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Young manager, older employees

Hi all. Im about to take over a chief accountant role, and will have to manage older people than me. The company is in a process of implementing new ERP and I expect eventual double trouble. Not only older people usualy resist to changes but here is the second problem that I'm younger by about 15-20 years than them. Can you give me some advise for the startup please?


Rhonda Larson
Title: VP Business Operations
Company: HackerRank
(VP Business Operations, HackerRank) |

Sure. First - change your attitude! Assuming that all older people are change averse and that younger people are not is going to get you into trouble. I, too, manage people both older and younger than me, and my older team members are some of the most pro-active change agents I have on the team. Treat everyone with respect, value their knowledge, and let them be part of the process. There is a reason they are in their roles as long as they are. They are good at what they do. Leverage their wisdom to ensure the success of your new ERP. Finally, be clear about the value of the new ERP. Why are you doing it? What are the benefits? How will it help them? Transparency is always appreciated.

Good luck!

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

To add to Rhonda's older wisdom, never assume!

If you (are old enough?) to remember the Odd Couple TV series, there were two episodes explaining what "assume" really mean!

There is a right way to implement (fill in what ever it is) and it doesn't change because your co-workers are old, young, educated or not. Even the most un-educated person is not necessarily dumb and the dumbest person isn't necessarily stupid.

People know their jobs; and they know where the the skeletons may be lying. If you systematically go about the entire process; include all (or representatives of all) you'll find a better chance of success.

By the way, young people think they know everything and changing something is difficult because they always know the better way! Just talk to my nieces and nephews (also they don't talk, they text)...

(CFO/Board Advisor) |

Thank You Rhonda! You nailed it.

To add to Rhonda's advice, the people you manage, who are older than you, are not your parents, not your grandparents, or your aunts and uncles. As a Manager you are their leader. It is not a Child - Parent relationship, it is a Manager - Subordinate relationship. Trust me, we in the "older" crowd know this already. We value "chain-of-command". Any resistance you feel, has more to do with not listening and leveraging our experience and knowledge, and not including us in the planning and the development of the solution. It usually has very little if anything to do with the changes being made.

I can say this from experience having been the CFO of four companies during the last 20 years, where the CEO/Founder was 15 -25 years my junior. It is a two way street: Just because I'm older, doesn't make me right or smarter. Just because they are the CEO/Founder doesn't make them right or smarter. What makes us right and smart is working as a Team and complementing each others talents, and recognizing each others strengths and weaknesses.

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Director of Global Accounting
Company: Agrinos, Inc.
(Director of Global Accounting, Agrinos, Inc.) |

Try reading The Starfish And The Spider; it may give you some insights into motivating people over whom you have little power.

I look at the world with an eye towards three types of power/influence:
Positional: You'll have this, but it is the weakest sort.
Knowledge/Expertise: This is split, and likely you don't have this as the ERP will need to adapt to the company's needs, not the other way around.
Social: You'll definitely be lacking this, both as you're new to the role and as you're likely not part of the current social structure.

With that in mind, you need to find one or more champions and empower them to drive change and adoption. Can you relieve someone of their responsibilities and put them in charge? Act as a manager of people and a facilitator of their work, instead of trying to drive it yourself? Approaching it this way can fill the power gaps, and is more of a "Starfish" approach, which tends to be more resilient.



Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

Mr/Ms Accounts Receivable Officer:

Wearing my CEO/CFO and I'm sure I'm speaking for my GC (CLO), your perceptions are bound to overstep the parameters of the law and get your employer (and you) embroiled in many many (or a class-action) law suit for age discrimination.

Having gone through an EEOC (age discrimination) complaint (including trial, as a witness for the company) it is time consuming and expensive. In the referenced complaint the company was successful (unfortunately the President wasn't very good and probably caused some of the issues, but the employee was fired for performance, not because of age). BTW, I was implementing a new accounting MRP system at the time.

Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

In my first assignment as a manager I too had to manage people older than me. Add to that I am not an American hence not used to the kind of scrutiny you can experience in US in these matters.

However what made it successful for me and my team despite the age difference was that I provided them with a compelling vision offering to change the perception of the team into something more positive than it had been. I invited them to participate in the solutions phase and let them drive the process rather than me dictating.

First things first. If you are afraid of what will happen once you assume the supervisor role you have already failed. You have to be confident in your ability to make this work. As others have mentioned treat people with respect, seek their guidance and counsel, but don't forget that you must bring something to the table as well.

Topic Expert
Simon Westbrook
Title: CFO
Company: Aargo Inc.
( CFO, Aargo Inc.) |

Use your relative age as an asset rather than a problem. If you explain to them (one by one) that you have technical skills, business knowledge or whatever your strengths are, but do not have so much relevant experience and that you seek the benefit of their experience and input, and offer to share things you know. So long as both sides feel that they are learning and contributing they can both be content in their roles.

Of course, if one of them was expecting your current job, it will likely be a harder sell. In that kind of a situation I would suggest you have a discussion about you being young and career minded with plans to move in to bigger challenges, and offer to work with him and groom him as your successor for the job.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Dear Young Leader,

I am an older person who has constantly sought out new interesting problems to solve. In the company I work in, I'm a unicorn. The company I joined is 100 years old and all the employees have been there at least 12 years but most over 25 years. Whereas I have not kept a job for longer than 4 years, preferring to move on to harder problems to solve. I'm 50.

Don't judge yourself or others based on what your beliefs are, because your beliefs will lie to you about the reality sitting in front of you.

If the older people are socially active, read a lot, spend time learning new things, and challenge themselves, they will transition easily to new leadership whether their age or younger, you won't have any issues there.

But, if the employees have only known the existing leadership for their entire careers because they have not been anywhere else, or seen how things are done in multiple companies, they will not accept you easily, you will have to prove yourself on THEIR TERMS, not yours. And this is because they don't know anything else and they are at a disadvantage in that regard, they can't catch up to you even in the next 3 years, so you have to SLOW DOWN and be thorough in your explanations. And remember 70% of employees are there to do the work, not learn management techniques and leadership and have no desire to, but we still need that 70%, so you want to bring them with you, not leave them behind.

Many times new managers don't have any industry experience when they come out of public accounting, and if that is you, you have to learn the chain of command and you need to understand who the influencers are, because they are not the people who hold the titles. You will need to figure out who the peers are who can help you to apply peer pressure to bring them along easily. You begin by making the influencers your followers and the rest will follow them. Just like twitter.

Where I work right now, they put all new people through a 2 year social hazing process where no one will talk to you or work with you, even if you are in leadership, the leaders even have a harder time. So I have to just wait it out. Even worse, the leadership is part of the problem because they are used to hazing the new people and considering them of no value, even though they are bringing in new masters graduates as a succession plan. Old politics die hard.

As a younger professional, you will be well versed in new technology and easier, more efficient ways of doing things, like I am. You will face resistance from people who have been in charge because you will, more than likely, throw out all the old methods and thought processes as you make improvements. This is normal, but hard to take if you are on the other side of the table, because they have based their entire career on the old methodology, because it was the right way before new technology arrived. You will make a lot of people upset and your boss will not appreciate it. This is all normal pecking order re-alignment junk you just have to get through.

So you need to assess what the environment is before you start to ask people to start doing new things. Because your "new things" are to them, like jumping off a cliff without a net. They have no idea what you are talking about much less what you want them to do. They won't even know how to build different spreadsheets for different analysis.

I took 129 days out of the Fixed Asset process in about 1 year's time, that's a 1/3 reduction in workload for the role, turned IT on its head because I started asking configuration questions, and asked a lot of questions that the old timers could not answer, resulting in hatred, therefore no bonus, because the VP of Technology is retirement age and has political pull with the Board.

Working yourself into the leadership role, It isn't about age, it is about the fact they have not worked anywhere else and all their knowledge could be about 25 years old.

Don't worry about age, focus on whether they are nimble of mind and well educated and make easy transitions to new ideas.

If they are not nimble, keep your meetings private and one on one.

If you do not have public or group meetings then you do not run the risk of making their lack of knowledge public. People worry about reputation and how they appear to others more than anything else. If you keep your efforts to one on one meetings you can make change and the employees and managers will be able to open up and admit they need training to catch up, otherwise it's too much too soon.

If you do need to host project meetings, you should do less of the talking and you should ask more questions (according to project management theory) to elicit the team to arrive at the solution. They will talk it to death and wear you down, but you have to be determined not to let them wear you down.

One indicator that you really care that you do the right thing is posting this question. I wanted to give you a real life response and I feel like the torture of the last year will at least help someone else.

One other thing that is more cultural, this kind of question sometimes comes from an Asian perspective where younger people through respect generally have a hard time overcoming the boundaries of respect for the older generation. You must do what is right for you but do not fear the age question. I know someone in my office who is a senior accountant who had trouble talking to another senior accountant because of an age gap. They happened to speak the same native language, so the younger person began addressing the elder with a cultural "aunt" word to show respect and thereby eased their relationship past the ice breakers. Everyone has a different approach.

There will be rocks and the ship will get stuck, you must expect that, but hopefully this has helped.

When things get tough, you need to reach out to your boss and ask them to do certain things to help you fit in.

I'm always available to consider fixed asset clean up projects.

Carla Gordon
Title: Accountant
Company: Govt
(Accountant, Govt) |

First, being 50+, I couldn't help being insulted by the assumptions. I have never stayed at a position more than 6 years, because I either got a promotion or sought new opportunities because I was bored!
If you want to succeed you'll need to drop the assumptions and treat people with respect. I would ask a lot of questions about why things are the way they are, there is usually a good reason. The seasoned employees are usually good at what they do, and they can see the landmines coming if you are converting to an ERP system. I have been through several of these.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

I'm sorry you are offended but you shouldn't be if you are not in the class of long term employees that I have described. As I said, people that continue to challenge themselves do not fit this category. And young managers who ask these questions seeking answers should be commended because they are trying to do the best job they can in light of the challenges. One bit of insight is that there is no help for these types of situations and I'm guessing the young manager is having issues they cannot find good advice to deal with.. Personal philosophy really helps but in the end it's herding cats and you can never know which cat will claw you.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

Read the book the Advantage by Patrick Lencioni. As people have mentioned transparency is critical. Also explaining the why's behind the things happening. Share your vision or better yet, ask the entire team to help build a vision for the group. If you have buy in and synergy the dynamics will fall into place, and as everyone has mentioned never ever assume anything.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

I'm not in sales. Don't even like it. But, I know if I want "buy in" to some change I'm proposing, I've got to "sell it" to those who's cooperation I need to affect the change.

For this reason, I always try to include the "why" with my "how".

Maybe in the end, we are all really just sales people. :-)


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