Editor’s note: This is the second article in a three-part series on what an advisory firm did to get its older and younger professionals to understand each other and work better together. Click here to read the first article.

I am blessed to work with a gifted team of young professionals. Within our investment firm, I am the old man who some would say is stuck in his ways. After working with my investment team for the past five years, we continued to experience many of the same mistakes within our organization. As much as I tried to lead, we were stuck and morale was eroding. Something was wrong and we recognized the need to bring consultants in to help identify the gaps. The consultants didn’t waste time and were very clear to point out that there were generational differences between my expectations, how I approached problem solving and how this younger generation approached learning and solving problems. Their advice was to begin the process with each team member taking an assessment test in an effort to develop a better sense of self-awareness.

When I started my career in the early 1980s, corporate America was at the doorstep of a tsunami of change in technology in the workplace. I watched the typewriters leave the bank trust floor in 1987 when everyone got personal computers. I remember when the Internet was accessible to us in 1993 and that insecure feeling of not knowing what it was supposed to do for me. My team all grew up knowing how to tap the power of the smartphone. They seem to miss many of my jokes and references to classic films like Casablanca, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Austin Powers. I was about to learn how our generations view differences in technology in the workplace.  

One example of this difference is the newspaper. While working with more experienced analysts than me, I learned early in my career to read two newspapers a day. Today, even though I have access to an endless number of news services on the Internet, I still maintain the discipline of reading two newspapers a day. The younger team members thought I was old fashion and didn’t see the value in getting ink on their hands since all their news was pushed to them through their smartphone. I grew frustrated that my team was not able to engage more deeply in the conversations related to the economy, the world, investments and the latest on Prince Harry and Megan. We needed help to better understand each other’s perspective of accessing technology and integrating into a disciplined work environment.

My perspective working on teams with other investment professionals was shaped over 20 years ago after I took a job at a large insurance company in the Midwest. It was the first time in my career where I worked alongside absolutely brilliant people. And, not being as intellectually gifted, I had to work harder to keep up. To compound the long hours, the organizational culture could lean more toward a fraternity and less toward inclusion and collaboration.  After our staff ballooned to over 200 people in the investment division, the executive leadership team recognized we had problems that we could not solve ourselves.

With the help of some gifted consultants, we learned that we were failing to understand and recognize the emotional intelligence of the person. With coaching from the Gallup organization, every employee took the StrengthsFinder assessment. There began an understanding within the leadership team that we were all wired differently with different talents. We also learned that some talents could cause problems if they didn’t align with the job responsibilities. This journey, which clearly had nothing to do with corporate earnings, convexity or performance attribution, created an awareness that changed how I approach team building and managing teams of professionals.

Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Paradoxically, self-awareness is a gift we cannot give to someone else. But, an assessment can help to release that gift for us. Today, our organization is smaller, but the challenges are similar. We have identified that we have differences between how the generations approach and solve problems within the office. With help from some gifted consultants, we are in the process of working through assessment results to better understand how each of us is wired. The next step is to work with the consultants through one-on-one coaching to develop individual plans to help with engagement.

Gregory J. Hahn, CFA, is president and chief investment officer of Winthrop Capital Management.