Our Inner Circle discussion yesterday at British Airways headquarters in New York City was terrific. Along with the senior business executives who are regulars at our breakfasts, we included two young entrepreneurs who are running innovative businesses, both Gen Y women, and they shook up the group in a provocative way. Many senior executives have not been in deep conversation with gen y'ers and are surprised at their candor, confidence, even fierceness about what they believe. Their behavior does not include deference or awe in regards to the senior people in the room; they assume they are peers. And protocol be damned.
A small example: I always give a great deal of thought to the seating arrangement around the table. I feel it important to place people next to others they may have a reason to know, either because they are in related businesses or have mutual interests I know about. And I also arrange people in ways that ensure give and take from every corner of the room, interspersing the more talkative folks among the group. We designate each person's place with a table "tent" that has his/her name on it, so that everyone around the table knows who is speaking and attendees can address each other easily.
The room was air conditioned...in fact it was downright cold. We all adjusted to it and dived into the conversation. Except, that is, for one of our guests. That young woman--while someone was making a point--stood up and moved her chair to another area of the table where she planned to make room for herself because it was further from the air conditioner than her assigned place. Our host for the day, when he saw her effort to change her seat, offered to trade places with her. So she took his place and he, hers.
Most people I know would not have interrupted the group with that kind of activity. Perhaps if I was really freezing and was concerned for my health, I would as unobtrusively as possible go up to the host and whisper a request to change my seat. Maybe. And if the host himself offered to exchange seats with me, I would graciously refuse, feeling it was inappropriate for me as a guest to take the seat of the host. Most likely, rather than take any action at all, I'd sit there and live with the discomfort. Not our young friend yesterday. She got the place she wanted and the conversation moved on. That, I'm told, is typical Gen Y behavior. They know what they want and they go for it.
As to the discussion around the table, I invite people to challenge each other and to offer alternative perspectives on points made by others in the room. That's what keeps the conversation highly interactive and fast moving. Usually, newcomers--even the most senior-- will hold back for a bit until they see how others handle that aspect of the Inner Circle, and then jump in. But this young woman interrupted early on and frequently, asked provocative questions and mixed things up. It was fresh and added energy to the mix.
It was also surprising. A real life example of the challenges of the generational conversation taking place in many corporations. The times they are a'changin.'