August 2010


Going through my backlog of articles I want to read I came across an interesting post that touches on how to manage millennials.  No I am not obsessed with them I just post what I think might be helpful.  There is also a learning angle to this but you’ll have to read on to find it.

In this post, Tammy Erickson reviews the events that occurred in the formative years of millennials and how that has formed their identity and habits.  Below are  a few excepts I found interesting.

  • Y’s want to feel they are doing work that is challenging and important.
  • Focus on the actual completion of tasks; hold them accountable for outcomes, not for time spent.
  • Create a collaborative, team-based environment.
  • Leverage technology to create more efficient processes.
  • Provide frequent feedback; first-line managers should teach rather than assess.
  • Provide a variety of world-class learning opportunities.

Aren’t you glad you read to the end to find out what the learning tie-in is?  Read the whole thing.  It will only take a few minutes.  There is more in the post that is worth taking a look at.

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Fortune magazine has a fascinating article about Trader Joe’s on its website.  Did you know they are privately owned by a German company that operates one of the largest supermarket chains in the world?  I didn’t.  Its a great read even if you don’t shop there.  Who knows maybe you’ll start buying organic brown rice spaghetti topped with salt free, fat free vegan organic marinara sauce followed up with frozen soy chocolate sandwiches after you read it.

For extra credit you can comment on how authentic you think Trader Joe’s is.  However, you must read this post first.

One of the more thought provoking books I have read recently is Authenticity by Jim Gilmore and Joseph Pine.  In the book they explain that consumers are making buying decisions based on authenticity, how well they conform to self-image.  They explain in the book that “consumers and business-to-business customers now purchase offerings based on how well those purchases conform to their own self-image.   What they buy must reflect who they are who they aspire to be in relation to how they perceive the world — with lightning quick judgments of ‘real’ or ‘fake’ hanging in the balance.”

To the authors, authenticity comes down to the interrelationship of real and fake.  This can be determined by asking two questions: is the offering true to itself? and is the offering what it says it is?  The answer to these questions are not for the provider to determine.  It comes down to how customers perceive them.

Gilmore and Pine have organized the possible responses to the two questions into a 2 x 2 real-fake matrix.  To be viewed as authentic, consumers must view these factors as being in alignment.  Contrary to what one might expect, the goal is not to be real- real, to be true to yourself and what you say you are.  To demonstrate that the opposite can be successful, the authors classify Niketown as fake-fake.  “The place is not what it says it is, a Nike town, and is not true to Nike’s original internal mantra, “Authentic Athletic Performance,” nor to its now famous internal tagline, “Just Do It.”  Nike does nothing to extend that ethos into its Niketown outlets.  It is Fake-fake – a Nikestore with absolutely nothing athletic to do.”  The authors point out that real-real is the hardest to achieve and the easiest to fall short of.   If this is the case, it fake-fake the easiest to achieve and maintain?

On the book’s website Gilmore and Pine occasionally ask people to apply the matrix to an offering.  The most recent subject is LeBron James.  Their question is simple, was his decision to join the Miami Heat authentic?  Its a provocative question, especially when applied to a person instead of a corporation.  The link above provides resources to help you make a decision and a poll where you can see what other people thought.

From a learning perspective this is an intriguing exercise.  To respond, a participant must have some familiarity with the concepts laid out in the book.  By providing a case study the authors enable the participant to explore the dynamics between the variables.  The actual learning occurs through the exploration.  Having the author’s perspective on each example would help the participant confirm his or her conclusions.

…by the time you get to be senior, the decisions that matter the most are the ones that would be best made made by people who are junior…

The quote above comes from a recent post by Seth Godin.  Check out the whole post.  It only takes a few minutes to read.  Having never been in senior management I am not qualified to validate his assertion.  However, I have worked in organizations where the leadership is stuck in ways of thinking that were not moving the organization forward.  I’ve been in situations where I have been stuck.  Diagnosing the problem is the easy part.  Fixing it is where the challenge lies.  How do you get unstuck?

It is hard to find a specific date for when Millenials or Generation Y started.  Consensus seems to be that the shift from Generation X to Generation Y started around 1980.  Accepting that as true, we will begin to see this generation having a greater and greater impact on our places of work. It was a shock to me that a millenial could be in his or her 30s.  It is also the case that millenials are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce.  The article linked in the previous sentence describes millenials as tech-savvy, family centric, achievement oriented, team oriented, and attention craving.

What impact will this generation have on the workplace?  We are already seeing one change, the focus on social networking.  This Harvard Business Review blog post cites research that strongly indicates that millenials will continue to share information about themselves and their work as they age.  This suggests that their openness is not limited to their social time but actually extends to all aspects of their lives.  In the post, the author points out that the practice of “working in private” and “only sharing our output when it is done” is contrary to the way millenials think.

He points out that “Gen Y finds [the] approach [described above] somewhere between quaint and dumb. They inherently follow the advice of blog pioneer Dave Winer to “narrate your work” — to use 2.0 tools like blogs, microblogs, and social networking software to broadcast not only the finished products of knowledge work, but also the work in progress.  He sees two benefits to this.  “First, people who narrate their work become helpful to the rest of the organization, because the digital trail they leave makes others more efficient. Second, by airing their questions and challenges work narrators open themselves up to good ideas and helpfulness from others, and so become more efficient themselves.”

If you are getting worried that only good can come from the preferences of Gen Y, the author ends the post by promising to post concerns about the affect of Gen Y on the workplace.  Be sure to come back.

Click here for information on how to motivate Gen Y.

UPDATE: Click here to read a brief post on what millenials want from their leaders.

I don’t have a Facebook account.

I don’t use Twitter.

I read blogs but I don’t comment.

I’m not always sure what a chat shortcut (BCNU, IRL, FWIW) means.

I’m sure there is a lot more I don’t know about social networking than I do know.  I’m comfortable with that.  However, writing this blog has shown me the value of social networking.  This space gives me an opportunity to share my thoughts, experiences, and perspectives in ways that I could not have without it.

In the past couple of weeks people have told me they read my blog.  I cannot express the sense of appreciation that gives me.  I truly appreciate anybody who reads my blog.  Nobody has to.  Everyone is busy.  The thought that someone took time to read something I wrote is gratifying.  I am even more gratified when someone takes the time to comment.

This blog has caused me to reconsider some, but not all, of my thoughts on social networking.  First, a person has to be brave to expose themselves online.  To be interesting or valuable, a blog or other social networking tool has to be authentic.  When I started this blog, I wasn’t ready for that.  However, once I got started I realized it would be a waste of time if I wasn’t authentic.  It would also be boring.

Alexandra Samuel wrote a blog post titled “10 Reasons to Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life” where she lays out the reasons she believes social networking can actually enrich relationships.  According to her, a person must recognize that a life online is real, as opposed to virtual.  Once a person accepts that, it changes everything.  A recurring theme in the post is the need to be real.  I encourage you to check it out.

I would not have agreed with her or even understood her point if I had not started this blog.  Now I see my online activity as being an extension of myself rather than something I do as an escape.  Being a contributor rather than a consumer has transformed my online experience.  I am more engaged.  I am actually spend less time online but  I am using my time more wisely (I think).

If you have not thought about blogging before I encourage you to do so.  Send me your URL.  Not only will I read it but I promise to comment too.

Don’t these people look happy?  Wouldn’t you like to work in an environment as loose and comfortable as this?  Do you think Google has trouble attracting and keeping top talent?  Do you think Google’s employees go home each night wondering how they will find the energy to go back the next day?

I’ll be honest, there are things in that video that turn me off and I am glad I don’t work for Google.  However, it does illustrate what Pamela Meyer calls “Generative Space.”  Below is her description of generative space.

A space is generative when those who engage in it are actively generating ideas and possibilities.  Generative space is also life giving; it gives life to both the participants and their ideas.  You have experienced generative space when you leave a meeting more excited about what is possible than when you arrived; you have experienced generative space if you find yourself settling back into your body with optimism, even in the midst of chaotic times; you have experienced generative space when you rediscover your sense of humor while exploring alternative perspectives; and you have experienced generative space when you become energized through your participation. (emphasis mine)

How do you create and support generative space?  Below are her tips to three different types of players in the workplace.

Leaders, be a secretary of energy. Poor morale, sagging motivation, and cynicism are all indicators of a lack of energy.  Leaders must be aware of these warning signs.  More warning signs include low participation in meetings, defensiveness, and information hoarding.  One way to stay in touch with the mood of your team is to solicit informal feedback.  Asking open-ended questions about how things are going will show your team that you are concerned about their well-being.

Another way Dr. Meyer recommends to motivate your team is to match people with their projects that match their passion.  Research indicates that people who have a personal interest in their work will be generate more creative ideas and be more resilient in their work.

Her advice to facilitators is to focus on the positive.  Appreciate people and their contributions.  Respectfully approach team members who are having a negative impact on the team’s energy.  Listen to people’s contributions.  When a person feels their ideas are being heard, it is energy generating.  Ideas that are not heard and responded to create robs energy from the team.

She also recommends starting meetings with a challenge to get people’s activated.  Its not unusual for me to come to a meeting with a lot on my mind.  It takes  a while for me to reset my thinking.  Below are some links she provides to help get meetings off the right way.

Five Ways to Make Space for People to Play with New Ideas and Perspectives

Encyclopedia of Improvisation Games (warm-ups and icebreakers)

Participants are encouraged to be generous with their ideas. There is nothing worse than holding a meeting where nobody contributes.  Dr. Meyer advises participants to be fearless when sharing ideas.  Don’t wait for the participant to ask for ideas.  Come ready to contribute.  When others bring ideas, compliment them.  A “positive response to others’ contributions expands the generative space and increases the likelihood it will be sustained.”

Generative space does not have to be all fun and games.  However, it benefits from positive energy.  Seek out and support energy sources on your team.  Make an investment in the positive.  Share generously.  We would all do well if we took this advice and put it into practice.