Organize a Cross-Generational Conversation Workday

It could make you and your colleagues happier to show up each day

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot
Originally Posted On August 18, 2014

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Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the President of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm. Her primary focus is improving relations among the generations in the professional services workplace. She has a book in progress, entitled Cross-Generational Conversation.

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Many workplaces are aware of differences in attitudes and behaviors among the generations — traditionalists, boomers, Gen X’ers and Millennials. But they’re not adequately aware how key cross-generational cooperation is to an organization’s financial sustainability and the success of diversity and inclusion efforts.
 
Boosting the productivity of multigenerational teams, attracting and retaining clients of different generations, getting rid of misperceptions and stereotypes and transferring vital knowledge from older workers to younger ones depend on cross-generational understanding, respect and collaboration.
 
Making Employees More Engaged

Those feelings and work styles, in turn, make employees more engaged, which is crucial for employers since up to half of the workforce is actively or passively looking to leave their jobs, according to recent surveys.

If boomers don’t pass on their knowledge, relationships and perspectives to younger generations, management skills, critical thinking, cultural glue and clients can vanish. Without an infusion of fresh perspectives on processes, market forces and technical skills, boomer-led enterprises will stagnate.
 
Cross-Generational Conversation
 
Solutions to these challenges can be found in cross-generational conversation, a business imperative directly tied to an organization’s financial sustainability and its emotional center.
 
Seeing the need to move awareness to meaningful action, I founded Cross-Generational Conversation Day. It’s both a concept and the framework for an actual groundbreaking “day” or series of events. I’m working on it with more than two dozen individuals from many industries, ranging in age from their early 20s to mid 70s.

The vision for Cross-Generational Conversation Day is a national day of multigenerational connections through a workplace-based series of small group discussions.
 
They’d be flexibly structured, facilitated conversations among personnel, managers and business owners of all generations. Rather than a conference where attendees sit passively, Cross-Generational Conversation Day participants would be actively involved in sharing their views on the best ways to work together in their own workplace.
 
The first stage underway comprises two or three on-site pilots or joint models this summer, shorter versions of the full "day" structure. A larger launch is targeted toward the end of the year. (We recently launched a survey to gather opinions and experiences of people working in multi-generational teams or collaborations, for evidence of benefits and obstacles. If you'd like to take it, click here.)
 
Outcomes and Benefits
 
Employers taking part in Cross-Generational Conversation Day will gain information about employee roadblocks and metrics on generational issues and will send a clear message that their organization is committed to the advancement of engagement, productivity, meaningful communication and collaboration among its generations. They’ll also probably surface issues needing more urgent attention.
 
Individual participants will gain an enhanced sense of how to maintain successful business relationships and a better understanding of how other generations perceive them as teammates and colleagues.

Boomers are in a position to take important roles in Cross-Generational Conversation Day given their seniority, preference for face-to-face conversations, accumulated knowledge and desire to stay involved and relevant.
 
Steps to Get Started
 
If you’d like to help organize a Cross-Generational Conversation Day where you work, here are a few ways to start:
  • Get management support by making a strong business case. Gather data.
  • Propose a half-day of 30- to 45-minute discussion topics by canvassing the multigenerational employee base to identify what they feel is most relevant. Examples might be: What do you like and respect about each of the other generations? How can a multigenerational team function more productively? What does work ethic mean to you? What is your greatest hope and fear for how the incoming generation will change the course of business?
  • Suggest participants from each generation and a variety of levels — preferably those who work together — form one or more multigenerational groups of 8 to 12 participants. Send the message that participation is desirable for their career.
  • Designate an experienced facilitator from your organization or have a respected, neutral person, such as a trainer or outside facilitator, prepped to handle the day and discussions. (I can recommend facilitators and supply the tools for the day; email me at pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com.)
  • Distribute a series of communications to participants in advance, to create excitement, momentum and an aura of importance.

Tips to Capitalize on the Day
 
To assure you succeed:
  • Ensure that discussion topics are relevant and meaningful to all generations.
  • Make every effort to create a non-threatening environment, so people will speak honestly and not fear for their jobs.
  • Take polls at the beginning and end of the day to assess attitude change.
  • Before the end of the day, each discussion group should decide on a few meaningful action steps and an accountability process with metrics. The group should also commit to schedule subsequent discussions that will continue the conversation and move the needle toward multigenerational understanding and collaboration.
  • Designate a point person with management support to oversee follow-up steps and arrange (ideally) quarterly, shorter Cross-Generational Conversation Day discussions.
  • End the day with action steps and assignments and on an upbeat and celebratory note

For More Information

Boomers: Here’s your chance to fulfill your legacy of changing the workplace and the world in partnership with younger generations. To learn more, get involved and use our tools in your organization, contact pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com.
 
© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2014