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Critical Thinking: Spanning the Generations

Welcome to the 21st century—where views on technology, work ethic and cultural diversity are strikingly different from generation to generation. The complex dynamics of social interaction, standards for performance and long-understood patterns of behavior are under direct assault-if not washed away by the cross-generational tide. Each generation is leaving its own mark on its own terms, and disconnects between intention, action, and understanding can cause negative consequences. Each of these generations approaches work and the workplace in a distinctly different way as noted on the table below:



Traditionalists Boomers Gen X Millennials
Age 1901-1945 1946-1964 1961-1981 1980-2000
Socialization Workers are separate from the boss Don’t respect position alone Don’t trust corporations, can be skeptical Embrace diversity, multiculturalism
Expectations Loyalty for hard work Work centric. Want flexible route into retirement Care less about advancement than about work/life balance Looking for meaningful work and innovation
Technology Know-How Adapted, personal and written communication preferred Acquired, written & email Assimilated, email Integral, email,
IM and texting
Contributions Experience, organization, discipline Goal oriented, independent Objective and will tell you what they think Well educated, sociable, optimistic
Motivators Recognition and respect for their experience Being valued, needed Flexibility in scheduling Flexible schedule, working with bright people
Communication Style Quiet, respectful of authority Respectful, open, direct style Direct and immediate Wants lots of praise and feedback
Leadership Style Hierarchy, Command-and-control Consensual, collegial Competence, Everyone is the same, Fairness Achievers, Future leaders TBD
Top developmental areas Skills training
Computer training
Team building
Skills training
Computer training
Skills training
Problem solving, decision making
Skills training
Work is… An obligation An adventure A challenge,
a contract
A means to
an end

With this in mind, the ability of an organization to meet its strategic goals and deliver value to its customers relies on a confluence of workplace interactions. Sharing a common language, such as English or Spanish or Mandarin, is not enough to be successful. Another type of common language needs to be implemented that crosses generational and social divides–a language that can level the playing field and instill a sense of intergenerational equity. This language needs to focus on meeting the organization’s objectives by supporting individual and team performance.

A Common Purpose

Often the terms and jargon ‘native’ to one generation are not shared by others. Out of necessity, organizations must identify and support the implementation and integration of common approaches to change management and issue resolution to build a commonality of purpose across the organization.

For example, in the case of change management a common set of accepted standards exists in the practice of project management. Yet many organizations lack standards for setting priorities, using information, and taking meaningful action. The better performing organizations recognize that a commonly shared approach to issue resolution is needed to cross generational divides. After all, resolution of issues is not governed by who people are, but by what data they face.

A Cross-Generational Language

The integration of a common approach to issue resolution that spans generations can ensure continuity of performance towards common goals.

In response to these cross-generational challenges, KT provides time-tested rational and data-driven thinking processes that are the basis for effective leadership. They significantly increase the ability of people to think clearly in resolving complex organizational issues when under pressure. They include four distinct processes:

• Situation Appraisal: To identify and manage concerns so that the important issues are clearly understood, prioritized and addressed appropriately.

• Problem Analysis: To resolve critical problems with structured logic that effectively uses data, expertise, and knowledge to identify and eliminate root cause.

• Decision Analysis: To make key decisions using weighted objectives in a way that builds commitment to the outcome, despite competing expectations.

• Potential Problem I Opportunity Analysis: To protect plans by minimizing risks, planning contingent actions, and seeking potential opportunities.

A common language for issue resolution bridges the gaps between generations and builds the infrastructure to support the transition from one generation to the next. As the Baby Boomers retire over the next 15 to 20 years, the greatest shift in workplace demographics ever seen will take place. Industries, such as energy and aerospace, estimate that as much as 50% or more of their respective workforces will retire over the next 20 years. As a result, potential labor gaps and a widespread loss of institutional knowledge will be critical issues that will need to be addressed.

By working in concert and not at counter-purposes through a shared, consistently applied and repeatable ‘language,’ the total workforce is prepared to perform in the face of new challenges and achieve organizational objectives.

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