Workforce success = understanding, embracing team member differences

U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville
Published March 4, 2016
Sue Engelhardt, USACE Director of Human Resources, delivered two engaging presentations for Huntsville Center supervisors and employees March 2 to kick off Women's History Month.

Sue Engelhardt, USACE Director of Human Resources, delivered two engaging presentations for Huntsville Center supervisors and employees March 2 to kick off Women's History Month.

Identifying, understanding, appreciating and making the most of employee differences within teams and across the organization was the theme echoing throughout two interactive, engaging, laughter-filled presentations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Director of Human Resources Sue Engelhardt.

Invited to the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville March 2 to kick off Women’s History Month, Engelhardt delivered supervisor training on recognizing individual work styles in the morning and a centerwide presentation on embracing generational differences in the afternoon.

“We are going to have some fun, we are going to make fun of people, and I’m going to make fun of myself,” Engelhardt said, opening the first of her presentations, both of which had the audience laughing, drawing, singing, cracking jokes and – most importantly – thinking, communicating and learning.

Engelhardt, who was appointed to the Senior Executive Service at USACE Headquarters in May 2009, engaged the supervisors in a discussion about the four work styles identified in the Gregorc Style Delineator: Concrete Sequential, Concrete Random, Abstract Sequential and Abstract Random – or as she prefers to call them:  Doers, Seers, Thinkers and Feelers.

The training separated leaders into groups in which everyone had the same dominant work style. After a couple of interactive exercises, Engelhardt asked the room, “Wouldn’t it have been better if I’d mixed people up?

“We would have had better products, probably more talking, more dialogue and people would have come together better. You need to have those different work styles coming together,” she said.

“We are all different styles,” she said. “We really need to think about being broad minded about what all these work styles bring to the table. The way we see things and the way we work make a big difference, and we have to understand that.

“One of the most important things we can do is go to lunch with someone in another part of the organization and talk about stuff that’s going on and bring the information back … It’s one of the most important things we can do, and we don’t do it. I’ve really learned that as I’ve grown up in the world. What I have to do as a senior leader is to build relationships.”

A similar message was repeated in the afternoon session with regard to generational differences, when Engelhardt discussed characteristics of the generations: Traditionalists (born before 1946), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation Xers (1965-1981) and Millennials (1982-2000).

“This impacts all of us. This is the first time we’ve ever had four generations at work,” said Engelhardt, adding that it’s critical to know how people from each generation act and react to one another.

She said one primary thing she really wanted people to take away from her presentation was the importance of feedback and how and why generations differ in the way they prefer to give and receive feedback.

Younger employees want to know how they are doing. “It’s one thing that is going to drive Millennials and Gen Xers away – if we don’t give feedback,” Engelhardt said.

Why should organizations talk about this? While Millennials are a small percentage of the Corps of Engineers civilian workforce today – just 17 percent as of January 2016 – she said they will rapidly become the largest percentage of the workforce.

“It’s not just about Millennials,” she said, “and it’s not just about us [Baby Boomers] understanding Millennials. It’s also about Millennials understanding the generations that came before them.”

Talking about diversity – whether gender, ethnicity, generational or work style – is about recruiting and retaining the very best talent in our organization, according to Engelhardt. The key to success in the workforce is understanding and valuing what every individual brings to the team.