Business leaders were encouraged to “cherish what we have in common” as a way to bridge generational differences at work during the second annual Business Leaders Forum sponsored by Brownwood Regional Medical Center Thursday.

“Personal attitudes most influence leadership success,” Greg Nelson, senior leader with The Studer Group and co-author of a book on health care management, told a lunch meeting with area managers and business owners. “In order to manage the generational differences, you’ve got to have that conversation. Your staff must work together. It’s a very critical strategy in talking about the idea of teamwork.”

Using examples from his own experience while also eliciting comments from the audience, Nelson said leaders must “get under the hood” and learn what motivates workers.

“You’ll find they’re aren’t necessarily good or bad, they’re just different,” Nelson said.

He asked for audience members to call out things that make life enjoyable, and then produced 20 taken from the reaction of previous audiences.

“With the possible exception of sex, they can all be found in the work place,” Nelson said of the list. And the list doesn’t vary by generation. Don’t start with the differences and what’s negative. Start with the things you have in common.”

For example, complaints about the work ethic of younger employees from older workers are often more of a reflection of different reference points among generations, Nelson said. He used the example of a high performing 25-year-old woman in his office who nevertheless adhered strictly to an 8 to 5 schedule, although she often worked through lunch. Nelson said he wasn’t pleased that she didn’t come in early and stay late, as he did, and after more than two years, she confronted him. His body language and attitude had given him away.

“‘I really enjoy my work, but I don’t enjoy working for you,’” Nelson said she told him. “We were able to work things out, but guess who did the changing? We tend to impose our own values on other generations.”

He also added that the direct nature of younger people, a nature that often prompts them to ask about compensation early in a job interview when that is considered a mistake by older workers, brought about the conversation. Otherwise, he said, an excellent but unhappy employee might have just quit.

Nelson pointed out characteristics of four separate generations of workers, and found agreement from members of the audience for the characteristics that he used to describe each. They are the traditional/mature generation born from 1900 to 1945, the boomers from 1946 to 1964, the Generation X’ers from 1965 to 1980, and the Nexters/Millenniums from 1981 to 1999.

He used the example of how his son, now a university medical student, studied for accelerated classes in high school. Nelson said his idea of studying involved a quiet room in front of a book in a room illuminated by only one desk lamp. Instead, his son studied with a television blaring, listening to music over a headset while sending instant messages to others in the class.

“He went through high school and made nothing but A’s,” Nelson said. “And there I was telling him how to study so he could make B’s like I did.”

It was the second year that officials from the Studer Group, a health care consulting firm, led a business leaders forum hosted by Brownwood Regional. Matt Maxfield, CEO, said the firm works extensively with hospitals both large and small to help “transform health care back to being a very patient-centered business.”

Most of the methods utilized by Studer are easily applicable to other industries, Maxfield said.

Studer Group representatives have been consulting with Brownwood Regional for three years, and Maxfield described the immediate changes last spring at the first forum. Further improvements, measured by client surveys and Gallup polling, were detailed Thursday. They included a dramatic jump last year in patient satisfaction with the emergency room into the top 1 percent of all hospitals in the United States. One key to that improvement, he said, has been a dramatic decline in turnover rate, and he described the steps taken by supervisors and managers that address that situation.

“The heart of our hospital is the culture,” Maxfield said, “and that’s a culture of service excellence… A culture, in short, is how we do things here. That’s easy to say we’re going to do, but very difficult to achieve.”

Maxfield said the average patient has contact with 45 different staff members.

“That’s lots of opportunities to do well, or to drop the ball,” Maxfield said. “It only takes one to drop the ball to erase all the other things done well.”

He said he stresses in new employee meetings the difference in owning a car and renting a car, explaining how car owners wash them and take car of them. The goal is to have employees take ownership in their work and the hospital, and not just to be renting it while they’re on the job.

Maxfield also outlined how supervisors follow up with new employees to gauge their progress and how they can help workers succeed.