After the Webinar: Generations at Work. Q&A with Al Cobos

Webinar presenter Al Cobos answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Generations at Work: Tips and Takeaways for Criminal Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: As an elder Millennial, he’s 41 years old, I really value these conversations. I have a Generation Z employee, and I want our workplace to engage with her better. How do you recommend convincing site leadership predominantly Gen X and Boomers that these are important conversations to have when they are skeptical? 

Al Cobos: First off, particularly with our older generations, you know Gen X and Baby Boomers, what I think seems to really resonate with them is, “Hey, this is a retention strategy.” So, I would start with that. And this is a retention strategy, because Gen Zers, have options, they move around, and if we don’t make that connection with our Gen Zers, they may vote with their feet and just move on out and go to another organization. And the other aspect of that is you know, let’s say they ask, “So, what do we talk about? How do we connect with them?” And particularly Gen Zers and probably for your younger Millennials? And I like the way you put it, elder Millennial, I might. I might have to steal that one for my future class, elder Millennials. I guess that makes me an elder Gen Xer. But the Gen Zers want to see a connection between the job that they do to how it contributes to the organization, and if the organization itself is a public entity, you have to be able to talk about how that public entity benefits either a particular community, society kind of a broader base view, because it’s part of what they want to see in terms of the connection with the job that they do and the outputs that they create and how it connects to the broader world. In terms of the communication styles. Let’s say the Gen Xers and Millennials, “Alright, let’s sit down and have a meeting with all the Gen Zers…” Like, no, that’s not the way we should do it. That’s your preference. Let’s look at their preferences. Why don’t you start off by just sending her a text, Mr. Baby Boomer or Gen Xer? Send her a text or send him a text that says, “Hey, I appreciate the job you’re doing.” It’s a validation aspect of it. But now you’re starting to communicate, not at their level, but with the mode of communication that they prefer. But I think the key thing here is you’re starting to bring a person on board who may not want to text, may not want to use, let’s say a social media app to communicate with their employees. So, the change is taking place with them. It’s no different than the University of Phoenix story that I told. Like, hey, I kind of take offense to this student texting me. But I’ve got to make the change. And you know we’re constantly making these changes. Just a quick side story on this. And I told this class and this story a number of times. My youngest son is 26. He’s a Gen. Zier, and you know I’d call him on his phone. A phone that I was paying for at the time, and he would never call me back. And I would leave voicemails, and apparently you don’t leave voicemails anymore, and I didn’t know. So, he fixed me by leaving a voice message salutation that said, “Hey, this is Alex. Go ahead and leave a message. Oh, wait a minute, nobody leaves messages anymore, this isn’t the 1990s. Oh, yeah, I’m talking to you, Dad, don’t leave a message, please text me.” As you can imagine, I was kind of upset. It’s like, “Okay, I’m paying for this phone, but I can’t even leave a voicemail because it’s locked up.” So, I texted him, and who had to do the change? Who had to make the change there, it was me, and it’s no different than supervision. We have to relate to the younger generations, because again, ultimately, we’re going to hand it off to them. And then, when these Gen Zers think about it from this perspective, start complaining about Gen Alpha or the Polars, it’s the Millennials we’re going to have to have this conversation with the Gen Zs and say, “Hey, look

You got to you got to kind of adjust it with these Gen Alpha generations doing, or the Polars.” So, you know these conversations, they will move from generation to generation as a new cohort, a different generation comes into the workplace.  So, I hope that answers the question.


Audience Question: You know it does, but I’m going to throw a question at you. So, in this situation, where you have a Generation Z employee who maybe needs a little mentorship per se. And I know that’s certainly one of those characteristics that a lot of Boomers and certainly those of us in the elder generation X, I can’t believe I just use that about myself, but we also value as well. Is this an opportunity where Brett can bridge the gap between the 2 generations and say, “Hey, you know I’ve got this incredible employee tout their skills tout the opportunities and say, I think they would really benefit from having some one-on-one mentorship with you,” and carve it out in a way, so, it’s you’re mentoring them about how an organizational culture works, or how to be more assertive in the organization, or how to say things and make sure that your message is being heard among other employees. Is that an opportunity a golden opportunity for Brett? 

Al Cobos: Yes, it’s got to be. And again, there are many ways to do this. But yeah, the way I would recommend it is if you’re going to go down the mentorship path, I think you have to prepare both sides, the Gen Xers and the Gen Zer, we’re going to get you together. I think there’s a good opportunity for mentorship from both sides. And the reason why I say that is because, in order for the Gen Xer to mentor the Gen Zer, they have to understand how they want to be mentored. Because again, we go back to our supervisory preferences. The way I want to be mentored may not be the way that a Gen Zer wants to be mentored. So, you got to get into, probably maybe speak to them individually, “Hey, what’s your idea of mentoring someone or being mentored?” Ask the same person those 2 questions. Go to a Gen Xer or Gen Zer, find out what their preferences are, and I can almost guarantee you they’re going to be very different. If you don’t establish that knowledge base, to begin with, the mentoring process may not go well, and it will only validate each generation’s perspective that the other side doesn’t know what they’re doing or doesn’t care or doesn’t know how to mentor. So, if you can establish that ahead of time, you may have to do the communication between you two, it’s like, “All right, look, this is your style of mentoring, this is what you prefer, and how to mentor and how to be mentored. This is what they’re looking at. I think this is what you need to bring to the table to bridge that gap.” And then the same thing with the Gen Zer, “Hey, this is how they look at mentoring people. This is how I know you want to be mentored. These are the things I think you need to ask or bring to the table, so you can bridge the gap with them.” Also, it’s a 2-way street, and if there’s some success to that, it can be a template for how to do this with other people from different generations within the organization. So, it’s a big part about not looking at it from your perspective or just the other perspective. Although it’s a big part of it. But in this case, it’s how those two different perspectives, once you get that information, how do you draw the commonalities between the two. And then how do you set up the actual mentoring process to be as successful as possible? And I think once you establish what the expectations are for mentoring, then you can lay the groundwork of how they’re going to communicate with each other as equals in that mentoring process, because the Gen Xer is learning from the Gen Zer, “How do I mentor this person?” And the Gen Zer is learning what needs to be mentored. It’s two different things, but the skill sets are beneficial for both sides. And there’s actually teaching taking place from both generations.


Audience Question: How do you deal with the lack of work ethic in the younger generation? I get the loyalty aspect because I know we’re all just a number. But there also seems to be a lack of work ethic. Al, what’s your take on that? 

Al Cobos: You can have the conversations and expectations. I think, particularly Gen Zers, you have to tap into how their role taps into the broader organization. And if you think about how they look at these, and I’m speaking to generalities, there’s this collaborative approach that they like to utilize. And part of that means that they don’t have to do individual work and take responsibility for individual work. Because there’s this collaborative aspect of it, you can talk about expectations kind of like the onboarding question of why we exist. What’s the reason this part of the organization exists? What’s our role? What’s the broader view? But maybe setting up a team-based type of collaboration where they can work on projects together. If that’s an option. That way everybody has to produce their contributions for whatever the goal is. But let’s say it’s something where they are working individually for the most part, one of the strategies I would use is to try and tie their work into some type of team-based effort. That way they’re looking at it more as a collaborative issue than just, “Hey, you’re my supervisor. These are the daily expectations.” I would really try to incorporate some type of collaborative effort with the work that they’re doing. In addition to some of the onboarding questions that I think are culture-reinforcing questions which are why do we exist? What’s the reason we are doing our jobs here? What do we individually bring to the team? What’s the role of the team? And specifically, what’s my particular role within the team and contributions? And I would be very wary of telling them what their roles are and what their expectations are. I would ask questions to facilitate and draw that information out of them. Because if they’re voicing it one, it’s theirs, and two, if they’re voicing it, they’re much, much more likely to embrace it and you can keep going back to, “Hey, we talked about this, and we talked about the collaborative aspect that we do, what each person brings to the team,” even if they’re just working individually. And you know, as we talked about it, you had said that these are the different aspects of what you bring to the team. I want to make sure you can do those things as best as possible, you know. Is there some type of training? Is there some type of guidance or mentorship that can move you in that direction? But on the flip side, there’s a lot of touches in terms of reaching out to this particular person. It’s not like a crock pot. Set it forget it, and which I would say, is it probably a Gen Zer? You can set it. It’s going to it’s going to be done at some point. It’s going to take a lot more supervisory and managerial touches in terms of feedback following up with them, maybe even providing an outline. And I got this information from a Gen Z supervisor. Like, yeah, if I’m going to give something to a Gen Zer, it has to be laid out in an outline that will help out quite a bit.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Generations at Work: Tips and Takeaways for Criminal Justice Professionals.


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