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4 tactics for effective change management in the multigenerational workplace

Angela Lurie, CPA (inactive) | April 2020 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated April 1, 2020

From the automation of manual processes to changing demographics within the workforce, transformation can take many forms in the accounting and finance world. Despite the cost and complexity, 76% of CFOs are prioritizing financial system upgrades for the near future, according to a survey by Robert Half Management Resources. Additional research found that regulatory compliance and technology changes are the top pressure points for accounting and finance organizations, stressing that operational functions are impacting the ability to respond to shifting business challenges.

These changes require a fundamental shift in the way people work and how they think about their work. In finance, that might look like the replacement of mundane, repetitive tasks with more data-driven decision-making and strategic analysis. True transformation might also include the use of automation to improve data quality and benchmarking. A key enabler of change is the learning and development required to ensure that people — regardless of generation — are not only developing the skills needed to perform the new processes, but are empowered with the mindset to embrace them.

As organizations tackle wave after wave of quickly evolving business demands, managers are progressively tasked with mastering change management. Easier said than done, but not impossible. Success depends on how well finance leaders support these changes within their teams. For leaders looking to implement effective change management, here are a few important tactics to consider.

Understand where baby boomers are at

Many offices are a melting pot of demographics, from baby boomers approaching retirement to Generation Z, the newest group to join the labor market. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that 25% of the workforce would be 55 or older in 2020. By 2024, the BLS predicts that the labor force will grow to about 164 million people, including roughly 41 million people who will be 55 and older. Today’s record low unemployment rates and the high demand for professionals with specialized skills have many companies seeking experienced workers to fill key roles.

However, most baby boomers who are at or near retirement age are looking to wind down a full-time career — not start a new one. Even if they are keeping one foot firmly in the workforce, they most likely want an arrangement that provides flexibility, such as part-time or full-time consulting work. In fact, nine in 10 CFOs surveyed by Robert Half Management Resources reportedly think a career in consulting is an attractive prospect for senior-level accounting and finance professionals. Top favorable aspects cited by respondents were the variety and challenge of work, attractive compensation and flexible schedule.

Learn from each other

Traditional mentorships are an excellent means of grooming junior employees, but keep in mind that younger team members also have knowledge and insights to share with their more-senior colleagues. In fact, a survey from OfficeTeam revealed workers 55 and older are the most comfortable having a younger boss (93%). While our research shows many professionals are embracing collaboration across age groups, preconceptions can hinder progress. Efforts need to be made to get past stereotypes and build connections. Consider establishing a reverse mentoring program so boomers and Gen Xers can benefit from the tech skills and fresh perspectives of their millennial cohorts. Additionally, don’t segregate people by age when creating project teams. Encourage the various generations at work to collaborate, cross-train and lead. 

Emphasize the positive

Managers sometimes see differences as a negative; but having a team with diverse perspectives and strengths leads to improved performance, greater collaboration, fewer misunderstandings, better communication and higher morale. For instance, when millennials first entered the job market, they had a reputation for disruptive workstyles. Now we know that this generation simply has a different outlook. Many firms are now adapting to the approach of young professionals, resulting in changes to the workplace like enhanced work-life balance offerings that benefit both organizations and employees. A manager’s attitude can rub off on their staff, so it’s important to celebrate the differences. Regularly highlight how employees’ skills and attributes complement their colleagues’ — especially when solving business challenges, brainstorming new services and understanding consumer behavior.

Upskill your staff

The burden of transformation can strain an organization’s operational functions and resources, impacting the ability to respond to shifting business demands and resulting in potential consequences. CFOs, for instance, realize the need to implement new technologies to optimize performance and deliver solutions that will keep their companies competitive, but are often daunted by the cost, scale and complexity of such initiatives. However, the move toward automating labor-intensive processes will shift staff focus to more analysis, collaboration and decision support. Therefore, organizations should help upskill staff with in-house training, interdepartmental collaboration, mentorship opportunities, industry events and other educational courses.

In addition to holding onto seasoned, knowledgeable workers, companies increasingly need accounting and finance staff with an innate curiosity to work with and learn new technologies, such as:
  • ERP systems like NetSuite, SAP, PeopleSoft and Microsoft Dynamics.
  • Cloud-based systems.
  • Data mining and analytics.
  • Artificial intelligence and robotic process automation (RPA).

Leverage the advantages

Change management looks to leverage the advantages of a multigenerational workplace by helping people become more aware and accepting of generational differences. Each cohort in the workforce brings unique skill sets, preferences and communication styles shaped by the economic conditions and cultures they come from.

This range of workstyles and perspectives is beneficial for organizations in developing creativity, addressing regulatory compliance requirements and accepting new technology as an integral part of accounting and finance. Organizations that work proactively to embrace the different generations and new technologies will reap the benefits, while those that ignore the impact of both may risk losing in the war for talent.

Angela Lurie is a senior regional vice president in the Twin Cities for Robert Half, which has more than 300 staffing locations worldwide and offers online job search services at Additional career and management advice is available on the Robert Half blog. For more information about our six Minnesota locations, call us at 651-968-4599.


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