An SI Group executive offered advice Monday on how to handle the generational transition that faces American business as tens of millions of baby boomers retire.
Brooke Manrique, vice president of human resources and communications, said the Niskayuna-based chemical company has roughly 2,800 employees worldwide, split nearly in thirds between boomers, Generation Xers and millennials.
The older ones, she said at the annual meeting of the Business Council of New York State, are proud to work in the chemical industry. For younger generations, the word “chemical” carries negative connotations, though the word “chemistry” typically carries positive connotations.
“Different generations often have different value systems,” Manrique noted. SI Group emphasizes the positive impacts of chemistry, and notes that its products are components of commonplace items in everyday life, from medications to tires.
The company has rebranded itself to varying degrees in the past as it expanded its product lines and mission. It was born in 1906 as Schenectady Varnish Co., and later became Schenectady Chemical and Schenectady International before renaming itself SI Group in 2006.
The company underwent another rebranding in recent years, both of itself and the way it presents the chemical industry. Most successful rebranding efforts consider internal and external impacts, Manrique said, and SI Group did both.
Aspects of the SI Group’s rebranding included upholding a strong reputation with all stakeholders; collaborating with universities; getting executives out in the community; and maintaining relationships with mainstream media and trade publications.
The recent rebranding also extends to the physical office space, Manrique said: Standing desks and LED lighting were added, and a collaborative workspace was designed.
SI Group is proactive in creating a multigenerational workplace, she explained, and collaboration is important in making that succeed. The oldest workers have knowledge to impart about what works and what doesn’t and why; the middle workers will soon be moving into leadership roles; and the younger workers have new ideas.
Interaction among the three is valuable, Manrique said.
“Often it’s not that the baby boomers won’t share what’s in their head. … No one asks.”
SI Group created a graduate development program to foster this, she said. Participants work three nine-month assignments in different locations and are expected to apply the lessons from each in their permanent positions.
The takeaway for any company looking to develop a multigenerational workplace: It’s important not to alienate one group while emphasizing another.
“You need to understand what each generation values,” Manrique said.
u Don’t abandon professional development efforts for baby boomers, she suggested. “Not all of them are looking out to the retirement horizon. They can be a huge asset in talent acquisition efforts.”
u Cultivate rather than neglect Generation Xers. “They are your next generation of leaders.”
u Millennials are seeking balanced career development. Don’t apply generational stereotypes to them.
Beyond age diversity, Manrique suggested, cultivate diversity of gender, ethnicity and thought.
And think outside the box in accomplishing this, she said, recalling SI Group’s decision to adopt a casual office dress code.
“We found this to be a selling point.”