Thursday, April 22, 2010

Engaged Employees

Engaged employees are more productive, more innovative, and more likely to stay longer with their organization. Clearly, all of these factors translate to a favorable bottom line impact. Additionally, engaged employees are happier employees, and because happiness is highly contagious, the entire workplace environment may be positively impacted.

How do leaders engage employees? Is an understanding of the trends in attitudes and behavior that define generational identities important when formulating employee engagement strategies?

Veterans are the most senior cohort in the workplace and increasingly the least visible segment of the workplace population. As our most experienced generation, it is imperative that we not count them out. Many will remain in the workplace as long as their health permits. Studies have shown that the mind does not slow down until after age 70.

This generation can be engaged by showing respect for their work ethic, utilizing their expertise and wisdom, and teaching them to coach and mentor the younger generations. Do not consider it non-productive to provide training for this generation. They still want to learn, they do not want to be put out to pasture. Give them opportunities to stay mentally agile and be challenged. Sensitivity to their learning styles and discomfort with rapid technological change should be considered.

Baby boomers are the largest cohort in the workplace and hold the majority of the leadership positions. For this cohort nothing matters more than respect. When researching optimal knowledge transfer methods for my dissertation this was a common theme among the baby boomers in my research study. Baby boomer engineers indicated that they would like to share their knowledge and experience with younger employees but were put off when not approached with what they perceived to be a respectful attitude. Some boomers are feeling the sting of having to share the spotlight with younger generations. Do not discount the wisdom and knowledge that has been accumulated by this group. In addition, may boomers have many years left to work and want to be recognized and respected for what they can still offer organizations.

Gen Xers are the most frustrated generation in the workplace. Dubbed the “Prince Charles” generation, due to their years of waiting in the wings for their chance to show what they can do in the workplace. This generation is feeling the squeeze between the much larger baby boomer and Gen Y generations. However, the greatest untapped pool of leadership talent resides in this cohort. This group is also the first true “free agent” generation. Growing up cynical and mistrusting of the establishment they continue to test the organizational waters regarding their opportunity for growth, advancement, work/life balance, compensation, flexibility, creative challenges, and recognition.

Gen Y wants opportunities to learn and to give. They were weaned on rapid change and become bored with anything that moves slowly. It is also important for this generation to work for an organization that they can be emotionally committed to. The mission, vision, and values of the organization must be in alignment with the values and beliefs of the Gen Yers. Giving frequent quality feedback is essential to keeping this generation engaged. Gen Y employees, similar to their older cohorts want to feel recognized and appreciated as valuable contributors to the organization.

Even though the generational identities vary between the generations the core values and emotional needs of each generation are the same. Respect me, recognize me, and reward me. The way in which each cohort or individual employee desires to be shown respect, recognition, and rewards must be investigated and customized for each individual. Understanding generational profiles provides leaders with a starting point, but remember the variation within the cohort is greater than the variation between cohorts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Communication styles of each generation

The differences in communication preferences is not surprising when you consider the different technology that each generation has grown up with. Technology has determined for each generation, the speed and ease with which each generation has been able to communication. The faster and easier the technology the more frequent the communication.

Traditionalists – also called the silent generation due to their preference for privacy and respect for authority. Prefer face to face or written communication. Words are powerful to this generation. This generation grew up with regular snail mail as the primary form of business correspondence. The telephone was also used to communicate with customers and fellow employees.

Baby Boomers – body language is important, speak in a clear, and direct manner. Be prepared to be asked a lot of questions and have details to backup your position. Snail mail was augmented with FexEd allowing overnight communication. Personal computers and word processors allowed baby boomers to more swiftly send and receive messages.

Gen Xers – prefer informal communication style, use email as a primary means of communication. Ask them for feedback and provide regular feedback. Keep them informed and updated on a regular basis. Have grown up with a high level of immediacy. From microwaves to ATM machines Gen Xers are not accustom to having to wait very long for anything.

Gen Y – likes action words and opportunities to take risks. Ask for their feedback and regularly provide them feedback. Don’t let them feel that you are talking down to them. Have grown up with real time information available and updated minute by minute.

In When Generations Collide, the authors describe the generational clashpoint around the preferences for feedback which further illustrates the need for varying communication strategies.

Traditionalist      “No news is good news”

Baby Boomer      “Feedback once a year, with lots of documentation”

Generation Xers   “Sorry to interrupt, but how am I doing?”

Gen Y             “Feedback whenever I want it at the push of a button”

Technology has shaped the way and speed with which generations prefer to receive information and feedback. However, the only completely safe and accurate way of finding out an individual’s preferred communication style is to ask them.

Generational Communication

In Generations at Work, Zemke, Raines & Filipczak propose that organizations that have successfully managed generational differences “overcommunicate”. The best and brightest intergenerational organizations encourage frequent and open discussions about the differences between the cohorts and the differences among members of the same generational cohort. According to the authors “generational differences are based primarily on unarticulated assumptions and unconscious criteria therefore, surfacing them takes a giant step toward resolving them”.

The authors identified similarities among cross-generational friendly organizations. They found five common themes and labeled them using the acronym ACORN.

A – Accommodate employee differences

This can take many forms including accommodating different scheduling needs, work-life balance, generational icons, language, and precepts.

C – Create workplace choices

Generation friendly workplaces are relaxed, informal, change is a part of the culture, and the workplace evolves around the work being performed, the employees, and the customer.

O – Operate from a sophisticated management style

Generationally friendly managers give employees the big picture, specific goals and measures, and then turn their people loose providing them with feedback, reward and recognition as appropriate. They utilize situational leadership and work to gain the trust of their employees.

R – Respect competence and initiative

Best practice organizations assume the best of their employees. Every employee regardless of age or experience is treated as a valuable contributor

N – Nourish retention

Generationally friendly organizations are focused on employee retention and making their workplace a magnet for excellence. They provide excellent training and coaching, and promote regular lateral movement within the organization. They also offer broadened assignments giving employees the opportunity to develop a greater range of skills.

In addition to practicing the ACORN principles, generationally friendly companies market internally. They made a conscious effort to remind employees of all the good things the company has to offer.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Generational Icebreaker Activity

In Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to manage the unprecedented convergence of the wired, the tired, and technology in the workplace, author Ira Wolfe provides an exercise designed to encourage discussion about generational differences and commonalities.

The exercise can be conducted with a group or with a larger group divided into several smaller groups.

1. Ask each participant: What’s your middle name and why did your parents give it to you?

2. Have participants form pairs, small teams, or one large circle to discuss their answers.

3. Observations:

a. Were there any similar names of the participants shared by different age groups?

b. Were there any similar reasons given by the participants from different age groups?

c. Were there any names more associated with one of the four generations than another?

4. More questions:

a. Growing up at home, what were some of your favorite TV or radio programs?

b. As a teenager, what was your favorite musician or band and why?

c. What is one lesson your parents taught you that still sticks in your mind?

d. What was your favorite game you remember playing as a child?

e. What kind of car do you drive (or would like to drive) and why?

f. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

g. What would you like to be famous for?

h. What song makes you want to get up and dance?

i. What is a movie you have seen in the last year that you really enjoyed?

j. Who are two famous people you really admire?

k. What is an historic event that had a great impact on you?

How would you describe that impact?

This activity can be used as an icebreaker for a meeting or for a session dedicated to understanding generational differences. The questions will stimulate discussions about ways in which the generations are similar and provide insight into why there may be differences.

Why should you mentor?

Mentoring is widely recognized as an extremely beneficial career development tool. Research has shown that mentored employees:

• Perform better on the job

• Advance more rapidly within the organization

• Express lower turnover intentions than their nonmentored counterparts.

• Report more job and career satisfaction

The Business Case for Mentoring

According to a mentoring study conducted by the American Productivity & Quality Center:

• Thirty-five percent of employees who do not receive regular mentoring plan to seek other employment within a year.

• Only 16% of employees with good mentors planned to leave their companies.

• More than 60% of college and graduate students listed mentoring as a criterion for selecting an employer after graduation.

• Training alone increased managerial productivity by 24%, but jumped to 88% when mentoring and coaching were combined.

The high cost of employee turnover is well known. Costs due to an employee leaving include:

• Lost knowledge, skills, contacts.

• Time/productivity and/or mistakes of fill-in staff.

• Hiring and training new person.

• Lost productivity of new employee is 12 weeks on average

• Lost productivity of departing employee during transition: when their head leaves before their body does.

• Executive time planning transition, interviewing.

• Lost training provided to departing employee.

Types of Mentoring

Within any organization, there are at least three distinct mentoring needs.

• Onboarding

• High Potentials

• Knowledge Transfer

Onboarding is the period of time and activities required to integrate a new employee. The benefits of an effective onboarding program are:

• New employees are more productive during the onboarding period.

• New employees reach full productivity faster

• New employees choose to remain at the company

• New employees refer other candidates.

High Potentials - Identify high-potential individuals who would benefit from a formal mentoring program with the following qualifications:

• Commitment to learning

• Genuine interest in professional & personal growth

• Active listening skills

• Openness & receptiveness to receiving feedback & coaching.

• Self-management skills

• Willingness to take risks

• Desire for self-fulfillment

• Willingness to develop a sense of self & personal vision.

Knowledge Transfer

• Identify what essential knowledge is at risk.

• Identify projected retirement dates.

• Determine indispensability of employee

– Single Points of Knowledge (SPOK)

– Create a position risk matrix/factor

• Create detailed succession plans for capturing knowledge including the use of mentoring relationships when appropriate.

Is Mentoring a one-way street?

The traditional definition of mentoring is that it is a partnership between a Mentor who possesses great skills, knowledge, and experience and a Mentee who is looking to increase his or her skills, knowledge, and experience. The typical mentoring relationship involves a more senior employee and a junior employee with the senior employee taking on the role of teacher and coach. Most senior employees approach the relationship as an opportunity to leave a legacy, or as payback for support received from others in their past.

Do most mentors enter the mentoring relationship expecting it to be a reciprocal learning relationship? I don’t think that the more senior member of the mentoring team often considers that they will be learning from their protégé, however; that is exactly what should be taking place. The younger generation or “digital natives” have much to teach the older generation of “digital immigrants”. Generation Y’s comfort with technology and ability to connect so quickly and easily are skills that could benefit older employees.

Benefits of Mentoring

The benefits of an effective and productive mentoring relationship can:

• Help new employees learn the culture and inner workings faster.

• Help newly promoted staff understand and fulfill their new responsibilities faster.

• Increase communication and strengthen employee bonds.

• Ensure that accumulated knowledge and experience is shared and passed on, reducing the impact when employees leave.

• Promote underrepresented employees

• Develop future leaders

• Project a strong and positive employer brand

However, mentoring relationships can be a disaster when:

• Mentor and Mentee are not a good match.

• Unrealistic expectations on the part of either parties.

• Trust and rapport never established.

• Lack of skills, time, or commitment on one of the parties.

• Protégé’s supervisor sabotages the relationship.

• Resentment on the part of other employees.

Mentoring can be a very successful method of tacit knowledge transfer. However, the success of a mentoring relationship is highly dependent on the ability of the Mentor and Mentee to connect and build report, which requires a level of trust and respect as well as very good interpersonal skills.

Knowledge Transfer Toolkit

No one approach to knowledge transfer will be a complete solution; best practice organizations develop toolkits of approaches to address the issue of knowledge capture and transfer. The approaches best suited for capturing and /or transferring knowledge depend entirely upon the type of knowledge, the culture of the organization, and the relationship between the sender and receiver involved in the knowledge exchange.

Reward/recognition system that promotes and captures knowledge transfer.
Individuals who share and retain knowledge can better perform their jobs and consequently receive recognition as key contributors and experts. It may be necessary to create more structured reward and recognition systems to encourage employees to change their behavior. A standardized reward system may help institutionalize the practice into the common culture. Behavior that is rewarded is repeated. Best practice organizations see the need to align reward and recognition with sharing knowledge. Knowledge Bucks can be used as prizes for contributing good ideas, and spot bonuses for exemplary knowledge-sharing efforts.

Mentoring
Mentoring is widely recognized today as an extremely beneficial career development tool. Mentoring can minimize multigenerational conflict Studies have shown that mentored employees:

• Perform better on the job

• Advance more rapidly within the organization

• Express lower turnover intentions than their nonmentored counterparts.

• Report more job and career satisfaction

• Thirty-five percent of employees who do not receive regular mentoring plan to seek other employment within a year.

A good mentoring program can:

• Help new employees learn the culture and inner workings faster.

• Help newly promoted staff understand and fulfill their new responsibilities faster.

• Increase communication and strengthen employee bonds.

• Ensure that accumulated knowledge and experience is shared and passed on, reducing the impact when employees leave.

• Promote underrepresented employees

• Develop future leaders

• Project a strong and positive employer brand

Beginning any mentoring relationship will be a unique process based on the needs & skills of the people involved.

After Action Reviews/Lessons Learned
Created by the U.S. Army to improve team performance by reflecting on action. Involves reviewing the overall mission of a team and establishing the ground truth of the actual events by replaying the critical moments. By the exploring the causes of the actuals results, the team can focus on key issues and reflect on lessons learned and critical success factors. The review concludes with a review of the next project and an anticipation for future issues. The review works best when it begins at a project team level and percolates through the reporting structure. The entire team should be involved to gain multiple viewpoints. Whomever leads the review must understand that trends should be the focus and not individuals. After Action Reviews should be held after any identifiable event.

Communities of Practice/Networks
Groups of people who come together to share and to learn from one another face-to-face and virtually. They are held together by a common purpose; they contribute to a body of knowledge and are driven by a desire and need to share problems, experiences, insights, templates, tools, and best practices. Community members deepen their knowledge by interacting on an ongoing basis.

Pecha Kucha
Pecha Kucha (pronounced peh-cha ku-cha) was started in Tokyo, Japan in 2003. The idea behind Pecha Kucha is to keep presentations concise, the interest level up and to have many presenters sharing their ideas within the course of one night. Therefore the 20x20 Pecha Kucha format was created: each presenter is allowed a slideshow of 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds. This results in a total presentation time of 6 minutes 40 seconds on a stage before the next presenter is up.

The 20x20 format of Pecha Kucha is now also being adopted in the business world, with some company internal business presentations being run in a strict 6 minutes 40 seconds, with all discussion and questions held to the end of the presentation. This is primarily a device to help timebox presentations, force presenters to be more focused in their message, allow them to flow uninterrupted, and ultimately to avoid the "death by powerpoint" syndrome, of sitting through long and often tedious PowerPoint presentations.

Repositories
Repositories are primarily used to capture explicit information and typically contain databases that have structured content. It is common to use a customer relationship management system to hold this kind of information.

Subject Matter Experts Directories
Expertise locator systems can point to individuals both inside and outside the organization. This allows access to humans rather than information to enable an actual conversation or an e-mail exchange that sets the contest around information.

Process Improvement
Integrate knowledge replication and capture into the organization’s process improvement. Best practice organizations integrate knowledge sharing with people’s work by embedding knowledge sharing in routine work processes.

Host Visible Knowledge-Sharing Events
Make knowledge sharing a highly visible activity in which members of a network gather to exchange knowledge, insights, stories, and practices. Knowledge Fairs or Knowledge Weeks can be high-profile activities, with addresses by senior managers and outside speakers. This makes sharing knowledge a public, sought-after activity and shapes behavior by making participation in knowledge-sharing events desirable.

Interviews
Interviewing can be a very effective means of tacit knowledge capture. Types of interviews include: project completion/review, project milestone review, reactive exit interview, preemptive exit interview, after mission-critical or innovative work, and after special projects and/or pilot projects. Videotaping is an option it allows for a richer capture of the knowledge because one can capture more of the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee.

Knowledge maps
Guide to, or inventory of, an organization's internal or external repositories or sources of information or knowledge. These sources may include documents, files, databases, recordings of best practices or activities, or webpages.

Knowledge audits
The knowledge audit (K-Audit) is a systematic and scientific examination and evaluation of the explicit and tacit knowledge resources in the company. The K-Audit investigates and analyses the current knowledge-environment and culminates, in a diagnostic and prognostic report on the current corporate ‘knowledge health’. The report provides evidence as to whether corporate knowledge value potential is being maximized. In this respect the K-Audit measures the risk and opportunities faced by the organization with respect to corporate knowledge.”

Storytelling
Researchers have proposed that individuals learn the best from stories. Narratives, or storytelling, are a rich medium for transferring tacit and implicit knowledge. When experts share stories they help to prepare listeners to deal with similar situations that may occur in the future and they communicate tacit knowledge regarding their perceptions, feelings, interpretations values, strategies, etc. in rich and meaningful ways.

Web 2.0 technologies
Web 2.0 technology is a user-centered form of information management and retrieval using collaborative creation and tagging of digital knowledge repositories. Web 2.0 technology has the potential to advance online learning, knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer beyond traditional methods of knowledge delivery.

Examples include: wikis, blogs, social-networking, open-source, open-content, file-sharing, and peer-production.

Are the values of each generational cohort different?

Much has been written about the difference in values of each generation. In Retiring the Generation Gap, a research study from the Center for Creative Leadership, research data supports the idea that the values between generations aren’t that different rather it is the way in which each generation demonstrates their values in the workplace that varies.

Members of all generations were asked to rank their top ten values. The values that showed up in respondents’ top three most frequently were:

Family

Love

Integrity

The generation gap may not be as big as many people think. Perhaps it is just a matter of educating individuals that different behavior does not necessarily equate to different values. For instance, if a baby boomer values family above all else they may live that value by working long hours to do the best job that they can to provide for their family. A Gen X might show their love of family by wanting to work as few hours as possible in order to spend more time with their family. Same values but the generational perspective of how to live that value is very different.

The Center for Creative Leadership study revealed that the generations’ values do not differ significantly—individuals of all generations differ much more from each other than any generation does from the others. However, isn’t the prevailing belief in the workplace that generational conflict is in part fueled by the difference in values between generations?

Review - Bridging the Gaps: How to transfer knowledge in today’s multigenerational workplace

The Conference Board Research Working Group (RWG) on Multigenerational Knowledge Transfer met from April 2007 to January 2008. Their purpose was to explore which knowledge transfer techniques were most effective, why they were effective, when to use them, and how to adapt them for more successful cross-generational knowledge transfer. The result of their research was a report titled Bridging the Gaps: How to transfer knowledge in today’s multigenerational workplace. The report makes the case that knowledge transfer is very complex and requires analysis through many different lenses in additional to a generational perspective.

The report opens with a discussion of the complexity of sustainable organizational knowledge transfer. The knowledge transfer life cycle is described as being continuous and dynamic.

Step 1 – Identify and evaluate the knowledge

Step 2 - Validate and document the knowledge

Step 3 – Publish and share the knowledge

Step 4 – Transfer and apply the knowledge

Step 5 – Learn and capture the knowledge

The RWG offers that there are many different ways to transfer knowledge and offers 15 different methods to facilitate the flow of knowledge from one individual to another. The question of which method to use is answered by choosing one of three approaches.

1. Select a knowledge transfer method by user needs. Can be used when an individual, team, or organization has specific needs in mind.

2. Select a knowledge transfer method by context and types of knowledge. Can be used when an individual, team, or organization has a specific type of knowledge to be transferred.

3. Select a knowledge transfer method by level of experience. Can be used when the potential receiver of the knowledge has a specific level of experience.

The 15 knowledge transfer methods are:

1. Action Review

2. Blogs

3. Communities of Practice

4. Instant Messaging

5. Knowledge Capture

6. Knowledge Elicitation

7. Knowledge Distillation

8. Knowledge Self-Capture

9. Leadership Transition Workshop

10. Mentoring

11. Peer Assist

12. Podcasts

13. Retrospect

14. Storytelling

15. Wikis

Each method is described in terms of purpose and benefits, generational considerations, common business applications, and how to get started. I recommend, Bridging the Gaps: How to transfer knowledge in today’s multigenerational workplace, to anyone wanting to have a better understanding of the many different tools available to facilitate the flow of knowledge transfer.

Book Review - Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to manage the unprecedented convergence of the wired, the tired, and technology in the workplace

There is a lot I liked about Ira Wolfe’s book beginning with the title. The book is organized in three sections, part one addresses the question, “who are the generations?”, part two explores the convergence of youth, experience, and technology in the workplace, and the final part provides management solutions, tips, and recommendations for recruiting, managing, and motivating a multi-generational workforce. The author suggests that you should view each generation as you would a balance sheet; weighing the strengths, and limitations of each cohort. Dr. Wolfe points out that generation gaps have always existed and will continue due to the unique events that shape each generation’s worldviews. This seems to be a fact that eludes many people.


The four generations are defined as:

Veterans (born before 1946)

Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

Generation X (1965-1979)

Generation Y (1980-2000)


The first part of Dr. Wolfe’s book is similar to other generational books that describe, what each generation remembers, who each generation remembers, approaches for managing each generation, and messages that motivate each generation.

In the second portion of the book titled, Unintended Consequences of Generational Crowding, the author discusses the different generational expectations, assumptions, and priorities present in the workplace. One significant observation in this portion of the book was a discussion of the new skill sets that are required in the workplace today. “We’re moving from an economy built on people’s backs to an economy built on left brains to an emerging society shaped by right brains. While logical thinking remains indispensable, it’s no longer enough.” Employees increasingly need to be adept multi-taskers able to quickly process large amounts of data and solve complex problems.

In the last section of the book titled, ConverGENce – Converting Clash Points into Collaboration, four clashpoints are listed and discussed.

Clashpoint #1: Work

Clashpoint #2: Communication

Clashpoint #3: Meetings

Clashpoint #4: Learning

Four different managing styles are proposed as a means to effectively manage employees at different stages of their life. The Supporting Style for people in the winter of their lives, the Empowering Style for workers in the peak years of their career and personal lives, the Steering Style for employees (Gen Xers) in their productive growth years, and finally the Building Style for employees in their 20’s who are a high maintenance group requiring management inputs of clarity, focus, energy, and engagement.

Dr. Wolfe makes the case that differences in the workplace can be minimized by having a common behavioral language, which fosters adaptability. He acknowledges that speaking the same language does not preclude disagreement but it may avoid basic misunderstandings and offers a communication mode to defuse and prevent conflict. He proposes the use of the DISC model or a similar tool.

D = Dominants the controllers of people and situations

I = Influencers the persuaders

S = Steady Relaters are the accommodators

C = Conscientious are the analyzers

Dr. Wolfe concludes his book with three activities that can be used as icebreakers and discussion starters to facilitate understanding generational differences and commonalities. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization and recommend it to anyone of any age who wants a better understanding of how to bridge differences in the workplace.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review - Retiring the Generation Gap: How employees young and old can find common ground.

Unlike many other books written on generational differences in the workplace. Retiring the Generation Gap is an empirically based research study. Jennifer Deal (Center for Creative Leadership) analyzed the workplace perspectives of over 3,200 employees of varying ages. Research-based books are not always enjoyable to read but Jennifer Deal does a good job of making the quantitative analysis bearable and meaningful with practical advice for how employees of all ages can find common ground. Each chapter contains a description of the issue, a description of the research conducted, the principal conclusion of the research expressed as a principle, and the author’s take on how to apply the principle to make cross-generational work life easier.

On the first page of the book the author states:

1. Fundamentally people want the same things, no matter what generation they are from.

2. You can work with (or manage) people from all generations effectively without becoming a contortionist, selling your soul on eBay, or pulling your hair out on a daily basis.

Finally, an empirical book with a positive focus that discusses the things that the generations have in common. The introduction also includes an important discussion on the dangers of making generalizations because as the author notes, there will always be individuals who do not fit a particular generalization.

The author divides and defines the generations as:

Silents (1925-1945)

Early Boomers (1946-1954)

Late Boomers (1955-1963)

Early Xers (1964-1976)

Late Xers (1977-1986)

The book presents ten principles but the author also discovered an underlying theme that informs each principle. The theme is that “most intergenerational conflict shares a common point of origin: the issue of clout—who has it, who wants it”. The author concludes that fundamentally, generational conflict often stems from a particular group’s notion that it gets to make the rules and that the other group has to follow those rules.

The ten principles are:

1. All generations have similar values; they just express them differently

2. Everyone wants respect; they just don’t define it the same way

3. Trust matters

4. People want leaders who are credible and trustworthy

5. Organizational politics is a problem—no matter how old (or young) you are

6. No one really likes change

7. Loyalty depends on the context, not on the generation

8. It’s as easy to retain a young person as an older one—if you do the right things.

9. Everyone wants to learn more than just about anything else

10. Almost everyone wants a coach

One of the important take aways from Retiring the Generation Gap is “you don’t have to tie yourself into knots trying to accommodate each generation’s individual whims, and you don’t have to worry about learning a new set of whims when you next generation comes along. People from different generations are largely alike in what they think, believe, and want from their work life.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are video games the source of the generation gap in the workplace?

In Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning, author Karl M Kapp offers tools and techniques for transferring knowledge from boomers to gamers. Kapp suggests that the gamer generation, has “grown up in the video game world of immersion, unlimited do-overs, and instant feedback. The result is that they have verifiably different mind-sets, attitudes, and behaviors regarding business, education, and culture from those who did not grow up playing video games”. According to Kapp, gamers learn differently from Boomers. Playing electronic games has created a learning style for the gamers that:

• Aggressively ignores formal instruction

• Leans heavily toward trial and error (the Reset button is only a click away).

• Encourages exploration and interactive adventures.

• Includes learning from peers but little learning from boomers

• Is consumed in very small bits, exactly when the learner wants usually right before it is needed.

Kapp makes a strong case for the basis of the generation gap between baby boomers and gamers being the hours upon hours of video game play that gamers logged before entering the workplace. By the time a student graduates from college she will have played over 10,000 hours of computerized games. Kapp contends that gamers have “different models about how the world works, how to succeed, how to learn, how to teach, and how to work together.” Gamers have been influenced by video games in the same way that baby boomers were influenced by television.

Research into the use of video games has shown that the learning induced by playing video games occurs quickly and generalizes outside of the gaming experience. All those long hours of playing video wasn’t rotting their brains after all! What gamers learn while they are playing video games can be transferred to the real world and actually increases their ability to quickly assess a situation and determine what to do next. Gamers are able to multi-task effortlessly and require multiple channels to stay engaged

If Kapp and his research are correct, then having an understanding of the differences between generations is far from being enough. Organizations cannot expect to use old paradigms to transfer knowledge to a new generation. To truly connect the generations and facilitate tacit knowledge transfer, organizational leaders must tap into the gamer’s love of gadgets and need to be connected. Optimal knowledge transfer will occur when leaders can tap into the existing inclinations of the gamers and provide strategic learning opportunities in harmony with the way they learn and acquire new information.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Knowledge Transfer Strategies, Processes, and Methods

Sensitivity to diversity, an emphasis on open communication, and an understanding of the strengths and benefits of a multigenerational workforce are all competencies required of leaders operating in an organizational culture that encompasses four diverse generational cohorts.

Based on the research that I have conducted within the aerospace industry, the following implications and strategies reflect knowledge transfer initiatives that may effectively help to transfer knowledge from baby boomer engineers to Generation X engineers. These management strategies center on areas such as (a) building a knowledge sharing culture, (b) establishing mentoring programs, and (b) initiating teamwork.

Management actions can have a large influence on increasing employee engagement and affect the knowledge-sharing culture in the organization. Visible and engaged management support may enhance a knowledge-sharing culture. Management may influence employees by establishing a reason to care, a feeling employees are a part of something bigger than they are.

Employees must perceive management visibly advocates and supports the creation of the structured mentoring program. The effectiveness of the mentoring program will require management support in the form of adequate funding and work redistribution where necessary. To facilitate the exchange, the mentor and mentees should be in close physical proximity to each other.

Encourage, support, and facilitate the formation of teams within the workplace, combining members of all generations and functions whenever possible. Within the team environment, knowledge transfer and integration occurs between individuals. The result is a collective knowledge greater than any single individual could produce. Combining individuals with different and complementary skills and perspectives and achieving cooperation among them may result in the enhancement of optimal knowledge transfer if management recognizes the social or relationship aspect of team building.

Intergenerational Knowledge Transfer in the Aerospace Industry

The aerospace workforce is aging, less resilient, and facing serious competition from other industries and nations for talented engineers and scientists.

The learning environment within the aerospace industry is unique, and is referred to as tribal learning. Engineers learn tacit knowledge experientially, on the job and in teams led by an experienced manager. The absence of a senior engineer as a result of retirement may endanger the cycle of learning and performance within the aerospace environment.

The combination of a rising rate of retirement in the aerospace industry and the aging of the aerospace workforce will leave the aerospace industry with a shortage of critical technical capability. The National Science Board published a report estimating one of every four U.S. engineers and scientists is 50 years old or older and will retire by 2010. Differences of opinion exist on the severity and timing of the skills gap but experts agree a widening gap exists in the supply and demand of higher skilled and higher educated talent.

Why is the chasm so large?

• Barriers to entry are greater, especially in defense, because of citizenship requirements and clearance issues.

• Changes in visa criteria as a result of new Homeland security initiatives reduced the number of guest-worker and student visas issues.

• Approximately one third of all scientists and engineers in the U.S. were born abroad. Graduate programs expect a 20 to 30% decrease in enrollment from international students.

• Exodus of immigrants back to their native countries is highest among the leading-edge professions such as science and engineering.

• Boom of high-tech companies

• Declining matriculation rates in engineering programs in the 1990’s

• Attrition rate among new graduates is two times greater in the aerospace industry than in the overall new graduate population.

• Globalization has increased competition for market shares as well as human capital.

• When faced with a reduction aerospace will layoff most recently hired.

• Voluntary exodus of younger engineers disillusioned by the eroding defense job market. Former workers not interested in returning to aerospace.

• Many baby boomers in the industry have pension plans & 401k’s encouraging them to retire early.

Tacit knowledge transfer is costly and time consuming requiring leaders to determine if the immediate cost impact of collecting the tacit knowledge is justifiable when compared with the potential future loss of the unique tacit knowledge. By skillfully managing the transfer of knowledge from retiring employees, leaders can maintain the organizations competitive advantage and potentially surpass competitors that do not successfully extract the knowledge of retiring employees.

One obstacle facing organizational leaders is the communication problem between the generations impacting the level of trust and openness between the cohorts. To extract the knowledge of baby boomers, organizational leaders must facilitate the appreciation and acceptance of different intergenerational values and beliefs or risk the mass exodus of the tacit knowledge residing within the baby boomers heads.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Generation Jones

While doing research for my dissertation I became confused by the variety of opinions regarding the demographic makeup of the different generational cohorts. Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman, authors of When Generations Collide, define the generations as Traditionalists (1900-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation Xers (1965-1980), and Millennials (1981-1999). In Generations at Work, Zemke, Raines, and Filipczak define the generations as Veterans (1922-1943), Baby Boomers (1943-1960), Generation Xers (1960-1980), and Generation Nexters (1980-2000).

Population demographers define the Baby Boom generation as being born between 1946 and 1964. Because the time span for the Baby Boomer generation is so large some have further broken the cohort into early and late boomers. Jonathan Pontell coined the term Generation Jones to describe the group of 53 million Boomers born between 1954 and 1965. He describes this generation as being stuck “between Woodstock and Lollapalooza”.

The Generation Jones group does not identify itself with Boomers or Generation X. The Generation Jones identification received media attention during the 2008 presidential race and was considered a major factor in the differences between Hilary Clinton (Baby Boomer) and Barack Obama (Generation Jones).

The name "Generation Jones" has several connotations, including a keeping up with the Joneses competitiveness, as well as being a large anonymous generation. According to Pontell, the name “Generation Jones” was given to the group because the Jonesers were given huge expectations as children of the 1960’s but the reality they experienced in the 1970’s was quite different, giving then a certain unrequited, jonesing quality.

The generational cohort labeled the “Baby Boomers” are made up of 78 million individuals born across a time span of 18 years. Isn’t it possible that that many individuals could have as many differences as they have commonalities?

Generations Interview

Claire Raines has been researching generations in the workplace for more than twenty years. She has written seven books, and designed a game that teaches people how to be more effective in work and family situations by adapting to generational differences.

In one of her books, Connecting Generations, I ran across a simple exercise that she recommends to help promote diversity in the workplace.

To promote learning and understanding of generational differences you could conduct an interview with a member of another generation and ask the following questions.

1. What generation do you consider yourself a member of?

2. What do you like about your generation?

3. What do you wish other generations knew or understood about your generation?

4. Do you feel all your work-related talents and skills are used on the job?

5. What challenges do you face at work that may have to do with your generation?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sticky Knowledge

von Hippel described information “costly to acquire, transfer, and use” as sticky. Organizations may have the motivation to reduce stickiness based on the frequency of transfer of the information. von Hippel suggested the focus should be on the cost of transferring knowledge in a usable form to the receiver, rather than just bringing the knowledge to the attention of the receiver. Szulanski concurred, indicating a definition of stickiness should include consideration of the nature of both the sender and the receiver of the knowledge. Stickiness can refer to both the characteristics of a particular transfer situation and the characteristics of the knowledge transferred. The more complex the knowledge transfer, the stickier the transfer.

Codifiability of Knowledge

Codifiability describes the firm’s ability to structure knowledge into a format that allows easy sharing and complexity refers to the intricacy of some forms of knowledge. To codify knowledge is to put it into a code that makes it portable and distributable. An attempt to transfer knowledge requires decodification, or the means to interpret or decodify the code. Codified knowledge is easier to transfer than uncodified knowledge. The codification of tacit knowledge allows its sharing to increase the leverage of organizational resources.

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

One of the earliest and best known methods to classify knowledge is the discrimination between tacit and explicit knowledge. Polanyi succinctly noted, “We can know more than we can tell”, distinguishing all knowledge as either tacit or explicit. Polanyi proposed all knowledge possesses a tacit dimension difficult to articulate, noting, “We know a person’s face, and can recognize it among a thousand, indeed among a million. Yet we usually cannot tell how we recognize a face we know”.

Opinions diverge on the differentiation between tacit and explicit knowledge. Some contend the categorization of knowledge is not possible because of its holistic nature. It is believed that experience learned from observation (tacit) is more beneficial than other types of experience, such as classroom training (explicit). Tacit knowledge is difficult to articulate and can best be learned by observation. Tacit knowledge is “nonverbalized, or even nonverbalizable, intuitive, unarticulated” . The transfer of tacit knowledge is costly, time consuming, and uncertain and may require repeated exchanges among individuals. Tacit knowledge consists of technical and cognitive aspects. The technical element of tacit knowledge refers to the context-specific and concrete expertise of a particular skill. The cognitive aspect of tacit knowledge refers to the individual’s implicit ingrained mental models.

Successful transfer of tacit knowledge requires an open mind and a close relationship between two parties. A portion of tacit knowledge is not even accessible to the holder of the knowledge because it is impossible to verbalize or share discursively. Tacit knowledge is the information employees possess beyond documented knowledge. Tacit knowledge enables workers to perform at a higher level than does explicit knowledge.

Book Review - Deep Smarts

In their book Deep Smarts, Leonard and Swap described employees’ ability to make the correct decision at the correct level with the right people as deep smarts. Employees with deep smarts developed unique experiences and skills and made decisions based more on knowledge than on facts. Guided experience is the most successful manner in which to cultivate and transfer deep smarts. Baby boomers inclined and enabled to transfer tacit knowledge can only do so if they have a willing recipient, a common code, common knowledge, or overlapping knowledge.

Leonard and Swap described the pending baby boomer retirement as a tsunami. Many organizations will not realize the value of the loss of employees’ deep smarts until workers leave their jobs. The unique, context-specific knowledge residing in the heads and hands of baby boomers is an undervalued and poorly managed organizational asset in most organizations. Because knowledge depends on context, the deep smarts of employees are difficult to measure, harvest, and transfer.

Appreciative Inquiry as a Tool to Improve Intergenerational Communication

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a term that was introduced by David Cooperrider and his colleagues at Case Western University during the 1980’s. AI is a shift in thinking from a deficit-based approach to change to a strength-based philosophy. The thinking is that by focusing on what is wrong we pay too much attention to problems and end up amplifying them. If our mindset is to look for problems, we will be certain to find them.

The appreciative approach considers organizations to be alive appreciative systems in which the focus is on looking for what works best. AI focuses on doing more of what works while the problem-solving approach asks us to do less of what we do not do well.

The AI approach suggests that by asking positive questions we can bring out the best in people, teams, and organizations. Cooperrider and his colleagues suggest that “words create worlds” and by wisely and intentionally selecting positive questions leaders can set the stage for generating a more cohesive and productive workplace environment.

One application for AI concerning improving intergenerational communication would be to ask members of different generational cohorts to interview each other using three or four positive questions and to then note the things that they have in common. Some possible appreciative questions could be:

1. Step into the shoes of a member of a different generation. Through their eyes answer the following questions.

a. What matters most to you?

b. What unique contribution does your generation bring to the workplace?

c. What are your greatest skills and competencies?

d. What makes you tick?

2. Tell me about a time you had a wonderful working relationship with someone from a different generation from yourself. What was the high point of this relationship? What did you learn from this relationship?

3. What do you value most about yourself that contributes positively to the relationships between members of different generations in the workplace?

Appreciative Inquiry proposes that we live in the worlds that our questions create. Therefore, by changing the way we ask employees about generational differences we can begin to help our employees discover the strengths, assets, and best practices of each generation.

Book Review - Managing the Generation Mix

In Managing the Generation Mix, Bruce Tulgan and Carolyn Martin begin their book on generational differences in the typical manner by defining the names and characteristics of each generational cohort. Their categorization of the four generations is:
Generation Y – (born 1978 – 1989)

Generation X – (born 1965 – 1977)

Baby Boomers – (born 1946 – 1964)

The Schwarzkopf Generation – (born before 1946)

Tulgan and Martin gave the oldest generations their label in honor of General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the allied forces in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. General Schwarzkopf’s view of management can be condensed into two rules:

1. When in command, take charge

2. When in doubt, do what’s right

The author’s felt that the “take charge” and “do what’s right” attitude aptly describe the oldest generation in the workplace today.

The first four chapters of the book are dedicated to defining and describing the unique characteristics of each generational cohort. Within each chapter is a section devoted to helping leaders understand how to manage that particular cohort which includes some very practical tips and guidelines.

The next chapter of the book titled “Bridging the Generational (Mis)Understanding Gap” lays the groundwork for an actual training exercise that the author’s claim will “start to clear the air and help each generation acknowledge the strengths and contributions each makes to the workplace”. This 2 to 3 hour exercise has participants:

1. Create a profile of their generation’s characteristics, values, and contributions to the organization.

2. Share their perceptions of the characteristics, values, and contributions of other generations.

3. Validate the uniqueness of all generations and the contributions each makes to the team.

4. Raise awareness of what each generation can learn from and teach others.

The second section of the book describes what it takes to become a great “Gen Mix Manager”. The author’s suggest that manager’s need to master three basic skill sets: focus, communication, and customization. Of the three, I feel that customization is the area that many leaders fail to appreciate and practice. Key to managing a multi-generational workplace is the ability to individualize interactions with employees. Managers must recognize that every employee is motivated differently and what drives one employee to the highest productivity level will not be as effective with another employee.

The final section of the book discusses four multi-generational challenges that the author’s feel are of critical importance.

1. Retaining the wisdom, knowledge, and expertise of retiring Schwarzkopf’s and Baby Boomers.

2. Overcoming the midlevel leadership crisis by building Gen X and Y bench strength.

3. Helping young leaders manage workers old enough to be their parents or grandparents.

4. Teaching teens to become customer service experts adept at maintaining customer loyalty.

The author’s conclude by encouraging leaders to be true “Gen Mixers”, “employees that no matter what the age bring their enthusiasm, talents, skills, expertise, wisdom, and voracious desire to learn and to teach”. This last sentence is probably the most important of the entire book. It is a reminder that no matter what our age we should be willing to teach and open to learning from anyone that has knowledge we do not have. It does not matter if they are 40 years our junior or 40 years our senior. The 21st workplace is unlike any other work environment in history. Each generational perspective and knowledge when combined has the potential to raise an organization to a level of unparalleled excellence and heightened competiveness, if properly managed.

Building a Knowledge-Sharing Culture

Employees tend to share knowledge if they feel emotionally committed to the organization’s vision and mission. Management actions can have a large influence on increasing employee engagement and affect the knowledge-sharing culture within the organization. Visible and engaged management support may enhance a knowledge-sharing culture. Management may influence employees by establishing a reason to care, a feeling employees are a part of something bigger than they are. Foundational to effective leadership is the establishment and communication of the organizational vision. People need to feel like they are valued and ‘part’ of the company. If they can feel that they are part of something greater than their own job or position, they may be more likely to pass on information.

Knowledge creation will occur in organizations exhibiting strong caring among employees. The presence of care increases trust, empathy, and tolerance and consideration for context and personal growth. In an organization in which care exists, employees will be more willing to bestow knowledge upon each other.

Barriers to Knowledge Transfer

Many empirical research studies have explored the multitude of barriers that impede the flow of knowledge. My own dissertation research indicated that the barriers include: (a) heavy workload, (b) no standard practice for tacit knowledge management, (c) lack of time, (d) insufficient overhead budget, and (e) lack of trust between the sender and receiver as primary barriers to knowledge transfer. Respondents perceived the complex nature of technical knowledge as an impediment to knowledge transfer. The findings indicated that employees consider lack of management focus and support of knowledge transfer the primary impediments to knowledge sharing. Organizational leaders are responsible for the allocation of resources, creation of the organizational culture, and the generation of organizational policies and procedures. The comments of Generation X employees indicated not only does the organizational climate discourage knowledge sharing, but also employees who do feel compelled to find the time to transfer knowledge do not receive favorable recognition or appreciation.

In 1994, the APQC, a nonprofit organization that researches global best practices, sponsored a research study led by Dr. Gabriel Szulanski that studied the phases and barriers to knowledge transfer within organizations. The results of the study indicated knowledge could linger within an organization for years without sharing or recognition. Even when recognition of the knowledge occurred, the transfer of knowledge could still take more than 2 years for adoption at other sites. The research indicated four primary impediments to the transfer of organization knowledge: (a) ignorance, (b) no absorptive capacity, (c) lack of preexisting relationships, and (d) lack of motivation.

Burgess (What motivates employees to transfer knowledge outside their work unit? Journal of Business Communication, 2005) studied the underlying reasons behind employees’ willingness to transfer knowledge outside their work unit. Burgess determined factors affecting employee motivation were categorizable with respect to individual, interpersonal, relational, and group-level motives. The primary motivational barriers to knowledge transfer were a lack of extrinsic rewards, stronger levels of group versus organizational identification, reciprocity norms, and the view of knowledge as a means of achieving upward organizational mobility.

Sun and Scott (An investigation of barriers to knowledge transfer. Journal of Knowledge Management, 2005) investigated the barriers to knowledge transfer at four levels of learning in an organization: individual, team, organizational, and interorganizational. Sun and Scott reported key sources of barriers at the four learning levels included the following: (a) individual—fear of loss of ownership and control of knowledge; (b) team—team climate, external influence of the organizational climate in the team interaction, and the influence of systems and structures within the organization; (c) organization—organizational climate, organizational relationships, and the systems and structures of the organization; and (d) interorganizational level—fear of uncontrolled knowledge disclosure resulting in the loss of core competencies.

Argote (Organizational learning: Creating, retaining and transferring knowledge. New York: Kluwer Academic) suggested individuals may not have motivation to share their knowledge with others, particularly if the knowledge is unique, and knowledge is difficult to transfer as a result of competition between work groups and differences in context. The technical and social complexities of knowledge are also barriers to knowledge transfer.

In a review of knowledge management literature and knowledge-sharing barriers, Riege (Three-dozen knowledge-sharing barriers managers must consider. Journal of Knowledge Management, 2005) summarized three dozen knowledge-sharing barriers organizations should acknowledge and consider. Barriers to knowledge can exist at the individual, organizational, and technology levels. At the individual level, barriers include poor communication skills, a lack of social networks, national cultural differences, lack of trust, lack of time, and overemphasis of position statuses. Barriers at the organizational level can include the physical environment, availability of informal and formal meeting spaces, economic viability, and the lack of infrastructure and resources. Technology barriers may include unrealistic expectations of information technology (IT) systems, difficulties in using technology-based systems, and an unwillingness to use the technology systems because of a mismatch with need requirements.

T. H. Davenport and Prusak (Working knowledge: How organizations manage what they know Boston: Harvard Business School Press) described seven cultural factors or frictions that impede the transfer of knowledge: (a) lack of trust; (b) different cultures, vocabularies, or frames of reference; (c) lack of time and meeting places or a narrow idea of productive work; (d) knowledge owners receive status and rewards; (e) lack of absorptive capacity in recipients; (f) the belief that knowledge is prerogative of particular groups, or not-invented-here syndrome; and (g) intolerance for mistakes or need for help. T. H. Davenport and Prusak concluded organizations focused too much attention on the hard aspects of knowledge transfer and should focus more attention on the soft or human aspects of knowledge transfer.

There were many common findings among the research studies. A lack of time was a common thread as well as the relationship between the sender and receiver of the knowledge with a lack of trust being the most frequently cited knowledge transfer barrier. Organizational members may be ignorant of possessing knowledge that may be helpful to others and many in the organization are unaware of who possesses the knowledge they seek. Absorptive capacity is absent when employees lack the time, money, and management support necessary to pursue the knowledge. When individuals lack a connection or bond, no basis exists for trusting the other individual and incorporating their knowledge into work and routines. If individuals do not see a compelling reason to share knowledge, they will not make the effort to pursue the knowledge transfer process.

Appreciating Knowledge

Throughout the centuries, the study of knowledge intrigued and perplexed humans. The 20th century witnessed an increased interest in the study of knowledge within the organization as a result of the recognition that an organization must effectively manage knowledge, its most critical resource, to sustain competitive advantage . Knowledge is an indispensable resource, a strategic asset, that is fluid and intuitive and complex. Knowledge is more relevant to sustained business than capital, labor, or land.

In 1993, Peter Drucker introduced the concept of the knowledge worker and sensitized leaders to the criticality of the management of the intellectual capital that resides in employees’ minds. The growing appreciation of the value of the knowledge resident within employees’ heads, concurrent with the demographic shifts in the U.S. workforce, heightened leaders’ interest in the nature of knowledge and knowledge management. A thorough understanding of the nature of knowledge will assist organizational leaders in managing the acquisition and transfer of tacit knowledge within the organization.

Multigenerational Workplace

The concept of generations, first introduced in sociological theory in the 1950s by Karl Mannheim, illuminated and dissected U.S. culture. Kupperschmidt defined a generation as “an identifiable group (cohorts) that shares birth years, age location, and significant life events at critical developmental stages” and generational characteristics as “worldview, values, and attitudes commonly shared by or descriptive of cohorts”. As a result of the era in which they grew up, each generation brings a unique set of values, behaviors, and attitudes into the workplace.

Social scientists differ with respect to naming and segmenting the generations, with some dividing the generations into three groups and others dividing generations into as many as six groups. The most common categorization includes four generational cohorts represented in the business community. The oldest group, known as the matures, veterans, or the traditional generation, was born before 1946. The second generation is the baby boomers, a name given to the cohort because of its unprecedented size of 78 million. The cohort following the baby boomers is the baby bust population, Generation X, or Generation Xers. Generation X employees were born between 1965 and 1976 and, at 51 million, are a much smaller population than the baby boomers. The youngest cohort, born between 1977 and 2000, is the Nexters, Millennials, Generation Y, or the baby boom echo cohort and is just entering the workforce.

A review of the literature addressing generational differences reveals conflicting perspectives by theorists regarding the impact generations have on leadership style and work motivation. Zemke, Raines, and Filipczak cautioned the generational diversity of the U.S. workforce creates tension and resentment between older and younger employees. Although cognizant of the dangers of stereotyping, Zemke suggested, “The specific affections of a generation’s formative years do bind them together in exclusive ways” perpetuating a them versus us attitude. Harris postulated understanding the differences between each generation requires an analysis of each cohort’s value imprints from the formative years.

Kyles cautioned although each of the four generations of working employees manifests different values, expectations, and attitudes, “not every person fits all of the characteristics of his/her generation’s description”. Kupperschmidt indicated although generations share experiences and develop a peer personality, “these characteristics are generalizations, thus individual differences within generations do exist.”

Generational differences in values, attitudes, expectations, learning styles, and needs present unique challenges for leaders responsible for intergenerational knowledge transfer within organizations.


Harris, P. (2005, May). Boomer vs. Echo boomer. Training + Development, 59(5), 44-49.

Kupperschmidt, B. R. (2000). Multigeneration employees: Strategies for effective management. Health Care Manager, 19, 65-76.

Kyles, D. (2005). Managing your multigenerational workforce. Strategic Finance, 87(6), 53-55.

Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (2000). Generations at work. New York: AMA Publications.

There is nothing new under the sun

Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. Socrates (470-399 B.C.)

As this quote of Socrates reminds us, generational differences are nothing new in our personal lives or in our workplace relationships. When our children are driving us crazy, we can take comfort in the hope that someday when they are parents their kids will drive them crazy. There is danger in generational stereotyping because the person sitting across the desk from you may share little or no characteristics with their generational stereotype. You may actually have a baby boomer that is as technologically savvy as a Gen X or Gen Y employee. Alternatively, you might find yourself with a Gen Y employee who loves their job and does not mind working 60 hours a week. On the other hand, you could have a Gen X employee that is an eternal optimist. Stereotypes are dangerous and counterproductive in the workplace. However, having generalizations based on an understanding of the common experiences and shared values of a generational cohort can give you a starting point with which to begin a dialogue with your employees and co-workers.

Understanding Generational Differences

I learned a very helpful activity from Doug Caldwell that can be used to start a friendly dialogue between generations. The activity asks participants to draw and discuss their Generational Defining Events.

Have your audience break into groups of 5 or 6, ideally with multiple generations represented in each group. Each person is given a 5 x 8 card and crayons. They are asked to illustrate three of their most significant life experiences between the ages of 12 to mid-20s using graphics and numbers. After completing their illustration, each individual shares the three most significant events that occurred during their formative years.

This exercise is short and fun but very helpful in getting members of different generations to see the different types of influences that shaped and formed different generational perspectives. It is also useful for highlighting those individuals of a particular generation that had different live shaping events giving them a perspective different from the majority of their own generation.

Do you know where your tacit knowledge is?

The first step in implementing any organizational knowledge transfer strategy begins with an analysis of where the organization’s tacit knowledge resides. Organizational leaders must find which employees hold within their heads the type of knowledge that cannot be written down. Where is the knowledge that gives the organization its competitive edge?

The paradox of tacit knowledge is that it cannot be easily copied by a competitor but neither can it be easily transferred to another employee. Any organization that has single points of knowledge (knowledge that resides with only one employee) is in serious trouble should that employee decide to leave.

There are several methods that can be used to help determine where the tacit organizational knowledge resides.

1. Knowledge mapping – identifies the location and flow of knowledge within the organization

2. Knowledge audits – a knowledge audit is an audit of an organization’s intellectual capital. The knowledge audit differs from knowledge mapping in that its purpose is to find the knowledge within the organization and put a value on it.

3. Social Network Analysis – maps and measures the relationships and flows of knowledge between people. People and groups are nodes in the network and the links show the flow between the nodes.

Regardless of which method is used, is it critical for all organizations to have an understanding of where their tacit knowledge resides and to appreciate how vulnerable they would be should that knowledge leave the organization.