Richard Pierce Thomas

Leadership and Small Business Consultant

Though the setting was new, I had seen this scene many times before. I was standing at the rear of a large conference room observing a company wide meeting.               

I had been hired to perform an organizational assessment as a few of the newer managers recently left the organization. There were also rumors that many among the manufacturing crew were beginning to seek positions elsewhere.

This was a turn of events for the family-owned business; well respected in the community since the owner’s father had started it after WWII. There were also multiple generations of employees and the business has had a stable workforce over the years. Hence, the turnover and rumors of people exiting were all met with grave concern.

“The exit interviews are all indicating people are leaving for other opportunities, but I can’t help but think there is something else going on that no one is telling me,” the owner lamented. “I need a third set of eyes. Tell me what is going on,” he pleaded.

Given full access, I started the assessment by sitting in on their monthly company wide meeting. It began with the operations manager sharing a series of reports. The manager splashed one PowerPoint slide after another onto the screen with a brief explanation of the results. The room remained quiet as he sped through the presentation. The Quality Assurance manager also delivered a presentation to an equally quiet room, and then the Human Resources got up to announce the birthdays for the month. The recipients all politely stood to a smattering of applause and the meeting was concluded with the scrape of folding chairs across the tiled floor.

I spent the rest of the day touring the operation, interviewing employees from various departments and shadowing some of the daily team meetings. None of it was necessary, though. I had diagnosed the problem within the first hour I was on the assessment. The rest of the time was spent confirming what I had observed at the outset.

Meeting with the owner to debrief the findings at the end of the second day, we met in a large conference room. He had asked for his senior managers to sit in on the assessment debrief, but I had asked for one-on-one time with him first to review the report.

“You’ve got a generational gap, and it’s widening by the minute,” I said, hardly giving him a moment to settle into his chair.

“What do you mean by a generational gap?” he asked.

“By generational gap, I am referring to the inability for you or any of your senior managers to effectively engage the new generation of leaders in a way that is meaningful to them.”

“What else do they want?” he scoffed. “I am offering good jobs with decent benefits. These are not easy things to find these days!”

“Agreed. But the bottom line is, those are not things on the top of their list.”

“It will be when they have mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay,” he said.

“Perhaps. But for now, it is all about relationship. You’ve got to engage them at an emotional level. The incoming generation is all about relationship and based on what I’ve observed over the last couple of days, there isn’t a lot of that going on. In the meetings I attended, the only one talking was the person leading the meeting.”

“What are we supposed to do, shut up and say nothing?” he asked.

“That would be a start. But understand, communication is more than just about talking. Communication is about listening and dialogue. So yes, stop talking at them and start asking questions. Then you can stop talking and listen. If you want another reason why, take a look around at your current leadership. There are a lot of gray hairs here and none of you are getting any younger. If for no other reason, start reaching out to the new generation to see who is going to fill the shoes once your team begins to hang it up.” 

Does this describe your leadership team? If so, change the conversation in your organization and start the dialogue. Your business depends on it.


Rick Thomas is a Principal and Director of Human Capital at Pilot Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor in Oregon state. Leading their focus on the human component of building wealth, he consults and speaks to organizations across the country, focusing on individual and organizational achievement.