TregoED Blog

Critical Thinking: Spanning the Generations

This blog was previously posted by Diane Sandahl on the  Kepner-Tregoe’s blog. TregoED is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve critical thinking and decision-making skills among students (Gen Z) and educators using KT’s methodologies.

Welcome to the 21st century—where views on technology, work ethic and cultural diversity are strikingly different from generation to generation. The complex dynamics of social interaction, standards for performance and long-understood patterns of behavior are under direct assault-if not washed away by the cross-generational tide. Each generation is leaving its own mark on its own terms, and disconnects between intention, action, and understanding can cause negative consequences. Each of these generations approaches work and the workplace in a distinctly different way as noted on the table below:



Gen   X








Workers   are separate from the boss

Don’t   respect position alone

Don’t   trust corporations, can be skeptical

Embrace   diversity, multiculturalism


Loyalty   for hard work

Work   centric. Want flexible route into retirement

Care   less about advancement than about work/life balance

Looking   for meaningful work and innovation

Technology   Know-How

Adapted,   personal and written communication preferred

Acquired,   written & email

Assimilated,   email

Integral,   email,
IM and texting


Experience,   organization, discipline

Goal   oriented, independent

Objective   and will tell you what they think

Well   educated, sociable, optimistic


Recognition   and respect for their experience

Being   valued, needed

Flexibility   in scheduling

Flexible   schedule, working with bright people

Communication   Style

Quiet,   respectful of authority

Respectful,   open, direct style

Direct   and immediate

Wants   lots of praise and feedback

Leadership   Style

Hierarchy,   Command-and-control

Consensual,   collegial

Competence,   Everyone is the same, Fairness

Achievers,   Future leaders TBD

Top   developmental areas

Skills   training
Computer training
Team building

Skills   training
Computer training

Skills training

Problem solving, decision making
Skills training

Work   is…

An   obligation

An   adventure

A   challenge,
a contract

A   means to
an end

With this in mind, the ability of an organization to meet its strategic goals and deliver value to its customers relies on a confluence of workplace interactions. Sharing a common language, such as English or Spanish or Mandarin, is not enough to be successful. Another type of common language needs to be implemented that crosses generational and social divides–a language that can level the playing field and instill a sense of intergenerational equity. This language needs to focus on meeting the organization’s objectives by supporting individual and team performance.

A Common Purpose

Often the terms and jargon ‘native’ to one generation are not shared by others. Out of necessity, organizations must identify and support the implementation and integration of common approaches to change management and issue resolution to build a commonality of purpose across the organization.

For example, in the case of change management a common set of accepted standards exists in the practice of project management. Yet many organizations lack standards for setting priorities, using information, and taking meaningful action. The better performing organizations recognize that a commonly shared approach to issue resolution is needed to cross generational divides. After all, resolution of issues is not governed by who people are, but by what data they face.

A Cross-Generational Language                        

The integration of a common approach to issue resolution that spans generations can ensure continuity of performance towards common goals.

In response to these cross-generational challenges, KT provides time-tested rational and data-driven thinking processes that are the basis for effective leadership. They significantly increase the ability of people to think clearly in resolving complex organizational issues when under pressure. They include four distinct processes:

• Situation Appraisal: To identify and manage concerns so that the important issues are clearly understood, prioritized and addressed appropriately.

• Problem Analysis: To resolve critical problems with structured logic that effectively uses data, expertise, and knowledge to identify and eliminate root cause.

• Decision Analysis: To make key decisions using weighted objectives in a way that builds commitment to the outcome, despite competing expectations.

• Potential Problem I Opportunity Analysis: To protect plans by minimizing risks, planning contingent actions, and seeking potential opportunities.

A common language for issue resolution bridges the gaps between generations and builds the infrastructure to support the transition from one generation to the next. As the Baby Boomers retire over the next 15 to 20 years, the greatest shift in workplace demographics ever seen will take place. Industries, such as energy and aerospace, estimate that as much as 50% or more of their respective workforces will retire over the next 20 years. As a result, potential labor gaps and a widespread loss of institutional knowledge will be critical issues that will need to be addressed.

By working in concert and not at counter-purposes through a shared, consistently applied and repeatable ‘language,’ the total workforce is prepared to perform in the face of new challenges and achieve organizational objectives.


FDU Magazine, Winter/Spring 2005: The Generational Gap at Work –

University of Minnesota, Generational Differences in the Workplace, August 16, 2008 – Generational Differences Chart –

Report for US Department of Energy, Workforce Trends in the Electric Utility Industry, August, 2006 –

A Special Report: Launching the 21st Century American Aerospace Workforce, December, 2008 –