CFO Closes Generation Gap to Motivate Team

This was one of the fastest turnarounds in DayBreak’s coaching history. Susan, a newly appointed CFO, was ready and open to ideas for solving her problem when she came looking for an executive coach. She was having difficulty in motivating her new team. In just shy of three months, one of her seven people resigned due to ‘differing work styles.’ In Susan’s mind, it was more like differing work ethics. She believed in hard work and it seemed the individual who left believed in hardly working.

Susan’s remaining team members were a source of frustration as well. They rarely met deadlines, never stayed past 5:00 and seemed to socialize more than work. This confused Susan as she prided herself on separating business and personal, only talking to her team about business issues. She used the motivators that had worked for her team at her last company – increased job responsibility, more visibility and opportunity for promotion – but none of this seemed to get them moving. She’d tried to be nice about it, but ended up resorting to drawing a hard line to get their attention. As a result, she was ostracized and felt like they were talking about her all the time. And they still didn’t perform to her expectations. She felt powerless. Do you know that feeling?

In our first coaching discussion, we discovered that her new team was in a different age bracket than her previous team; they were all about 15-20 years younger. So there was a generation gap – a big one. Susan was a Baby Boomer and her new team members were Millennials. She had never taken the time to sit down with her new team and ask what motivated them; she just assumed they were motivated by the same things as her other team had been. (Her other team was made up of mostly Baby Boomers like herself.) Her first coaching assignment was to interview each team member and listen with empathy, an essential EQ skill, and leave judgment out of it.
Two weeks later Susan reported in on what she’d found. Her team appreciated autonomy, time off and frequent feedback. After learning this, she made an about face in her leadership style. She

  • implemented a ‘work from home’ policy,
  • structured their incentives around quality production not hours worked,
  • instituted a weekly touch base with each person to discuss one thing that was going well and one thing that could change or improve – from either of their perspectives

These are some pretty big managerial shifts – and they paid off.  By the third coaching session, Susan shared her team had done a 180 in terms of morale and engagement.  They were starting to hit deadlines and the accuracy of their reports had improved.

Susan proved Dawn’s theory that empathy is the difference between compliance and commitment.  When leaders take the time to truly understand where their employees are coming from, they earn the commitment and support necessary to maximize performance and achieve corporate objectives.