strategic thinking and problem-solving. Generation X is highly adaptable regarding technology changes and works well with diverse teams. Millennials bring fresh perspectives and new ideas, while Generation Z is highly tech-savvy.

Generational strengths in business development

So what does this look like in practice? Here are a few ideas.

  • Take younger team members on client and prospect calls. Traditionalists and Baby Boomers tend to handle a lot of networking, business development and client relationship building for their firms. Starting today, commit to never attending another client meeting, sales call or networking event without a younger staff member. Bringing them along allows the next generation to learn firsthand from their more seasoned peers and observe how professional relationships are developed.

  • Encourage team members to teach and learn from each other. The Traditionalists and Boomers in your firm have a wealth of technical and industry knowledge. Still, they may not be up-to-date on the latest technology or diversity and inclusion initiatives. Gen X understands these changes but could benefit from Millennials and Gen Z's broader perspective.

  • Use the 3x3 methodology. For each client in your firm, work on having three people on the firm side have a relationship with three people in the client's organization. These relationships should span multiple departments and levels. Growth comes from deeper connections. Often, when clients stagnate—engaging your firm on only one or two services and never growing beyond that—it's because only one or two people in the firm have connections to the client.

  • Consider the messenger—not just the message. When meeting with a client or prospect, consider who in your firm would be able to best deliver the message so the client will receive it. For instance, will a CFO from the Baby Boomer generation take advice from a 24-year-old on how to improve the business? Will the 20-something founders of a tech startup feel like a Traditionalist really "gets" their business? We all know highly insightful members of younger generations and older people who are technophiles. But we also know some people shut down and won't listen to the best advice simply because it's coming from an unexpected messenger. Whenever possible, match up generations in your business development and client engagements in a helpful way.

Inspired organizations realize the value of leveraging the experience and talents of their team members, regardless of age. By intentionally harnessing the strengths of the different generations that make up your firm, everyone can contribute and your firm and your clients will benefit. Embrace the potential each generation offers, use it to your advantage and excitedly anticipate the growth that will come next.


Could your firm's HR and talent leaders benefit from a peer network?

The Boomer Talent Circle is a community of talent leaders from forward-thinking firms who are committed to aligning human resources and firm strategy at the highest levels. Apply now to start shaping your firm for the future.


Jon Hubbard, Shareholder, Consultant, at Boomer Consulting helps accounting firm leaders find success in the areas of leadership, talent and growth. Jon is a facilitator for the Boomer P3 Leadership Academy, Boomer Talent Circle and Boomer Marketing & BD Circle. He also guides firms to grow and be more effective in the areas of client service, marketing and business development.   

Jon speaks at various industry conferences, user conferences, state societies, and associations. He is a Storybrand Certified Guide and Certified Kolbe Consultant.


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