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Why The Green Need The Gray

Last week I launched a new series of posts about the Green and the Gray. The follow up to the initial post was why the Gray need the Green. Today’s post looks at the other side: why the Green need the Gray.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Green are Green for a reason. They don’t have a lot of professional experience and they almost certainly have very little industry experience. Couple this inexperience with lacking the soft skills common to young professionals and a generational decline in writing proficiency going back to 2002, and you have the makings of a workforce of Greens who want to be taken seriously but are lacking some essentials that would otherwise help them earn the respect of the Grays.

Why The Green Need The Gray

The Green need the Gray more than they realize. The Gray have their own intuitive sense about things. Sure, it may not be the same intuition that helps the Greens understand that everything is marketing now as I mentioned in the previous post, but the Gray have the kind of insight that you only get with many years on the job.

The Gray have negotiation skills and leadership experience and a sense of timing and priority to know what’s really urgent and what just appears to be. The Gray know how to read people and see the reality of situations that the Green just can’t see. It’s like the Gray see color and the Green are colorblind until they learn what the colors are and how to adjust their eyes.

It Wasn’t Easy Being Green

As a guy who sits between the Green and Gray now, I can look back to my Green years and see that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without many Grays who took the time to push me, teach me, train me and give me wisdom I didn’t know I needed.

I remember one Gray mentor telling me on the first week of my first job out of graduate school that I shouldn’t expect to help much for the first year. That was the opposite of what I wanted to hear and I was offended by the comment. I was ready to make my mark and I had a Master’s degree fresh in hand. I was ready to take the world by storm. He knew that was a terrible idea because I was Green. What he was trying to say is, “I know you think you’re pretty smart and know how things work, but you don’t. You’ve never worked in a half a billion dollar company before and there’s so much you don’t know despite everything you’ve learned to this point in your life.” In other words, don’t expect to help much the first year.

After I got over the initial offense and started to learn more about the organization I saw that he was right. I’d like to think I contributed in that first year, but I was really learning more than I was contributing. They were investing in me and by the second year they were starting to use that investment in other parts of the company.

I’m grateful for the wise Gray leader recognizing how Green I really was and investing in me getting a bit less Green.

How To Connect The Green

Here are a few practical ways to connect the Green into the company and have some Gray rub off on them.

1. The Green in your company want to know they’re doing something that has value and meaning to the company. Even if you’re investing in them, be sure to paint the vision for why they need to be patient now. Talk about what the payoff for them will be down the road.

2. Actively pull the Green into projects or meetings where they can really participate and have a chance to influence decisions. Even if you don’t take their suggestions you will learn something by the questions they ask or recommendations they make.

3. Consider a mentorship program in your organization that actively connects Gray and Green. It may be more relational in nature or it might be more project oriented, but whatever the case, consider being proactive in pairing up the Green and the Gray.

The Green need the Gray. Your organization needs the Green and the Gray to connect. Someone has to lead. It probably should be you.

Photo credit: “Army Men – The 365 Toy Project” by davidd via Flickr

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