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Alicia Blain

Corporate Change


Quote:  “You can’t lead without imagination”  ~  Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Imagination is seriously lacking in today’s corporate environment.  We are knee deep in a status quo that no longer serves us and that in many ways, makes us mediocre.  To change that, we need to spark imagination in all our employees.  But first, we must spark it in ourselves as team leaders. To create the spark you need to embrace experimentation.  I’m not talking about creating a department or a committee to look into experimentation.  I mean changing the way you lead your team so that experimentation is always encouraged and rewarded.  When an idea doesn’t work out, it isn’t perceived as failure but as a learning experience that enriches the team and the lesson learned can be utilized to fuel the next experiment.

Experimentation is the final but core concept in the C.A.R.E. System.  It is what ties it all together. In these posts, I have showcased Starbucks and its CIO to illustrate the key principles behind the C.A.R.E. System.  At the very core of Gillett’s success was his innate acceptance or need to experiment. None of the examples would have been possible if Gillett had not embraced experimentation. Let’s recap all the ways he experimented:

  • When he took on more responsibility in the face of daunting IT problems that needed resolution
  • When he went to work at a Starbucks retail store, not knowing what he’d find or how he would do,
  • When he showed the Executive team a live simulation highlighting the shortcomings of their existing POS system
  • When he proposed the new business unit called Digital Ventures,
  • When he chose an entrepreneur to run the new business unit,
  • When he made IT and Marketing equally responsible for the new business unit
  • When he asked employees for their ideas on making IT better,
  • When he let employees select their IT devices,
  • When he applied his knowledge of networks to help spark solutions in Starbuck’s retail business.

All of these examples illustrate that Gillett was open to experimentation. He may not have been comfortable with all of it but he chose not to play it safe.  At some level, he understood that taking risks was critical to Starbuck’s survival and he, as well as his CEO, faced the challenge and came out ahead.  I’m sure that there were ideas that didn’t work out.  In fact, the article highlights one. Apparently, Gillett is a big gamer or lover of video games. Actually,  he’s a guild master in the online video game called World of Warcraft.  That’s a pretty big deal in the gaming community. Instead of playing down that passion, he  set up a meeting between the executive teams of Starbucks and Blizzard, the owners of World of Warcraft so they could look into the possibility of doing business together.  After all, both companies had a huge fan base and Starbucks needed to find ways to engage customers online the way that Blizzard did. 

At the end, the experiment did not end up in a partnership.  But all was not lost.  The experiment sparked new ideas among the Starbucks executives that led to new offerings for their customers.  Embracing a spirit of experimentation almost always sparks the imagination and that leads to more possibilities for innovation.

For companies to be relevant in the future they must make experimentation a core objective for all departments.  It needs to be nurtured, rewarded and imbedded into the corporate culture.  More importantly, it is a pivotal component if we are to transform the way we lead.  Millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce in less than 5 years.  As leaders preparing to pass the baton to the next generation leaders, I believe it is our obligation to embrace change and find new ways to lead.

So you may be wondering what happened to Ben and his direct reports? As I dissected the Starbucks case study, Ben was able to see real world examples of C.A.R.E. in action.  It sparked their curiosity and an eagerness to try new approaches in their organization as Gillett tried to do in his.  Ben, as CIO, made a very important decision that day.  He chose not to play it safe.  He realized the future required new ways of seeing things and new ways of leading.  The Millennials were their new audience not just as employees but as customers. He realized that if transformation was going to happen, it needed to include the Millennials in the workplace.  And he was ready.

I’ll end this series by quoting Seth Godin one last time.  In Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us, Seth writes:

“The safer you play your plans for the future, the riskier it actually is.”

My questions to you are:  How safe are you playing your role as leader? What one thing can you do today to get you slightly uncomfortable? What one thing can you do to get to know a Millennial in your workplace? 

Like me, you’ll find that staying in your comfort zone as a leader is actually riskier than embracing a little discomfort to prepare for the future. Once you step out of your comfort zone and see all the possibilities that it offers, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…

Quote: “ I don’t think we have any choice.  I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game.”   ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Connecting with our employees and customers and adapting our mindset gets us ready to play a different game.  But you also need action and to do that you have to be willing to RESHAPE your organization.  To Reshape is the third module in the C.A.R.E. System. To visualize just how you can begin to do that, let’s go to our Starbucks example.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

Here are 3 examples of actionable steps that Gillett took to reshape his IT team and their reputation.

1.     He forced collaboration between teams.  In the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership, we call this “Letting go of Silos”.  Silos are rampant across corporate America and they are innovation and motivation killers for most employees but especially Millennials.  One of the key Millennial characteristics is their collaborative spirit.  They work best in groups and the more you mix up the group the better. Imagine their surprise when they show up for work and see that business units barely interact with one another and they certainly don’t share and collaborate very much. In his pitch for a new business unit, Gillett forced the collaboration of the IT and Marketing teams.  Talk about silos that don’t normally have much in common.  The new unit was called Digital Ventures and Gillett hired an entrepreneur to run it instead of a corporate type. Now that’s playing a different game.

 2.     He let the employees choose their technology and propose new ideas. At a time when so many IT shops are still fighting the consumerization of IT here is a company that allows their employees to select from a wide assortment of technology, from Macs to PCs to smartphones to get work done. To be completely fair, the article did say that Starbucks modeled their Tech Café after the Apple Store. That brings up a good point.  We should always be scouting the market for techniques that work for others and how they can be customized for our specific organizations.  What I liked the most was that they welcomed feedback from the employees on all things concerning IT.  In the C.A.R.E. System, we call that IT Advocacy.  Millennials are the first generation of workers that actually want more technology than what currently exists in the workplace.  No matter what team they work for, they can be invaluable to an IT Dept.  But IT has to take the first step and request their help and then be open to the suggestions given. As IT Advocates, Millennials can be a wonderful test group for any new product, process, or upgrade that the IT Department is considering. If done properly, IT Advocates can be a great extension of the IT Department.  As IT partners, they also create a great fan base for IT in the company.

3.     Applying expertise from an unrelated field to solve a different problem.  Gillett had little retail experience before working at Starbucks and according to the article he had never worked on the scale of a Starbucks.  But he had worked for companies with big networks like Yahoo. Instead of disregarding that experience, he leveraged it to understand the retail giant and apply that seemingly unrelated experience at Starbucks.  Gillett is quoted in the article as saying:  “[…] big Internet, like Yahoo, had solved a lot of the technical challenges that big retail had yet to solve… If you think of all your stores like nodes on a network, and all your resisters as computers rather than cash registers, you can start to manage and deploy […] like Yahoo would a server farm […]”   Many examples exist in business of how breakthrough ideas and products are discovered when a solution that worked in a completely unrelated field is applied to solve a different problem.

 Sometimes, organizations are too narrow-minded in how they view and value experience.  Perhaps an employee in your team has expertise in solving problems in another field that can be the breakthrough idea you need to solve a problem.  You’ll never leverage that unrelated expertise if you don’t know about it or you don’t support it or you don’t find an outlet to try it out.  Experimentation is the subject of our last post in the series and a pivotal one for transformation to occur.

Quote: “What they needed was a leader to bring the organization to a new audience in a new way.”       ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us.

If you’re not quite sure why Millennials are an organization’s “new audience”, I invite you to read through some of my past blogs to get a thorough understanding of this unfamiliar group.  As leaders, we won’t be able to really reach that new audience unless we are willing to create a new way or at the very least question our existing way to see if it will work going forward.

That’s why it’s so important for us to ADAPT and find a new way so our next generation employees are engaged and productive in our teams.  ADAPT is the second module of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership and it’s an important one because it has to do with a leader’s state of mind. ADAPT is all about mindset and getting comfortable testing your boundaries.

So what specific things can we do to ADAPT our leadership style?  Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for ideas.  As the new CIO, Gillett embraced 3 things that got him out of his comfort zone and ready to ADAPT and find a new way to lead his IT team.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

1.     He was curious and courageous. The article quotes Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as saying that Gillett “had an insatiable curiosity and wasn’t afraid of pursing big, bold ideas.” Curiosity and courage are key components of the C.A.R.E. System.  To change and adapt to a new way of doing things and of leading is not easy.  You are fighting yourself and those in the organization that want to keep the status quo alive.  Without being inherently curious, asking lots of “why do we do it that way” questions and being willing to fight the good fight, it is very difficult to ADAPT and give your new audience – the Millennials – a new way.

 2.    He asked for even more responsibility.  In early 2009, Gillett has been in Starbucks for just one year and realizes he inherited what can only be termed an IT nightmare. At the same time, Starbuck’s new CEO, Howard Schultz,asks the company executives to give him ideas on how to turn the company around. He urges them to think outside their corporate functions. Does Gillett ignore his boss’ request because he legitimately reasons he already has too much on his plate? No. He goes ahead and pitches an idea for Starbucks to make a venture capital investment in a new business unit designed to push the company’s mobile and online strategy.  That was a gutsy move.  Instead of sticking to what he knew and focusing on just that, Gillett saw a rare opportunity to be part of a transformation at Starbucks.  It required him to take on more than he probably could chew at that time. He got out of his comfort zone and adapted his mindset to take on a strategic challenge and he succeeded. According to the article, since creating the new venture “Starbucks has become a retail leader in mobile payments”. By stretching yourself and getting uncomfortable you push yourself to try new things.  Like a muscle, the more you use it, the more comfortable you become letting go of your status quo.

 3.   He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit into IT.  That’s very rare to see.  IT departments in most large organizations these days are all about following the rules, often playing it safe, and saying a lot of NO in the interest of “security”.  In the next post, we will see examples of what Gillett did that went against these typical IT practices.  The examples were possible because he elected to run IT not so much as a corporate business unit but rather as an entrepreneurial venture. They opened themselves up to try new things.  The focus was to address the needs of its customers – both inside and outside the corporate walls. That ultimately showcased IT as an enabler instead of  a cop.

 In today’s super competitive, global marketplace,  organizations that don’t want to fall behind need to be run by leaders that are open to adapting their frame of mind and leadership frameworks to make way for the future. They need to ADAPT and find new ways for their new audience – the Millennials.

Quote“ If you’re not  uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”  ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Being uncomfortable is how transformation begins.  When I first started hiring Millennials, I didn’t want to change.  The more they perplexed me, the more I dug my heels in my comfort zone.  It wasn’t until I decided to understand why they perplexed me that the transformation in my leadership style took place and led to the creation of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership. That led to first seeing the potential Millennials brought to the workplace then tapping it then capitalizing on it.

The first step in doing that is to CONNECT.   Many of us who cut our management teeth in the 20th Century approach leadership like this:  I, leader, have a certain leadership style that you, employee, will need to get comfortable with.  It is not my responsibility to figure you out or adapt my style to meet your needs.  You need to conform to my style and work effectively under that style. 

Really?  Do we really want to lead that way?  Does it work for us?  If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that working for a boss that took the time to know us and spend quality time with us are the ones we liked working for and worked the hardest for.  Now more than ever, making a special connection with each of our employees is not only critical but expected.  The more removed we are from our staff, the less effective they will be and that will reflect back to us.  We also minimize our message and our vision.  We need that direct connection to our teams to spread our message and communicate our goals.

So how can you begin to CONNECT?   Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for real world examples. Here’s the link to the Information Week article. 

As the new CIO for Starbucks, one of the first things Stephen Gillett did was connect with the people in the trenches and with Starbuck’s customers.  How did he do that? He shadowed them by actually working in one of the retail stores. This is one of the key components in the C.A.R.E. System.   As a leader you need to spend time with your target audience whether it’s your employees or your customers.  It’s important for 3 reasons:

  1.  You see firsthand how employees work.  You can observe their thinking process as they complete their tasks.  How is that thought process unique and can you leverage it in other areas or functions in your team?  You also see how they do their tasks.  Are there shortcuts that they are taking and are unaware of that help speed up the work? Can those shortcuts be applied in other areas of your operation? Or perhaps they are missing important steps that require more training?  Is there duplication of work that you were not aware of?  No report or spreadsheet analysis will give you that kind of intelligence.
  2. You see if the process works or doesn’t.  In the case of Gillett, as he worked at a Starbucks store, he quickly realized that the point-of –sale (POS) system was broken.  Even though the Starbucks brass knew the limitations of the system they were more focused on growth strategies and opening stores.  They didn’t realize that the limitations of the POS were contributing to problems in opening new stores.
  3. You are able to make better and more intelligent decisions when prioritizing projects based on your firsthand experiences in the trenches.

If shadowing is effective downstream – working directly with your employees and/or customers, it is equally effective upstream – with your executive team.  After spending time shadowing downstream at a Starbucks store, Gillett decided to bring the same experience upstream, to the executive team. He created a Tech Derby which is really a live simulation of a problem showing the pain points and a proposed solution to the problem. The simulation acted as a shadowing opportunity. Through a large-screen display, the executive team, including the CEO, Howard Schultz, shadowed a barista painfully placing an order in the outdated POS system.  They got to see not just hear about how much time was wasted as the baristas had to translate orders so the POS system could capture them. Then, through a mock up of the proposed replacement system, the executive team was able to shadow the new process to see how much faster and more effective it was. 

According to the article, “When they showed both to Schultz, ‘he just turned around and said, When? And whatever you’re going to tell me, it has to be faster’”.  That’s how effective shadowing is and how powerful the concept of Connecting is to introduce change.

Imagine how connecting with your Millennials or others in your team can give you a bird’s eye view to what’s going on in the trenches.  Imagine how many things you’ll be able to discover, uncover and identify that can be game changers to your team and ultimately your organization.  The days when leaders could run teams by just interacting with their direct reports without a strong connection to their team members are disappearing quickly.  The opportunity for innovation and real transformation lie with the ideas and creativity of those closest to the problems your team faces every day.  You need to connect with them to tap and harness that creativity and find innovative solutions.

What examples do you have that illustrate how you CONNECT with your employees?

Recently, I was conducting a workshop with Ben, the CIO of a mid-size company and his direct reports. The CIO was having trouble holding on to his young workforce.  More than that, he really couldn’t figure them out. He brought me so I could help them understand, engage and retain Millennials, those pesky 20-somethings that are now coming into the workplace in droves. Ben’s situation wasn’t unusual. Millennials in the workplace  and what to do with them is a very hot topic these days and a real pain point for CIOs and other leaders.

In the meeting, shared my personal “Millennial” journey as a Senior VP of IT in a Fortune 500 company and how I went from total aggravation with Millennials to complete amazement at the contributions they could make in the workplace under the right conditions.

I explained to the group that I was able to make this transformation by creating a lab and putting Millennials in the workplace under the microscope to observe them intently and understand what made them tick.  In doing so, I quickly realized that the leadership style and approach I had taken with previous generations of employees were simply not effective with the new breed of 20-somethings.  After many experiments – many that worked and some that failed – a pattern began to emerge that clearly showed me that I needed a different framework to get through to these Millennials and capitalize on their unique perspective.  I ultimately called the new framework the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership.  C.A.R.E. stands for Connect, Adapt, Reshape and Experiment.

As I was sharing specific examples of how I began to incorporate C.A.R.E. into my leadership style, Ben, the CIO, raised his hand and asked a great question. 

“Alicia, would it be possible for you to highlight examples of specific steps I can take as a CIO to begin to put your C.A.R.E. System into action. Are there any examples out there of CIOs or organizations that you can point to that can help illustrate the key elements of your C.A.R.E. System.

I couldn’t have asked for a better segue way.  Ben’s question highlights a need we all have to see and drill down on examples that can help us make necessary and oftentimes uncomfortable changes.  The examples help us understand new concepts, demonstrate how the concept was implemented and give us food for thought on how we can incorporate them into our particular work environment.

Ben’s question was refreshing for 2 reasons. The first is that it was a good indicator that he acknowledged that change was necessary.  Unlike many leaders, he didn’t think that holding on to the status quo and old patterns was going to solve the problem.  He was open to trying new things. Secondly, he accepted responsibility for initiating the change and wanted guidance on how to start.

Over the next four posts, I will share with you the real world case study that I used to show Ben and his direct reports how to exemplify how the core concepts of the C.A.R.E. System can be used to effectively lead Millennials in the workplace .

The organization that will be highlighted in the case study is Starbucks and the person spotlighted is Stephen Gillett, its new CIO.

I welcome you to click here to read a recent article in Information Week written by Chris Murphy that spotlights the Starbucks CIO as the Chief of the Year.

 Full disclosure:  I don’t know Stephen Gillett personally other than what I read in the Information Week article and he has never heard about the C.A.R.E. System.  I am using him in the case study because of specific examples of techniques or approaches that were highlighted in the article.  The techniques help me illustrate real world examples of each of the 4 modules in the C.A.R.E. model that I know to be effective when leading next generation workers.

In my next post:  we begin look at the Starbucks case study for techniques on how to Connect – the first module in the C.A.R.E. System

Recently I finished reading Seth Godin’s book, TRIBES: We Need You to Lead Us.  It’s a quick read and I have been recommending it as a must read for corporate leaders as a starting place to challenge our thinking. In each of my posts, I will be quoting from the book to set the tone for us to be open to change.

In Tribes, Seth writes: “And if you insist on playing today’s games by yesterday’s rules, you’re stuck.  Stuck with a stupid strategy.  Because the world has changed.”

Change is a constant and our next generation leaders, the Millennials in the workplace, are counting on us to change and leverage their potential.

Last week, my friend, Gina Carroll, who also happens to be an awesome editor, reminded me that I had never posted the last blog in this series.  My bad.   So here goes.

The last of the disturbing trends that I see that can keep mediocrity alive & well in Corporate America is the resistance to tap into AND harness the talent that Millennials bring to the workplace.  Millennials have been in the workplace for 10 years now and still corporate leaders are having difficulty managing them.  As I work with corporate clients, I see their continued insistence to hold on to entrenched systems that worked in the past.  Having been in their shoes, I totally understand why they want to do that.  They have worked long and hard to get processes and systems in place. There’s a lot invested in corporate SOP (Standard Operating Procedures).  The thought of having to give up the tried and true for the trial and error isn’t something many leaders are enthusiastic about doing.

The problem is that continuing to hold on to the tried and true is a prescription for being left behind.  The Millennials are the messengers of the future. By pulling them into our 20th Century leadership comfort zones all but guarantees that we will miss the boat.  Instead, we should be letting them push us into the 21st Century.  But yet leaders are hesitant to do it.  This creates a Triple Jeopardy situation in the workplace.

1.      Exodus of talent. Talented Gen Yers leave the organization.  Tired and fed up with being hand tied and unable to make a difference, the very best and brightest just opt to leave.  Where is your future leadership pipeline coming from?

2.      Cost. The organization has just wasted time, money & effort on hiring those Gen Yers that subsequently leave.  In addition, the employees that remain have to pick up the slack until another replacement is found.  This further upsets an already overworked group of people.

3.      Rinse & Repeat.  The process of hiring the replacement starts the cycle all over again.  Without a solid plan in place to engage and leverage the talents Millennials bring, there is a high likelihood that the cycle of turnover will repeat itself again.   The organization is perpetuating the problem and falling further behind the innovation curve.

But it doesn’t have to be that way if leaders would be willing to shift their thinking a bit to see 20-somethings as allies instead of aliens.  By being unwilling to let go of the status quo, companies are snubbing their nose at 3 ways Millennials can bring profits, growth and vibrancy to the organization.  Here’s how they do that.

1. By being Solutionists.  20-somethings are wired to get things done. Whether it was the many demands placed on their time as young children, or the video games they play or the need to make sense of a chaotic world, Millennials are focused on solutions and being resourceful in getting to those solutions.

2.  Embracing Real-Time Reality vs. Delayed Action.  You will rarely see a Gen Yer opt to put something on a list so they can get to it later. They tackle the problem on the spot.  They look it up and get it done.  For Boomer leaders, this is uncomfortable and unsettling to see.  We prefer delayed action – let’s put it on our “To-Do” list,  let’s research it some more, let’s meet a few more times to explore the problem, etc., etc.  Millennials are in-tune with the fact that in today’s world, you won’t get to it later.  They never knew a time when there was time to spare.   Summers off to play? Only one after school activity? No volunteering on the weekends? This is all shocking to them because from an early age, their lives were full of activities that required you to be present and engaged and responding to things in real-time.  There is no missed window of opportunity.

3.    Plugging into the Collective.  You can’t beat a 20-something in their ability to tap the collective.   They realize that 2 heads are better than one and 10 are better than 2. They instinctively know to reach out to others in getting things done because the result will be a better product or solution.  Instead of the individual being front & center, it’s the group that works the magic.  The collective is at the root of the solution and the ability to tackle problems real time instead of putting it on the list.

Millennials have the 21st Century mindset imbedded in how they think, act and work. By understanding and leveraging that mindset, leaders can infuse fresh, new ways of doing things going forward.  Millennials are the messengers of the future and it’s vital that organizations retain the best of them.  We will retain them by letting them re-train our automatic defaults.  Those tried and true instinctive reactions we have worked so hard to master will get in the way of our ability to: make decisions in real-time, to test our best practices for future viability, to infuse innovation into our SOP.

If Corporate America is going to be a meaningful player in the future, it has to look inward and let go of a lot of the trash it has built up over the years.  Like Jennifer Hudson says in the Weight Watcher’s commercial ” It’s  a new dawn,  it’s a new day, it’s a new life”  for us as corporate leaders… and yes, embracing it all will also make us  ”feel good”  IF we give ourselves permission to be bold, experiment & try new things.  The Millennials are ready to work with us to forge a new way.  Are we?

Yesterday I was reading an article that referenced a survey conducted by Mercer  indicating that over 30% of employees are disillusioned and disengaged at work . For Gen Yers on the job, the number increases to over 40%.

The interviews I held with Gen Yers this past year validates the results of the Mercer survey.  In fact, I found that over 80% of the Gen Yers I interviewed had already left an unsatisfying job or were aggressively looking to leave.

But here’s what I find most baffling.  As I work with business leaders who want to get the most out of their Millennial staff, I find there is no desire on their part to change their way of leading or try something different.  A surprisingly large group of business leaders still believe that the Millennials are the ones who are going to have to adapt to the way organizations work.   I find that so many leaders are disillusioned themselves and are just plain tired of the corporate grind.  They have no desire or incentive to try something different, to capture the minds & talent of their Gen Y staff. Many of them have gone as far as to tell me that they are absolutely NOT going to “rock the boat”.  They are desperately holding on, keeping things the same until they can retire.

I find that to be sad and troubling.  By 2014, it is estimated that 50% of the workforce will be made up of Gen Yers yet they will be reporting to bosses who are holding on to the status quo and are not that motivated to engage & retain their young staff.  Many of them turn a deaf ear when it comes to understanding why Gen Yers are unfamiliar to them as new employees.  And even more interesting than that is that many leaders show a disconnect between how they raised their own Gen Y children and what they expect from them as employees.

Here’s an example. Recently, I was working with a manager who talked constantly about how involved she was in her college children’s lives.  She explained how she researched the universities they attended, talked with the dean and other assorted faculty & staff at the various colleges they were considering and countless other details that showed how involved she was in their selection and in their lives.  She didn’t think anything of her deep involvement in her children’s decisions and the ramifications that would later have.  After all, if someone is THAT involved in making decisions on behalf of her children, how can her children be expected to do things on their own.

While I worked with her, she was constantly receiving texts from her children & responding to them.  She called them often & researched things for them.  So you’d think that someone like that would have a lot of understanding and tolerance for Gen Yers that reported to her.  Not at all.  She constantly complained about how lazy & unmotivated her young staff was.  She was frustrated at how much time she had to “waste” holding their hand through every minor detail of their work.  She was appalled at their work habits but fully expected them to “get with the program” and figure things out themselves.  After all, no one ever showed her how to get things done.  She had to figure it out on her own and so do they.

See the disconnect?  Like my client, many Gen Y parents were and are heavily involved in their children’s lives. But when these parents put on their “leader/manager”  hats at work, they expect Gen Yers to miraculously figure things out on their own.  But how can they when all their lives Gen Yers have had hands-on advisors helping them every step of the way?

Unlike other generations of young workers, Gen Yers have many more employment options than existed in the past.  Many leaders mistakenly believe that with the recession Gen Yers are going to have to conform & “get with the program”.  They may do that temporarily but here’s something you probably don’t know about your Gen Yers that you would if you spent any time trying to get to know them.  Many Gen Yers have side gigs.   I believe Pamela Slim, author of  “Escape from Cubicle Nation” calls them side hustles.  In their spare time, Gen Yers are following their passion, volunteering in non-profits, working part-time at a home-based business.  The more disengaged they are at work, the more effort they’ll put into their side hustles.

They also have options around the companies they work for.  There are many successful companies that have been started by Gen Yers that are attuned to the needs to Gen Yers & are extremely attractive to them. Think Google, Facebook and many in the non-profit world such as Invisible Children.  And we haven’t even talked about the unprecedented access to angel funding & venture capital that is available to someone with an idea, a lot to offer and working for a boss who doesn’t care.

So my advice to leaders out there is this: If you want to attract and keep the best of  Gen Y talent and prepare them to lead effectively in the 21st Century instead of the 20th Century, let go of the status quo and stop holding on until you retire.   We owe it to our children, your young staff to give them the tools they need to be the great leaders of the future.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has been asking this question lately.  In reading the latest online copy of the McKinsey Quarterly, Olivier Sibony, a Director in McKinsey’s Paris office interviews Dan Ariely and they imbed the video of the interview in the online copy.  The name of the article is “Dan Ariely on Irrationality in the Workplace“ .  Dan Ariely is a Duke University professor and best-selling author who has written a couple of books on the subject of irrationality.  I like the way McKinsey divides the interview into sections & gives a quote from Dan Ariely as a highlight of what is contained in each section.  As I hovered over each section, the very first quote immediately caught my attention.  Dan Ariely said ” I am baffled by why companies don’t do more experiments”.

It was as if this Duke professor had read my mind.   I’ve been baffled by this for quite some time now.  Over the last few years I’ve been working with clients & speaking on the topic of harnessing the talent of Gen Yers in the workplace.  As part of that, I share my C.A.R.E. System of Leadership with corporate leaders.  What the C.A.R.E. system does is it offers a proven methodology that leaders can immediately implement to help them understand, value & harness the Gen Y talent that is sitting untapped right under their nose.  The system also provides techniques to help leaders modify outdated leadership practices that they’ve held on to. The last component of the system is the “E” which stands for Experiment.  This is where I show leaders how to introduce & nurture experimentation in their teams. 

After witnessing it first hand with myself and seeing it with my peers & then later with my clients,  I see that leaders clearly don’t focus on trying new things & experimenting with new ideas & concepts. As I struggled to understand the baffling group we call Gen Y,  I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to shift my thinking & do things differently than I had in the past.  But it was hard for me to do that at first. But slowly & surely I did. One of side benefits of trying was getting comfortable saying “Why not?  Let’s try it”  At first, I fought it.  Things had worked just fine for me in the past so why shouldn’t it work going forward?  Well, the reality is that the going forward bore little resemblance to the past & staying stuck in the past wasn’t getting us anywhere different.  As I slowly got comfortable trying new things, I realized just how stuck I had been & how ineffective it was to just keep doing the same old thing.

Infusing a spirit of experimentation into my management style & into my team made a significant impact to our productivity and innovation .  Giving employees permission to try out ideas & remove the stigma of failure,  freed them to bring up ideas or issues they saw from their unique point of reference.  The team was allowed to carve out time to test ideas & try out different techniques to see if they worked.  With time, I realized that we had created an idea incubator in the team.  It worked very similar to how venture capitalists work with startups.  Venture capitalists understand that not all ideas will bear fruit & make millions of dollars.  But they know the importance of seeding ideas & nurturing them with funding to see what happens.  Nine ideas may flop and not go anywhere but that tenth idea is a home run & will make them millions.

The same thing happens when you infuse experimentation within a corporate setting.  There were many ideas that we tried out that didn’t work but we learned a tremendous amount from them & we were able to apply that knowledge on other projects.  Then there were the 5 to 6 great ideas we developed over the course of a few years that were gold.  They not only contributed positively to the team’s bottom line but they put us ahead of other corproate regions & similar departments.  Over the years, my team proudly delivered many “firsts” for our region. We were the team others called on for advice or help.  Others were baffled by our ability to do what we did with a relatively small team. They couldn’t replicate our track record because they never realized that they had to embrace the unfamiliar and unknown to find the innovative solutions.  They had to break out of their comfort zones & try what had not been tried before even if it meant failing from time to time.

In my next blog, I’ll go over the top 5 reasons why corporate leaders DON’T experiment.

In the meantime, what can you do today to take a baby step into your discomfort zone?

I am a big fan of the South Florida Business Journal & look forward to receiving my weekly copy in the mail.  Although I practically get all my news online these days,  I have to admit that I still like to get  the hardcopy copy of a handful of newspapers . The SFBJ is on that list.

In the January 21-27th edition, there was a great article in Harvey Mackay’s weekly Swim with the Sharks column titled “Expand your mind to find better ways to address issues.  I like the practical, actionable advice Harvey gives every week in his column. Like many of the SFBJ articles, I always come away learning something new or in the case of this particular article, looking at something from a different perspective.

In the article, Harvey challenges us to look at things beyond the tried & true.  He believes that conformity detracts from looking at creative solutions to a problem.  As always he gives the readers some practical steps we can take to stop thinking the way we’ve always thought.  Great advice & I encourage everyone to read the article.

When I finished the article I couldn’t help but think how relevant Harvey’s message was as it relates to what leaders are facing in corporate America today.   Over the last year, as I’ve spoken at events & for organizations internationally, I have come to realize more than ever how stuck most leaders are in the tried & true.  There’s a big dose of conformity plaguing many organizations out there &  I think this will cost us dearly down the road if continues the way it has.

Although I see conformity in a lot of areas of leadership these days, I see it most when the subject of Gen Yers in the workplace comes up.  All of a sudden,  everyone’s eyes begin to roll, they begin to groan & the criticism of their young workforce begins. Now mind you, Gen Yers have been in corporate for over 8 years now.  More & more of them will be entering the workforce over the next few years.  It’s not like the problem is going to go away any time soon, right?  But yet, for 8 years, as I’ve spoken at events & conferences, all I’ve heard is the same groaning & complaints.  

It reminds me of the quote that says insanity is doing something over & over again expecting different results. I think it’s so applicable here.  Groaning & complaining about Gen Yers for the past 8 years hasn’t helped very much.  In fact, it’s probably hurt a whole lot of companies because Gen Yers are becoming disillusioned in droves regarding their corporate experience. Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Gen Yers in corporate positions & their feedback is pretty dismal.  For some reason,  some leaders out there think that Gen Yers will be the ones to conform to the way the workplace has always functioned. 

From one who has worked in that workplace for over 25 years, there’s a lot in that workplace that’s not working & needs an overhaul.  Why would you want to keep the status quo when much of it no longer applies & is actually holding companies back.  But yet, that is exactly what is happening in companies everywhere.  The new ideas & approaches that Gen Yers come equipped to contribute to the company are being squashed because it doesn’t “conform” to how things have always been done.  Well maybe it’s time to replace conformity with a little creativity & experimentation. 

In my blog I’ve given many examples of how I had to let go of some of my conformist leadership practices in order to understand & unleash the talent of the Gen Yers in my team.  It wasn’t until I stopped repeating what wasn’t working & tried something new that  things changed.  I stopped leaving their talent on the table & began to leverage it with bottom line results.  It wasn’t easy to do but guess what?  Sticking to the status quo & being stuck in conformity was worse.  Trying new techniques not only moved me forward as a leader but it did the same for my team.

So I have taken the liberty of taking Harvey’s practical strategies & putting it in the context of what leaders could do differently as it relates to their Gen Y staff.  Here they are:

  1. Look at the whole picture. It’s easy to think Gen Y is the problem but will that solve the problem? Can the problem be that you are following old rules that need to be re-examined?
  2. Put yourself in another time.  As seasoned leaders, I think we’ve forgotten what it was like for us as young workers.  I know that I had a lot of questions & concerns when I first started working in corporate.  Sometimes putting yourself in their shoes makes all the difference & helps us relate & understand them better.
  3. Reverse the Situation.  Instead of being the one with the answers, why don’t you ask Gen Yers questions instead?  All those unanswered questions often lead to misunderstandings & that can lead to unfair criticism. Getting answers directly from the source can clear up a lot of confusion.
  4. Bridge the gap.   Gen Yers can’t continue to be a source of frustration for you moving forward.  Pretty soon you will have many of them on your payroll. You need to understand where you are now & where you need to get to with your Gen Y staff.  The responsibility of building the bridge to get there is  yours as a leader.
  5. Write down your thoughts.  In our hectic, reactionary world, we as leaders, often don’t have time to even think.  Well, unfortunately, this requires a lot of our thinking so we can brainstorm new ideas & techniques we can use going forward.
  6. Speak Up.  I can’t stress this enough.  I just don’t see many leaders taking the time to really connect with their Gen Y staff. To really get to know them, to let the Gen Yers know them & to start a dialogue.  For me, that made all the difference in the world & it will for you , too.

So what about you?  Ready to take Harvey’s advice & leave conformity behind as you search for ways NOT to think the way you’ve thought before when it comes to your Gen Y staff?

In my blogs I always try to highlight great examples of Millennials doing good & being Millennials.  Last week, I came across a blog on Fast Company written by Simon Mainwaring titled:  “Using Social Media to Mobilize Millennials“.  In the blog, Simon talks about two projects that take a unique & highly Millennial spin on an existing practice.  That practice is social causes & our need as humans to give back and help others less fortunate.

The names of the 2 projects are Pando Projects & Loudsauce.  The first puts the Millennial brainpower to help young people that have an idea for a business but need help putting the business plan together.   Each project gets a website, promotional fundraising & volunteer management tools to kickstart the project.  The project is still a pilot but it shows the power of social media as people support projects based on the personal tie they have with that particular cause.  If you look at the 15 pilot projects, it clearly shows the interest that Gen Y has for causes and making the world a better place.  I particularly loved the projects that also had a multi-cultural component to them as it shows how the future of the US will be more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before.

The second project shows the incredible market savviness that Millennials possess.  Loudsauce lists a series of campaigns for causes & based on your preference you donate money to fund advertising for that cause on TV or billboards & then you spread the word using social media such as Facebook & Twitter.

What struck me in both examples is the creativity they display by leveraging 2 of the 5 unique skills & traits that Millennials bring to any situation.  The 2 skills are their collaboration or crowd sourcing approach to things & their use of technology. I believe Millennials are extremely lucky to be living in a time where technology provides access to so much that was not available in just a few years past.  The way they use technology & harness it is unique to them & extremely powerful.  On top of that, Millennials are natural collaborators.  I’ve shown many examples in my blogs of Millennials coming together to get things done.  They are wired to do it &  because it’s natural to them, they harness that collectivity in ways prior generations can’t begin to fathom.   

I agree with Simon on his take of the future. The unique skills of the  Millennials layered on top of their affinity to get involved in social causes, layered on top of the technology available to help them do that will make them the  ”founders of companies and industry leaders that will transform the products, services and role of brands in near future”.

But where will that leave corporations?  For the first time, we have a generation of smart, collaborative young people who, at an age where other generations were forced to look for corporate jobs to get experience, have an option to start their own companies & use the collective brainpower of their peers to help them succeed.  As corporate leaders continue to rely on outdated principles & techniques that hinder their ability to see the goldmine in their Gen Y staff,  they may decide to opt out of corporate and start their own companies. 

They have the  technology, the social media & the brainpower of their fellow Gen Yers to provide them with the acumen & funding they need to start & grow their own businesses.  That combination has never been available to other generations.  Can corporations compete against that especially as so many Millennials are getting disillusioned by corporate & its leaders on a daily basis?  What kind of talent will be available to corporations?  Will the best Gen Y talent be willing to put up with all the hassles of corporate or decide to try their luck & start their own companies & bring on other bright & motivated Millennials?Will corporate be left with a mediocre talent pool going forward or will they be able to attract, retain & leverage the best of Gen Y?

Interesting questions that will be addressed at time goes on.  If you want to be that corporate leader that can attract & retain top talent, you better start now  First step, let go of the status quo, of your comfort zone & get uncomfortable.  Let go of outdated styles & techniques that blind you to the potential that Millennials bring.  Ignite experimentation in your group & make that connection with your young workforce.    That will give you a good head start.  Remember leading successfully in the 21st Century requires leaders to C.A.R.E. – Connect, Adapt, Reshape & Experiment to keep the best talent engaged & commited. 

Are you doing that today?

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