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Separate “Dialects” on Cultural Phenomena: Are the #Generational Disconnects Worrisome?

Frank Bruni’s recent New York Times Op-Ed column, “The Water Cooler Runs Dry,” is another story of how the ability to custom-tailor the information we keep up with is a double-edged sword. He was bewildered that his Princeton University students were totally unfamiliar with celebrities of yesteryear whom he mentioned in class.

We now customize what we read and hear to a large degree. People create their personal niches of information and exposure rather than gathering at a cross-cultural, cross-generational “water cooler” or “public square.” Common reference points are fading away. With so much specialization and almost infinite categories, a book can become a best-seller with the sale of many fewer copies than in the past before self-publishing became easier and respectable.

A Princeton colleague of Bruni’s, Hendrik Hartog, director of the American Studies program says the enormous amount of specialized knowledge “leaves an absence of connective tissue for students.” Another colleague, Daniel Rodgers, calls it the “age of fracture. 

Makers of commercial entertainment don’t have to chase a mass audience and can produce programs on cable TV or alternatives with cult-like followings. While Bruni can also see some upside, he wrote, ”Each fosters a separate dialect. Finding a collective vocabulary becomes harder.”

It’s clear that’s the way things are going. Should we be worried about what is lost in translation with these diversity disconnects?

Please comment and share your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com 

BEST LEADERS FOR MILLENNIALS: A GEN Y‘S ANALYSIS

For the last three years I have suggested topics on inter-generational relations at work for my externs and interns to write about, and I have published a selection of them on this blog. My extern in January 2014 was Danielle Kronenfeld, a junior at the Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School. One of the topics she chose to write about is what her generation desires in leaders. Below are my questions and Danielle’s responses.

 Phyllis:  What attributes are you and other Gen Y/Millennials looking for in leaders?

 Danielle: I think that Gen Yers are looking for our leaders to act as mentors. We are extremely eager to learn, so we want leaders who are willing to teach us and help us grow. More specifically, we want our leaders to be intelligent and to have respect for us.

 We are incredibly driven, more educated than previous generations, and probably a little bit too arrogant. This makes us believe that we have all of the solutions, despite our lack of real world experience. Of course, we do realize that we do not literally know how to solve every problem. However, our overall confidence makes it that much more important to us that our leaders have faith in our ideas and are willing to listen.

While conducting my summer internship search over the past semester, I spoke to many previous interns and recent graduates who had just started working full time. When I asked them about their favorite experience during their internship or since they started working, most of them told stories of when a senior manager invited them into his or her office to answer their questions or give them advice. Gen Yers are happiest when our leaders are willing to give us that kind of time and attention.

Phyllis: Do you think business leaders will be younger than in the past?

Danielle: Despite the fact that we like business leaders who are more experienced, I think that leaders will be younger than in the past. With the recent and continuingly rapid growth in technology, younger people are more knowledgeable and able to adapt to the most current trends.

Phyllis: What skills other than technological savvy will they have and/or need?

I think that adaptability is one of the most valuable qualities that a leader can have in today’s workplace, and one of the most distinguishing qualities that Gen Yers have mastered. Studies show that because we grew up during this time of rapid advancements, our generation is much less loyal than previous generations.

Whether it’s to our current routine in school or at work, our favorite shampoo brand, or our significant others, Millennials feels less attached to the status quo are more likely to switch to a different practice. Gen Yers are always looking for the best possible option, and are usually not afraid to leave something behind when a superior alternative comes along.

Phyllis:   To our readers: Please give us your comments. Agree or disagree? What attributes do you think leaders in a Gen Y-prevalent work world will have?  Will be needed?

Thanks for joining the conversation.

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

OBSERVATION: WOMEN GRADUATE, MEN DROP OUT – AND SUCCEED BIG

Observation: Women outnumber men in college and earning graduate degrees. It’s men who drop out and seem to be the ones who start mega-successful companies. It’s not just the obvious (like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – later-half Baby Boomers). Gen Xers and Gen Y/Millennials too.

Is this a gender thing? Do we just hear less about the young female entrepreneurs? Do they, more than the men, think they need MBAs, etc. to succeed? To give them confidence to take risks?  Or is it purely individualistic? Is this changing? Will more Boomer women be successful entrepreneurs in encore careers?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

TIPS FOR GEN Y MANAGERS WITH AN OLDER TEAM – Part Two

Part two follows a previous post about stories of some CEOs who were faced with the upside down reporting relationships early in their careers and happened upon a formula that became one of the pillars of their considerable business success.

In anticipation of the younger manager/older staff challenges, over the last five years I have written articles, done videos and webinars and conducted workshops and delivered talks on this topic as a component of professionalism, succession planning and cross-generational conversation.

Lessons

Here are 7 more learnings we can take away from the two young manager success stories:

  • Senior managers were willing to take risks on these young new managers and thought they could do the job.
  • “Sink or swim” is a tough initiation for a leader or manager but a great learning experience and can build confidence and resilience.
  • Include. Don’t try to boss.
  • Build relationships through inclusion.
  • You aren’t expected to have all the answers. It’s better not to think you know better or you know everything.
  • Be confident enough to show some vulnerability. People will help you.
  • Respect breeds mutual respect.

Reminder to the older members of the team who might feel discomfort:

  • Keep focused on the common objective and the external or internal client or customer.
  • Collaboration will benefit all long-term.
  • Your mentoring and coaching can also be your reward.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

TIPS FOR GEN Y MANAGERS WITH AN OLDER TEAM – Part One

“Older workers reporting to younger managers” is not a totally new phenomenon. But it is a growing and potentially problematic trend, as the large generation of Baby Boomers stays on in the workforce longer and the large generation of Gen Y or Millennials eager for promotion rise along with Gen Xers. They bring new management styles and often anxieties owing to lack of management experience and training.

For some guidance, young managers can look to the stories of some CEOs who were faced with the upside down reporting relationships early in their careers and happened upon a formula that became one of the pillars of their considerable business success.

Bob Pittman, chairman and chief executive of Clear Channel communications was 19 when he was given about a dozen people to manage as the programmer of a radio station in Pittsburgh. He had no idea how to manage people but realized he was functioning as a team leader. The command and control model would have been ineffective: “ When you’re 19 no one’s going to accept you as the big boss.”

He saw his job as the team leader who needed to sell his older team members on his ideas and “to keep selling them, listen really well, let everyone have a voice and to let there be some dissent.” As told to Adam Bryant for his New York Times Corner Office column that was the origin of the style he has used ever since.

Another younger manager/older workers story comes from Amy Errett, chief executive and co-founder of Madison Reed. When she was 23, she was plopped into a huge job of managing hundreds of people in a bond-processing department of a bank. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “There were all these people who had been there a really long time, and I was probably half their age. I was just terrified…Where do I even start? I set up a meeting and nobody came.”

Following her instinct, Errett learned that the essence was the relationships and trust she could develop. It was about including them. She reached out to each person and said, “I want you to tell me in the most honest way what you don’t like about your job.” In this way she started to really understand their ideas and implement those. While the first reaction from many people to that question even today in another industry is “Can I trust her?” it actually started the trusted relationship.

The next post, Part Two, will provide lessons and tips for succeeding as a younger manager with older staff and a few reminders to help the older generations in this situation.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

WHAT REWARDS DRIVE EACH GENERATION

A recent study conducted by Harris/Decima for Ceridian) found that job rewards of various types favored by different generations are a strong driver of engagement. The three top drivers overall are:

1 – receiving monetary or non-monetary rewards for a job well done (47%)

2 – job recognition (42%)

3 – job motivation (11%)

 What specific employees value must align with the rewards to be effective. Rewards must be tailored to consider generational differences, individual preferences and technological innovation. There are several types of popular non-monetary rewards, and Gen Y/Millennials are more interested in them than the other generations. 70% of Gen Yers in the survey said they would like their company to offer non-monetary rewards such: as personal days off: free meals: sports events, concert and show tickets.

 Fundamentally, employers need to know what employees think makes a job worthwhile. All generations want interesting work (39%), autonomy (32%) and good compensation (31%) but in differing order of priority. Interesting work ranks first for Gen Y and Boomers. Gen X is most interested in good salary followed by good job benefits.

 Generational opinions of what makes the job more rewarding also differed in how they ranked the top four overall. Boomers find training opportunities and flexible hours more rewarding; Gen Xers also most favor flexible hours; and Gen Yers are more likely to want the opportunity to take o more responsibility at work.

 This is a heads up for employers to take into account generational differences and wants and needs if they want to have more productive workforces, retain their people and be considered best places to work.

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com  

MULTIGENERATIONAL BONDING

Whether it’s purely a cultural choice or economic necessity, we are seeing an increase in tow or three generations living together. This is even more prevalent in the workplace. So we need to get proficient and comfortable with initiating #cross-generational conversations and connections.

(Traditionalist generation) actress and author Marlo Thomas wrote about the benefits of multigenerational bonding she experienced since childhood hanging out with her father Danny Thomas’ fellow comedian friends.

Her advice on connecting with people of other generations you would like to connect with: Don’t make defensive jokes about your age difference; don’t try to force your wisdom and experience on them. Do smile and introduce yourself the way you would with a peer in age. Do share a bit of your story to begin. Importantly, listen to their story.

I am periodically asked about tips for intergenerational networking in a business context. Networking with people of other generations is a great pleasure to me and has resulted in many good friendships and business connections. As with all personal and professional relationships, the best way to nurture the connection is to show sincere interest in the other person, show respect, and appreciate what you can learn from each other.

Don’t expect too much until several interactions have built a bond. If you are thinking mostly of the ongoing time commitment rather than the value of connection, you will not reap the benefits of ties to the future with those younger and the wisdom and perspective of those older than you.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

COUNTERPOINT: “ HOW A YOUNG BOSS SURVIVES ABUSIVE SENIOR EMPLOYEES”

A few months ago, Next Avenue (published by PBS) asked me to write an article ( “How to Survive a Young, Abusive Boss:) on what to do if you are working for an abusive younger boss. After he read the article, I received the following email from a Millennial/Gen Y boss, and I want to share his experience at the opposite end. His story is below, directly quoted from his email.

Hi Phyllis,

 What an amazing article I just had to stop and read it even though I am slammed with work. Your article somehow represent my case but the opposite.

I am a young professional employee for a Spanish media company by the name of Newspan Media Corp. www.newspan.com. I have been working with them since I was 16, now 28. I have held many positions with the company moving up. I was promoted to a Vice President position last August and since then I faced many difficulties with the senior employees. What I have noticed is time stopped at the company back in 2004-2005 when internet stormed the media. There has been no new ideas, no new innovations and company was on the edge of bankruptcy. When I was appointed to be the VP I wanted to make all the changes necessary to catch up with the social media and transform the company to digital. I think we are a little late but it is never too late to get up and start prospering again.

By implementing changes I forgot that most of the employees have been with the company since the 80-90s and not knowledgeable with the new programs. I did not want to let go of employees and hire new blood because honestly senior employees taught me a lot through the years I have been working for this company and were family to me. I began offering them classes to learn the MAC and other software but I found it hard for them to take me seriously and attend the classes at promptly time.

I called on a meeting and informed them that Newspan Media is my full responsibility and my vision to take this company to a different level is possible. I laid out to them my goals for the end of the year. As of April this year things have not been moving as fast as I scheduled and the headache of them not taking me seriously continued.

I had to come to a conclusion and hire new graduates that are well knowledgeable of the these days media. I could not afford to keep paying those huge salaries to the old employees. I did an evaluation of the company, I interviewed every single employee and questioned their daily activity. After a long week of headaches. I had to fire 13 senior employees that could not accept the fact that I am their manager. I gave them the chance to better themselves and take the company to a different level but they could not accept the fact that Ziad the maintenance kid is our boss now.

After the action was taken, now everyone at the office obeys all the orders I give them. I have hired 22 new graduates that are doing an amazing job. The company is moving forward and our 3rd quarter is looking amazing. I just wish if they worked with me instead of working against me. They made my life so stressful for a while and now they don’t have jobs.

I hope you write an article based on above and name it “ How a Young Boss Survives Abusive Senior Employees” I hope you enjoy my story as much as I enjoyed yours.

Ziad Taha  

WHY WORKPLACE CONFLICT HAS INCREASED

 A 2009 study in the Journal of Education for Business reported that managers spend about 25% of their time resolving conflicts. What explains this?

  • Compared with the past, more workplace decisions are being made in teams and groups in organizations that have become more complex, concluded a study by Morgan State University (Baltimore).
  • The opportunity for misunderstandings, confusion and tensions among co-workers arises from more diverse (including age diversity) and international workforces.
  • The time devoted to settling disputes among employees has doubled to 18% in 25 years (Journal of Education for Business study)

Unfortunately, many managers have had no training in conflict resolution, and it’s not a part of the curriculum at most business schools. That means there is a need for training managers in this skill or bringing in outside conflict resolution experts. Letting conflicts fester is an obvious deterrent to productivity and high morale and engagement.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

“YOU CAN’T GOOGLE IT!”

Recently I read still another article, this one in the New York Times Shortcuts column, on the gap between how college graduates are educated and the skills employers say they need. Despite all the talk about more STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, especially for women, that’s not what employers are crying for.

The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s special marketplace report published in March 2013, said the needed skills are the long valued abilities of written and oral communication, adaptability, managing multiple priorities, making decisions and problem-solving. The HR Policy Association (an organization of Chief HR managers from large employers) agrees. And you can’t "Google" to acquire those skills!

The finger pointing between colleges and employers as to what the problem is and who has the responsibility to fix it is not adequately addressing the “how.” The Accenture 2013 College and Employment Survey (of 1,010 2013 graduating students) summary refers to enterprise learning strategies, but the trend in those strategies is toward increasing online learning. That is not a very viable way to learn interpersonal and oral communication skills, which require live interpersonal exchange and practice.

GENGAGEMENTtm Groups: My suggestion as part of the solution

Use cross-generational conversation groups embedded in workplaces as a tool for Boomers to educate younger generations on these “human performance skills” (don’t call them “soft” – they are powerful) while the Boomers profit from the younger generations’ insights into changing market needs brought on by how technology inexorably infiltrates our lives and lifestyles. This is distinct from mentoring. It is a facilitated colleague exchange or a “dialogue,” a conversation aimed toward specific goals.

This is “leaning in” for skills diversity and age inclusion across the many other silos in the workplace.

My team has started a movement to illuminate the significance of cross-generational conversation at work, the current focal point of which is national Cross-Generational Conversation Day. Details will be announced in the fall. For information now, contact [email protected].

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

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