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Don't Scare the Old People

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January 2, 2009

As we usher in the New Year, it's only natural to get rid of clutter that has kicked around too long. I was cleaning off my desk the other day when I found a humorous and engaging article describing what partners really want to say to their younger staff. Or in the author's own words, the column offers a "few easy tactics for building better relationships with the less cool, but more experienced people in this office."

Melinda Guillemette, a self-proclaimed "empathetic Baby Boomer" who consults with CPA firms on recruiting, retention and marketing, wrote a memo-style column in the November issue of CPA Practice Management Forum addressing those professionals between the ages of 21 and 30–ish. Who is the memo from? Those "beleaguered Baby Boomer managers and partners." The subject? Don't Scare the Old People (and you thought I made that headline up).

She kicks off her piece with a pithy intro:

"After a few years of listening to partners in CPA firms discuss the challenges of managing our newest generation of workers, I find that what you partners say privately is much more revealing than what you usually say in front of your teams. There are so many things you might like to say to the young 'uns, but the paucity of professionals (young and not-so-young) seems to having you doing a long dance on thin ice. Publicly, you tiptoe oh-so-carefully around those budding (if arrogant and entitled) young professional spirits, but you privately gnash your teeth and pull your hair."

Ha!

What ensues is a confessional spoken from the Baby Boomer generation and some tips for younger CPAs on how not to scare them off.

As a Generation Xer reading this article, I laughed.

For one, did you know, young timers, that Baby Boomers are afraid of our tattoos, our iPods and our technological savvy?

Did you know Baby Boomers are afraid we're better couples, parents, and friends than they are because we're putting more time into it than they have?

Did you realize that our older peers are "scared to death" that none of us will want to take over their firms when they retire? And that they are afraid of retirement because all they've ever done is work?

Still, (and many of us have come to realize) Baby Boomers aren't going anywhere – and as Guillemette points out, most of the older generation are controlling our financial well-being to a great extent, and working in every firm (or company) out there.

So what can we, the younger generation, do to stop scaring our older counterparts? Guillemette has some ideas. And for the most part, they're right on and well-meaning, with only a pinch of patronizing. Fair warning for reading on:

Chill a little. "Do not for a moment doubt that the senior people in this firm have heard your ideas, your challenges, and your complaints ...Give it a little more time than makes you comfortable, and you might find the geezers have made some progress."

Remember that you're special, but other people are on the planet, too. "Flex-time is useful when you want to reconcile a bank statement at 2 a.m. It's not so useful when one of our partners is searching for help on an interesting project, when a client is calling you at 8 a.m. or when someone on your team needs help and you're still getting your beauty sleep."

Dress for your profession, not your personal preference." Perhaps it is contrary to your fashion sense to iron, to tuck in your shirt, or to wear tailored pants. But it's worth the effort if you consider that you are trying to build relationships with people (clients, partners, colleagues) who are often older and stodgier than you."

Remember what your mama taught you about manners. Aka "look up from you keyboard when someone comes into your cubicle. Ditto for cell phones: quit staring at them when you're cruising down the hallway. Look up at the people and acknowledge them."

Spell Check is your friend. "Communicate more formally in writing than you would verbally when dealing with partners and clients. Avoid exclamation points, bad grammar and slang ('let me know whatcha think!' in an email to the managing partner is not going to help you).

Give yourself and everyone around you some time. "Bear with us. We're worth the effort because the stuff we know about this profession came to us through experience and that's something you don't have yet. We will share it if you give us the time and room to do so."

To read the more of Guillemette's insights go to www.melindamarkets.com

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