Transformational Leadership

Building Strong Work Relationships Through Communication

Misti Burmeister asked:

As the younger women come into the workforce, the seasoned professionals want to be acknowledged and appreciated for all they went through to gain opportunities for women in the workforce. This is a frequent challenge among seasoned women professionals.

The biggest problem with “making them appreciate what has come before them” is that young professionals don’t know what came before and don’t understand what women went through to accomplish the current climate for women in the workplace. Many of today’s young professionals grew up with both parents working and were largely raised by institutions and media. They don’t have a clear understanding of the experiences of the women who came before them. This has both advantages and disadvantages.

The advantage is that they have a fresh set of eyes and are able to recognize process improvements and opportunities that may not be obvious to seasoned professionals. They are anxious to try new approaches and make a mark for themselves. The disadvantage is that they don’t know what has already been tried, what has worked well, what has not, and why.

Helping young professionals to understand how things came to be the way they are, and being open to hearing their ideas for possible improvements, is a great way to create a common ground. Sometimes current processes need to remain as they are and sometimes they need to be revamped to reflect current technologies, market changes, etc.

The promotional system at many law firms can provide a great example of old processes in need of revamping. Once a young lawyer begins working for a firm, they have to wait 6-9 years to “make level,” which usually means becoming a partner. There are no intermediate steps to denote accomplishments in the firms. Waiting 6-9 years to get to the next level is longer than many young lawyers care to wait. Today’s young professionals are used to being consistently rewarded for their accomplishments. If law firms create more opportunities for recognition and rewards (i.e. additional levels to reach), they may see an increased retention of their young lawyers.

I received a phone call from Susan, Senior Vice President at a Fortune 50 company. While her turnover rate was fairly low, Susan was struggling with a group of young professionals in her department. They were insisting on more balance and flexibility in their schedule – many of them wanted to work from home. In order for her team to be successful in accomplishing their goals, it was imperative that they be in the same building during the workday. Susan was willing to be flexible and try something new, but she really could not see a way to be successful without having the team together during the workday. The nature of the work did not lend itself to working from home – she wanted my help in dealing with this challenge.

After gaining all the information I could from her and a few team members, I pulled everyone together to discuss mission, vision and strategy for their team. While Susan had already set a mission/vision for department, many of her team members did not relate to the mission/vision or understand how they fit into the big picture.

During the meeting, everyone in the room had a chance to contribute their ideas to the mission/vision – together they created a strategy and each one of them became clear on how they contributed to the success/failure of the mission. For the first time, they could see the importance of being together in person to achieve their goals. Together they shifted their thinking from right (you should be here from 8-5) vs. wrong (I want to work on my own terms) and moved toward a common vision.

Creating common ground is a continual process, to wit, this was the first of a series of meetings designed to facilitate common ground in that department.

There are times when having the team working together in the same location makes the most sense toward accomplishing the mission and sometimes it doesn’t. Some people do their absolute best work late at night and cannot function well early in the morning. If it’s possible to create flexibility in work schedules and locations, it is worth allowing the adjustments for maximum productivity.

Set targets and completion dates, communicate a clear mission/vision and create the strategy for getting there together. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a young professional, your flexibility, communication and understanding will go a long way to create common ground.

Misti Burmeister is a recognized expert in Generational Communication. Learn more about how to improve the communication between generations at Inspirion Inc

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