Targeting generation X, Pt. 2

By Jason Kestler

Kestler Financial Group, Inc.


Editor's note: This is the second article in a six-part series. Click here to read the first in the series.

Generations: Working definitions
So who are these "generations?”

There is a multitude of literature and research on the subject. Since many of the generational issues are based upon observational evidence, two or three caveats should be kept in mind. First, any attempt to state assumptions based upon one large grouping of individuals is necessarily "broad-brush" and subject to stereotyping. No matter what observation is stated as a "fact" about a given group, some member of that group will immediately jump up to claim, "Hey, I'm not like that at all!"

True enough. And none of the following material is meant to take the place of an effort to understand each individual for what they want and need, based upon their individual perceptions and attitudes.

But the uniqueness of individuals doesn't negate the clearly accurate observation that many of those individuals, as a group, share common values and perceptions, based upon common experiences. For example, parents of a given age group see the world differently than people without children, but they may all have watched the same television programs or listened to the same music growing up and will always have that in common.

Second, it isn't critical to pin down the exact starting and ending date of each generation. There are many arguments in favor of the baby boomer generation, for example, starting in 1946, at the end of World War II , and ending in 1964, the last year the annual birth rate exceeded four million until 1989, and thus, the end of the "boom". Others use 1942 to 1960, which is basically defining "kids of the World War II generation." This discussion is not to nail down specifics — there won't be a quiz later — but to create categories that will prove value in discussing differing views and attitudes.

Third, it is far easier to make assumptions about others than about ourselves. This applies to accepting generational attributes, as well as those of individuals. As the famous, at least to boomers, observer of popular culture Marshall McLuhan once observed, "We don't know who discovered water, but it probably wasn't a fish." Every generation must begin to see how its own attitudes and perceptions may be blocking an ability to clearly view those of others. Of course, this applies equally to the younger generations looking at older ones. But given the focus of this particular paper, our narrative is directed to those in the best position to implement true changes in an agency — the current "ruling class" (principals), predominantly made up of boomers.

There are four generally accepted generations currently affecting the agency system, either as prospects or employees.
  • Seniors — born prior to 1946
  • Boomers — born 1946–1964
  • Generation Xers — born 1964–1978
  • Generation Next — born after 1980; also knows as Generation Y, Millenials or the Net Generation
While deeper research offers further subdivisions and varying years of birth, these four will serve our purposes as a broad overview. Now, let's go into a bit more detail about each, just to establish some identifying characteristics useful in the agency environment.

Seniors
This generation, famously dubbed by Tom Brokaw's book as "The Greatest Generation," is predominantly made up of the veterans of World War II. They grew up in the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, won a massive and terrible war, and came home to go to college, raise families and go into business. Their background in the military gave them a respect for command hierarchy and following the orders of superiors that, to a large extent, set the pattern for their business lives. Their contract with the military came down to "Follow orders, stay loyal, pay your dues, and we will take care of you."

This was affirmed by the GI Bill putting them through college and the Veterans’ Affairs administration financing their homes. In much the same way, they felt if you paid your dues in society and to your company, they would reward your loyalty with Social Security and job security. This is not to dismiss them as drones. These folks built the strongest nation on Earth, eradicated polio and smallpox, and put a man on the moon.

As a result of their experiences, seniors tend to be hard workers, adhering to the rules, patient in delaying reward, and conservative in their financial lives. They are used to taking orders and likewise, see no problems in giving them. They have a great deal of trust in leaders and expect the same from their followers. Questioning their motives and decisions is not going to sit well with them, nor is the promise of a quick return on an investment or procedural change.

They are not happy with the seeming acceptance of chaos and turmoil in the business world. Not only does it conjure up bad memories from the Depression days, but since they largely see a successful business as one which provides long-term support of its people, the latest waves of downsizing and rapid changes of direction strike them as ill-informed and largely the result of self-centered greed on the part of leadership. After all, the contract was always to reward loyalty with loyalty.

Contrary to wide belief, they are very prone to using computers, but only to the extent they offer a practical method of pursuing an activity they are already interested in — checking their retirement portfolios and quickly getting the latest pictures of their grandkids, for example. As to the other "bells and whistles," they accept them but wonder, "What's the big deal? We lived this long without them and did just fine."

For our purpose, the key contribution of the seniors was to create the societal and business environment in which the boomers came of age and prospered. Many current agency principals and clients belong to the boomer generation, but except for the very youngest among them, they are moving rapidly into retirement and out of the prospecting/hiring window for the vast majority of independent agencies.

In future articles we will study the rest of these generations, and the effect each has had and continues to have on the market.