Gwen@GwenKinsey.com / 605-212-8462

Organizational Performance: Mining Generational Differences

Organizational Performance: Mining Generational Differences

Imagine yourself in this scenario:

You are blindfolded and led into the center of a large, well lit room. You are placed in a three sided stall and locked in place. Your blindfold is removed and replaced with blinders that allow you to see what is directly in front of you but robs you of peripheral vision and the ability to see the entire room. There is nothing wrong with your hearing and from the shuffling sounds you can tell that there are others in the same room.

After a minute or two it becomes quiet.

Organizational Peformance TipWhat would you do?  

How would you feel?

Is this a comfortable place to be?

Of course not– yet everyday people approach challenges wearing metaphorical generational blinders… locked in place, looking for solutions from what they see. Wouldn’t their prospects be better if they could see more of the room?

Have you seen this happen? People believe that what they “see” is all that there is. While the scenario provides a metaphor, it does illustrate how people who are unwilling to enlist others deprive themselves of possible allies, access to knowledge about metaphoric doorway and/or window exit locations as well as keys to unlock the constraints that interfere with organizational performance.

Today, we work with three sometimes four generations of employees. Each is a unique product of their generational life experience…or,

if you put it in the context of the room metaphor…”each generation sees something different on their wall”.

Just as in the metaphor, if individuals in the room don’t reach beyond their three sided stall to communicate…everyone’s options are limited.The more dire the scenario, the more inter-reliant we are for options.

Even in a “well lit room” more opportunity comes from sharing what EACH person sees from their individual perspectives. The more we know about what others see, learn about their strengths, discover what tools they have…. the greater our options.

Try This Engaging Exercise

I use this metaphor for an experiential exercise to open lines of communication for multi-generational teams.

I ask for four volunteers to step into the metaphor. Each faces a different wall in the room. We acknowledge that each person’s experience of what they “see” and “know as a result” is different. I have them describe what they see in great detail.

Questions that facilitate the conversation:

  • How do you orient yourself to where you are? Q: What do you observe, what do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? (Inventory all that you notice).
  • What happens when you reach out to the others in the room and ask “what do you see, etc.?”
  • What else would you want to know about the others in the room?
  • Is there truth in what each person sees from their vantage point? How do you know?
  • How do you choose what’s useful?
  • What advantages come from working together?
    Then, we discuss contrasting challenges, like:

    “From what you can see, how would you exit the room if you needed to?”

    “From what you can see, how would you host a party here?”

Once the team plays with this metaphor, they have a context for talking about what others “see”.

  • It helps to identify that there are “truths” in each perspective (even if they are invisible to others from their vantage point).
  • They learn to ask “What do YOU see?” in a way that allows for legitimate differences.
  • You can use the metaphor to describe how different challenges call for different solutions and/or tools.

But, the biggest takeaway?

Each generation has more options from communicating with and working together. Crossing the generational divide can enhance engagement as well.

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