Pogue Offers Roadmap for Better Inter-Generational Communication

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"I was recently talking to a group of young professionals and asked them if they had any learning to share," James Pogue, a much-lauded speaker and the CEO of James Pogue Enterprises, told a gathering here in June. Pogue—who will deliver the opening keynote at our Business Information & Media Summit (BIMS), Nov. 12-14 in Fort Lauderdale—said that a young director related a story of an older colleague who thanked her, but she owes an apology to.

"Why?" Pogue asked. "Because he asked me for assistance on an Excel project he was working on. And I did it for him. But I realize now that's not what he asked. He asked me to teach him something, and instead I did something for him."

Pogue's point was about inter-generational communication, and how much better we all could be at it if we leave our assumptions at the door. "If we want to create the kind of organizations that are engaging, that are connected and facilitate deep relationships, we have to think about our own actions as leaders—and as followers," he said. "As team members, how many times have we said the small things that are irritating?"

Micro-aggressions, he called them. ("They are small but they are aggressions.") Pogue began by asking the audience for adjectives for different generations, and the usual descriptions could be heard: Millennials are selfish, independent and superficial. Baby boomers are workaholics, siloed and old school. Gen Xers are skeptical and forgotten.

"Take those comments and put them in a generational bucket," he said. "How did we get to a place where it was okay to use these terms?" Replace [the generation] with "women, Hispanics, black, Asian, midwesterners, [pause] Canadians... How does this [type of thinking] engage our teams. And how does it inform the content we're developing? And how is it possible to follow someone who is insulting you day after day after day. Or to lead someone that you are insulting..."

Pogue says we can fix this, but it will take work and courage. The common denominator between the generations, he says, is that all of us value three things: people, purpose and community. Focus on that and we can drive employee engagement:

  • The people are your co-workers and the commitment we make to them. These are high-performing members we can learn from and teach one another.
  • The purpose is "understanding and connecting to the company you work for and its goals" (61% of employees struggle to connect company values to day-to-day work.)
  • And community is about a company that "treats its community with dignity and respect."

"Chances are most of us are good people who want to do the right thing most of the time," Pogue said. "But if we spend our time creating distance between us and them, how will we [transfer] knowledge? How will we create mentoring relationships? We spend our time tearing down walls that we've built up."

What can we do as leaders, he asked? Number one is seek hard data to support what we do, the decisions we make. Number two is encourage the right policies; ask former employees why they really left. Train employees to see bias. Empower people to call out themselves.

"Encourage conversation among your teammates," he urged."I may out myself. 'I want to apologize for what I said about baby boomers.' Come to me if I said something crazy.  Feel comfortable challenging me or challenging one another. Create a space that gives you the ability to develop the wonderful things you develop.

"You will see more opportunities to create multiple connections within your team that deepen the relationships that allow us to be our full selves in the workplace," Pogue said. When you can bring your whole self—not leave it in the car, bus, train, home—so much more can be accomplished. "Think about how often you can actually do that?"

We are complicated creatures, he added. Generational connections need to be a part that deepens the relationship, allows us to see the different pieces of one another—"to encourage and peel back who we are [and create] the best ways to reach our members and our audience."

Pogue's talk can be viewed here. Early-bird savings for BIMS expires this Friday, Sept. 21. Register here.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…