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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 


A recent DDI study, Driving Workplace Performance through High-Quality Conversations, found both front-line and senior leaders lack fundamental interaction skills and behaviors required to be effective leaders. The study report concludes that what’s missing “is the ability to facilitate effective conversations, something that should be mastered by every business leader as part of a core set of interaction skills in order to build relationships and get work done.” This is at least as true of senior leaders as those with less experience according to the study.

The need to learn the skill of conversation is a challenge to the fast-paced, just get it done, data-driven world we are living in. Even some technology thought leaders are sounding the alarm. We have been champions of cross-generational conversation as necessary for business productivity and profitability since it is essential for knowledge transfer, attracting and retaining both clients and employees and enabling work teams to achieve high performance.

 Organizations need to recognize that the skill of conversation is not typically part of business education, and they must require or provide training, especially as all generations increasingly communicate electronically and often neglect context.

 Please comment and share information on any organizations you know are providing this training in-house. If you would like to learn about Cross-Generational Conversation Day, contact us (pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com).

 Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com


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 pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com


A new book based on surveys from 2006-2011 of undergraduates and student affairs officials on 270 U.S. college campuses, “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student,” fills in some new details and reinforces the presence of attributes we have recognized for a while regarding Gen Y/Millennials. Given the years cited, the data focuses on the younger half of this generation.

The book was written by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia Teachers’ College and now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, with Diane R. Deane. Dr. Levine related key findings of the surveys in an interview in the New York Times Book Review (November 4, 2012).

He mentioned the 4 most key events in this cohort’s lives in order of significance, some of which were surprising to him:

  1. The advent of digital culture
  2. The economy
  3. 9/11
  4. The election of President Obama

About the pervasive integration of digital culture, one student said, “It is only technology if it happened after you were born.”  But I think it’s important to note that it’s not a matter or tremendous tech savvy. Generation Y has been raised with technology and its members are referred to as “digital natives” or “tech dependant” (which is different from “tech-savvy”. Gen Y is not necessarily tech-savvy, as they tend to want their technology to be as simple and straightforward as possible). They want to integrate technology into all aspects of their lives, including work.

Here are the Gen Y/Millennial attributes Dr. Levine cites from the surveys.

  • Pragmatic – They view the primary purpose of education as “to get a good job and make money” rather than following their passion or Milton Eisenhower’s (former president of Johns Hopkins) advice that an undergraduate major teaches you how to learn, and that’s most important.
  • Diversity mindset – They strongly favor diversity, and they tend to favor the same celebrities and public figures as a group.
  • Optimistic about themselves, but pessimistic about the future of the U.S. They were always told they were great and expect grade inflation and praise.
  • A great fear of failure. They haven’t been taught to expect to fail, and resilience is lacking. They feel the pressure of expectations that they will succeed.
  • In constant touch with their parents, and they call on parents to help with any difficulties and questions. Parents are heroes to many of them – and that would seem to put pressure on parents to overdo attention.
  • Don’t know how to have intimate relationships or crucial personal conversations. Social life tends to be either in groups or a series of hook-ups.

Dr. Levine gives Gen Yers’ strengths as: digital skills; interest in global issues; and dealing better with diversity than generations before them.

In my follow up post, I will give some thoughts and questions on what this all means.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com 



A brilliant way for a Gen Y to get good training in an interesting job and provide small businesses the talent they need (if only it weren’t for student debt).


  • Gen Y/Millennials need jobs and training
  • A large number of Gen Yers want to start a business, but have little or no knowledge and experience regarding what is needed to build a successful business.
  • Small (under 500 employees) businesses need eager, smart, flexible, people concerned more with learning hard-to-find skills in entrepreneurial environments than earning top dollar.
  • Many desirable college grads have student debt, which colors their career and job choices.

Note: The Gen Yers typically have a different mindset and way of operating from the “freelance mentality” of the Gen Xers of the dot-com era.

Challenge: How to connect the dots to benefit the aspiring but untrained entrepreneur and the businesses needing the talent, especially in struggling cities.

To meet this challenge, Venture for America, inspired by Teach for America, was started by Andrew Tang, former CEO of Manhattan GMAT, the test prep company.  As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the first 50 “fellows” will be placed in small businesses (under 500 employees) this summer for a 2-year stint. Tang’s goal is to help early stage businesses and start-ups take off, and he is targeting to create 100,000 jobs by 2025. At the same time, the young fellows will get the know-how and experience to start companies of their own if that’s their goal. According to a recent survey by the Young Invincibles (a group focusing on young entrepreneurship) 54% of 18-34 year-olds in the U.S. want to start a business or already have done so.

The companies employing the Venture for America fellows will pay them $32,000 to $38,000 a year plus health benefits, and the participants will receive a 5-week program at Brown University similar to training that consultants and investment bankers receive.  The companies get bright, eager young workers they can afford to hire and mentor. This certainly would seem to fill the bill, especially for recent grads not burdened by family financial obligations or heavy student debt.  Even so, it seems a good investment in their chosen career direction.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com




Consultant Alan Weiss wrote in his Monday Morning memo (1/9/12): “In corporate strategy, we paint a picture of the future and then "work backwards" to determine how to organize to reach it…. Why don't we start with a picture of future, productive work forces (knowledge-based, technical skills, globalized, working remotely, diverse stimuli, automated routine chores, etc.) and create both professional and trade education that will support it? Our current cookie-cutter concepts of curricula don't work now and aren't preparing students for the future. Organizations don't reach strategic goals by using techniques that led to old goals. They develop new techniques, resources, and ideas.”

Weiss was referring to education institutions, but what he wrote applies equally to most of the training provided by employers, even leadership and management education. With constant change in the marketplace and a disconnect between the skills of people looking for jobs and the types of skills in short supply, it is necessary for both employer-provided education/professional development and high school, college, graduate school and trade school education to be tied to future vision and global competitiveness needs. We need new definitions of “competence.”

What is being done in your workplace and in your profession to tie training to a strategic vision that will provide growth fueled by a workforce prepared to meet what the marketplace needs now and in the future, not in the past? Is your succession planning truly future oriented to meet the needs of rising generations?




Not only is the amount of student debt staggering, but also it continues to grow significantly. Increasing 5% from 2009, students graduating in 2010 had an average of $25,250 in student loan debt, as has been reported widely.

As stated in the Y Pulse newsletter  (11/14/11), “Students have been raised to believe that having a college degree improves their chances of getting a job, but graduating in a poor economy, a degree doesn’t guarantee employment. They’re facing a catch-22. What’s more, when they have a hard time finding work, some are going back to graduate school, hoping that biding their time and improving their knowledge will result in a job. But meanwhile, they’re racking up more debt in school. In many cases, they’ll enter the ‘real world’ buried in debt. During the years they would normally be setting up their households right after graduation, they’ll instead be living at home trying to save money, shifting the typical consumer cycle by several years….”

Economists have been weighing in on how this affects the broader economy. And it brings many questions to my mind.

  • Of course, there are some young graduates whose parents were able to pay the education bill and are not weighed down by debt. How are they affected by the debt albatross hanging on their classmates?
  • How do you think the economics of firms would change if education debt/student debt were not a serious problem?

-       Would organizations be able to reduce entry-level salaries and compete on the basis of good and plentiful training offerings?

-       Would new employees be willing to trade higher salaries for more training and less oppressive work time pressures?

-       Would the U.S. be more competitive with other countries?

-       Would corporate social responsibility increase

  • How much are Gen Y/Millennials’ decisions about career choice, amount of education and lifestyle (whether they can afford the one they choose or not) being affected by student debt?

Please think about these questions and comment on this important issue. It deserves a healthy dialogue.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com



Perhaps it’s no surprise that men and women choose to major in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields for different reasons. A study released this month (September 2011) called “STEM Perceptions: Students and Parents Study” by Harris Interactive for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and Microsoft, has some interesting finding on the differences.

The women’s top reason for choosing a STEM major was intellectual stimulation, while men chose those fields for “a good salary out of school.” A huge gender gap was revealed in what led them to their interest. For 68% of the women in the study it was a particular high school class or teacher that they credited with turning them on to the subject. That was true for only 5% of the men. Their experience with related games, toys, books or clubs was a significant factor for 51% of the men but only 35% of the women.

These findings could influence the teaching of the different genders and suggest the importance of high school teaching to attracting more women to the STEM fields. A combination of intellectual stimulation, role models and a welcoming culture would be likely to attract and retain more women.

It is important that those role models and inspirational teachers be men as well as women. How do we make men more comfortable with “sponsoring” women in their field?

Your thoughts?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com 



Courtesy, rudeness, incivility, and professionalism – the economic impact

Most of us have experienced or observed work-related rudeness, hostile behavior, obvious distractions when personal attention is needed, and worse. It’s annoying, no doubt, but there are significant costs to organizations from this aspect of unprofessional behavior as well as reported in “Incivility Can Have Costs Beyond Hurt Feelings” Shortcuts column by Alina Tugend, New York Times, Nov. 20, 2010]

Christine Pearson, a professor of management at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, has conducted research for a decade that documents that many workers left jobs because of continuing incivility – but they rarely say that on exit. Pearson is co-author with Christine Porath of “The Cost of Bad Behavior” (Penguin Portfolio, 2009). Their research covered 9,000 managers and workers and found that incivility was rampant in the workplace. Some examples are ignoring a colleague, gossiping behind colleagues’ backs, ignoring requests for help and borrowing supplies without asking – doing these things consistently, not a one-off. Interestingly, they found that 60% of bad behavior came from supervisors or levels above, 20% from people on the same level and 20% from people below.

Results of this behavior were: decreased effort on the job after experiencing ongoing rude behavior, slacking off or sticking only to the narrow definition of their tasks as well as exit of valuable talent. Apparently there is a sort of double-standard in many organizations. Employees are expected to treat clients/customers with respect, but there is little concern about how colleagues treat each other.

There are solutions; some are simple but not easy. Orientation meetings – when people first join an organization – can emphasize the importance and expectation of civility. Most important says Pearson is that top management model civil behavior and be willing to discipline all those who act badly or unprofessionally on a consistent basis, regardless of their success in other ways.

Other academics are researching incivility and taking up the cause of change. One is Pier M. Forni, a professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of the university’s Civility Initiative. . Forni says “We are both ruder and more civil than in times gone by.” In referring to the latter, he says we are more accepting of diversity and have a higher ecological awareness. But classical courtesy is on the decline.

Professor Forni, author of  “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) attributes the major causes of incivility to anonymity, stress, lack of time, lack of restraint and insecurity. Anonymity provided by the Internet and ability to easily shoot off rants by text has lowered the bar. One measure to counteract electronic incivility of note: growing economic power South Korea teaches “netiquette” to school children at an early age.

I would wager a guess that few firms and other organizations have been tracking and calculating the financial costs of the civility transgressions component of unprofessionalism. Perhaps they should be calculating those along with the social costs. That would make the business case for training, coaching and disincentives for negative behavior.

Please contribute your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot      www.pdcounsel.com



A poll from the Center for Professional Excellence (CPE) at York College of Pennsylvania suggests the importance of professionalism to one’s career. Assessments of a new college grad candidate’s professionalism accounted for almost 60% of hiring decisions – of mega-importance in this languishing  period of scarce jobs, especially for young people with little experience.

Professionalism was defined by the business leaders and human resources professionals polled as having five primary characteristics: personal interaction skills, including respect and courtesy; communications skills, including listening; a great work ethic; being motivated and staying on task until the job is finished: and self-confidence, awareness, and professional appearance.

And the verdict from the poll as to whether professionalism has increased or declined in the past five years? One-third of the poll’s respondents believed than fewer than 50% of all new graduates exhibit professionalism in the workplace. The complaints will probably sound familiar; respondents pointed to a sense of entitlement for jobs, lack of work ethic and changes in culture and values.

We can argue the interpretation or severity of the problem, or why it exists – and I would, particularly about how work ethic is interpreted and whether all cultural changes are a bad thing. But perceptions are the beholder’s reality. What is being/can be done to resolve the problem?


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