Critical Thinking: Spanning the Generations

Welcome to the 21st century— 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 of these generations approaches work and the workplace in a distinctly different way as noted on the table below.
 TraditionalistsBoomersGen XMillennials
SocializationWorkers are separate from the bossDon’t respect position aloneDon’t trust corporations, can be skepticalEmbrace diversity, multiculturalism
ExpectationsLoyalty for hard workWork centric. Want flexible route into retirementCare less about advancement than about work/life balanceLooking for meaningful work and innovation
Technology Know-HowAdapted, personal and written communication preferredAcquired, written & emailAssimilated, emailIntegral, email,
IM and texting
ContributionsExperience, organization, disciplineGoal oriented, independentObjective and will tell you what they thinkWell educated, sociable, optimistic
MotivatorsRecognition and respect for their experienceBeing valued, neededFlexibility in schedulingFlexible schedule, working with bright people
Communication StyleQuiet, respectful of authorityRespectful, open, direct styleDirect and immediateWants lots of praise and feedback
Leadership StyleHierarchy, Command-and-controlConsensual, collegialCompetence, Everyone is the same, FairnessAchievers, Future leaders TBD
Top developmental areasSkills training
Computer training
Team building
Skills training
Computer training
Skills training
Problem solving, decision making
Skills training
Work is…An obligationAn adventureA challenge,
a contract
A means to
an end

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 LanguageCritical thinking skills

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, Kepner-Tregoe 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 –


About Kepner-Tregoe

Kepner-Tregoe provides consulting and training services to organizations throughout the world. Since 1958, Kepner-Tregoe has studied how effective business leaders manage difficult business challenges. Kepner-Tregoe processes are also used in school districts and classrooms. Through the efforts of the Tregoe Education Forum, a non-profit organization, educators and students in the U.S. and Canada are using these processes to resolve critical issues, enhance active learning, and use information effectively.


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Critical Thinking: Spanning the Generations

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