I followed a series of links[1] to find this article on the effect of Generation X values upon work culture. The article cites the impending wave of Baby Boomer retirements, pointing out that a number of executive and upper management positions will open up and likely be filled by Generation Xers. Will workplace culture change when GenXers take the reins? If so, to what extent? And how will it affect libraries which, unlike the corporate world, are saturnine[2]? If organizational culture is in part derived from the values and culture of those who are at the helm, it is bound to change when Generation X takes over. Baby Boomers are described as follows:<blockquote>“Leadership for them has been characterized by workaholic tendencies and materialism. Baby Boomers have had a minimum number of careers or a single career path, are impressed by authority, are optimistic and are driven to achieve.”</blockquote>GenXers, on the other hand,<blockquote>“…question authority, seek bigger meaning in life and work, are technologically savvy, live in the present, are skeptical, see career as a key to happiness, are open to multi-careers, consider challenge and variety as being more important than job security and constantly aim to achieve work-life balance.”</blockquote>An obvious criticism of the differences between the generations is that they are only generalizations and that they apply only to those who fit the stereotypes. However, it does seem naïve to assume that none of the generalizations apply, that cultures and skill sets do not vary generationally; stereotypes are rooted in the truth.

The article links to a study showing that<blockquote>“Baby Boomers received higher ratings from managers in 10 out of 18 competencies, particularly in their ability to coach and develop people and to manage execution. Generation X managers received higher ratings in self-development, work commitment and analyzing issues”</blockquote>GenXers will need to work on their ability to mentor and on expanding upon their analysis skills with the ability to synthesize as well; it is important to see both the forest and the trees. Whereas Baby Boomers are more comfortable in standard hierarchies, GenXers take more of a team-building approach, valuing independence and creativity to get the job done, whatever it may be. GenXers are also reported to thrive on change which is a key attribute in dealing successfully with disruptive technologies and technological discontinuities, clearly an area where improvement is needed.

As a GenXer, I am cynical about the likelihood of my generation’s general disdain for bureacratic structure having any noticeable effect upon the bureaucracy, so common in academia, that seems to cripple decision-making processes and any semblance of agility. I would love to see a new crop of administrators and managers come in and abolish the old ways of “analysis paralysis.” Why not take a heuristic-based approach to management? Instead of discussing something ad nauseum in three months’ worth of meetings, why not try it out as a pilot project?

Still, I am hopeful. If the coming wave of retirements brings in a batch of administrators that value agility, tear down process-tangling walls of bureaucracy, encourage and reward creativity, embrace innovation and skunk-works as being essential to our mission, and generally stir the pot in some productive fashion, the future holds great things.

Besides, I can’t wait for flannel shirts and wool hats to become de rigueur for Academic Library Fashion 2.0. (Or will the meme have evolved to 3.0 by that time?)

1. I’ve been following Mark Leggott’s Slow Library blog the past few months. Read the “Ahhh…the Beauty of Slow” post for an explanation of what the movement entails. The latest post contains a link to the Slow Leadership blog, which is where I found the Generation X article.

2. This is a base generalization; I admit that libraries might even be more agile than the corporate world in some areas, but do tend to believe that we are slow-moving, change-resistant beasts in general.