Sandy Dubay Of PPR Strategies On How To Navigate The Generational Differences That Are Disrupting Workplaces

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Listen to learn. Active listening is the key to communication. When you truly listen to and comprehend the perspective of another person, you can gain so much insight.

Today’s workplaces are a melting pot of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers. Each generation brings its unique perspective, work ethic, communication styles, and values. While this diversity can foster innovation and creativity, it can also lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and productivity challenges. How can businesses effectively bridge these generational gaps to create harmonious and thriving work environments? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sandy Dubay.

Sandy Dubay, CEcD, is the CEO and Founder of PPR Strategies (formerly Platinum PR), a full-service communications agency that helps communities and destinations boost visibility and opportunity. As PPR Strategies’ fearless leader, she brings over 20 years of marketing experience to provide clients with savvy strategies and solutions. Passionate about placemaking, Sandy brings her talents as a marketing consultant, spokesperson, and economic development and tourism expert to communities around the country.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

As many students do, I entered college unsure of what career I wanted to pursue. After many conversations with a professor at Shepard University about my interests in economics, business, and my passion for placemaking, they recommended that I explore the realm of economic development. This started my journey to help communities thrive, and I began working in economic development in West Virginia and Maryland.

My experience in economic development, coupled with my passion for people and communities, inspired me to start my own company, Platinum PR. We’ve since evolved into PPR Strategies (People and Places Reimagined) to hone in on our expertise with place-based entities. Starting and growing this business has opened many doors for connection with communities nationwide from a grassroots perspective. Through PPR Strategies, our team helps position our clients for long-term growth through marketing and public relations.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

PPR Strategies uniquely specializes in economic development and place-based organizations. Our collective strengths and efforts center on the idea of “place” — whether that be workforce, economic, or visitor development. As a business led by a certified economic developer, we are uniquely positioned to understand the pain points of the communities that we work with to devise creative solutions, fill in the necessary gaps, and uplevel communities of every size.

Our team is small in size, but large in passion. As a boutique company, PPR Strategies leans in on problem-solving from a communication perspective to help people and places reshape or refine their narrative.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Three character traits that have been instrumental in my workplace are understanding the needs of others, fearlessness, and a passion for trying new things. Stepping into these traits gives me more potency as a business leader.

Hearing and understanding the stories of others fuels my fire. I enjoy listening to people tell their stories because it helps me understand their nuances. This skill has been crucial in better understanding my clientele and my team. I take great pride in building a team that complements PPR Strategies and brings unique elements to the table. This methodology can be done across generations, through the areas of background and specialization, or even geographic nuances. It is essential to me that my team find joy in the work that they are doing every day; I love helping to uncover everyone’s “superpower” and create a work environment that allows them to thrive and pursue their passion.

Maintaining the mindset that we, as individuals, are constantly evolving has always inspired me to try new things without the fear of making a mistake. Several years ago, I had a boss who said, “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t working hard enough.” I genuinely feel that there is something liberating about that statement; it takes off some of the pressure of perfection when striving to meet your goals.

In your experience, what are the most distinct characteristics, values, and work preferences of each generation currently present in the workplace?

This often boils down to the challenge of the stereotypes we place on people. In the modern-day workplace, there are many different expectations in which companies and employees operate. In recent years, I have interacted with many people who prefer the ‘stereotypical’ remote workplace for their generation. I have also interacted with others in the same age demographic who choose to work in person because they feel isolated working from home. I don’t think that work preferences impact employees’ quality of work. I have noticed that employees seek guidance and support for workplace success regardless of their preferred work environment or age.

Each generation has a unique set of values that are often shaped by their societal experiences or expectations. While Millennials and Gen Z often place a high value on work-life balance and flexibility, the Gen X generation is often perceived as workaholics who value autonomy and self-sufficiency. Recognizing the distinction in values, characteristics, and work preferences is vital for leaders to manage employees’ overall quality of life, regardless of their attitudes and expectations.

Can you describe a specific instance where generational differences caused a significant challenge in the workplace? How was it addressed, and what lessons were learned?

Within our team, generational differences are often an opportunity for laughter that leads to more serious consideration and thought. I am Gen X and see that the most significant challenges between generations occur with new team members who are recent graduates. These experiences are almost always centered around the need for more professional experience. It’s important to remember that new team members are not mind readers and may not know your expectations. An effective onboarding process can significantly support this process and minimize internal struggles. Having said that, I realize that I’m also periodically disconnected from current (Gen Z) cultural trends, which is when/why I rely on my daughter to keep me up-to-date.:-)

Technology adoption varies greatly between generations. How do you recommend companies bridge the tech-savviness gap without alienating any generational group?

Over the years, I have worked with many different generations internally and externally. From experience, I would say that all connection points, whether in tech or otherwise, start with a willingness to learn and listen. Creating an environment of curiosity without judgment is a great way to encourage younger and older generations to bridge the gap and stay knowledgeable on incoming technology.

How can organizations create cross-generational mentorship programs that allow older and younger employees to learn from each other?

I absolutely love the idea of instating mentorship programs within organizations. A few years ago, I interviewed organizations for a project that focused on the effectiveness of cross-generational mentorship programs. One of the organizations that I interviewed was challenged by the wide age gap between employees. Instead of connecting the eldest mentor to the youngest mentee, the organization minimized the age gap so that the mentor-and-mentee relationship could be a bit more relatable and still create cross-generation collaboration. When implementing a program like this, organizations need to look at their employees and consider what methods work best for their culture.

From face-to-face conversations to instant messaging, each generation has its own communication preferences. How can businesses foster effective communication that caters to these diverse preferences?

As a communications company, the PPR Strategies team needs to meet people where they are. This concept applies across all industries and relationships as well. The mode of communication we use depends on who we’re connecting with and their preferred way of receiving information. It is flexible. For effectiveness, I have found it essential to “go where your audience is” and determine how others want to receive their information. Communicating with them in that manner will get you a better result, even if it means stepping out of my comfort zone. Trust me, it is worth it.

How should training and development programs be tailored to cater to the unique learning styles and expectations of different generations?

Catered learning styles are more important across individuals in the workplace than they are for different generations. I have worked with tech-savvy baby boomers and, much to common disbelief, with less savvy Gen Z. It is important to debunk these misconceptions and not hold individuals to certain expectations due to their age. Instead, training and development programs should cater to each individual’s unique learning styles and expectations.

Organizations need to ask their employees: “How do you prefer to learn?” or “How do you prefer to receive information?” to best understand the learning styles of their team and focus less on age and more on the individual’s experience.

In what ways can leaders ensure they’re being inclusive and not harboring unconscious biases towards one generation over another?

Some of the most powerful ways that an organization can connect with all its employees is by asking questions and effectively communicating. When making decisions, leaders should consider everyone on their team as an individual with unique preferences. While there are generational differences in the workplace, each individual desires to work in the most supportive way.

Constant dialogue across the team and opportunities for individuals to share are keys to creating an inclusive workplace. Small groups that include different generations, skill levels, races, ethnicities, perspectives, and experiences can help employees connect and begin those conversations.

As we look towards the future and the eventual integration of newer generations into the workforce, what strategies should businesses implement now to be prepared for even more diverse generational dynamics?

Managing a multigenerational workforce will always be more effective with thoughtful communication. We all crave different perspectives and want to learn from those different from us — whether those differences are in gender, race, age, ethnic background, abilities, special skills, and experiences. The biggest challenge with the next generation entering the workplace is creating a synergy with the generations already there. It is not an “us versus them” scenario. Teams must recognize that they are all working towards the same goal. Businesses need to be welcoming, communicate needs and expectations, and be open to new ways of doing things to prepare for the more diverse generational dynamics.

I have started hiring people my daughter’s age, and that is fascinating to me. I love learning their nuances, ways of communication, and new experiences in the business application of technology. We have a lot to learn from the younger generation, and they have a lot to learn from us. My personal priority is to better understand other generations, both older and younger than me.

What are your “Five Things Leaders Need to Know About How to Navigate the Generational Differences that are Disrupting Workplaces”?

1 . Listen to learn. Active listening is the key to communication. When you truly listen to and comprehend the perspective of another person, you can gain so much insight.

2 . It is not about you. It is about them. This idea can be difficult for leaders, which is why I take the opportunity to stress it in every speech I give to economic development or other audiences. This involves communicating across individuals and ensuring we utilize the same platforms and preferred communication methods as our intended audience.

3 . None of us 100% conform to any stereotype. This is the biggest struggle I see with generational differences, which is why I feel the need to talk about it. I have seen many people criticizing millennials, Gen Z, baby boomers, etc. because individuals in those groups do not fit into someone’s generational expectations. As a business leader, it is essential to create a workplace environment that allows for EVERYONE to succeed.

4 . Forget about the stereotypes and learn about the person. Learning about each person as an individual with their unique experiences, backgrounds, skills, and interests is how you are going to reach common ground across employees and successfully navigate generational differences.

5 . The Golden Rule. I do not want to be defined by a stereotype, have someone put unnecessary expectations on me, or have people discredit me because of my perceived age, gender, or race. Treat others as you would like to be treated — it’s called the “Golden Rule” for a reason.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

As Tony Robbins shares, “Where focus goes, energy flows.” Energy flows where we put our attention and allows for amazing things to happen.

A money tree is thought to summon good luck and good fortune. When I pay attention and take proper care of my money tree, it thrives! It has been a fun symbol to signify growth, expansion, and maintaining company and personal financial goals. There is something special about putting in the effort to manifest our intentions, in whatever form that may take.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

At the moment, there are seven team members on my team working together and doing our best to produce great work for our clients. As the team leader, I am responsible for creating a culture and vision for the company so that everyone feels connected, supported, and empowered enough to perform at their highest level. While I love to see each individual grow within the company, I also want to help them grow as humans.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As I prepared for this interview, I have been thinking even more about these generational differences. If we all just break down the stereotypical conceptions instead of the high-rolling expectations, we would see the good in one another.

I believe that if you have thoughts or expectations, you should communicate them. Lean in! Be as kind and direct as possible, and create a work environment that you or your loved ones would want to work in. What are you doing today for future generations to feel comfortable and confident and perform as their best self?

How can our readers further follow you online?

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Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.