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6.30.06 Issue #225

Generational Communication...

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
McKenzie Management

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I attended my niece’s high school graduation last week. The Class of 2006. One of the commencement speakers was a woman from the Class of 1956. In her address, she highlighted what the world was like when she was 18 years old. Truly amazing how much has changed in 50 years! It reminded me of the coaching conversations I’ve had with dentists and practice managers about the challenges of leading employees from different age groups.

The impact of generational misunderstanding is huge. It affects tangible costs - recruitment, hiring and retention – as well as intangible costs – office morale. It shapes perceptions of fairness and equity. Sometimes it results in grievances and complaints.

Potentially your office could comprise four different generations. Keep in mind that values drive behavior, and each generation has different values. Therefore they behave differently, and they need to be valued for what each of them brings to your practice.  Here are some facts about the people who make up your staff, and what they bring (or don’t bring) to the table.

Traditionalists were born between 1922 and 1943. These employees have a strong work ethic. Diligent and committed to resolving issues, they make valiant efforts to accomplish practice goals. They also can be resistant to change. Many of them see technology as a nuisance. They need patience when you introduce new software or equipment. Traditionalists do not seek applause. They adhere to the notion that no news is good news. But they do appreciate subtle acknowledgement that they’ve made a difference.
Baby Boomers were born between 1943 and 1960. They value learning. They want to be on the cutting edge. On the down side, they are considered the "Me" generation for a reason as they place heavy emphasis on money and their own emotional contentment. They favor change only if it furthers their own personal goals. As a result, Boomers can challenge office policies that don't suit their needs. Boomers are accustomed to giving feedback to others but seldom receiving it. They are used to once-a-year performance appraisals with lots of documentation.

Generation X‘ers were born between 1960 and 1980. Their main strengths include a concern for relationships and an interest in protecting the natural environment. This generation believes that treating people with respect is more important than accumulating wealth. As a result, Gen X’ers are good at building and valuing relationships. However, they give low priority to practice goals. If you want Gen X’ers to help your practice grow, you need to link those goals to individual benefits. X’ers need positive feedback to let them know they’re on the right track. And if you don’t provide enough performance feedback, don’t be surprised if you hear them say, “Sorry to interrupt but how am I doing?”

Millenials, born between 1980 and 2000, have grown up totally in the computer age. They are adept at incorporating technology in the workplace. Because Internet use became commonplace in their formative years, Millenials are skilled at accessing the surplus of knowledge available to them. On the down side, their culture of readily-accessed information has given many Millenials a demanding attitude. Since they grew up with a bombardment of electronic entertainment, they are bored easily if they're not being mentally stimulated. Millenials are used to praise and may mistake silence for disapproval. They need to know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. And they want performance feedback whenever they want it, meaning at the push of a button.

Like it or not, these generational perspectives are unlikely to change. Each generation sees things differently from the generation preceding it, as well as the generation succeeding it. I recall hearing my parents’ monologues about the long hair and the Beatles’ music of my era. To me that seems tame when contrasted with the piercings and rap music of today.

The bottom line is that you can criticize the differences, or capitalize on them. Generational diversity is one of the factors that will make your office an environment of harmony, or a battleground. Those differences can cause stress, frustration, and conflict. However, they also can become a source for creativity and productivity. 

When a team includes people from various backgrounds, and all those perspectives are utilized, the team is more effective. As the dental leader, it is your job to help your employees to accept divergent perspectives…to teach them that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts….that no one person or group has all the answers. This appreciation of diversity allows everyone to contribute and be a part of the growth of your practice.

So develop synergy in your office. Bridge the gaps and tap into the best of everyone. Create a Generational Awareness Week. Build in humor and fun. Post icons and photos that represent the generations in your staff. Include slang and popular expressions. Play music that was popular in each generation’s formative era. Encourage employees to talk about what they like about their generation, and what they wish other generations would know about them. In particular, encourage them to discuss the challenges they face at work that may have to do with their generation.

It requires flexibility and creativity to lead multiple generations. Communicate openly about how everyone contributes. Value the differences. Adapt to those differences. Bring strength to your office team.

If you would like more information to enhance your office team, contact Dr. Haller at

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McKenzie Management's Seminar Schedule
  July 20 Del Mar, CA - Ortho Symposium * Sally McKenzie  
  July 26 San Diego, CA - San Diego Womens Dental Society Nancy Haller  
  Aug. 2-6 Denver, CO - Academy of General Dentistry * Sally McKenzie  
  Sept. 15-17 San Francisco, CA - California Dental Association * Sally McKenzie  
  Sept. 29-30 Oviedo, Spain - Clinica Sicilia Sally McKenzie  
  Oct. 7-8 Krakow, Poland - UNO Dental Sally McKenzie  
  Nov. 2-3 Santa Barbara - The Art of Endodontics Sally McKenzie  
  Nov. 8 San Diego, CA - San Diego Womens Dental Society Sally McKenzie  
  Nov. 17 Concord, NH - New Hampshire Dental Society Sally McKenzie  
  Dec. 7-8 Santa Barbara, CA - The Art of Endodontics Sally McKenzie  
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