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WHAT’S THE BEST REASON FOR FLEXIBILITY?

If you’d like more flexibility for all generations in work arrangements and the criteria for how work is evaluated, raise your hand.  OK – I see you out there.

A recent national survey of 1,000 employers by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Families and Work Institute found that while progress is being made in flexibility, facetime still counts for a lot in internal dynamics and perceptions of productivity.

The study found that organizations offer flexibility arrangements motivated by a variety of reasons:

  • 35% for employee retention
  • 14% for recruitment
  • 12% to increase productivity
  • 11% because “it’s the right thing to do”
  • 10% to support worker morale and job satisfaction.

In your opinion, what’s the best reason?

10 PROBLEMS WITH THE CURRENT DESIGN OF WORK

Each generation’s view of work and how it will best engage them and motivate them to be most productive has changed. But the design of work and work processes has not changed adequately with the times. From surveys, observations and discussions, here are the key issues I see:

  • Neglecting to make work continually perceived as meaningful to workers.
  • Not providing opportunities for all to learn and grow.
  • Recognition and feedback not closely timed and aligned to the event.
  • Metrics that are counter to goals and motivation, e.g., time-based rather than results-based.
  • Uniform facetime demands without rational reasons for them.
  • People showing lack of respect or not understanding what respect of others requires.
  • Differing and unclear definitions of professionalism.
  • Not encouraging input on work design and process from all participants: generations and levels.
  • Hierarchical titles that divide rather than include and encourage collaboration.
  • Not considering who wants and who doesn’t want more challenge and increased responsibility in their work so they are appropriately motivated.

In future posts I will suggest strategies and steps to redesign work so it will work better for all generations.

Please add or comment on other problems you see – or those above that you don’t think are problems. Let’s have a conversation on this significant issue ripe for change.

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  

TRANSITIONING TO LEADERSHIP

Many CEOS and coaches give their definitions of leadership, and there are many similarities. I pass on this one from the Corner Office column in the New York Times Sunday Business section (1/6/13) from an interview with G. J. Hart, CEO and president of California Pizza Kitchen.

  1. Be the best you can be, including honest about your good and bad qualities and things to improve.
  2. Dream big. Stretch or you don’t get started, even if you never get there, it’s a motivation.
  3. Lead with your heart first, showing your compassion.
  4. Trust the people you lead. Let go when appropriate. Allow others to grow. Leaders pick people back up if they fall down.
  5. Do the right thing, always, including giving a second chance to people you believe in.
  6. Serve the people you lead. Put the cause before yourself, and be willing to see it through.

Hart says #4 is often the hardest for young people. It takes time to build confidence in yourself and get over the insecurity that may come from lack of experience as a manager or leader.

What do you think of these steps or principles? Do they resonate with you? What would you add or subtract?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

PERSPECTIVE: CHANGING DEMEANOR & WHY GENERATIONS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY

At my recent presentation a Boomer member of the multi-generational audience expressed frustration (as they often do) that the Gen Y/Millennials don’t act properly in the workplace. Well, most of Gen Yers were educated and brought up in times of much looser standards of behavior than the older generations (Traditionalists and Boomers) were and many were not taught the typical expectations of workplace behavior. In college they could dress pretty much as they pleased, schedules were flexible, and advance clearances and permissions were not commonly required. So that’s what they are accustomed to.

By way of illustrating the differences, the special New York Times Education Life section (July 22, 2012) ran excerpts (courtesy of Catherine M. Allchin) from a Dorm Women’s Handbook from the early 1960s and a Resident Hall Contract from 2012. To quote from the 1961 Women’s Handbook:

Dorm Hours: Freshman are to be tucked into bed by 11p.m., and counselors will count noses at this time – upperclass noses too.

Permissions: To go home, sign out with the housemother and pay her for a 2-cent postcard. She will send it to your parents to let them know you are on your way.

Social Standards:  To improve in poise and social ease, students should observe and practice good manners – for example, by standing when an older person enters the room or approaches to speak.

Personal Appearance: Shorts may not be worn on campus except to and from PE classes, and then only when covered by a long coat.

The rules and expectations were clear back then.

Jump to the 2012 Residence Hall Contract by way of contrast. It deals with weapons and alcohol possession and use, personal safety, fire safety and the Gender Equity Hall. “Residents can choose to room with a student of any gender or gender identity. Restrooms in this hall are gender neutral.”

Whether you laugh at the extraordinary differences or yearn for some of the prior standards (as some parents might), what exists now has shaped a lot of young people. Employers are left with the responsibility and task of clearly articulating expectations from day one to set the standards they want to see. Neglecting attention to this early will enable undesirable habits of demeanor, schedules and boundaries to take hold, which will make them difficult to undo. Like it or not, understanding of where the behavior originated and communicating expectations in orientation training is necessary.

Please share your thoughts here.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

ARE WE FLEEING FROM CONVERSATION? Is it generational?

The Flight from Conversation” by Sherry Turkle, her opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, suggests that our connectedness to and by electronic gadgets have changed “not only what we do, but who we are.” I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Turkle speak at the Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, SC in December 2011 on this and related subjects. She claims that people are alone together. “We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one.”

Some examples from Turkle you may relate to:

“We want to go to a meeting but pay attention only to what interests us.”

“Young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones.” Turkle told of a partner at a Boston law firm who described a scene of associates in his office who come in and lay out their “suite of technologies: laptops, iPads and multiple phones. Next they proceed to put on a pair of large earphones. It’s like pilots in their cockpits. There is a silence that suggests they don’t want to be disturbed.

It’s not just enjoying the use of tech toys. Social media, e-mail and texting enable us to present ourselves as we would like to be, which may not be how we are, observes Turkle. We can edit, create avatars, perfect photos. We can clean up messy and demanding human relationships with technology.

Turkle says “sips” of online connection (all of which have their place) don’t add up to a big gulp of real conversation and don’t add up to really knowing each other. Nuance is missing. It’s dumbed down, like watching only cable news headlines. And lack of conversation translates to missing development of self-reflection skills, so we are cheating ourselves as well.

Turkle gave some examples of how some people are seemingly desperate for someone to listen to them but seek out Siri (on Apple’s iPhone) or some other surrogate for the person they really should be conversing with because it’s more comfortable. “We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship,” wrote Turkle.

“I am a partisan of conversation,” she wrote. “To make room for it I see some first deliberate steps.”  She goes on to suggest ways to create device-free rules, times and spaces at home, work and vacation. “Most of all, we need to remember to listen to each other, even the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another,” Turkle stated.

We tend to associate constant electronic communication and being tethered to those gadgets with the youngest generations. Is that actually true? Haven’t older workers caught the fever too? Are they fleeing from real conversation?

Clearly I sympathize with Turkle’s view since the Cross-Generational Conversation group I started and moderate on Linkedin is one conscious attempt to get people of different generations conversing and sharing their perspectives. (Do check it out!)

But is the situation quite as bad as she points out, and how far can we modify the current habits? Here are some questions that come to mind:

  • What would motivate people to adopt device-free actions that Turkle suggests? (in meetings, at home, on vacations, in cars)
  • Are electronic connections keeping us from connecting emotionally?
  • Are many of us avoiding the messiness of relationships and self-reflection in a delusionary effort to seek perfection?
  • Is Turkle’s view an over-reaction?
  • What other questions does this issue raise for you?

Please comment and share your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

MANAGING THE RISK OF MID-LEVEL SCARCITY - Suggestions

I ended the last post saying once again organizations have to play catch up, figure out how to replace the mid-level talent and engage them in fostering the younger talent, many of whom are eager to leapfrog them. There is no quick fix, but here are some thoughts on aligning management of the risks discussed in the earlier post and talent management.

  • When hiring, really think fit and attitude before skills on a resume. You’ve probably heard that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
  • Hire people who buy into an articulated belief system that includes instilling the good behavior and belief system and the professional development of young talent.
  • Make that an explicit part of the job description and reward system. Some of the large accounting firms as well as “best place to work” companies do this.
  • Facilitate dialogues among the different generations to avoid/eliminate friction when mid-level Gen Xers are asked to supervise and mentor Gen Y/Millennials and Boomers to do the same for Gen Xers.
  • Avoid decimating or sharply reducing mid-level personnel during economic downturns. Instead, selectively offer reduced schedules at reduced pay to minimize lay-offs of valued talent and maintain a consistent competency level during economic cycles. Clients hate turnover and want to see familiar faces.
  • Cross-train people to take on other roles when their work slows, including training and coaching junior staff.

Firms must figure out how to better manage the risk of talent and skills shortages. The past record has been far from stellar. Ability to maintain high professional standards in serving, and thereby retaining, clients is at stake. That’s too big a risk to warrant inaction, especially since change happens faster than ever.

Please share you thoughts in the comments section.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

PROFESSIONALISM THREATENED BY MID-LEVEL SCARCITY: LLOYD’S SAYS #2 RISK IS TALENT AND SKILLS SHORTAGE

A Human Resource Executive editorial reported that Lloyd’s ranked talent and skills shortages the #2 risk facing businesses as of 2011, up from #22 in 2009. This was a finding of a study of 500 C-suite and board level executives, which also found that that “talent and skill shortages” was one of only two risks that “respondents felt insufficiently prepared for.”

I thought of this when reading Adam Bryant’s interview in his Openers column in the New York Times Sunday Business section (February19, 2011) with Steve Stoute, the CEO of ad agency Translation LLC.  In it Stoute talks about the importance of mid-level talent to fostering young talent  “Any organization is not going to move forward unless mid-tier management helps foster young talent to become better.”  Stoute tasks mid-level talent with the responsibility for both their own behavior (making sure they buy into the belief system of the organization) and that of young talent. These mid-levels are mostly Gen Xers.

Agreed. But one of the problems as I see it as each recession economy turns around is that the mid-tier has been severely reduced in many organizations (e.g., law, financial services, accounting and many more) through massive lay-offs when the recession hit and lingered. That means many firms have senior and junior professionals and staff but are missing a lot of the heavy-lifting Gen X mid-levels who would be experienced and able to lead projects and people and prepare to step into the Baby Boomers’ shoes. This much smaller generation has evolved and shed its “slacker” label to now be working, on average, 10 more hours per week than they were 3 years ago, according to a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, a think tank. This applies to those who have jobs, of course.

The population of financial advisors and planners has aged with a sparse Gen X cohort, worrisome for the firms and succession planning.

As need for talent and skills heats up with a recovering economy, needed capabilities may not exist in those forced to the sidelines in the last 4 years unless they have been using their unemployment time to acquire desirable skills – probably along with more education debt.

Once again organizations have to play catch up, figure out how to replace the mid-level talent and engage them in fostering younger talent, who are eager to leapfrog them. Ability to maintain high professional standards in serving, and thereby retaining, clients is at stake.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

 

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS FOR GEN Y AND THE REST OF US

“How we manage expectations is critical to how we pursue our goals,” wrote Alina Tugend in her New York Times column Shortcuts (1/14/12) as she searches for guidance for managing expectations on health and all things in work and life large and small. In these times of a challenging job market and financial future, the psychology of expectations is a significant influence factor in degree of happiness and satisfaction.

Citing brain research, Tugend reports that “negative feelings are much stronger than the good feelings we get when expectations are exceeded.” Further, our brain sends out messages of danger or threat when we don’t meet our expectations.

Several studies about students have found that the best way to motivate them is to set high expectations and let students think they can stretch their capabilities to reach them, even if they have not been high achievers previously. We should want to maintain these high expectations of achievement in the work world.

Tugend concludes there is no “template” to manage expectations in all situations. “It seems as if it is best to have low expectations if things are out of our control, realistic expectations for things we can control to some degree and high expectations of ourselves,” she said. She favors Mary Grogan’s view on Mindfood.com: “It is having flexibility in our expectations and being willing to change track without self-blame that has been shown to increase well-being.”

So how do we translate this for new entries into the workplace and their managers, whichever side we are on?

  • When setting high expectations, foster a culture absent fear that not achieving the expectations will result in significant punishment or perceived failure if uncontrollable factors come into play. Many Gen Y/Millennials have had (and still expect) help from parents, teachers, tutors, mentors and fear failure in their eyes, so they thrive better in a supportive culture.
  • Be clear and repeat expectations so they are known and not misconstrued.
  • Don’t habitually set expectations and goals artificially low in order to appear to over-deliver or your capabilities are apt to be questioned.
  • Don’t over-promise to please in the immediate and set yourself up for failure ultimately, which will also hinder your team or project.

Managing expectations is a delicate balance and a considered calculation is needed for each situation.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONS: How to Use the Intersection of Generations and Gender to Raise the Return for Everyone

Lately I find myself engaged in conversations, mostly raised by Boomers and the older half of Gen Xers about what might be called the intersection of gender and generations issues. Several women expressed the strong belief that women have actually made little or no progress in attaining leadership and management positions in the last 10 years except when it’s their own businesses.

At least a few women who talked with me believe that as a society we have adopted the habits of politically correct speech, and that has swept true attitudes under the rug and made it seem like women have reached a greater degree of equality in the corporate environment and media treatment than they actually have. They believe that we as a society have actually regressed. The other “symptom” is that having made some visible strides, men act as if the gap problem is solved, and there is less talk leading to action than there used to be 

On the other hand, my inbox continues to be filled with e-newsletters and updates from politically active groups, industry professional organizations and media watchdogs that persistently and energetically keep these issues in the forefront. Perhaps we are not getting the same mail and attending the same meetings?

Yes, I think we still have a long way to go. And I think the best strategy for achieving more success for everyone is to sincerely and substantively involve men in the solutions. Down with lip service. So here is one of the best opportunities to take advantage of the intersection with generational attitudes. The younger generations are not only accepting but also demanding all kinds of diversity. They see gender as less of an issue than their older colleagues do. 

Here are my reasons for optimism. (Yes, I am a born optimist, but one that doesn’t like being disappointed.) I emphasize that these are general patterns, not absolutes, and we need to recognize individual situation and avoid stereotypes.

  • Gen Y makes smaller gender distinctions as to relationships, capabilities, ambitions, leadership and tenure than older generations do.
  • Collaborative styles, which are comfortable for many women, are favored by the younger generations. Collaboration is necessary for solving ever more complex problems.
  • With more women making purchasing decisions on the client side, more women and other diverse professionals will be designated to lead client teams and business development opportunities. Economic factors are strong attitude influencers.
  • Younger men are about as focused on family (dual-centric) as women are and desirous of restructuring the workplace so it works better for people.
  • Women are gradually learning the importance of rainmaking to their careers, the importance of getting sponsors, not just mentors, helping each other and learning to be more confident in negotiations.
  • While unconscious bias is still common, a desire for rejuvenating professionalism among all generations (as revealed in the findings of the Practice Development Counsel survey soon to be released) will gradually shrink the gap in leadership and increase opportunities for women. Professionalism will increasingly trump gender biases.
  • There is a growing awareness of the value of gender neutrality in producing organizational success.
  • Everyone gets older – we can’t stop it – so more people with gender bias will be transitioning out of the workplace.

This is not occurring, and probably will not happen, fast enough to please women and accelerate the success of many businesses. But I believe it will happen faster if we take the focus off difference and involve stakeholders of all generations and genders in achieving common goals of productivity, client retention, succession planning and professional excellence.

This is a controversial subject, and we need to give it the attention it deserves. I urge you to send your comments, provocative or not.  Let’s keep a lively dialogue going.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com 

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