Uniting generations in the workplace using the appreciative inquiry approach


[Republished blog assignment for my CMNS 380 class from Winter, 2012]

Uniting Generations in the Workplace Using the Appreciative Inquiry Approach

By: Erin Hailstonegarden

Picture a bright, colourful and well established garden. Visualize pink and yellow roses, purple lavender and fresh spring daffodils. Notice how each and every plant lives together symbiotically to create this garden. The new, young green shoots stand side by side with the older more seasoned bushes and shrubs.

Here every plant feeds from the same nutrients in the soil, the same water from the earth and the same bright sunshine. The garden plants all require positive attention- fertilizing, watering and tilling of the soil- to grow to their full potential.

Now imagine your multigenerational workplace as the same garden. It contains older, well established members who have built a solid foundation of “roots” within the workplace. They have weathered the seasons holding together the “soil” of the establishment through policy and procedure. It also contains new less established workers…some who may only last a season or two. Bringing with them vibrant color and changes to the structure of the workplace garden.

In this picture workers appreciate that everyone adds value to the workplace garden. They all understand the strengths of the organization…they continually focus on “what is working” in the workplace garden and not “what is missing”. This vision-of what is working-acts to create growth and success for the workers.

The caring gardeners, or workplace leaders, provide positive essential “nutrients” to assist the workplace garden in achieving its success. Never hacking and chopping at problems, criticizing and destroying delicate possibilities in the process.

The Appreciative Inquiry Approach

What if we decided to focus our energy on “what is working” instead of “what is missing” in the workplace? We would no longer have a deficit-focused approach highlighting failures and invoking criticism but an inquiry that appreciates the positive.

What if we, as the members of an organization, also believed that an emphasis on negative thinking can dampen opportunities for creative resolution?  Recognizing that believing it should be “fixed” implies that it is “broken”. That paying attention to the “problems” simply amplifies them.

This is the Appreciative Inquiry Approach, or AI, and it was developed at Case Western Reserve University in the 1980’s by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva .  The basic premise of AI is that “organisations change in the direction in which they inquire.’ So an organisation which inquires into problems will keep finding problems but an organisation which attempts to appreciate what is best in itself will discover more and more that is good” (Seel, 2008)

How Will Appreciative Inquiry Assist in Uniting a Multigenerational Workplace?

“Not only do we see what we believe, but the very act of believing it creates it.” (Bushe, 1995)

Appreciative Inquiry is an asset-based approach that focuses on the value contributed by each and every person within the organization-regardless of age.  The AI approach does not focus on changing people. It allows people to be involved with building the kinds of organizations they want to be a part of.

AI creates collaboration between multigenerational workers by building consent within the system about “what can and should be?” So although there may be differences in the communication styles and attitudes, within the multigenerational workplace, AI can help to unite organizations by allowing people to inquire together using the “4-D” approach:

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
  4. DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design*

AI shifts the focus of the multigenerational workplace away from the differences that exist (the deficit) and toward affirmation of the benefits and strengths of the group…a valuable approach in today’s multigenerational environment.

“Appreciative Inquiry is the cooperative search for the best in people, their organizations, and the world around them.”(Cooperrider & Whitney, 1995)



Cooperrider, D.L. & Whitney, D. (2007). Appreciative Inquiry: A positive revolution in change. In P. Holman & T. Devane (eds.), The Change Handbook, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., pages 245-263.

Richard Seel, 2008. “Appreciative Inquiry.” http://www.new-paradigm.co.uk/Appreciative.htm

Bushe, G.R. & Coetzer, G. (1995). Appreciative inquiry as a team development intervention: A controlled experiment. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 31:1, 19-31.

Gamification and motivation

[Republished blog assignment for my CMNS 380 class from Winter, 2012]

Gamification and Motivation

By: Trevor Kavanaugh

The emerging workforce is a gaming workforce. Gaming now surpasses the movie industry for popularity and revenue. People get bored and uninterested in the workplace, but can game for hours on end. Companies are starting to develop systems in the workplace with elements of game thinking and game mechanics. This process is called Gamification. Growing up, games were usually based on simple hand-eye coordination and timing. Pac-man, Asteroids, Super Mario Bros… But the model of gaming has changed and it is starting to be reflected in the workplace. Modern games are socially connected, creatively open, and brimming with multitasking.

An excellent example of Gamification is a program called RedCritter Tracker. This free project management application combines rewards and social connectivity. After a project leader assigns tasks, RedCritter helps motivate staff by rewarding them with badges and points upon completion. There are even badges that can be stolen back and forth between employees in the spirit of jolly competition. For example, a ‘marathon’ badge could be offered to the employee who logged the most hours writing code in the last week. If another employee surpasses the hours, they steal the badge. There are even Facebook-like RedCritter Tracker profile pages for each employee that lets them compare stats, badges, and stories with their colleagues. This also allows them to communicate about their tasks and brings a visual element to the communication.

The company can choose to offer points for each task or badge. The employee can then spend the points on real-life prizes. These tangible rewards paired with the satisfaction of badges and checking tasks off as completed (and sharing it on your RedCritter wall) motivates workers.

The motivation to persevere [in games] is the brain seeking another surge of dopamine – the fuel of intrinsic reinforcement.” (Judy Willis, MD)

Gaming is addictive. Bringing this system of achievement and sharing that achievement with your friends/coworkers can motivate employees and boost productivity in a company. But there are also some down sides to this system:

  1. The points given must match the task size. Otherwise, employees might complain about unfair point distribution. This would be highly dispiriting for staff.
  2. The project leader can observe employees’ work and progress more closely. This may be good for the employer, but it may lead to more pressure and stress for the employee.

For employers, using this method of game thinking and game mechanics can motivate and engage their employees. Systems like this reflect a changing workplace model as we engage an emerging gaming workforce.

References/more info:

Is there such a thing as young and old humour?

age gap

[Republished blog assignment for my CMNS 380 class from Winter, 2012]

Is There Such a Thing as Young and Old Humour?

By: Jacky Kim

So how many times have you been asked a dry “Knock knock” joke? Some may think they’re lame (to be honest that would include me) or childish. Or what about the time your “older” co-worker refers to an idiom or an “old saying” as a joke. Again, I would be the one who would let out that awkward laugh and pretend it’s funny. As a Generation Y, what do I find humorous? Definitely, that hilarious “Laughing Baby” viral video making hits on YouTube! Or that amusing clip on Asian vs. White parents. Now would other generations, especially the older generations, think the same? Of course, there will be some who find it funny, while some would think it’s inappropriate or immature. Does this mean there is a division between different generations on humor? Now personally, (correct me if I’m wrong) I think this is not the case. Just like any other situation, it TOTALLY depends on the person we are talking about, is it not? Generally speaking, we would believe that the older generations would feel uncomfortable with some topics such as racism or sexist jokes. Why do you ask? Well let’s go back in time, way before the inventions of Ipods, Imax movies, and the internet (yes that would include Facebook and Twitter). Life was much tougher for some people, especially women and coloured individuals. They couldn’t vote, apply for certain jobs, or do certain things. These people had to fight for their freedom and rights. Now, let’s come back and think in their mind set. Would they find the Asian vs. White parent video funny? If they did, would they feel that they SHOULDN’T find it funny as they remember it being a sensitive topic and grew up knowing it was inappropriate to make fun of or let alone mention it at all.

Now before you get offended and think I’m too blunt and general about this topic. I AM. Let’s not forget this is a BLOG not a history book. I’m just touching on this topic, and it IS about humor so let’s not get TOO SERIOUS.

cartoon 1

To change things up a bit lets discuss about the younger generations. Humor, is much more crude these days, don’t you agree? From, sexually active cartoon characters on TV, to extremely violent humor, its just over all vulgar. Every trend on the news, whether its a world crisis, or politics, they are all made fun of in the most insensitive way possible. And guess what? Us youngin’s are LOVING it. Well not all of us, but MOST of us. Now why would that be? Well some might say its due to us not actually having to experience the impact of the situation. Do we actually know what it’s like to be stripped away of certain abilities and rights? Not really. So this could be a reason why we deal with such crucial issues so lightly. We also happen to have something called the internet, where we can bash and criticize all we want and get away with it. Racism still exists, but we can now play around with it without the punishment. Social media has played a great role in easing the intensity of serious topics and turning them into humor. Did I mention one of the most successful comedians today, became such a hit for joking about not only his nationality but others as well.

age gap

So to sum things up, the older generations DO have a sense of humor and possibly find crude jokes humorous but express as it being inappropriate due to what they know from the past. While the younger generation, aren’t immaturely or inappropriately humorous but are just joking around with what is considered funny in today’s world.

Now how does this all tie in with the work place?

cartoon 3

In a cross generational workplace, or in any type of workplace, humor plays a big part on stress relief. Laughter, a reaction to humor, releases endorphin that reduce stress as well as creating a sense of wellbeing and making you feel more alert. Now who wouldn’t want that in their work life?

The problem is, it CAN backfire. Humor is PERSONAL so what one person thinks is hilarious, could be offensive to another. So how do we avoid this?


– Before you start joking around, get to know WHO you are communicating with. Whether they are older or younger they are ALL different and have different senses of humor. Don’t assume that a certain someone will appreciate your silly joke just because they are from a younger generation. Also, that “awkward silence” moment might be due to YOUR joke NOT being funny and rather offensive, instead of you thinking that they don’t get it.


-This is referring to both sides. We all must be sensitive when we are SHARING humor as well as when we are RECEIVING humor. By being sensitive, I mean being aware of WHAT and WHOM you’re sharing to, and when receiving being open minded and thinking of WHY and WHOM it’s coming from.


-If you feel strongly offended by certain humor that is being told to you or is being said, clearly state that what they are saying is uncomfortable to you. On the other hand, if someone finds something you meant to be humorous as offensive immediately apologize and explain that your intentions were different.


-Humor is essential in the workplace. Don’t be intimidated to joke around because you are extra concerned for others. Be yourself and just be cautious.

Think before you post

i see you

[Republished blog assignment for my CMNS 380 class from Winter, 2012]

Think Before You Post

By: Daphne Cockerill

It’s time to spiff up my Facebook page if I want to land a great job. Fifty-two percent of Canadian employers do background checks using Facebook to confirm a job candidate’s qualifications. A percentage of employers also are checking social media sites such as “…LinkedIn (39%), followed by personal blogs (25%), MySpace (23%) and Twitter (11%)”.

i see youI began to think about my own information on the internet. Are there drawbacks to having my personal information available online? How do I feel about posting my personal information on the internet? Have I ever posted and wished I could immediately reclaim the words? Do I believe everything I read on the internet?

Emailing your resume to a potential employer may not be enough to defeat your job competition. Job seekers now post their credentials directly online. Employers request pre-taped or live web-based videos as a replacement for traditional face-to-face interviews. Using Skype and a web camera people can video call over the internet for free. Recruitment agencies like Meet the Real Me focus on providing online interview services for companies.

Employers and candidates are happy using digital interviews as it saves both time and money. Job seekers can rerecord videos until they perfect their skills. Employers can replay videos instead of relying on hand notes. One human resources director says video interviews allow, “…people to stand out from paper and you can assess cultural fit and the way that somebody actually comes across on screen in terms of your values.”

Connecting to people in your career field? LinkedIn is used by almost two million Canadians to help them advance in their careers. Generation X professionals go to LinkedIn to connect, exchange, and post job information with past and present coworkers. Recruitment agencies then go to LinkedIn and search for job candidates. “Just remember, if you decide to create a LinkedIn profile, keep your information professional. It’s best to save your personal information for the other social networking websites.”

Young and older generations are also actively engaging in social networking. Recent Generation Y graduates use MySpace to post personal information about themselves in the hopes of being hired. Controversy surrounds MySpace as some believe it exposes young people’s information to criminals. Baby boomers working past retirement telecommute with work using social networking sites. “Thirty-seven percent of Canadians 65 and over have visited Facebook in the past month.

Gaining immense popularity is Twitter, an information network where people can share real-time messages (called Tweets). In 2011, Twitter announced, “…it now boasts 100 million active users, half of which tweet to the site on a daily basis.” Twitter helps companies and professionals to create immediate interest and to quickly connect. Twitter demands attention so tweet regularly and be honest about yourself. With no Twitter privacy settings, everyone will have real time access to your information.

Some social media posting tips include:

  • Setting your software’s privacy settings to control who shares in your information.
  • Being wise in what you choose to post.
  • Posting when you are in a positive mood.
  • Using proper grammar and spelling if posting to a business website.
  • Posting information relevant to the job you are applying and not your entire life story.

Remember – think before you post as your potential future employer might be looking.



Millennial generation rule breakers are the new rule makers

kick back at work

[Republished blog assignment for my CMNS 380 class from Winter, 2012]

Millennial Generation Rule Breakers are the New Rule Makers

By: Tammy MacAdams  CMNS 380, 2012

Perhaps you have heard of the Millennial Generation invading the office with their flip flops and their Flicker breaks? The millennial generation are rule breakers in the workplace, but will they soon be the next rule makers?kick back at work

The teenagers and 20-something’s that make up  the millennial generation are rapidly entering the workplace. According to SocialCast.com, “By the year 2015, the youngest millennials will be of working age, while the oldest will be entering the prime of their careers, and they currently comprise roughly 35% of the U.S. workforce, but by 2014, are projected to be 47%.” This generation is driven, tech-savvy, relationship-oriented, socially responsible, and they will change how we communicate and do business.

With their tattoos and body piercings the millennial generation have unique ways of self-expression that are not typical of orthodox Ivy Leaguers, but don’t let that fool you. An

article on U.S.A Today.com reports, “The most detailed study to date of the 18 to 29-year-old millennial generation finds this group probably will be the most educated in American history.”  With education under their belts, they will be quick to gain experience and fill senior roles. As they take the lead, their desire for real-time information along with their ability to stay connected will result in increased efficiency and collaboration in the workplace. In addition, being wired and connected almost from birth, this generation understands how to manage social media. As more companies embrace social media, the millennials will be playing instrumental roles in taking it to the next level.

When millennials are calling the shots, there will be flexible work environments and shorter work days. Friends and family are important to this generation so staying at a cubicle for eight hours a day won’t work. Millineials understand that work must be done and deadlines need to be met, but you are more likely to find a millennial working on the annual report after hours at Starbucks, than at their desk on a Monday afternoon. Their unorthodox views of working when most are sleeping, or Skyping in instead of driving to meetings may be seen as being unproductive to some, but rest assured millennials will figure how to get as much done in five to six hours as most people do in eight.

With Baby boomers retiring en mass, you may notice an influx of new hire announcements in your inbox, and it is a good bet that many of them are from the millennial generation. It is clear the millennial generation’s loud voice is being heard by decision makers. They will soon gain the experience to move up the corporate ladder and change the workplace for the better.

Gen Mixing: Teaching in a cross-generational classroom

group blog

During the winter 2012 semester I taught a course (CMNS 380) called The Cross-Generational Workplace: Closing the Communication Gapgroup blog

I designed this course to provide students with the skills needed to interact and communicate effectively within a day-to-day workplace environment and build on the potential that a cross-generational workplace can have.

The workplace now has at least four generations of employees. Gone are the long held stereotypes of generational level expertise. Younger people are bringing technologically advanced skills to the workplace; and experienced older people are working well past traditional retirement age to contribute their intellectual capital.

The course turned out even better than I planned. You have to love it when that happens!

The classroom mirrored the cross-generational phenomenon occurring in our workplaces.  There were students from every defined generational group: the Traditionalists, the Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials (also known as Gen Y).

As a class we even had a great debate about how we felt about the new labels being given to the generation just about to enter university.  Depending on what you read you will see this new group of students being called Gen Now, Gen Net, Gen Z, the Internet Gen – and even Gen 911.

It will be interesting to watch which of these labels will stick!

So what is it like teaching a cross-generational class?

I like to think of teaching this course as “gen mixing.” This meant that my teaching and learning strategies needed to be just that :  a mix!

There were print materials, formal lectures, online discussions, visual student lead presentations, creative group collaboration assignments, student lead online presentations and social media engagement.  The course was delivered as a hybrid; some weeks we met face-to-face and sometimes we held the class virtually.

We mixed it up!

One of the class’s favourite assignments was the course blog.  This was done instead of a formal paper.  What the students appreciated about this assignment is that they got to see each other’s writing, and learn from each other.  And for those students without techno-literate skills – they had the chance to embrace a new communication avenue.

Each student created a blog posting on a topic related to cross-generational communication that interested them. Though the course blog was erased at the conclusion of the course, over the next couple of weeks I will be sharing with you five student blog contributions:

  • Tammy MacAdams, “Millennial Generation Rule Breakers are the New Rule Makers”
  • Daphne Cockerill, “Think Before You Post”
  • Jacky Kim, “Is There Such a Thing as Young and Old Humour?”
  • Trevor Kavanagh, “Gamification and Motivation”
  • Erin Hailstone, “Uniting Generations in the Workplace Using the Appreciative Inquiry Approach”

My thanks to Tammy, Daphne, Jacky, Trevor and Eric for permission to share your insights!

As Carolyn Martin and Bruce Tulgan put it in Managing the generation mix, “The most successful people in the twenty-first century will be true Gen-Mixers, people of all ages who bring to work every day their enthusiasm, flexibility, and voracious desire to learn.” My students in CMNS 380 showed just these traits in making the course a success.