Millennials Are Bums, So What?

144618-20140729If you are paying attention, or even if you aren’t, you’ve probably heard the workplace chatter about the millennial generation. They are:

  • lazy
  • incompetent
  • glued to their “phones,” and
  • need constant stroking.

So what?

Remember Who You Were?

If you are a Baby Boomer – a hippie, turned me generation, turned soccer mom, your generation ushered in free-love, drugs, the broken family, and Wall Street excess. You also integrated the workforce – giving women and minorities a step on the corporate ladder. If you are a Gen X – a latchkey kid, turned MTV fan, turned slacker, turned free agent, your generation gave the word “cynical” a whole new face, established the grunge culture, and wore the mullet. You also introduced work-life balance, turned our focus to business results rather than time and tenure, and renewed the country’s entrepreneurial spirit. Who you were isn’t who you turned out to be. In fact, you were never fully who others thought you were. So let’s give our successors a break. What do you say? Maybe they aren’t exactly like us – nor are they entirely who people say they are. Instead, let’s have a productive conversation about engaging them in the important work of our organizations. After all, that’s exactly what we all want.

Millennials are GemsGem stone

Do you believe that you are a gemstone? What about everyone around you – do you believe that they are also gems? No matter what generation you belong to, you are a brilliant jewel. You were formed and cut by mighty forces: the events and pressures of your era – war, prosperity, depression, family structure, layoffs, technological booms, terrorism, etc. A gem is a precious stone no matter when, where, or how it was created. All rubies share the same essential characteristics. The same is true of people. Generations tend to be driven by a common set of values and needs. Chief among them are:

♦ Autonomy/Choice ♦ Learning/Growth  ♦  Challenge          ♦ Meaningful Work ♦  Relationships       ♦  Accomplishment

These drivers are like the facets of a gem: they reflect the light brilliantly or dully depending on where the light hits the stone. Each generation tends to value some work conditions more than other generations and will shine brightly when the light hits their best facets. Millennials tend to place a relatively higher value on relationships, personal growth, and meaningful work than their predecessors. As a result, they sparkle brightly when they:

  • work socially – on cohesive teams that are focused on important work
  • have the freedom to work wherever they choose
  • have access to leaders so they can engage, learn, and get feedback
  • see real opportunity to grow and progress.

So What?

So what if they need more feedback than their predecessors? That’s how people learn. The dearth of feedback from leaders is the main reason why employees and results stagnate. If prior generations sought and gave less of it, perhaps it was because they were less savvy learners and more fearful about looking stupid than their younger counterparts. So what if Millennials think it is crazy to be tied to a cubicle to get work done or to put in face time just to appear committed? It’s crazy! People are more productive when they have the freedom to complete work in a way that suits them. Besides, they have been working from “wherever” their whole lives. So what if Millennials want to see a future for themselves and refuse to put the company in the driver seat of their careers? They learned well from their parents who, through layoffs and pay freezes, discovered that you can’t tie your future to the company. Instead, you have to make it yourself.

So, what is the Gen X or Boomer manager to do? In this light, the answer is apparent. Shine the light on what makes Millennials sparkle brilliantly. This generation will comprise 50% of the workforce in six short years (2020) and you will need to know how to work with them – as your employee, or as your boss.

Sparkling Light

As it turns out, the practices you need to help Millennials shine work well for your whole team:

  • Invite them into conversations about business challenges, and give honest feedback on their ideas about those challenges.
  • Build automated and personal feedback loops into work processes so they always know how well they are doing.
  • Learn the language of mentoring.
  • Restructure work processes to make them more team-oriented. Include experienced people on the team as role models for the less experienced folks.
  • Call a meeting to talk with your team about a flexible work schedule. Explain that you want to give them all the flexibility they want, as long as all of your business needs continue to be met. Then, define your business needs as team, and ask them to come up with scheduling guidelines or a team schedule.
  • Invite them to offer technology solutions for making the work environment more flexible and efficient.

Any jeweler will tell you to shine the light on a gem’s best facets. The same is true for people. Shine the light on what makes them sparkle rather than what makes you sparkle.

Posted in Engagement & Motivation, Leadership, Teams, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cutting the Cost of Conflict

How much are you paying?

Every day, people make thousands of decisions.  For me, it starts with “will I get out bed  now, or will I slumber a little longer,” and it goes on from there. All of our decisions involve value judgments – you can talk a little longer with your boss, or be late for your customer meeting.  Many of them closely associate a financial price with their value.  For example,

How much would you pay for…

  • A cheeseburger, fries, and a coke?
    You can go to Five Guys and get something good for about $11 or to McDonalds and get something like it for $6.00.
  • One year of university education?
    You can send your child to Brown University for about $53,000 or to State University for about $7,500.
  • An honest day’s work?
    You can pay 300% of the cost of labor and materials or you can pay 100% of the cost of labor and materials.

The Conflict Tax

Every day business leaders make value judgments about the personal cost of confronting difficult issues with colleagues, customers and employees. Most often, those decisions are made without accurate information about the interpersonal and financial cost of those tensions. Conflict is terribly disruptive to people, relationships, and productivity. It exacts a high tax on your business.

  • Decisions made in the presence of conflict wind up costing 50% more. So that new IT system will actually cost you $150K instead of $100K.
  • Chronic, unresolved conflict is a central reason for 50% of voluntary turnover and 90% of involuntary terminations. The average cost of replacing a professional employee is 150% of their annual salary.
  • The typical manager spends 42% of their time trying to reach agreements where it does not exist. Agreements can be reached more efficiently and result in greatly reduced costs to the organization.

How much would you pay to learn how to avoid the “conflict tax?”

You can keep on talking to yourself in the car or you can learn the essentials of the motivational dynamics of conflict.

Posted in Communication, Conflict | Leave a comment

If I Can’t Be Divergent, I’ll be Candor

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Last weekend I went to see Divergent, a movie based on a trilogy written by Veronica Roth.  Most of us read the series and were eager to be disappointed because, well, the movie is never as good as the book.

Our seats hadn’t yet warmed when the conversation began.

Jennifer: Which faction would you be?

Me: Who me, why I’d be Divergent of course.

Gail: No, you can’t be Divergent. You have to belong to one of the factions.

Me: Then I would be Candor.

All: Ahhhh yeah, of course. What else?!

I am candid person; I know that healthy and productive relationships depend upon it. And right now, I am feeling the love.  A few days ago I reunited with a client over lunch. When the conversation turned to my ponderings about my brand, she gave me some welcome and flattering feedback.

What stands out to me is how well you ‘speak truth to power.’ You have the ability to speak the truth in a way that people can hear it. Not everybody can do that, and I really admire you for that.

It was music to my ears and warm fuzzies for my heart, but just how valuable is this kind of Candor? According to Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, it’s brought in about 10.3 billion in the box office from its fourteen films – from Toy Story to the current smash hit Frozen. In an interview with Fast Company, Catmull previews his book Creativity Inc. and attributes much of Pixar’s success to the candor practiced by their “Brain Trust” in quarterly meetings.

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision-making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.

Dysfunction has its costs: it cuts off communication, impairs decision-making, stifles creativity, kills productivity, and annoys customers. Let me say that again: it really annoys customers.

That’s why I press my clients to say what needs to be said – in healthy, productive ways.

So, I am proud to be from Candor. How about you? What is your faction and are you proud of it?

FACTIONS[1]

p.s.
I still truly believe I am Divergent.  I wouldn’t be Candor if I didn’t tell you that.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Communication, Conflict, Leadership, Personal Effectiveness, Teams | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

My Fianceé is Engaged, But I’m Not!

Although organizations consistently talk-up employee engagement, we know that only three in ten employees are engaged. That leaves another seven in ten people withholding the best of their energy, ideas, and talent from their employer. This trend persists despite the commonplace knowledge that engaged workers produce more, are happier, and drive profitability skyward.

I think I know one big reason why…

It’s because (some) managers talk like they want a fianceé but act like they are unwilling to be engaged to her! They want, even expect, employees to give their all, but they don’t make a reciprocal investment! Just think about it. What do engaged lovers do and engaged employees do?

Engaged lover Engaged employee
  • gives her all
  • focuses her attention on the relationship
  • put her partner’s interests first
  • make plans for the future with her man
  • spends a lot of time with her man
  • goes over and above what is required
  • applies talents, time, energy on work
  • is mission focused
  • pursues the organization’s long-term interest
  • spends spare time on work

Reciprocation Required

An engaged lover expects her partner to reciprocate. When he does, they remain engaged. An engaged employee wants, and needs, the reciprocity from their manager—the person who represents the company to him/her. But when that doesn’t happen, she will “fall-out” of engagement. It’s a perfectly reasonable and healthy response, don’t you think?

Boundaries Keep us Healthy

Healthy people have boundaries—they don’t over-invest in people that don’t give back. In contrast, it’s unhealthy and unreasonable for a manager to expect employees to engage at work without engaging them personally.

Employees give more than they have to when they:

  • are connected with other people doing important work,
  • are free to use their talents creatively,
  • feel appreciated by people who are important to them,
  • know that they are making progress, and
  • are being challenged to learn and grow.

The Manager’s Job

The most significant relationship an employee has in the workplace is with his manager. Approval and appreciation from the boss is five times more important than from peers. As important as peers are, it’s the boss’s job to:

  • connect people using their talents for the same cause,
  • communicate genuine & personal appreciation,
  • ensure that people make progress and can see it, and
  • stretch people beyond themselves.

This all takes time, thought, and energy, which many managers don’t have because they are busy preparing reports, reading emails, and responding to their boss, etc. In other words, managers are often engaged to people and things that take a higher priority than their team members. (We have a name for that in marriage—it’s called cheating.) And if that is the case, who is engaging team members? No one, that’s who.

Is it any wonder that 70% of people are not engaged at work?

Managers Embody Company Culture

To be fair, we can’t “lay all the blame” on managers, because it truly is a culture thing. Managers are the face of the company to the employee, and I speak of them here as representatives of the company. More than anyone, managers do what is expected of them. They fulfill the priorities of their bosses. Their bosses do the same, and on and on. It’s a conspiracy of company culture—the values, beliefs, and habits shared by people in an organization.

But…it’s people who invent, obey, and enforce culture.

And…if we invent culture, then we can reinvent it.

And…if we can reinvent, then someone—a leader—must get it started.

What if, you decided right now to be the fiancé to your fianceé. What if you decided to stop cheating and engage the people on your team? How would you do that?

Posted in Engagement & Motivation, Relationship Management, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Three Things Managers Say… but leaders don’t

I believe what people say. More than that, I believe the attitudes they express knowingly or unknowingly. When I enter an organization, I pay close attention to what managers say, and I have learned some of the telltale messages of managers who aren’t leading anyone anywhere. Among the worst messages are those that shutdown communication. When communication is blocked, trust erodes and decisions go uninformed. After that, little else matters.

Some of the worst messages I hear are:

I don’t have time for this…
Wow, what a statement! It doesn’t much matter what comes after this because the thought begins in a pool of arrogance and ends in the denigration of another person. But, what usually follows is the dismissal of thoughtful a) consideration of person-centered concerns or b) exploration of the deeper issues involved in a decision. So what the person is actually saying is: I don’t have the patience to even consider this mamby, pamby drivel you consider important. I know what’s what, and you don’t.

MonkeysI am the only one who…
Lonely victims don’t have followers. Managers who think they are only ones who work hard, get it, or care, might want to remove their hands from their faces. It’s easy to cast ourselves as martyrs when we don’t spend time connecting with the people around us. When we spend time with them, however, we often learn that they are with us in spirit, but that they express their passions differently than us.

Why don’t you just do what I tell you to do?
     …It would make my life easier.
    …Then I wouldn’t have to take so much time explaining things to you.
If you want an easy life or to be freed of the burden of explaining things, then don’t take the responsibility of leadership. Step down and let someone else lead. Leaders edify others and make their lives easier, not the other way around. If we want people to follow us, then we have to help them understand things the way we do or to build a new shared understanding together. In other words, we have to meet them where they are and do the hard work of building a shared reality.

Let’s face it, a lot of us have thoughts like this from time to time. That makes us normal people. If we want to engage hearts, shape minds, and move people to action in service of our goals however, we need to guard our hearts from arrogance. High-headed, self-important people often find themselves perplexed when they are ignored, resisted, and undermined. If you find yourself in in that state, then maybe, just maybe, you have these thoughts too frequently.

What do you want to do about it?

Posted in Communication, Conflict, Leadership, Relationship Management | 1 Comment

Do You Know What Obama Knows?

In Maryland, it is easy to get an education by reading the bumper stickers on your fellow travelers’ cars. Recently I was struck by the leadership lessons offered by President Obama’s campaign messages pasted on the back of every third car I saw. They said:

  • Change
  • Hope
  • Obama Cares

Politics and policy aside, any leader can and should learn from the President’s three core messages, which connected with the American people so powerfully. (If you doubt this, you might want to checkout who is sitting in the Oval Office.)

Changeobama change

Awhile back, my brother grumbled to me that his kids supported Obama. When pressed, they explained that they supported him because Obama stood for Change. “Change to what?” he asked, but they really didn’t seem to know. Still they supported Obama, which baffled my brother completely. In reality, it didn’t matter because the candidate’s message connected so well with people. But why?

Look around. America is the land of the discontent. How many people do you know who are happy with their jobs, their businesses, their employers, or their lives? Our constant state of discontent drives progress as well as cynicism. Wise leaders know that it is their role to fuel and channel others’ desire to make things better – whatever those “things” may be.

HopeObama Hope (2)

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that leaders are dealers in hope. President Obama knows the power of hope, so he didn’t need to say much more. His bumper stickers just said Hope. Like a psychoanalyst, he let the people project into his message what they desired. In fact, the concept of hope was so attached to Barak Obama that some observed that he seemed to be developing a savior image that rightfully belongs only to Jesus Christ.

Since you are not likely to be running for president, you may be asking, “How can  I offer hope?” Life is tough; people wear down. Dreams fade and passion gives way to the mundane. People toil away at work because they “have to.”  But leaders offer hope – two kinds of hope, in fact. Hope in themselves and hope in an important mission. Through action and words they say:

  • We can do this. (I am pretty sure President Obama used these exact words!)
  • You, personally, are needed. 

Obama CaresObama Care (2)

Well this certainly backfired on the President’s opponents. What they intended as a slur, Barak Obama adopted as a banner slogan.  His message –  I care about you.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe he cares , the lesson here is quite clear.  People place their trust and power in the hands of  people who they believe care about them.  After all, who, in their right mind, is going to give away their power to someone who doesn’t care about them?!

I often encounter managers who try to maintain a distance from team members in order to stay “objective.”  It’s funny how they tend to be the same people who struggle with engaging their team members and getting them to go the extra mile.  Get over it!, I say!  You’re not objective anyway – and you don’t want to be. This idea of sterile professionalism is hooey!  Leaders and followers must bond, and bonding does not occur in a sterile “professional environment.”  Instead, it happens in a messy relational one.

Be Presidential

You don’t have to be Barak Obama, or even agree with him, to tap the power of Change, Hope and Care.

Know what you are about – your talents and passions – so you are ready to fill your role in making change happen.

  1. Listen to what your team complains about. Their complaints are banner ads for what they care about and want to improve. If that doesn’t work, ask questions like:
    • What would make your job better?
    • What would make us better?

Any change you pursue must be something the team “believes in” – and people mostly believe in their own values and goals.

  1. Truly see your people, by this I mean know who they are and what they are capable of becoming. Then, affirm them personally and feed their talents.  
  2. Identify your organization’s improvement goals.
  3. Forge, communicate, and execute a plan for grafting team members’ personal desires with organizational goals.

Until recently, I thought the only educational opportunity available on the highway came from audio books. Now, I realize that I can learn a lot about by “listening” to the messages that are screaming at me from the bumpers. Keep your eyes open and let me know what you are learning on the roads!

 

Posted in Communication, Leadership | 2 Comments