Spencer Wixom | Midlife Fulfilled Podcast

Ep 190 Maximizing the Potential of a Multigenerational Workforce

By tapping into the virtues of a multigenerational workforce, leaders can inspire cohesion, and drive collective success within their teams.

In episode 190 you’ll meet Spence Wixom, President and CEO of The BrooksGroup. We discussed the impact of multigenerational dynamics in the workplace, focusing on the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.

Three key discussion points are:

1️⃣ Communication Preferences Across Generations: Spence highlights the unique communication preferences of each generation. Baby boomers prefer face-to-face and deeper relationship communication, Gen X leans towards email and text, millennials favor social networking and instant messaging, and Gen Z is drawn to video communication. Leaders should consider adapting their communication styles to accommodate the preferences of their multigenerational teams.

2️⃣ Inspiration and Motivation: The discussion also shed light on the varied motivational factors for each generation. Baby boomers find motivation in team dedication, while Gen X values individual recognition and accomplishment. Millennials are driven by mission and flexibility, and Gen Z focuses on personal branding and purpose. By recognizing and tapping into the unique motivators of each generation, leaders can cultivate a work environment that brings out the best in every team member.

3️⃣ Handling Conflict and Fostering Empathy: We also discussed the rise in personal anxiety across generations, with younger generations experiencing higher levels of anxiety. Leaders need to be mindful of these factors and foster empathy in their approach. Embracing differences and building upon shared values can help mitigate conflicts arising from generational disparities, leading to a more cohesive and supportive workplace culture.

Main Takeaway:

My key takeaway from this conversation is the importance of embracing and understanding the multigenerational dynamics in the workplace. Recognizing the unique communication preferences, motivational drivers, and sources of anxiety for each generation can empower leaders to create an inclusive and supportive work environment. By tapping into the strengths and virtues of each generation, leaders can foster empathy, inspire cohesion, and drive collective success within their teams.

Connect with Spencer Wixom on LinkedIn
Visit the 
BrooksGroup website
Download the 
Multigenerational Sales Team Report


affiliate link to Castmagic, the AI tool I used to help produce these show notes.

Music attribution:
Old Bossa Twin Musicom

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Episode Transcript

Bernie Borges [00:00:00]:
Spence Wixom, welcome to the Midlife Fulfill podcast, a maximum episode.

Spence Wixom [00:00:06]:
Hey. Thanks, Bernie. It’s so great to be here with you.

Bernie Borges [00:00:09]:
It’s great to have you. I am looking forward to our conversation. I’m gonna give you a little bit of introduction, but I really wanna hear your backstory, Spencer. I’ll just introduce you. You are the president and the CEO of The Brooks Group. You lead the organization to deliver transformational performance, improving your clients’ sales teams. So you’re all about leading sales organizations. You’ve got a storied background.

Bernie Borges [00:00:34]:
I’m sure we’ll hear more about it. You with CEB, Gartner, Challenger, and, you know, you’ve been at it for a long, long time. So why don’t you tell us your backstory, Spence? Let’s start with that.

Spence Wixom [00:00:45]:
Sure. So long, long time ago in university, I had this dream of being a lawyer. Well, actually, that that’s not true. My first dream was to be a playwright, but I was actually pretty bad at that and found that out very quickly in college as I took playwriting courses that that probably wasn’t a good way to feed a family. So I decided as any English major does that I was gonna go to law school. I did a internship at the US Supreme Court. And what I realized in that internship was, if this is about as good as law gets, I hate to see how bad it gets for a guy like me. But what was really interesting, and I like to tell people that was my first sales job is I had the opportunity to research the art that hung in the justices offices, and then write briefs about that that the justices could use when people showed up in their chambers and said, hey, what’s this art that’s hanging on your wall? Because they would get, you know, pieces of art on loan from the National Gallery.

Spence Wixom [00:01:44]:
And so I was the guy in charge of writing these briefs, for the justices use. And what was fun about that was writing in a way to persuade them of basically selling the art to the justices, selling the backstory, selling the, all of the emotion behind those pieces of art. And I found that I was much better as a creative writer than, say, a legal technical writer. And so that made me interested in fitness, and in particular, sales and marketing. And so I got home from that internship, changed my direction, got into investment banking and real estate, doing sales and marketing in those arenas. And then about 18 years ago, just happened upon, this ragtag team of researchers at corporate executive board doing, global sales performance research. And we started out as a little unit, and then we became a bigger unit. We got bigger and more interesting projects over the years, and we really grew that, practice into something special.

Spence Wixom [00:02:53]:
That’s where I spent a good amount of my career was in doing that. Mhmm. And then about a year and a half ago, some individuals that I had known for a long, long time came to me saying, you know, there’s this boutique sales training and transformation company. They’re looking for a new CEO. And I saw in this just an opportunity to go back to the fundamentals and to really research and develop, what I like to call a handcrafted sales transformation initiative for organizations. We work with a lot of companies all over the world and a lot of different industries. We actually even work with the US military, training military recruiters to improve their sales acumen, which is a real fulfilling part of my job. But that’s really what I’m focused on right now is how do we research and then develop solutions for organizations that feel crafted and aligned to what they need to accomplish.

Bernie Borges [00:03:50]:
And just so I’m career, my listeners clear, you are referring to your role as the CEO at The Brooks Group?

Spence Wixom [00:03:57]:
That’s correct. Yeah.

Bernie Borges [00:03:58]:
Yeah. Okay. You know, what I love about that, Spence, is that you have many years, decades, of really approaching sales from the standpoint of a discipline that really requires structure. It’s not sales is not something that people just go wing and do it, right, especially complex business to business selling. But anyway, I know that’s not the purpose of of this episode. Your company, the the the Brooks Group, you, you guys wrote a paper, and I reached out to you, on this because it really captured my attention. So and, of course, we’re gonna share a link to it in in the show notes. It’s the, 2024 sales leader Trend Report, Managing a Multi Generational Sales Team.

Bernie Borges [00:04:48]:
And I I invited you into this episode to discuss kind of the the four perspectives on work. And as you know, Spence, we discussed before I pressed record that we’re not gonna limit this to sales because I know you know that not every listener to the to the Midlife of Hope podcast is in sales. But we’re gonna talk about the the 4 sort of generations at work and and how we we need to understand them, embrace them, and really set them up for success. So is that a good kind of segue to the conversation, Spence?

Spence Wixom [00:05:25]:
No. That’s a perfect segue. What so what was so interesting about this study is we originally just wanted to understand some of the priorities and sales trends of B2B organizations today. So we went out and we studied about a 150 of them. But there was a question that we asked around, what’s the predominant generation in your sales organization? And of the 4 that are present in the workforce right now. And we got that data back, and we started to cut all of our responses by that. And we started to notice some really interesting trends. And so that’s what motivated this additional sales trends paper.

Spence Wixom [00:05:58]:
But, what we’re trying to do now, what we’re trying to go deeper on is to really understand the nuance of our baby boomers, gen x, millennials or gen y, and gen z all working together the same time. Let me give you a little bit of data here just to chalk the field. So as of right now, 2024, you’ve got baby boomers who are about 14% of the workforce. Gen X, 33%, Millennials, 35%, and Gen Z, 14%. So, you know, a good amount in each of those generations working together. What’s interesting, of course, over the next couple of years, we’re gonna see baby boomers go from about 14% down to 7%. Then we’ll see Gen z go up to a little over 20%. But we’ll still have representation of all those those generations, and we’re gonna get to a point where Gen x, millennials, Gen z are gonna be somewhat kind of an equal portion of this, culturally diverse workforce.

Bernie Borges [00:07:04]:
Now we’re recording this in the middle of 2024. And did I hear you say that millennials make up 35%? Yeah. 35%. Okay. Which is the biggest percentage. Right?

Spence Wixom [00:07:16]:
Just a little larger than Gen x. That’s right. Yeah. Okay. Gen x and millennials, 3335, respectively.

Bernie Borges [00:07:23]:
Okay. So pretty close. Pretty close. Okay. And one of the things that I, I wanna point out, and I did mention this on a previous episode or 2, and that is that the high end of the millennial age bracket is 43 years old. So millennials are now in that over not exclusively or entirely, but millennials include up to age 43. But, anyway, I digress a little bit. Let’s talk about each each of the the groups.

Bernie Borges [00:07:51]:
Right? Gen z, millennials, gen x, baby boomers. I know that in the white paper, you actually have some really key compelling points about each one of those age groups and what’s important to them and, really, some advice on how to how to work with them.

Spence Wixom [00:08:09]:
Yeah. So let’s, let’s dive into it. I think one of the first principles around this that’s important to understand, and we see this play out in the data. Data. I’ll share with you some trends that reinforce this idea. And this idea was taught to me by individuals who have studied this a lot longer than I have as I was sharing the data with them. You want to think about the various generations as call and response, reflections on one another. So let’s start, for example, with baby boomers.

Spence Wixom [00:08:37]:
Baby boomers tend to be community oriented collectivist. They like group orientation. What’s interesting is when you look at Gen X, that next generation, they tend to be more individualistic. Right? More kind of self or individual focused. So it’s a the Gen x is a response to the baby boomers. Then when you get to millennials, they tend to move back toward that team, community, collective mentality, and then it moves back over, with Gen z to that individualistic idea. And you know what’s really interesting, Bernie? As you see this play out, one of the best examples I think of this is when you look at the movies that define these generations. So let me list a couple of movies from each of the generations, and that does a lot to define who they are, what’s important to them.

Spence Wixom [00:09:29]:
So take, baby boomers, for example. The big movies that are always listed as baby boomer movies, The Graduate, Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Right? You think about those movies. What are they what’s the story that those movies are telling? It’s all about a group of individuals coming together to create a counterculture, to sort of unite together against what was the previous generation. Right? That silent or greatest generation of of individuals. So you move to the Gen x movies. What are the Gen x movies that really define? Wall Street, Top Gun, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Like, what are those movies about? An individual, a maverick, somebody bucking the system, figuring out a way to succeed individually.

Spence Wixom [00:10:19]:
It’s interesting because Wall Street, as an example, is a movie. You think about that the Bud Fox, the main character in that movie, a a prototypical Gen Xer. Right? Master of the Universe Wall Street broker gonna find his own way to the top of the mountain. And his dynamic against his father, Karl Fox, who is that, like, labor working man for Blue Sky Airlines. Right? You kinda see the generational dynamic painted there. Mhmm. Okay. So then you move to millennials.

Spence Wixom [00:10:47]:
What are the big movies with millennials? The Matrix, Fast and Furious, Social Network. Again, you’re talking about groups. You’re talking about these bands of people coming together around a common cause. And that’s the interesting dynamic that you see new in millennials is it’s it’s a lot about purpose, cause, mission, that’s presented there. Finally, the Gen z movies, and quite honestly, I had to look these up, but these are not the movies that I would typically go see. You’ve got movies like Booksmart, The Hate You Give, Edge of 17. Again, very much individual movies.

Bernie Borges [00:11:22]:
Yeah. I don’t know any of them. Okay. But I I have a question, though, Spence. So I’m gonna name a movie, and I’m gonna ask you which age group, which generation does it

Spence Wixom [00:11:35]:
fall under? Okay. My my my guess is probably gonna be predominantly based on my knowledge of when it came out, but try and let’s

Bernie Borges [00:11:42]:
see. Here we go. Weekend at Bernie’s.

Spence Wixom [00:11:47]:
Oh, weekend at Bernie’s is a gen x movie for sure. That’s a gen x you know, it’s like trying to conquer the world by yourself doing some different thing. Right? As far even going as far as pretending that your boss is dead.

Bernie Borges [00:12:01]:
Right. Right. Yeah. So what what does all of that tell us as leaders, for anybody who’s leading people in the workplace? Again, we’re not restricting this discussion to sales, just leading people. So give us some guidance on how to understand what you’re sharing in the context of leading people.

Spence Wixom [00:12:22]:
Sure. Let so let’s look at okay. So we’re thinking about this call and response element and these different concepts in each generation. Right? Some collectivist, some individualistic. Let’s think about communication specifically. So if I’m a leader of a multigenerational sales team, let’s think about the communication preferences of each of these generations. Let’s start with the baby boomers. Face to face communication, deeper relationship.

Spence Wixom [00:12:47]:
It’s interesting. If you’ve gone to any conferences recently like, I was at a sales conference just this last week. A few weeks ago, I was at a conference as well. Guess who most of the audience is at those conferences? It’s older gen x individuals and baby boomer individuals. You very rarely see young people actively engaged in these conferences. Yeah. The the boomers and the older gen x, they like that face to face, like, deeper relationship communication. Generation x, email and text communication, so kind of starting into digital.

Spence Wixom [00:13:21]:
Millennials, social, you know, connecting social networking, instant messaging, and then Gen Z video. You know? So when you think about, like, what kind of communication from the org or from a leader is going to engage these generations, you have to understand that each of them are going to prefer or engage differently with different kinds of communication.

Bernie Borges [00:13:43]:
What about inspiration? How do you inspire a team of people that’s multigenerational?

Spence Wixom [00:13:50]:
So it’s a good question. Let’s let’s talk about some of the elements there. I think with baby boomers, let’s talk about what kind of they what they’re looking for. Right? What motivates them? And what’s interesting is we do a lot of, we study thousands of salespeople every year, and we measure their motivational profile. And what we have been seeing is some statistically significant changes in average motivational profiles as we’ve seen changes in generational weighting. And I think that indicates a lot to us what’s going to inspire or motivate your workforce. But baby boomers very much motivated by team dedication. You know? Are we in it as a team? Are we working together as a team? Are we all contributing together? Gen x is looking they’re very individualistic, so they’re gonna be motivated by recognition, accomplishment, and a to a certain degree, a balance of different accomplishment in life.

Spence Wixom [00:14:49]:
Right? I can do I can succeed in work, but I’m also recognized at succeeding in certain things in my personal life. So individual recognition is gonna be big for them. Millennials, it’s all about mission and flexibility. Are you giving me the flexibility to, like, work as a team to accomplish some kind of purpose? Again, though, with millennials, it comes back to team and group as opposed to individual. And then Gen z is all about, is this helping my brand? Is this creating purpose for me individually?

Bernie Borges [00:15:25]:
Interesting. Okay. So that that puts a lot of pressure on a leader to understand all those dynamics. And, certainly, that’s why I’m gonna recommend anybody listening to this podcast to, to to download this white paper, which, again, we’ll link up in the show notes. I’m staring at it during our conversation, and I see the 4 quadrants of these 4 generations. So in in the last question, you addressed the inspiration. What about sort of the other spectrum, and that’s conflict? How how do leaders handle conflict across the these generations?

Spence Wixom [00:16:02]:
Well, it it and it is interesting. Right? Because that conflict will, to some degree, arise because of the different motivations of the different groups. Right? You’ve got some individuals in your organization who want to be very loyal to the organization and other groups in your organization who are more perhaps loyal to their own agenda or to their own accomplishment or to their own brand and purpose as opposed to the organization’s brand and purpose. And so you have to find a little bit of something for everyone and find what everyone can kind of come together around. The other thing we have to recognize, Bernie, that was an interesting statistic that I found today is when you look at compared to 2010 to today, so the last 14 years, the degree of increase in personal anxiety among individuals, of course, is going up among individuals generally. And I think we have a more difficult economy. I think we have a more turbulent global environment. I think we have a pandemic that has created more isolation just generally among people.

Spence Wixom [00:17:10]:
The breakdown of a lot of the social structure that people used to have and rely on is driving up anxiety, but it’s driving it up differently for each of these generations. So for example, Gen X, legacy of anxiety up 52%. Millennials up a 103%, Gen Z up a 139%. And so your your younger generations feeling more of this anxiety, than your your older generations. Now how do you kind of come together is, I think, a recognition of what others based on the different generation they’re a part of are going through. Right? That greater empathy, that greater appreciation for differences. What can we learn from each other? How can we support one another as opposed to maybe, like, picking on one another or wishing one another were different than they are and things like that. We’ve got to find a way to appreciate the different benefits that each of these generations bring.

Bernie Borges [00:18:11]:
Yeah. You know, a few episodes ago, I did 2 back to back episodes on, the fact that millennials are experiencing life crises, and they expect to actually experience a midlife crisis at a much younger age than traditional midlifers in their forties and fifties. And one of the data points that really stuck out from the research that I did was that 64% of millennials said that they already had a life crisis. 64%. And and it just strikes me that they are like, one of the other things that that I found in my research is that they struggle with the older generation. They feel like they’re not understood, you know, that gen x and boom boomers don’t understand the millennials and the the the pressures that they’re facing. Now in the research that I have just completed, and at the time of our recording and publishing this in in June of 2024, actually, July, early July, This report is not published yet, but I’ll give you a little sneak preview, Spence. And that is that midlifers, so forties, fifties, sixties, we get along with those younger than us.

Bernie Borges [00:19:21]:
We work well we think we work well with them, and we’re totally willing to work with them. But there’s data that shows that millennials feel like they’re not well understood by those of us that are older. Are you seeing some of that?

Spence Wixom [00:19:36]:
I, yeah, I am seeing some of that. And and I think, what’s interesting is a lot of organizations right now talking about culture. Right? They say we have to develop a strong culture. And sometimes that culture can be very limited to we want people who look and act and behave like us as part of the culture, which then tends to be a bunch of people of very similar socioeconomic background, generational background, and people then tend to feel most comfortable. Right? It’s it’s like in social situations, you tend to we and this is an unfortunate thing. We feel most comfortable with people that are maybe a couple of years to one side of us or the other. Right? Where there is so much we can learn and so our social lives, our work lives can be so much richer by exploring deeper relationships with people of different generations. I think the thing that the, baby boomers and the gen x can potentially do, and hopefully, you can get millennials and and gen z to be motivated by this as well, is to learn from each other’s strengths.

Spence Wixom [00:20:47]:
Right? So Right. Millennials and the Gen z are very good at building fulfillment, large scale social networks or engaging with a lot of people, being very kind of loud and dynamic. The Gen X and, baby boomers are really good at developing deep relationships with people. I mean, some of I think about some of my experiences, and I’ve been very blessed to have them, where I have learned from baby boomers who do such a great job of engaging people in such a deep and caring way. I I share a story. I was backstage one time with Robert Gates, who was Obama’s, secretary of defense, And I watched him, baby boomer. I watched him engage, in his time there with this 12 year old little boy scout who was going to be part of the flag ceremony at this event and showing just undivided attention toward this young boy. And I learned just a tremendous amount from that because I think other generations would probably not approach that situation the same way secretary Gates did.

Spence Wixom [00:21:56]:
And you can learn that by just observing, you know, the strengths of people in a generation above you or the strengths of people in a generation below you.

Bernie Borges [00:22:05]:
Yeah. So as we get close to wrapping here, Spence, maybe you just alluded to it, and and I’ll ask you to elaborate. And that’s the the leadership topic. What’s the impact that you’re seeing at the leadership level across these 4 generations?

Spence Wixom [00:22:22]:
The impact that we’re seeing is the leadership level is, number 1, changing because the the dynamic is, as you had said before, more gen x are moving into senior executive roles in organizations. Millennials are moving into managerial and leadership and executive roles. And so you’re having new generations become leaders who need to then appreciate, in many cases, as this kind of as these younger generations start to, particularly those who are, you know, very upwardly mobile, are moving into leadership roles, they’re leading people older than them. In a generation older than them, they’re leading people in generations younger than them. And they need to find a way to make those connections, and to motivate, inspire, build relationships with people of all those different groups.

Bernie Borges [00:23:13]:
So maybe to add to that, a closing thought. You know, anyone listening to this who’s just thinking about the fact that, you know, they they’re exposed to these 4 generations, whether it’s the workplace or outside the workplace. Just a closing thought on how people can approach engaging, leading, being a part of these 4 generations.

Spence Wixom [00:23:35]:
Again, the I think the most important thing, as I said earlier, and I’ll just I’ll just say it again, is appreciating where each of them are coming from. We’re all trying to in any organization, we’re trying to come together. We’re trying to move toward a direction together. What we have to appreciate is where everyone is starting from in coming together, and what they bring are both unique strengths and things that others have to have some empathy and understanding for. So it it isn’t who people are. It’s kind of where they’re starting from on their journey together. And that’s what really brings organizations together. It is not, in my estimation, as much a shared culture as we tend to define culture as, you know, people who like the same things I do and behave the same way I do.

Spence Wixom [00:24:28]:
It’s shared values. And if we have shared values and mission and again, shared mission is something that these younger generations really appreciate and love and will get behind. And if we have shared values and mission, and we recognize where each of these generations is starting from and the strengths that they bring, as leaders, I think we can rally the organization together much better.

Bernie Borges [00:24:51]:
Well said, Spence. If I was to use one word to kind of encapsulate what you just closed with, and that’s empathy. Just having empathy for where everybody in your group is, where they’re coming from, and understanding the the shared values so that you can really maximize the relationship, and and when it’s in a work environment, maximize just the outcomes that you’re all working on together. So fantastic.

Spence Wixom [00:25:18]:
Yeah. And look for the I’m sorry. Just the one thing I would add to that is look for the strengths. Right? Look for the virtues. Look for the positive things that each of these generations can contribute. I I mean, you take the baby boomers, for example. Like, we we have a fleeting amount of time to learn from them how they build relationships, deep relationships with people. We need to take advantage of that while we have the opportunity.

Bernie Borges [00:25:43]:
Thank you for that extra point. And and by the way, I’m sure you know that your, yours truly, the host of the Midlife Fulfill podcast is absolutely a baby boomer and proud of it, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of this conversation. Spence, where can people connect with you, learn more about you, and what you’ve got going on at The Brooks Group?

Spence Wixom [00:26:04]:
Yeah. So first of all with me, I love to connect with folks on LinkedIn. So Spencer Wixom, I’m on LinkedIn. I’d love to connect. I’d love to have conversation. Folks, you can also email me, swixom@the brooksgroup.com. And if you’re interested in getting our research, looking into some of the things we’re working on, the brookesgroup.com is a great place to go.

Bernie Borges [00:26:29]:
Fantastic. Well, I will have a link to that specific, white paper where people can get it, in the show notes for this episode. And, Spence, thank you so much for joining me on this episode of the Midlife Fulfilled Podcast, a maximum episode. This is a topic that I think is really, really relevant to, the listener of this podcast. So thank you so much for for joining me today for this this invigorating conversation.

Spence Wixom [00:26:53]:
Thank you, Bernie. It was a great pleasure to be here.

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