Question: Hiring a younger member in Senior Management team

We are considering a candidate for a key executive position who is more than a decade younger than the average staff in our company (and more so, than the rest of us in management).

Although the individual is very talented, I have some apprehension about how it will affect our team dynamics in both our management team, and the wider organization.

In my past, I have reported to a younger boss and I confess it was a difficult start although he was a capable manager. Eventually we got on the same page, but both of us had to shift gears to make it happen.

Should age be a real factor in our decision? If we decide to go ahead with the hire, how can we make this transition smoother?

13 Expert Insights

Unless you intend to age out of your organization and have it close after you retire, you'll eventually be hiring younger leaders to succeed you anyway, so why not start now with someone whom you label "very talented?"  

Generational gaps are part fact, part fiction. The fiction part is that younger people are so dramatically different. Not so much. The people in charge of organizations have been complaining about the "attitude" of incoming generations for many years (e.g the leaders of the 60's and 70's described the Boomers as whiny and demanding. In the 90's they complained about how Gen Xers had no work ethic. Sound familiar? A great deal of the "difference" is age as much as generation).

The fact part you can address by being open and up front about it. First, notice how you're positioning this. Will you introduce this person as someone who will cause you to have to "shift gears" and about whom we need "have some apprehension," or will you market this new hire as "an infusion of new ideas and perspectives to challenge us and help us raise our game?" Either way, there's going to be friction with a new leader, but how you position it will affect how people respond.  

Second, talk to the new hire. Maybe this person is great technically and creatively, but you're unsure about their leadership style. Hey, you made a lot of mistakes when you were two decades what sort of conversations need to occur to help this new hire avoid some of those?  

Finally, encourage open conversation once the new hire's on the team. When we openly discuss our conflicts and issues, they become problems to solve vs. secrets to bury. When frictions occur, make it part of your next meeting to be curious and ask: What happened? Why was it a problem? What can we do to shift behavior or educate others or ....??

Don't make the mistake of letting go of great talent because they are not "Just Like You". Your organization will benefit when you stretch.

While some of my peers believe age shouldn't be a factor, alas, it is.

Experienced people who have been at the company for many years, can feel cheated or worse when there's a new boss and that person is a) relatively speaking, a kid, and b) has no experience in the company.

Putting a younger person above a productive older employee can be felt as a loss of a promotion and the end of hope for future recognition. It can also be felt as a put-down of what the experienced employee has learned and is able to contribute which includes wisdom, relationships, perspective, knowledge and leadership.

That can be damn hard to take.

Fortunately, I once had the experience of babysitting my two grandchildren. The kids wanted me to put on a movie. Now, my son had created a complex entertainment system and I couldn't work it. Frustrated, 2 1/2 year old Josh marched up to me, pulled the remote control, and impatiently started punching buttons. And he got it to work!

In that moment, I realized I would never be as comfortable with IT as these two. I would be seeking their help and not the reverse. That's the fact I had to get used to.

If the executive candidate has the cultural fit and exceptional technical skills, I would introduce the candidate to the impacted group where each person introduced themselves and their role. Last of all, the candidate.

I would talk about what the new executive was expected to add to our group and ask each person to engage in conversation with the newcomer, especially about our values, expectations, and unsaid rules. I'd close with hope that things would work out well.

After the meeting, I would seek out individuals likely to have difficulty accepting the young outsider and give them a 1-on-1 opportunity to vent, problem solve, and maybe volunteer to be a mentor. It would also be great if there were new opportunities to learn and lead that could be offered. That would not be as great as a promotion, but could still be a heady form of recognition.

It may very well impact your team dynamics which is an absolutely terrific reason to do it.

I would ask you to think carefully about the source of your reluctance to hire this individual. If you are certain that the requisite skills and experience are there, I suggest recognizing that the disruption may occur and be prepared to get in front of it.

If the reluctance is in anyway related to the skills or experience, you probably need to listen carefully, as you don't want to set the individual up to not be successful.

Introducing diversity, regardless of the nature of the diversity, does require strong leadership to keep the focus on the work and not on personalities or other characteristics. It also takes strength on the part of the individual stepping into a role and bringing new diversity to the team. You will want to make sure that he/she has support in those instances where another may be concerned about age.

Bottom line - age shouldn't be a factor. In reality, any new diversity disrupts a team. But teams who have been around and together for a long time without disruption often fall prey to group-think, and miss opportunities that a fresh perspective can see clearly.

It sounds like a great opportunity for your team, assuming the skills and experience are there, and the organization supports the new executive in his/her assimilation.

There's nothing like an infusion of young blood to rejuvenate a team, so I say, if this is the best person for the job, then: Go for it...without hesitation!

With generational issues in the workplace one of the hottest topics out there in the workplace right now (I just finished a 4-part series on the subject on my blog: your question is well-taken, and your concerns are well-considered.

But Traditionalists, Boomers, and Gen X senior leaders will benefit greatly in so many ways from exposure to the Millennial Mindset. It will provide a completely different perspective, a burst of energy, a direct connection to the younger generation, insights into new technologies and social media, and so much more.

I have a motto that "Wisdom is where Knowledge & Experience Meet." So the combination of the Knowledge that can be provided by a more youthful team member combined with the Experience that the more senior leaders bring to the table, can only benefit the entire organization.

I think the key is mutual respect, communication, and listening with an open mind. Using expressions like, "When I was your age..." or thinking "What does he or she know...they haven't 'paid their dues' yet" is unproductive. We need to leave age and ego at the door, and focus on the person -- and what he or she brings to the table.

I know it's hard for us Boomers/Gen Xers to accept, but we are soon going to be outnumbered by Millennials. That's just the new reality. So the sooner we acknowledge this to be the case and leverage the benefits of generational diversity on our teams, the sooner we can reap the benefits and rewards.

I don't have answers, I have questions:

1. What is the message you are looking to send to the company by hiring someone younger?
2. What is the culture of your company?
3. What is the benefit of being led by someone younger?
4. What paradigms and mental models will people need to relinquish in order to gain maximum leverage of a move of this sort?
5. What company values would this hire be aligned with or against?
6. What are the learning opportunities available for ALL involved?
7. What other questions aren't you asking about this hire that would be beneficial to ask?

What should govern your decision is whether of not this individual has the right combinations of skill and experience to effectively do the job. Regardless of their age, will they be viewed as someone who clearly brings knowledge, experience and expertise to the role. Your staff may be skeptical at first, but having the right qualities will usually earn their respect.

As to transition, this rests more with the candidate. Are they mature enough to work with and guide an older staff? Do they possess stellar relationship building skills and a leadership style that embraces the 'I don't know everything and will gladly listen to you' approach? If they do, they will win your staff over and gain the respect necessary for people to follow them.

If they don't have enough of the qualities mentioned above, rethink your decision.  Trying to give them time to practice being a great leader on your staff will have consequences that will be hard to resolve.

At 27, I became the youngest district manager General Mills had. The experience was invaluable but I ran into some challenges that I handled poorly. Some of this was due to my own inexperience. The rest was due to unrealistic expectations from my management team. It seemed, in this situation, they were learning too!

If the recruit has high emotional intelligence, there is a great benefit to bringing him in. (If he doesn't have it, you don't want him at any age).

His EQ will enable him to integrate smoothly with the group, and he will bring new viewpoints, new knowledge, and new energy. I believe hybrid vigor works for groups just as it works for plants and animals. The fact that you are apprehensive about this underscores the importance of integrating your group.

If you are convinced that there will be difficulty initially, get a good facilitator for your initial meetings.

Age by itself should not be a factor in deciding to promote or hire someone. The issue is more maturity level and ability to work with colleagues and subordinates that are older. As you suggested, you were able to work with a younger boss, it just took time to work it out.

If you do hire the individual you should make sure that you include very good on-boarding coaching for the individual and team. Get the issue out of the table and worked out early. Many highly successful individuals moved quickly through organizations and headed large organizations at young ages.  

The key is: Does the individual have what it takes to be successful in the role regardless of age?

I agree with the prior answers.

1. New team member will impact the dynamics
2. Some people will struggle working with someone younger
3. Some people will take the inclusion of a younger person as a sign you are attending to smart succession planning

As someone who coaches lots of leaders (some because they are disrupting teams), I would want to make sure this candidate has strong leadership skills as well as technical skills. Do a very thorough analysis of what this leader and the team will need to succeed then monitor the progress and course correct.

This may be a good opportunity for the team to revisit how they operate going forward. Given the massive amount of change most companies are facing - it is wise to step back and evaluate the overall team composition, roles, governance, etc. The addition of this new person may be an opportunity to refresh the team (beyond just adding a new person).

Wishing you great success.

Yes. Age is a factor ...just like experience, leadership style, personality, etc. Interesting how age makes us all ask questions about "fit" that we should be asking of all candidates.

If you were my client, here are 3 things I'd do:

1. Get data on work preferences, motivations (assessment) on each candidate
2. Have interviews that reveal fit and pitfalls -- listen to what the person says they need to bridge the gap/avoid  pitfalls
3. Hire and support.

The "hire and support" is what any person should be receiving. Any issues between new leader and their direct reports OR with their peers (i.e. the leadership team) would be worked out 'as a team'. They can't be worked out ahead of time. It's about building relationships of trust, accountability -- regardless of age and experience.

I believe your best bet is to expand the age of your senior management team. With today's business climate, you may want to look for younger people who can give a perspective from a different viewpoint than those who are of around the same age. Because I work with individuals on generating and creating creative and innovative results, I think that adding someone who can also help generate and create creative and innovative ideas helps the organization thrive and keep the employees generating and creating ideas for further growth.

The team dynamic will change and just like with any change, there is a transition period. This type of transition can be smoother than you may expect. This also depends on how well other managers accept the new younger person, as well as seeing how well they interact with their employees. Most importantly, others will watch how well performance will be.

This new person may give a different perspective that may be thought provoking no one else has thought of before or tried.

Everybody's advice (including several of my buddies) is awesome. What can I add?

The simple advice I give everyone. Everyone should have two mentors:
One twice their age (timeless wisdom of the ages)
One half their age (timely courage and adventurism of this disruptive age)

Maybe if you considered your new young hire a very wise mentor for those (close to) twice his/her age, your innovations and changes and necessary disruptions might increase dramatically.

And maybe if this Young Turk was encouraged to find a mentor twice his/her age,
that might smooth out the transition too.

Food for thought.

Should age be a real factor in our decision?  No - proven talent, leadership capabilities and peer/customer credibility with a healthy dose of passion and drive are better criteria in which to rest a decision.  

If we decide to go ahead with the hire, how can we make this transition smoother? - Face to face, roll up sleeves and shape crucial understandings/agreements with top leadership and peer leaders re: overall direction and strategy; the work (interdependencies, success criteria & expectations); the political arena (decision making and authority); and clarity re: how to build healthy, professional relations with each other;  Put some mentoring in place from top leadership and experienced others.