Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIN

Alicia Blain

Archive for November, 2010

This past Saturday, I was able to take advantage of the long holiday weekend to get together with some friends that I hadn’t seen for some time. Most of my friends have children who are Millennials so I always feel like I have a living Millennial laboratory everywhere I go.  I never miss an opportunity to listen in or hang out with my friends’ kids because I love getting their perspective. Typically, that perspective is very different than their parents which has always been the case no matter what generation you are a part of.

I was “allowed” to listen in on a conversation my friend’s daughters were having with 4 other friends (boys & girls).   These were older teenagers who were sitting close to where their parents were sitting & commenting on what their parents were saying.  The subject was Black Friday.  One of the teenager’s mother was telling everyone how much fun she had shopping on Black Friday.  Apparently, she & some of her girlfriends made a fun day out of Black Friday.  They all got up early, went out for breakfast, battled the traffic, went into the malls, battled the crowds, bought stuff on sale and spent most of the day in the mall.  When they finished shopping, they all went to a nice restaurant near the mall and enjoyed a nice, leisurely dinner & ended their day with a treat at an ice cream shop located next to the restaurant.  They managed to turn what could have been a pretty hectic event into a casual, fun event that they looked forward to instead of dreading.

As the woman was recounting her adventure, her daughter, Gina,  was rolling her eyes in disbelief.  As her friends laughed, I asked her if she had joined her mom in her Black Friday adventure.  She looked at me with this disgusted face and said ” Are you crazy?  That’s so old fashioned?”  Old fashioned?  When had shopping on Black Friday gotten passe?  Now personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a store on Black Friday because I hate crowds and the discounts are not worth the bother.

So I asked Gina why she thought that was old fashioned.  Like a typical Millennial she said ” Duh, have you heard of this thing called the Internet”?   I quickly learned that Gina & her friends loved to go to the mall but not for shopping although they occasionally would do that.  For them, the mall was a place to socialize & hang out with their friends & eat.  Shopping was done online.  In 30 minutes, Gina and her friends gave me a crash course in online shopping. 

Now I am no slouch when it comes to shopping online but what I discovered with these Millennials was the inside scoop for getting great discounts & alerts for anything you want to buy. I clearly don’t spend as much time online as they do so it made sense that they would know all these great hidden goldmines. They showed me where to go on Facebook to get great discounts, they showed me how to get Web ads that gave even better discounts than going into the physical store, they showed me how to get free shipping for practically anything I wanted to buy and… they showed me how to do this all on their mobile phones.

I always learn the coolest stuff from Millennials.  Last Saturday was no exception.  I couldn’t argue with the convenience and hassle-free nature of shopping online AND getting great discounts to boot.  For those like Gina’s mom that make Black Friday an “experience” they look forward to & enjoy, then shopping online seems like an impersonal way to make purchases.  I can understand that.  But for those of us who hate crowds, don’t have time to go look through endless racks in department stores & hate to walk a mile for a parking space, it’s a pretty good deal.  Especially when you are armed with the social media “insider tools”  that Millennials have at their fingertips to save money & get free shipping.

I was so glad to have seen my friends & even more so to see her kids & their friends.   Now I’m part of Gina’s tribe & I get updates on who is discounting what on Facebook or where to get the latest Web Ad for a coupon.  I’m in with the “in” crowd now!

So move over Black Friday.  I’ll take Cyber Shopping any day of the week… and so will most Millennials… at least the ones that don’t like crowds.

Welcome to Black Friday and the start of the hectic and crazy holiday season!  I can’t believe the end of the year is almost here.  I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving in the company of their friends & family.  As you can tell by some of my posts this week, I have been busy reading Fast Company which is one of my favorite magazines.  I always like their Numerology section which appears on the last page of the magazine because it gives some cool statistics on a particular topic.

This month’s pick was the Peace Corps. and for me that took me back in time.  According to the article, the Peace Corps is celebrating it’s 50th birthday this month.  For every Baby Boomer, the Peace Corps has some significance and relevance.  We have either known someone who has served in the Peace Corps. or have done so ourselves.  I remember it having a presence in my college and in fact, according to the article, 60 US universities include a tour with the Peace Corps as part of their master’s degree curriculum.

The article has some fascinating facts about the Peace Corps. but the most impressive statistic is that it still exists and is going strong.  The majority of volunteers today are Millennials (makes sense, right?)  and given their strong attraction & involvement in worthwhile causes, I am confident the Peace Corps will be around for many more years. 

During a week that has been full of thankfulness & appreciation for what I have, it was nice to see this article and reminisce about such a wonderful organization that has been a part of the Baby Boomer experience and has done so much good around the world.  Indeed there is a lot to be thankful for and the Peace  Corps. is one of those things.

Happy Black Friday, everybody!!

Did you know that in Britain, this week is called National Thank You Week?  Well it’s true and I had no idea.  That’s why I love Nancy Lublin’s  “Do Something” column in Fast Company.  There’s always some tidbit that I learn. In November her column was titled  “Two Little Words“.  In it she reminds us how we so often forget to say thank you.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US and the British  have National Thank You week,  I wonder how many times this week we will stop to say thank you or be thankful for all we have?

We are often so quick to see the shortcomings in others and to see our life as half empty that it really keeps us from seeing all the abundance we have around us whether it’s in the people we work with or in the life we have.  As leaders we often forget how important those in the trenches are to our success.  Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.  Yet, how many times have you taken  a few minutes to talk to them or ask them how they’re doing.  Many times, we justify not doing it by saying that these folks report into our direct reports and that our direct reports are taking care of that?  My response to that is:  So?  Even though that is the case, there’s no reason why, you as the head of your team, can’t do the same.  Imagine what a treat that would be to those staff members?

Nancy Lublin talks about thanking the “little people” which she defines as the FedEx guy, the people that clean your offices, the mailroom people.  It’s the people that are almost invisible to you on a day to day but whose absence you would feel given the things they do for you.  Everyone we interact with contributes in some small way to our getting through our day everyday and yet we often don’t give them a second thought.

Well, let’s give them a second thought today.  As we get ready to spend tomorrow with our friends & family, let’s not forget that Thanksgiving ISN’T just about turkey & football but in fact, it’s a day to spend quality time with our family.  It’s a day not only to enjoy our friends & family but to be thankful we have them, warts and all.  But that’s tomorrow.  Today, make time to say thank you to your corporate family, especially those in the trenches and the invisible people who do so much & allow us to concentrate on what we do best.

Like Nancy says, it’s just 2 words but they carry such a powerful, positive punch when it’s heartfelt.

So from me to you, I want to thank you all and wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving !

I was reading the latest McKinsey Quarterly edition and was fascinated by the article written by Gary Hamel & Polly LaBarre titled ”Dispatches from the Front Lines of Management Innovation” .  Gary and Polly are part of MIX which stands for the Management Innovation ExchangeIt’s a wonderful forum where the goal is to challenge conventional management thinking & make organizations fit for the future.  I encourage all leaders to stop by and take a look at the wonderful information and conversation taking place there.  It is eye opening and mind opening as well. 

In this particular McKinsey article, the authors talk about the results of a first ever management innovation contest  held at MIX.  Just the concept of holding a management innovation contest piqued my interest because it’s the type of initiative that I go over in my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership.  The”E“  in  the C.A.R.E. framework stands for Experiment.  Experimentation is at the heart of what MIX is doing with this collaborative platform they have built. 

In my Millennial Lab, I quickly discovered that the traditional management principles I had used for so long were no longer working.  However, I was at a loss as to what to do to replace those outdated principles.  So I had to experiment.  I had to challenge myself as a leader and try new techniques that would work in the 21st Century.  In the beginning this was extremely difficult but my lab afforded me the ability to try different things out.  Trial and error so to speak.  That trial and error process helped me identify new techniques that worked in leading a diverse and changing workforce in a fast paced environment.  Doing that was transformational for me as a leader and it had tremendous benefits for my team & the results we achieved.

One of the  transformations I had as I developed and implemented the C.A.R.E. framework had to do with trust.  In the MIX contest  one of the contest challenges was to increase trust.  The winner of that particular challenge was Microsoft.    Ross Smith, who at the time was director of Microsoft’s Windows Security Test team was captivated by this notion of increasing trust in his team.  He quickly realized, as I did years ago, that in order to maximize innovation and creativity within teams, all team members must feel a high level of trust.

That started him on an experimental journey within his team to increase trust.  Working collaboratively with his team, they developed a web-based game that forced the team to create a rank ordering of behaviors leading to trust. Once they had the prioritized list, he encouraged the team to create a trust playbook wiki.  From there, the experiment flourished and wonderful ideas and activities resulted from that.  The results: retention grew 20 to 50% and productivity increased by 10 to 60%.

Experimentation has clear bottom line payoffs but so many leaders are unwilling to take that first step and try.  When you read the article you will see other examples of leaders who challenged their comfort zones and achieved unprecedented results.  Was it easy for them to do that?  No.  Did it take an invesment in time and commitment.  Absolutely. 

In working with and talking to many leaders today, I believe it’s these 2 factors that keep many of them from trying alternative methods to lead in the 21st Century.  Although I share the techniques that worked for me in my framework, it still requires leaders to not only invest their time but to want to do it.  If leaders are simply going through the motions, their team members will see right through that & they won’t buy-in.  They will see that the trust is not there and that there is no commitment to change.  Transparency & honesty are key to make change happen in a positive way.

So read the article, visit the MIX site and start your experimental management journey.  Can you collaborate with your team and create a trust playbook that you can follow?  It may be the exact thing you need to transform your team and take innovation and creativity to a brand new level.   Give it a try.  You can always revert back to what you do today…

In its November edition, Fast Company is introducing a video-blog series called “Change Generation“.  The series highlights a number of Millennials who have done some pretty spectacular things in their very young lives.  To me, each video or article presents a case study of the potential the Millennials have once they are commited & engaged in something.  In many of the examples, that “something” happens to be very worthwhile causes like a donation program for Haiti or bringing clean water to a developing country.  But other examples just highlight the creativity & tenacity the Millennials have once they are focused on something.

Every generation that has come before the Millennials has had that same tenacity & focus on making change.  Look at the Boomers.  They were the catalysts for social change in the US when they were young not to mention the creators of the Sex, Drug & Rock n’ Roll mindset, right?  That’s the beauty of being young.  You tend to focus on the possibilities more than the constraints.  The Millennials are no different except they are enacting their creativity & tenacity at a time when technology offers them so many opportunities to manifest that need for change that burns inside every young person. No other generation before them has had the advantage of the Internet, social media, globalization & so many other factors coming together to help them bring about change.  That’s a wonderful thing to see.

As I looked through the videos or read their stories, I saw the great talent these Millennials were displaying and a talent that I have seen firsthand.  It didn’t surprise me that for many of them, their initial decision was not to pursue an entrepreneurial life but a corporate one.  After choosing their corporate careers, many of them opted to drop out of corporate.  When you listen to them or read what they say, you will hear many of them say that working in corporate made them feel “lost” or they were “underutilized” and they wanted to do more with their talents.

I think this is a great series for corporate leaders to watch for 2 very important reasons:  the first is that it will give corporate leaders an insight into how the Millennials think, the types of leaders they admire, how hard they work &  the issues they feel are important.  Said in different ways, their messages point to a similar theme.  The second reason why this series is powerful is that leaders will hear what is turning Millennials off from pursuing corporate jobs.  Every Millennial in that series was a driven, hard working, bright & creative individual that corporations failed to retain.  At a time when American corporations are fighting a recession, intense global competition & a serious scarcity of innovation, losing talent like the ones showcased in this series is a real problem if corporations want to stay competitive & leading edge going forward.

Imagine the difference that one leader could have made if he or she had learned how to shift their mindset & leverage the amazing talent these young people have.  The bottom line payoff for the corporation would have been quite impressive.  Instead that payoff went somewhere else.   Lost opportunity?  You bet.  But the irony is that those leaders probably didn’t even know they had a golden nugget because it was sitting right under their very nose while they were probably looking everywhere else for answers.

Sometimes it’s hard to see something that is right under our nose.  This series could help you see it.  Go and check it out at your leisure.  Maybe it will help you see Millennials in a different light.  Maybe it will help you find ways to engage them differently so they are not lost, are not underutilized and are not walking out your door.

Woo-hoo!!  The Friday before Thanksgiving.  The holidays are around the corner & I love this time of year. 

Instead of going back in time today, I thought we’d go forward.  To help us do that, AARP had a great article in their recent edition titled 2020 Vision: Join us as we time-travel forward 10 years and look back at a decade of astonishing changeby Michael Anft, Scott Carlson, David Dudley & Farhad Manjoo.  As the article says,  part of the fun in looking into the future is to see exactly how much of it we got wrong.  But I think our fascination with the future is our desire to know what’s in store for us.  With the speed of change, projecting out 10 years to 2020 is no easy feat. 

Some of the prognostications are certainly a bit “far out” but others I think are certainly in the realm of possibility.  Take a look & see for yourself & see what you think.  Actually, it might be a fun thing to do with your loved ones on Turkey Day.  As you can probably guess, I’m always intrigued by how each of the generations, especially the Millennials, see the future & what they think is possible or not.  By 2020,  they will all be in the workforce & who knows what challenges & opportunities they will be facing.  Hopefully, the rest of us will be there to support them in any way we can.

Happy Friday everybody & for those in the U.S., have a Happy Thanksgiving in the company of your friends & family!!

Well, Steve Tobak’s recent article on BNET’s Corner Office section may help you determine if you are or not.  In case you don’t read the Corner Office, Steve Tobak always looks at corporate America through a humorous but yet very honest lens.  In this article he argues that being a manager closely resembles the stages of human development.  Sometimes we get stuck in one stage instead of evolving to the next.  The only problem is when we do that as managers we affect a lot more people than just ourselves & our immediate family.

He has identified the 5 Stages of Management Development & briefly describes each one.  Read through & see which stage you fall into and more importantly, if you feel like you’ve been stuck in any particular stage. 

I like what he says in the 5th Stage which he calls the Maturity stage.  He says that in this stage you realize you are like everybody else & that you succeed in some things, don’t succeed in others & you learn from everything.  The last part is the part I like best because it’s so applicable to leading in today’s times.  As our experiences have matured us & given us a roadmap to use in leadership, we have to always remember to learn and adapt how we do things.  Sometimes adapting means we have to stop relying so much on the roadmap & focus on creating new routes.  Sometimes, as Steve mentions, it’s being humble enough to look at yourself as others in your team see you & not like you think they see you.

So what management stage describes you?  More importantly, what are you doing to ensure that you are learning so you can be an effective leader to everyone in your team?

According to Alan Webber, co-founder of Business Week, it is.  After spending the last month traveling & speaking extensively & talking to a lot of leaders from IT & other disciplines, I agree with Alan Webber. Why?  Well,  Alan has a formula that gets to the heart of why people change & it’s so applicable in today’s workplace. Here’s the formula:

                                              C (SQ) > R (C)

And here’s what it means.  According to Alan, change (C) happens only when the cost of the status quo (SQ) is GREATER than the risk (R) of change (C).

Brilliant, isn’t it and so simple.  But very powerful & indicative of what is happening across organizations today.  I’ve said many times in my blog that leaders today are like renaissance leaders who have been given a challenge and an opportunity to pave the way for change in the 21st Century.  As much as we don’t like change & many times resist it, we know deep down inside that the practices & principles we were taught & that we’ve used so well in our long corporate careers are no longer effective.  They are not helping us meet the challenges that we face today whether it is the fast pace of technology,  the fact that we work in a global market or that we have a young workforce that’s not like ones we’re used to.

The irony is that even though we know that what we’re used to or said differently -the status quo – is not working the fear of change, of the unknown, is so high that we choose to hold on to the past instead of venturing forth & trying something new. I know exactly what it feels like to be in that situation.  As I started hiring Millennials years ago, I wanted desperately to hold on to the way I had led in the past.  It was comfortable, it had always worked & it fit me like a glove.  Why did I have to change?  I resisted it for a long time confident in the fact that those pesky Millennials would finally adapt to the workplace like the rest of us had.

It took me a lot of trial & error to discover that while I was holding on to those leadership principles of the past, the world had changed dramatically over those years.  What I didn’t realize was how those changes became imbedded in our Millennial  children from a very young age & the end result was that those changes fundamentally altered the way the Millennials & every generation that comes after them see the world, their workplace & their bosses.  It was painful for me to realize that how I led in the past (i.e., the status quo) was not serving me any longer.  But after fighting it, I discovered that holding on to the past, to the status quo, was going to be costlier for me in the long run than the risk of making a change.  I came up with my C.A.R.E. System for Leadership as a result of all the trial & errors I had gone through.  Ironically enough, one of the components of the A in C.A.R.E. which stands for Adapt is a technique to let go of the status quo. 

So I had to take a leap.  Changing how I did things & how I led & managed was extremely uncomfortable at first but I kept going & I kept pushing myself & challenging my leadership comfort zone.  The results were transformational not only for my team but especially for me as a leader. I embraced the change & stopped fighting to keep the status quo – I had to let go of the status quo

As I’ve traveled both nationally & internationally this past month, I’ve seen leaders at different stages of acceptance of the math formula above.  The ones that are infusing innovation & change within their teams are the ones, like me, who were uncomfortable changing their styles but did it anyway.  The ones that are still holding on to the status quo are filled with conversations that start with “Yea, but…” They are convinced that the corporate structure will force Millennials to adapt to it.  My question to that has always been “Why”.  It’s not like the corporate structure is so wonderful or evolutionary that it couldn’t stand a radical makeover, right?  There’s a lot of good that can happen within the corporate walls if instead of adapting to it, we adapted it to something better.

The only question is, as a leader, on which side of the math formula are you?  On the change side or the yea but side?