August 08, 2023

Author of “Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality”

Dana Bernardino

Clash of the Generations
1Huddle Podcast Episode #106

On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Val Grubb,  keynote speaker, executive coach, and author of The Clash of the Generations: Managing the New Workplace Reality. 

After starting out as an engineer, she moved to the business sector, helping to found two IAC companies that later bought other companies such as HSN, Ticketmaster, and Expedia. Additionally, she helped form Oxygen Media before it was bought by NBC Universal where she went on to become their VP of Strategic Operations.

Val has dedicated her career toward helping employers and their employees achieve higher productivity levels through her coaching and training programs. In this episode, she explains the importance of the shift in leadership ideals in this post-pandemic, “quiet quitting” era.

Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.


Below are some of the insights Dr. Val Grubb shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “As a manager, my goal is really to unleash the abilities of the people I supervise.”
  • “The moment Gen Z stops learning, they’re out of here.”
  • “I’ve been managing people for 30 years and I’m still learning.”

Sam Caucci (host): Let’s do it. Well,  I am excited to talk. Full transparency. I was given Clash of the Generations by a colleague, a bunch of months back, and I ripped right through it. It’s an awesome read, so that’s why I wanted to talk with you today. I guess to maybe kick it off, for folks who don’t know, maybe give them a little background on yourself and your practice, and your work and your book and start at the beginning.

Dr. Val Grubb: All right. That sounds great. Well, I will make it very quick though. So I am an engineer by training. I worked for an aircraft engine manufacturer, after graduation for, gosh, a long time, a decade or so, and then moved over to the business side of things, helped to found two companies IAC for Barry Diller.

We bought Home Shopping Network and Ticketmaster and Expedia bought Didn’t help me get a date, which I’m still a little angry about, Sam, I gotta admit. And was there for, gosh, three years and then moved over to help found the Oxygen channel for Oprah Winfrey, Marcy Carsey, and some other folks.

And I was with them until we sold the company. And now to NBC Universal. And now I’ve been out on my own for 15 years and I teach. I really focus on the skills needed to move from tactical thinking to strategic leadership and that included writing a book as you’ve mentioned. Thank you for that.

It’s called Clash of the Generations Managing the New Workplace Reality. And it really is a manager’s guide to how to up your people skills. It’s really about people management for anybody who’s done it for a long time, and if it’s something new for you that this book has got something for a little bit for everybody.

Sam: On that specific topic, on Clash of the Generations. You wrote it a few years ago. The world is, other stuff has happened in between that is, even maybe accelerated future of work as we talked today, you can’t turn the television on without hearing about ChatGPT and AI.

I think I just saw the White House doing a meeting about it. So a lot of stuff is sort of technology and work is shifting.I guess,what has proven most important, in your opinion for managers to consider as they think about their generational workforce? What is most important?

Val: Oh my goodness. So many things because it really, there’s just been so much change and really change on the expectations. You know, millennials, I think, drove a lot of this to begin with, and then life has intervened and caused a lot of this, and. Sort of Gen Z sort of on steroids.  I think the biggest thing at the top is just where you work flexibility in the work hours and this new generation.

And now it’s interesting because I know this new generation, like out of Covid, like it’s this idea now of working in an office for 40 plus hours a week. I mean, people just look at you like you got two heads anymore, and particularly because we proved that we could do it  in a lot of different instances, and so I think that’s typically what I say at the top of, the list that as a manager you’re gonna have to deal with, and you’re right.

Technology, no two ways about it. Like Gen Z, they’re gonna expect you to have the latest and greatest technology, and they’re gonna wanna implement and exploit the latest and greatest technology because they have never experienced a world without it. I think another thing is, people question, why are we doing it this way?

Like, I remember starting out and my boss said to do something like, I think I would’ve been fired had I asked him, well, why are we doing that? Why are we doing it this way? And now I’d be shocked if I don’t get that question. 


Val: So just a lot has really changed and expectations, on managers. Just so much so, it’s completely a different, Really a different environment versus when I started managing. And so it’s, but for me, I can say this, Sam, that it’s more exciting because I feel like it’s driving my leadership, my people leadership skills. It’s driving them to a new level. So instead of, I always, when I’m coaching folks, I say, don’t be annoyed, don’t be angry.

We were all in our twenties once and guaranteed you probably pushed the boundaries of whatever those boundaries were. This generation is just making us be better leaders, better managers.

Sam: Yeah. I love that. I think that’s, you’ve gotta continue to adapt, right? I mean, 

Val: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that really is the key is just thinking about things differently. 

Sam: Mm-hmm. 

Val: And just, it’s not business as usual. And I mean, we saw that during Covid, right? I mean, I hate to keep going back to that, but I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of businesses that aren’t around now because they weren’t able to adapt, and that’s not slowing down.

That’s not, we’re not going back to business as usual pre covid. It is really about exactly, to your point, Sam, that we have got to keep evolving, got to keep adapting. 

Sam: What are  like the specific, to double click on that, what do you think are the specific, when you say we’re not gonna go back, what are like some specific areas that if you were talking to a senior leader about, cause you spent a lot of time keynoting and advising and consulting and training on, in this area, what would you advise senior leaders to, not, cut corners on? Not pull back on, not reduce budget on in order to make sure that they’re moving their workforce in their business in the right direction versus kind of going back. 

Val: Yeah, absolutely. I can tell you the biggest thing I would say is, learning and development like this, if you want this group to stick around, this group is incredibly smart, and they want, the moment they start getting bored, they’re gonna move somewhere else. And the moment that they stop learning, they’re gone. They’re out. They are updating their LinkedIn and rolling out of here. But it’s not just, and actually what I would say is it’s actually not, we’re not just training Gen Z, it’s actually training Gen X, it’s training millennials on things like giving feedback. 

We have to give more feedback to this generation than any generation I’ve ever seen. Is that really gonna kill you? Like to give, “oh, I gotta give more feedback.” Who cares? Just do it. If it’s what they need to do in order to be better employees for you, make it happen.

Make it happen. And be that strong communicator. And I think that we really need to think about development at all levels and not just assume. Cause I think a lot of times we wanna train the, Gen Z, train the young people to be more like us, and that’s just not gonna happen. It’s really about developing our managers, developing senior leaders, developing anyone who’s in a management position to be a better leader for the folks who work for them now and You know, I think of communication, feedback, coaching. 

These are skills that you may not have had to use, and yet you’ve been this staggeringly successful people leader. Now, people who have been great leaders are struggling because they haven’t adapted how they approach this new set of employees.

And so we really need to focus on that and really kind of up people’s skills at all levels. I would certainly say, like I said, I would certainly say again that development, feedback and coaching. I would also say, I think it’s also, about just really upping communications and I guess feedback and coaching  are examples of communication, but things like transparency, look at who would’ve ever thought we would be in a situation where salaries are posted online, like who would’ve ever thought that would be the norm.

And yet it is this new generation really driving transparency and so that they can come in, and ask why again. And so just so many things. I think those are probably what really comes top of mind, Sam is, again, this communication, feedback, coaching, and part of communication I would certainly say is listening.

One of the things that I would say is the biggest thing is if you don’t listen to Gen Z, they’re gone. As they should be, by the way, like not listening to people just because they’re young is probably one of the worst things you can do. 

So when we think about communication, half that battle is actually listening to understand, listening to involve, not just listening to respond. “I’m waiting for you to be done so then I can respond and tell you how you’re gonna do it.” And so that, to me, those are all learned skills, of which we just need to focus on.

Sam: You had said old habits, not old people, kill innovation. Did you, see it’s like the last few weeks, it’s almost like some CEOs have just either gone crazy or just not realized that people record things. Did you see the CEO who was quoted on a Zoom call talking about, pity Island don’t go, you know, get off. 

Val: Oh my God. Not, Herman Koch.

It’s the folks who make the air on chairs. Oh my God. Could you believe that? 

Sam: And then, you had, and then you had the other gentleman who said, again, it was like back to back who made the comment about have to come back to work and pointed out that an employee sold their dog so that they can come back to work and we need to be doing more of that.

Don’t know if you saw that one too, but it was like.

Val:  That one I didn’t see, but I can tell you I’m gonna go hunt that rascal down. I mean, Thank God for these people cuz it’s gonna get, like, I got work for decades. It’s amazing though. I’m like, what reality are these people in?  I mean, how can that board possibly keep that woman a CEO? It’s just incredible to me.

Sam: Yeah. Yeah.  I, that came to mind as you talked about transparency and feedback because, that’s maybe an example of, I would, maybe it’s being too transparent about it. Maybe it’s like an example of, but it definitely, I think we you were living in a moment in time where things are moving faster than ever and there is natural, transparent things.

Communication can happen quicker. If you do the wrong thing, it’s gonna move fast. Maybe even. Yeah. On the other side, if you’re transparent about positives, they’ll move just as fast. you’re in your book,  there was a lot of research that you cited, quoted. is there, do you find yourself. As you’re talking to senior leaders and managers and reinforcing the points you’re making on feedback or on, transparency, is there any data, research studies or stories you constantly find yourself coming back to, to convince others about why this is an important, this, is an important change that, they should be taking on?

Val: Well, it’s interesting. One of my first questions that I ask is, how’s your turnover? So it’s their own data that I refer to. How many promotions are you making? Are you bringing in lots of young people, but yet they’re not staying to the next level? So I have attendance. What I find to be, and, and there’s lots of data out there that supports this, but everybody goes, oh, that’s somebody else.

As we saw with that video. Like, clearly that CEO thinks this is somebody else’s problem. And my question is, are you getting work done? Are you, are you hitting your goals? Are you, what’s the turnover? Are you promoting people? Do you have a succession plan? That’s the data that I always tell folks to look at because lemme tell you, you can find data that supports any, and when I’m coaching a CEO on what to do differently.

It’s talked to me about where your organization is, because then it really comes in and has a much more profound effect,  because  they see the gaps. And people sticking around for longer. Them not having succession plan. Keep people leaving and just being dorked by it because you don’t have anybody to fill their position.

Great leaders leaving and taking whole staffs with them, particularly when we see this non-compete coming out next year. Like there are some serious ramifications of the fact that you can’t put somebody in a non-compete or you can’t put them in a place where they can’t talk about what they’ve done.

So I find the most compelling data to be their own and that frightens senior leaders. And so when you’re looking at this journey, it is really about taking just a cold, hard look at your numbers and seeing: are you setting yourself up for the future? Not only all these things that are easy to compare, but things like, your sales numbers towards employees, revenue by employee.

Are you seeing that number go up? How can you do that going forward? Are you teaching your people to meet the skills? Do we even know what the skills are that you’re gonna need five years from now or ten years from now? That right there is the data that people don’t have, and so if you need to start with your own strategy and inward of what’s going on, and then take a really hard look at what you are missing.

And then start focusing and then get focusing on what, where we are going and how exactly we’re gonna get there. 

Sam: You know, the point you made around learning and development is often an area in a business that is thought of as a nice to have instead of a, I don’t know. You know what I’m saying? Nice to have versus need to have. It is something that is, I think, the first thing to go.

I don’t know if there’s a lot of data to support it just yet, but I think during covid, as HR teams got let go, a lot of organizations lost. Maybe the only people in the company thinking about those types of functions and responsibilities, whether they were doing them right or wrong, is a different conversation, but at least the people at the controls were, removed.

And so I guess as you think about how do you get a senior leader, to look at learning and development investments as just as important as investing in the customer or the guest experience. What are the things that you find yourself trying to, in trying to persuade a senior leader?

Val: Well, and I think, I look at that and say, yeah, you’re right. HR is the catalyst for learning and development, but really that’s on the leaders that what are you doing to signal to your direct reports? So, as a CEO, do you read books with your, Do you teach your direct reports? Do you read books on leadership?

Do you have conversations on leadership? I don’t need an HR department to tell me to do that if, if they’re seeing their CEO, who really takes the approach that by sharpening my direct report skills and then requiring them to do the same with their employees, I think that that’s a, like, yes, you need an HR person, but I think it’s indicative, it’s indicative of all, I think it’s on all leaders.

 The moment you sign on the line that you are managing people means that you constantly have to be sharpening your abilities. I think that’s part of the management responsibility that you’ve signed up for. And so as a CEO, do you give great feedback?

Do you do coaching, do you coach your employee, your direct reports on how to give great feedback on how to give, on how to coach their employees? Do you look at, and when you have open positions, say, alright, who’s ready for this? Who are we? Or do we automatically go outside and think that somebody outside is going to be better or are we thinking about succession planning and figuring out how do we move, how do we move Fela into another job? 

Because I’m looking at her as a general manager, she needs to be in all of these different roles. How much of that, and, and if you take that approach that, it is about continuing to elevate your employees skills, so, Then that and then requiring your managers to do that.

That’s how we get, starts at the top and goes down. Like, because look, an HR person can roll out the best training. I’m telling you that the best training you’ve ever seen on, let’s say managing employees. But if it’s not demonstrated at the top, eh, you know what? Save your money. Because it really is about the culture of whether or not you’re demanding the best from your leaders and demanding the best from yourself.

And so, I used to run a book club at Oxygen. We read books every quarter. Because it was just interesting and it was a way to learn, to keep learning my skills and, I mean we made it fun cuz I’d walk in and go, oh my god. How have I been in management for this long? Based on what I just read in radical candor, or things like this.

And so there we don’t need big budgets to do that. We just need to care enough about it to focus and think about how can I help my manager succeed? And that means, how much mentoring do I do one-on-one? How much mentoring and coaching do I do with my staff altogether so that I’m showing them it’s a priority?

Sam: It sounds to me, I mean, I love that and I think it sounds to me, in that one example, it is like a level of vulnerability that managers today, maybe need to exhibit as they are learning as well that may set a good example. Tell me if I’m wrong, like might set a good example for younger workers who, yeah, you’re trying to set the tone and, and so many frontline managers today, you think about, we talked about this before, like in the restaurant category, where so often than not the frontline manager, maybe a few seconds earlier, was just the bartender and 

Val: yep,

Sam: They’re thrust into this role with the responsibility of others, and the stress of that. They need to be able to have, to your point, the tools and systems, but also having the vulnerability, to accept that, you know what, we’re all beginners kind of right at some level and constantly learning. 

Val: Well, isn’t that the whole thing? I mean, gosh, so much, so many goodies to unpack in what you just said, Sam. You know, if you think about servant leadership, the whole idea of servant leadership is that inverted pyramid, meaning I’m not at the top of the pyramid, I’m actually at the bottom holding everybody else up.

 And in that, if my real goal is to unleash. As a manager, my goal is really to unleash the abilities in the folks who I have been charged with. And that, you know, I don’t know what, what excites you may be different than what excites, Tyrell over here.

And so being vulnerable by saying, “Hey, tell me how I can be the best leader to you.” Because what I do for Sam may not be the same thing for Tyrell and that is, and you know what? Sometimes I’ve come back and said, I had a woman working for me who I could tell the moment she started shutting down.

And I’m like, “Hey, Susie. I need you to know something in what I’m doing is shutting you down. And I don’t know what that is. Can you help me to understand what that is?” And she gave me some pretty tough feedback. And my only response was, I bet you that was difficult to share, based on I have a strong personality.

Bet you that was difficult to share. I really appreciate it. Said, I’m gonna think on this and I’ll tell you, I’m gonna do my best because I need you. I need you to not shut down. And so, can we work together to figure out when I start to overwhelm you, can you say nothing? Just give me a timeout sign. Would you feel comfortable doing that?

And I’ll lower myself because when I get fired up, I speak louder. I speak with more force. All of these things that were just bowling her over and it was amazing in four weeks. So  I said, I don’t have all the answers, but I’m willing to work with you and if I can, and so, exactly to your point, Sam, about being vulnerable.

I always say that, You know, I just,  I’ll tell you, I just had a coaching session this morning with a gentleman who’s new to being a manager and interesting. He’s been in there a while, like coming up on a year and he’s not doing well. They’ve given him no training and no, even the CEO is not spending time mentoring him, and so he was promoted because he’s a fabulous individual contributor. 

Now, everything he knows has nothing to do with leading employees. So he has gotta leave all that behind. And now it’s about motivating and engaging and firing up other people. And to do that, like if you’re, if you don’t wanna send him to school or send money, that’s fine, then you’re gonna have to do it yourself as a leader.

And I said to him, I said, look, you don’t need to be, you are the expert walking in in your segment, but you don’t need to know all the answers. The key is, you’ve got others to rely on. So, and it’s back to exactly your point about that vulnerability. Get comfortable with the fact that. It isn’t always gonna be great.

It isn’t. You’re still learning. Look, I’m always learning and I’ve been managing people for 30 years and I’m still learning. So, and if we can take that approach that:I’m good at what I do. I can motivate and engage. Can I do that a hundred percent across the board? Nope. And can I do that coming in?

No, because I gotta learn the employees and that’s all right. It is about having that open communication and really being open to learn and then taking even feedback that we receive and not being angry or you don’t understand, and seeing where we can come in and be a better leader for that employee.

Sam: You probably didn’t expect this question, but I have a feeling that you’ll have a great answer to it. 

Val: I like it. 

Sam: So I’m gonna ask, there’s all types of books over the decades that have been managed, you know, apply,  adopted by managers in different eras, Good to Great, Seven habits.

Val: Some great ones you just whipped out. 

Sam: Yeah, like there’s always something and then there’s always CEOs that like to latch onto one and that’s their system. Which, which book do you feel like we should get rid of? Which book would you wish executives would stop? Quoting or get off their desk because maybe it doesn’t fit anymore.Is there any model that people need to let go of? 

Val:Yeah, I mean, I hate to say this, but I feel like the Jack Welsh area, era, I mean, he’s written a lot of, and look, I mean, the dude was, I mean, very clearly he drove GE to new heights that no CEO after him has been able to, to really see and I just, I think that would be, if, if Jack Welsh were in charge today, it, I think it would be a very interesting, a very interesting to see if he would have as much success now as he had back then, because I think that it was, it’s just such a different, just such a different.

You know, leadership is just different. Leadership in 2023 is just very different than when he was in charge. And so,I know we all like it. And look, the, the, the guy obviously was a genius. But I just don’t know that that would not be my first book to go towards.  if I was trying to learn how to manage, if you will, 

Sam:I hear you well, Val, I appreciate your time. Last question for you. A lot of what you’re talking about affects this future of work moment we’re in. So I wanna ask you, what is your hope for the future of work? 

Val: Oh my gosh. I hope we just start listening. I hope that we, I think that there needs to be listening all in the, in the world and just, being more tolerant of, we talk about diverse views.

We, everybody talks about, we want, yeah, we want opposing viewpoints in the room, but really we don’t. And so I guess I just hope for the workforce of the future that we actually care about folks. Others who report to us versus be more than ourselves, and that we actually just listen and understand that to have the honor of being somebody’s leader.

There’s. There’s responsibility with that. And we have to take that very seriously and really be the best leader that that employee needs. And that’s what I hope that we, that we kind of embrace this change and stop trying to go back and instead keep moving into the future of what work needs, of what our employees, what our workforce needs.

Sam:Val, thank you for taking time. 

Val: Oh my gosh. You’re so welcome, Sam. Thank you so much. This has been very fun.

Topics Discussed: Future of Work, Generations, Gen Z, Millennials, Skills, Work, Coaches, Management, Leadership, Training

Dana Bernardino, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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