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Successful practices connect the generations

September 27, 2012

By Chad Fleming, O.D., AOAExcel Business and Career Consultant

I remember growing up with a grandfather and father who knew how to fix things, from lawn mowers to kitchen appliances. If it broke, then my dad would spend Saturday fixing it. The baby boomer generation and their parents went through some very difficult economic times where saving wrapping paper at Christmas and patching holes in jeans was seen as the norm. Now we have something that breaks, and we just throw it away and go buy another one. Actually, it doesn’t need to break for us to go buy another one; it just needs to be slower than newer products on the market. We live in a day and age where everything is disposable. Generations change, and so does the mindset of the respective generations.

Understanding differences among the generations can lead your practice to grow where others are not. It can lead you to attract the best associates with whom to eventually partner. Generational wisdom is one of the key components to being successful in today’s optometry practice. Below are some areas where the differences between generations are evident.

  • Baby boomers: born between 1946-1964
  • Gen X: born between 1964-1982
  • Gen Y (aka-millenials, global or net generation, echo boomers): born between 1982-2000

1. Products — Baby boomers will define a product by the durability and how long it will last. They will emphasize the internal parts and the feel of the product. Post-boomers (GenX, GenY) are more interested in the packaging of the product. GenX and GenY have as much emotional excitement with the opening of the product as the product itself. An example of this would be the time and attention Apple puts into packaging its products.

2. The Office — Baby boomers are a product of the industrial revolution where their parents moved from the farm into the big city to work at a factory from 9-5. Con-trary to this, post-boomers like and want autonomy with their work. They don’t want to be in an office all day and, when polled, would best excel in a ROWE (results-only work environment). “No matter what kind of business you’re in, it’s time to throw away the time cards, tardy slips, time clocks, and outdated industrial-age thinking” (from the book “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink). Your new associate thinks differently about a work week, and transitioning practices are more successful when these differences are communicated.

3. Money — Baby boomers as a whole have emphasized the work philosophy where a hard day’s work results in a paycheck that feeds the family, buys a house with a yard, builds a 401k, and supports the dream of one day retiring. The post-boomers have a different view about the priority of money. They still like to make a good income, but it is not the finish line of retirement they emphasize as their parents have done. Their motivation is the journey along the way, and they are willing to make less money and put less money away to enjoy the moment. This often plays out in the optometry office as a desire to see fewer patients and work three days a week instead of five or six.

4. Customer Service Expectations — Baby boomers grew up with full-service experiences and limited selection of products; therefore, they were more patient and willing to give those serving them latitude when service experiences did not meet expectations. In today’s world of self-service and “have it your way” mentality, the GenX and GenY expect service such that everything is their way. So when purchasing products and receiving services, they expect the product and service to be exactly the way they would do it. This tends to create a discontent and impatient customer when their experience is less than perfection. Due to these changes, optometry offices are growing further and further apart as this type of demand separates those who meet the intense demand and those not adapting to the change (from “Wired and dangerous: how your customers have changed and what to do about it” by Chip Bell and John Patterson).

As a baby boomer who desires to bring in an associate or plans to partner with someone of the post-boomer generation, it is important to be cognizant of the generational differences. The most successful practices have learned to communicate through the generational differences and work within an environment that compliments both. In return, the patients ultimately benefit by being a part of a practice culture that meets them where they are.

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