target manager guidance

Searching for a tool to help managers deal with a multi-generational workforce? No worries. Target’s got it all figured out. 

An internal Target training document, Managing Generational Differences, was recently leaked to Gawker. And it is one astonishingly cynical and tone-deaf piece of guidance.

The guidance gives managers advice on how to handle employees in four categories: veterans (born 1922-1944), Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Generation X (1965-1980) and Generation Y (1980-2000).

Its over-arching message: If you pretend to care about what each of these generational groups care about, you can probably get them to do their jobs without too much trouble.

In a convenient, easy-to-use format

Many managers spend a lot of time trying to figure out ways to motivate and support employees on a case-by-case basis, working out each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Target ain’t playing that.

Managing Generational Differences lays out, in convenient chart form, profiles for the four groups. Forget that stuff about managing individual people, no matter what their age, race, religion, etc. At least on the age issue, Target’s got everybody slotted into the appropriate pigeonhole.

For instance (according to Target):

  • Veterans — the old coots — are “patriotic, practical, dedicated, hierarchical, given to personal sacrifice and delayed gratification, (and) economical.”
  • Baby Boomers are “optimistic, driven, seek personal gratification, (and) generous.”
  • Gen X employees are “balanced, (exhibit) conditional loyalty, (and) skeptical.”
  • Gen Yers? They’re “confident, determined, upbeat, inclusive,tolerant, informal (and) civic-minded.”

Work styles? Here’s how those break down:

  • Veterans — “loyal, formal, diligent, by the book, stable, disciplined, uncomfortable with ambiguity, slow to adapt to change, (try to) avoid conflict, (and) reluctant to question or voice disagreement.’
  • Baby Boomers — “competitive, hardworking, service oriented, team player, driver, not budget minded, value process over results, overly sensitive to feedback, (and) judgmental of different viewpoints.”
  • Gen X — “efficient, effective, informal, adaptable, independent, impatient, lack people skills (and are) cynical.”
  • Gen Y — “multi-task(ing), seek new and meaningful challenges, loquacious, need supervision and structure, (and) inexperienced at handling difficult people issues.”

Their views on technology: Veterans find it “complex and challenging.” Boomers think it’s “necessary for progress and achievement.” Gen Xers view it as “practical tools to get things done.” And Gen Yers ask, “What else is there?”

There’s a lot more. Veterans are loyal to the organization; Gen Xers are loyal only to themselves. Baby Boomers have respect for authority; Gen Yers, not so much.

And here’s how to talk to them

Fortunately for its managers, Target not only describes employees in various generations, it provides suggestions on how each group should be coached. Here’s a selection:

Gen Y

  • Be open to … new and different ways of working

  • Involve them in significant projects

  • Acknowledge their need for connection by helping them feel part of the group

  •  Build a fun, challenging and fast-paced work environment, and

  • Look for ways to combine work and play.

Gen X

  • Acknowledge and relate to their cynicism

  • Establish the outer boundaries and allow them to operate more freely among them

  • Use clear and specific language when communicating

  • Understand and honor their need for a work/life balance as long as responsibilities and expectations are being met, and

  • Create a fun, relaxed work atmosphere.

Baby Boomers

  • Acknowledge their experience, expertise, dedication and length of service

  • Use them for mentors

  • Demonstrate that you are carrying their share of the load

  • Speak optimistically and look at things in terms of meeting objectives and achieving, and

  • Probe if you suspect conflict — they may not be direct.


  • Acknowledge and leverage their experience, expertise dedication and length of service

  • Be direct but polite — don’t disregard social graces

  • Appeal to the traditional values of loyalty, hard work and family

  • Avoid situations where they could lose face while others are watching, and

  • Be patient with their approach to technology; allow time and explain the logic behind the technology.

And you though this management stuff was complicated.

Then there’s the legal side …

OK, so this is a remarkably patronizing and demeaning way to manage employees.

It could also lead to some serious legal problems. Here’s employment attorney Jon Hyman’s take on the Target document:

When you are sued for discrimination, your training materials are fair game in litigation. While you write them to aid your employees, you must do so with (at least) one eye on the jury that will read them during trial. You do not want to have your manager explain to a jury, in an age discrimination case, if he thought the plaintiff was “slow to adapt to change” when he made the termination decision.







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