And boy did she hear about it at first.
"I had older faculty and sta; saying you're just
a baby, you're too young to be president, I have
clothes that are older than you," Hicswa says. "It
was said in a joking manner, but it kind of took me
aback. Though I did try and take it in stride."
Upon joining Northwest in 2013, Hicswa
encountered similar questions about her qualifications and experience, even after seven years of
leading another college. Rather than feeling a need
to prove herself, Hicswa welcomed input from tenured members regarding Northwest's institutional
history and culture.
"Learning from seasoned sta; is becoming even
more important as these folks retire, because the
millennials we're hiring need to know what led the
college in doing things the way it has," she says.
Hicswa, who turns 50 this summer, learned
a valuable lesson about Northwest's ingrained
systems during her third year as president. At the
end of that year, she unilaterally dispersed leftover
state funds as a bonus for employees, soon receiving push back from long-time faculty who chafed
against her disregard for the college's normal compensation process. In response, Hicswa created a
taskforce to review all future salary distributions.
"I didn't know going outside the regular system
was wrong," Hicswa says. "A faculty member told
me my mistake. It was good for me to understand
what I'd done."
Another Gen X president, Kirk Nooks of Kansas
City-based Metropolitan Community College–
Longview, says his college established a "historical
document" to record the experiences of retiring
boomers on staff. Among other benefits, the document contains information on how to handle
budget cuts, as well as best practices in partnering
with local cultural institutions.
"The demographic that's retiring has a great
deal of knowledge, and you can't really replace
that," Nooks says.
Hiring has skewed younger in Nooks' six years
as president, although his sta; is still comprised of
multiple generations. Far from belabored by conflict, Nooks feels fortunate to be at the confluence
of so much inter-generational brainpower.
"I'm getting the best of all time frames," Nooks
says. "If you approach it in terms of learning from
each other, that's where the beauty takes place. The
media pits generations against each other, in terms
of traditionalists versus the lazy social media
generation. For us, it's about getting the right mix
of people to blend together."
A CHANGE IN COMMUNICATION
Research from Robert Half in 2016 illuminated
generational differences in the workplace, with
participating chief financial o;cers asked what
areas they saw as the greatest distinctions among
employees from di;erent age groups. Thirty percent of respondents pointed to "communication
skills" as the biggest disparity, while 26 percent
replied with "adapting to change." "Technical
skills" ( 23 percent) was determined as another
major generational di;erence.
Communication styles in particular have changed
as workplaces become less formal, notes Natalie
Harder, chancellor at South Louisiana Community
College (SLCC) and an American Association of
Community Colleges (AACC) board member.
Millennial SLCC staffers tend toward email
and instant message during inter-o;ce communications, a sometimes frustrating circumstance
for older employees who prefer talking face-to-face or by phone. Though Harder understands the
desire for brevity in a busy community college
“Millennials have great dedication and
drive, just with different motivators.
That's what we have to tap into.”
KIRK NOOKS, president, Metropolitan Community College-Longview