Questions for the Generations: All generations of employees need to participate in discovery process

For the last five months, "Crafting Connections" has grappled with the four generations working in today's dental practice, delving into understandings and misunderstandings. The goal of this series is to elevate the dental environment by building trust and communication. A foundational element of trust is understanding, and this series has adhered to the late Stephen Covey's fifth habit of highly effective people: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

BY Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

For the last five months, "Crafting Connections" has grappled with the four generations working in today's dental practice, delving into understandings and misunderstandings. The goal of this series is to elevate the dental environment by building trust and communication. A foundational element of trust is understanding, and this series has adhered to the late Stephen Covey's fifth habit of highly effective people: seek first to understand, then to be understood.

In past months, this column has looked in-depth at the age groups (traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials), ranging from seasoned to new professionals, and how the time and era in which we live impacts us all. We have touched on how technology has transformed the way we interact, and looked at societal trends. We have examined each generation's strengths and underlying values, and we have divulged what the generations think about one another. It has become evident that there is a gap (sometimes, a gaping hole) that too often results in corrosive, unhealthy work environments.

---------------------------------------------

Other articles by Garlough

---------------------------------------------

Prior to writing about the generations, I wrote extensively on the discovery cycle, a powerful tool for innovative thinking. Fresh thinking is imperative if we are to bridge the generation gap. All people in the workforce today would benefit from transcending long-standing biases by shifting paradigms and challenging assumptions.

Over the next few months, Crafting Connections will take the challenge of the generation gap through the discovery cycle. It is this writer's goal that my readers will not only have an epiphany that differences are good, but that they will also see the value, power, and practicality of applying the discovery cycle to this and every challenge that is encountered in the practice.

One of the elements of the discovery cycle is questioning. The questions that we ask ourselves reveal answers. Questions shake up the status quo and shift our perception of challenges. The right questions are key to beneficial breakthroughs. All generations in the dental practice need to ask themselves, "Why are we here?"

We must remember that Traditionalists, and to a lesser degree, baby boomers, respond well to pointed direction.1 This is not so with Gen Xers or Millennials. The younger generations are constantly asking ''Why?" They want to know the reason for whatever task is being asked of them, and get impatient if the task appears meaningless. They need to know that there is purpose and value behind action. Therefore, take the time to revisit your mission statement and find the team's compelling answer to "Why are we here?"

Too often, practices overlook the worth of a mission statement. Either they don't have one, or it is outdated. If your office has a mission statement, now is the time to revisit it. Experts on managing the generational mix, Carolyn Martin, PhD, and Bruce Tulgan, emphasize that you should never underestimate this opportunity to have lively discussion and collaboration on your mission.

Ask yourselves: Is our mission compelling enough to motivate us to be truly present every day, doing our best work? If not, why? What would it take to energize us to fully contribute our drive and talents? Does our mission statement speak to us and if not, how do we need to change it?

Synergy Building Questions

1. What is the "key question" in bridging the generation gap?

2. How should a team go about answering the key question?

3. What is a question Gen Xers and Millennials ask, and why do they ask it?

4. What can Traditionalists and baby boomers contribute?

5. Once completed, is the mission statement a "done deal"?

Answers:

1. "Why are we here?" 2. Creating a mission statement. 3. They ask "why" because they aren't interested in meaningless tasks. 4. Experience and wisdom. 5. No, it is a living document, to be revisited every two years.

Devote sufficient time for defining your mission statement (about a half day). Choose someone on your team who can effectively facilitate the discussion. This person's role is to actively listen and engage everyone, as well as move the discussion forward. Ask individuals for input on how their work supports the team's mission. If team members aren't responding, don't just move on to something else. Be dogged with this exercise, because mapping out your mission will offer direction and keep the team focused, while eliminating the need to retrace steps down the line. Think of the mission as a lighthouse, showing the way to the destination. If you can't see where you are going, you get lost or have mishaps.

Poignant discovery questions in this brainstorming session will help to clarify the team's mission:

• Why does our team exist?

• What do we do best?

• What distinguishes our team from other teams?

• What do we want to accomplish?

• What makes our team special?

Don't underestimate the drive to be on a winning team. The pride and bragging rights that accompany a powerful team with a strong mission statement is a draw for attracting and retaining talented staff of every generation.2

Once the team has created or refined its mission, ensure that each member has a copy of the mission statement, and that a copy is posted where everyone on the team can see it. This will need to be a living document, meaning that it will need to be revisited every two years. This will ensure that it speaks to the team and the direction that best serves the practice.

After your team's mission is created or refined, turn your attention to goals, tasks, and guidelines. Drive this through the discovery cycle with more questions:

• What work needs to be done by our team?

• What projects and tasks need to be accomplished?

• Which guidelines are nonnegotiable?

Ensure older employees share their experience and wisdom. For younger team members, clarify that "nonnegotiable" doesn't mean unwillingness to change, but concerns the repercussions of stepping outside the boundaries. Alternatively, be open to scrutinizing tasks and guidelines. They may serve the office and the staff better if they are streamlined, changed, or eliminated.2

Harmony and productivity are assured when every team member recognizes that they are working with committed, enthusiastic contributors. Remember, Traditionalists want to respect their colleagues, boomers pride themselves on effective teamwork, Gen Xers have very high expectations of their colleagues, and Millennials want to be part of a meaningful team. When everyone is truly present, contributing fully, and striving to add value, generational traits are never a problem. Pulling your own weight creates opportunities to share expertise and learn more quickly.

Questions in the discovery cycle are powerful. Breakthrough occurs when we utilize the entire process of the discovery cycle, and its questions trigger us to think in a different way. For this reason, next month's article will expand on the questions that we need to ask ourselves. We will look at the questions needed to define each member's personal mission and how to maximize each team member's uniqueness and talent. These questions, along with other discovery skills that will broaden our thinking, enable us to create a team that recognizes and celebrates everyone's contributions! RDH

References

1. "Some Solutions to Generation Gap," Rocketswag.com, accessed January 12, 2015, www.rocketswag.com/retirement/baby-boomer/generation-gap/Some-Solutions-To-Generation-Gap.html.

2. Martin Carolyn A, Tulgan Bruce. Managing the Generation Mix, 2nd ed. Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 2006.


Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change in both the dental and corporate worlds. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at dgarlough@innovationadvancement.com .

More in Career & Profession