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perennials: don't generalize by generation

I hear it all the time. People complaining about other generations.

“Millennials are                I don’t understand them at all.”

Or: “Why are Baby Boomers so               ?”

Or: “Everyone in Gen X is clearly                  .”

It’s time we stop limiting each other. These on-the-surface labels are doing much more harm than good. They allow us to write off entire generations (many millions of people!) with sweeping generalizations. And the truth is, many people don’t fit the stereotypes.

Take “entitlement,” for example. Many people think of Millennials (the group born between 1980 and 2000) as an entitled bunch that thinks they deserve things without actually working for them. Not only is this stereotype getting tiresome, it is frankly untrue.

Although many of them started working at an economically tumultuous time (the Great Recession), Millennials have proven themselves to be innovative and resilient. They’ve invented jobs when none were available; they’ve taken over top leadership positions; they’ve learned how to live with less by taking advantage of the new “sharing economy.”

Are some Millennials entitled and lazy? Of course. But so are many Gen-Xers and Boomers.

And just because Millennials have new ways of working, doesn’t mean they’re lazy. They might simply have a better grasp on technology and be able to complete tasks more efficiently.

On the same token, not all Baby Boomers are out-of-touch and irrelevant! Many are excited and interested in new technologies, new ways of thinking, and creative endeavors.

Although generational constructs are helpful for marketing purposes, they can be utterly lethal in the workplace. Pigeonholing people before they’ve had a chance to show their true colors only harms productivity and interpersonal dynamics. Besides, you might be working alongside Perennials, a group that defies generational boundaries.

What are Perennials?

Gina Pell, who coined the term, says that Perennials are “ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages…[they] comprise an inclusive, enduring mindset, not a divisive demographic.”

I’m sure you’ve encountered many so-called Perennials in your life. These are the young people with “old souls.” These are the older people who love to crack jokes and try new things. These are the people who don’t limit their interactions to their own peer group and instead find friendship with people of all ages. These are the people who refuse to be defined by age.

As Pell says: “It’s time we chose our own category based on shared values and passions and break out of the faux constructs behind an age-based system of classification.”

I couldn’t agree more.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Dilbert cartoon 1

 

Do you ever feel like you’re trapped inside a Dilbert cartoon with bosses that don’t understand you, nonsensical tasks, and no sense of purpose?

This type of workplace is ineffective and damaging to a person’s self-worth, BUT they are still commonplace. I’ve worked with many coaching clients who complain that no one really gets them at work. They feel stifled, misunderstood, or disconnected from their co-workers. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Founder of Keyhubs, Vikas Narula, talks about how to abandon the “Dilbert workplace mentality.” His focus is on individual merits and contributions, not titles or the traditional hierarchal approach. He looks at the informal networks that exist in a given workplace and urges the company to capitalize on them. Narula even developed software that measures connections between co-workers by asking them to identify the people in the workplace who influence and inspire them the most. What he’s found is that people on the “bottom tiers” are frequently important influencers and are often overlooked or under-appreciated by upper-management.

Dilbert cartoon 2

An article about Narula on Pollen.org puts it best: “In reality, work gets done through an unseen network of personal relationships and connections. Uncover that informal network, and you see how your company actually runs.”

The article breaks Narula’s viewpoint into 4 key principles:

  1. Talent and influence transcend hierarchy.
  2. Title and status don’t necessarily grant you influence. Influence happens by building genuine connections. Having a fat title and a big salary doesn’t grant you that privilege.
  3. Proximity makes a big difference. If you’re not close to people and you don’t seek people out on a day-to-day basis, it can affect your ability to build human connection.
  4. There are different types of influence. You might have someone who has a large followership in an organization, or grassroots influence, but who isn’t perceived by the higher ups in that way. And vice versa—someone may be seen as highly influential by a higher up, even if they’re not. This gives them an associative influence.

How can you move your company from a “Dilbert mentality” to one that embraces and appreciates individuals? How can you uncover hidden talents and influencers?

Look beyond the hierarchy. Pay attention to the informal networks that exist within the workplace and identify the key influencers within those networks. Go out of your way to connect with others, no matter their status. By tapping into the organization at the grassroots level, you’ll get a better sense of the foundation on which your company is built.

Dilbert cartoon 3

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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inclusivityLast week, I addressed diversity and how it goes beyond physical characteristics and also involves diversity of thought, behavior, and perspective. This week, I’d like to discuss how your diverse workplace can be an inclusive one. First, let’s define what an inclusive workplace looks like.

People in an inclusive workplace…

…feel a sense of belonging, are treated fairly, and have equal opportunities

…feel like they can be themselves and allow others to be themselves

…are fully engaged and part of a team

…remain authentic

The result of inclusivity? Innovation, creative ideas, and fresh ways of looking at things. These are all things any organization wants, but how to achieve them? How can people with widely differing outlooks on life work together harmoniously and accomplish great things?

According to the principles I’ve learned from Insights® Discovery (a tool for understanding and developing unique personalities), inclusion really starts from the top. Company leadership needs to be fully invested in the idea of inclusivity before the rest of the team can truly adopt it. The organization should consider these questions:

  • Does the leadership recognize the diversity of its team?
  • Do they know how to adapt and connect with all the people on their team?
  • Do they know what motivates certain people on their team? Do they know what derails them?
  • Are there open lines of communication in the office?
  • Are questions and concerns addressed or ignored?
  • Does the leadership make an effort to hear from everyone at the table?

Company leadership can facilitate an open, inclusive environment, but it takes the rest of the organization to keep it up on a day-to-day basis. That takes awareness and reflection. We should be asking ourselves questions from time to time like: “How does the work environment feel?” “How comfortable is it for me? For my co-workers?” “Does the minority have a voice in the office?” “Are we encouraged to raise questions or concerns?”

It takes time to build an inclusive environment, but the results are worth it. Each person has the ability to add unique value to the organization, so it’s important to create an environment where that value can come through.

If you’d like to delve into workplace inclusivity in more depth, I encourage you to contact me so we can discuss your organization’s needs. Thanks for reading!

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Millennials and altruism

The next generation of leaders can’t be bought. In traditional business thinking, if you give an employee a raise every once in a while, that’s enough to keep him or her around. Not so for Millennials. According to Forbes Magazine, “They [Millennials] long to be part of something bigger than themselves… Millennials want to lead a balanced life. They want to be happy at home and happy on the job – money is somewhat secondary.”

Additionally, a recent study showed that a whopping 92% of those born between 1980 and 2000 (commonly known as the Millennial or “Y” generation) believe that business success should be measured by more than profit. They want to know that their company is doing good and they want to be a part of it.

I’ve written a past blog post about what motivates Millennials, but this time I’m going to narrow my focus and concentrate on one big motivator: altruism.

Simply put, Millennials care. They’ve been raised volunteering at church and community events, they go on Habitat for Humanity trips, they discuss issues like poverty and social injustice in their classrooms. When all that takes a back burner in the workplace, it can be a bit of a shock for them. They might ask themselves, “Where are all the people who care?” Or “Why doesn’t my company have a heart?” Or “Am I really doing the kind of work I should be doing?”

On the flip side, Millennials are attracted to companies that actively care. 88% of Gen Y women and 82% of Y men believe it’s important to be able to give back to community through work.

What are some things your company can do to engage Millennials (and other caring employees!) in altruistic activities? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a program in your company that rewards good behavior (good attendance, outstanding leadership, team collaboration) with money that goes to a charity of choice.
  • Sponsor fundraisers (such as a 5k run for charity)
  • Create drop-off areas at work to donate used clothing or food items
  • Allow your employees paid time off for charitable work (and keep a board that tracks and celebrates all the different organizations your employees are volunteering for)
  • Promote green living:
    • Provide incentives for biking, ride share, and public transportation
    • Create an eco-friendly cafeteria with reusable or compostable plates, cups, and eating utensils; a compost bin; and locally/sustainably sourced food
    • Provide water bottle refill stations next to drinking fountains
    • Get an energy audit and make the recommended changes. Keep track of your energy savings on a chart that everyone can see
  • Start team fundraising/volunteer work competitions
  • Work on having an open line of communication with your employees so they can bring their altruistic ideas to you!

Margaret Smith is a career coach, licensed Insights Discovery practitioner, founder of UXL, and co-founder of the TAG Team. You can visit her website at www.youexcelnow.com

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pecking order at work

I recently watched a highly inspirational TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan, former five-time CEO and “management thinker.” She begins her talk with a study about chickens, performed by Purdue University biologist William Muir. In short, he found that flocks comprised of “superchickens,” or the ones that were the highest producers, tended to fail. They would turn on each other and peck each other to death. The control flocks (groups of average chickens–some high-producing, others not), ended up doing much better and producing the most eggs by far. This is a lesson, Heffernan says, that we can apply to any typical organization.

Many companies make the mistake of pouring resources into the few “super employees” and attempting to groom an elite group to carry the company. This, Heffernan says, often leads to “aggression, dysfunction, and waste. If the only way the most productive can be successful is by suppressing the productivity of the rest, then we badly need to find a better way to work and a richer way to live.”

So, what does make teams successful? According to an experiment conducted by MIT, successful teams were found to have the three following characteristics:

1. High degrees of social sensitivity to each other

2. No one voice dominated the successful groups–the members all contributed roughly the same amount

3. The most successful groups had more women in them (the scientists who conducted this study are not certain why this was the case, but one reason could be that women typically score higher on empathy tests)

In short, groups that are highly attuned and sensitive to each other work better together. Ideas can flow and grow. People don’t get stuck. They don’t waste energy down dead ends.

Heffernan goes on to examine specific ways that companies have encouraged teams to work together and bond. Some companies discourage drinking coffee at your desk–instead, you’re encouraged to go to a common room, take a break, and talk to fellow employees while enjoying that cup of coffee. Other companies have office vegetable plots where people can go and pick weeds or water plants when they need a break. All these little connections lead to a big concept: social capital. Social capital is “the reliance and interdependency that builds trust” and it takes time to really grow and build that trust.

The main lesson from all of this is that we are all valuable components of the team, no matter our I.Q. or level of creativity. Diverse teams that are encouraged to grow, share their thoughts and opinions, and lean on each other are the most successful. It’s time to forget the pecking order and embrace collaboration.

For the full TED Talk, please click below:

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Young businessman in office looking at camera.

Let’s talk about a touchy subject: Millennials and loyalty. At first glance, the Millennial generation seems to be comprised of disloyal job-hoppers. Statistics show (according to Multiple Generations @ Work”) that a staggering 91% of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Such high turnover can be tough for companies and cripplingly expensive. In fact, close to 90% of the firms surveyed (according to an article from MainStreet.com) reported that the cost of replacing a Millennial employee was anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000.

These numbers seem overwhelmingly negative, but let’s take a step back and look at Millennials and loyalty from a larger scope.

First of all, consider the context. Millennials have entered the workforce during one of the worst economic periods in history. Companies are downsizing, outsourcing, and slashing salaries in an attempt to stay afloat. And even though cost-of-living and college tuition are increasing dramatically, paychecks are not. Says Rich Milgram, Beyond.com‘s founder and chief executive, “Younger job seekers don’t have it easy in the current economy and they’ve been put in a hole by the generations that have gone before them.” Oftentimes, Millennials practice strategic job-hopping because they know they could be let go at any time. It’s a defensive move and gives them a sense of security if they feel their current position is in danger of being snipped.

Secondly, Millennials’ definition of loyalty is often different from other generations. Consider this statistic for a moment from Philly.com:

More than eight in ten young workers (Millennials, aged 19-26) say they are loyal to their employers. But only one in 100 human resource professionals believe that these young workers are loyal.

Why the huge difference in perspectives? Many believe it has to do with the way Millennials think about loyalty. Many members of this generation do not necessarily pledge themselves to a company, but to a boss or co-workers. Cam Marston, author of “Motivating the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Workforce” says, “Effective bosses are the number one reason why Millennials stay at a job…They have great respect for leaders and loyalty, but they don’t respect authority ‘just because.’ This is why it’s so important to have exceptional leaders at companies to retain these younger workers. They don’t want someone who micromanages and thinks of them as just another worker. They want someone who inspires them to stay at a company.”

Another attribute that keeps Millennials loyal? Workplace atmosphere. A 2012 survey by Net Impact found that 88% of workers considered “positive culture” important or essential to their dream job, and 86% said the same for work they found “interesting.” Additionally, the same Net Impact survey found that 58% of respondents said they would take a 15% pay cut in order to work for an organization “with values like my own,” demonstrating that Millennials are not just content with “any old job,” but seek meaning in the work that they do.

The issue of Millennials and loyalty is a tricky one, but one thing is certain: We cannot just write-off this generation as disloyal and wishy-washy. With the right workplace atmosphere, excellent leadership, and by providing the right set of motivation tools (as mentioned in last week’s post), Millennials will stick around and perform the kind of innovative, creative work that they’re known for.

If you (or your company) needs help creating the right conditions for your Millennial workforce, contact me to discuss potential strategies.

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training millennials

Millennial workers are the future. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 currently comprises 36% of the workforce and 15% of all leadership roles in the United States, and will continue to grow as members of the Baby Boomer generation retire. Although some workers like to dismiss the Millennial generation as “disloyal” or “entitled,” much of this negative labeling comes from fundamental misunderstandings between generations. Because Millennials will soon be the most prominent demographic in the modern workforce, I decided to dedicate the month of February to this generation. Whether you’re training Millennials, working alongside them, or you are a Millennial, this series should be useful to you. To kick off, I will first discuss training techniques.

Many organizations are not keen on the idea of overhauling their entire employee training program. Yes, it can be costly and time-consuming, but it is an absolutely essential step to take if you want to attract new talent and set up new hires for success. And there’s an additional bonus: According to Sweetrush Training, “Applying these [new training programs] will make your training stronger and more effective for everyone — not just Millennials.” That’s because older generations have many of the same tendencies as Millennials, including a positive response to feedback and an interest in interactivity.

The following is a list of some typical Millennial traits and how they translate into workplace training:

  1. Millennials are goal-oriented and like clarity

Before delving too deeply into your training program, give your Millennial trainees a high-level overview of what you’re going to cover and what they need to know. According to Vivid Learning Systems, “Helping them understand early on what is expected of them helps them not only succeed in training but also on the job. You can do this by clearly communicating training objectives, informing trainees about what information they will be evaluated against and how they will be evaluated, and providing an opportunity for Millennials to ask questions and clarify expectations early on.”

  1. Millennials learn better by doing than seeing

To put it frankly: lecture-style training sessions do not work. Most Millennials have grown up with interactive classrooms in which the teacher promotes learning through games, roleplaying, labs, and asking questions. Actually, this kind of interactive learning environment works well for people in all generations. Instead of talking at your trainees and flipping through powerpoint slides, try something more engaging. Use case studies, group work, scenarios, video clips, question and answer sessions, etc. You’ll find that this training style will keep your Millennial hires interested and help them better retain what they’ve learned.

  1. Technology is second-nature for Millennials

Whether it’s videos, online forums, training software, simulations, or interactive Smartboards, incorporating technology into your training program is essential. Millennials are comfortable with technology and readily turn to it for both education and entertainment. By weaving technology into your training program, you’ll find that Millennial trainees will stay engaged and your company will appear to be more relevant and modern in their eyes.

  1. Millennials are interested in collaboration

According to USA Today, studies show that “Millennials actually like to work in teams more than their elders.” This may seem counter-intuitive, given most Millennials’ attraction to technology (and the amount of time they spend engaged with their smartphones), but a full 60 percent of Millennials would prefer to collaborate in person vs. online (34 percent) or via phone or videoconference (6 percent). An added bonus of including group activities in your training program is that the new hires will get to know each other and begin to form bonds. Given that a positive work environment is typically very important to Millennials, it’s a great idea to get them working alongside and befriending their peers right away.

If you have any questions about creating a new training program for the next generation of workers, please do not hesitate to contact me today.

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