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Alicia Blain

Generations in the Workplace


I think we do and we need to do it fast. In my last blog post I talked about how so many people have been approaching me lately about how unhappy they are in their corporate jobs.  I think the economic woes we’re facing are making people cautious about leaving a steady paycheck but at the same time, it’s highlighting just how pervasive poor leadership is within the corporate ranks.  When times were better, people had more career options and would leave a company when they got tired of its poor leadership. Today, they can’t and it’s putting a spotlight on just how de-moralizing poor leadership can be to a team.

Although leaders know they have the upper hand in this economy, they have to always remember that it won’t be like that forever. If they are lousy bosses, their employees know it and so does everyone else.

It’s not hard to re-imagine leadership so that you have happy employees. Any good leader will tell you that employees don’t want much – they want work that is fulfilling and they want to be respected and acknowledged for their contributions.  That’s it.  The problem is that many of us who have led for a number of years are sticking to some pretty outdated ways of leading that prevent our employees from getting those 2 simple things they want most.

So here are 3 things today’s hip and savvy leaders are doing to re-imagine how they lead in the 21st Century.

  1. They ask for advice.  Savvy leaders know that the days when they had all the answers are long gone.  Today, the employees in the trenches know more about what’s going on than they do.  After all, how current can you be when you’re stuck in meetings all day and most of your job requires you to ensure your team’s compliance with those countless regulations and policies required under HIPAA, SOX, MOUSE (just kidding).  Getting your team involved and listening to their ideas is instrumental for successful leaders in the future.
  2. They are willing to bend the rules. Let’s face it, the only way we are going to shed our old leadership comfort zones are to experiment with new ones. The only way to do that is if we bend the rules of how the game is played.  Now I’m certainly not advocating we go and break corporate rules and get ourselves into trouble.  I’m talking about breaking the rules we’ve used from the past to lead in the future. So for example, just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Just because our best practices don’t align with the new idea being considered doesn’t mean we shouldn’t test the “best” practice to see if                 something better should replace it.  Bend the rules and test the “what-ifs”.  Those  “what-ifs” are the secret to staying viable in the future.
  3. They learn. If you aren’t open to learning new things every day you will not make it as a leader in the 21st Century.  The pace of change is grueling and it’s constantly challenging what we know on any given day.  If you want to sit on your laurels and reap the benefits of the expertise you’ve developed in the past, you will become the poster child for poor leadership.  You need to be in constant learning mode to hold the privilege of leading a team going forward.  By your example, your team will know that they need to stay sharp and keep their skills up to date. And here’s a secret:  you know those pesky 20-somethings that drive you crazy?  They are a GREAT resource for you to keep you learning and to stay relevant with what is happening in the world today.

So how about it? Do you want to just take up space until you reach retirement or do you want to make a difference to the generations of up and coming leaders that are watching you for clues on how to be the best of the best? It’s your choice.  If we are to re-imagine what leadership is going to be in the 21st Century, it starts with us – the leaders that have the courage to be different, be bold and willing to shed the past to make room for the future.

Last week, I had the rare treat of being around NINE 20-somethings for 7 whole days. As many of you know by now, I love watching Gen Yers.In fact, I learned to figure them out by creating a living, breathing lab years ago as I started hiring them. They frustrated me so much that I knew that I either had to figure them out or put in for early retirement. I chose the first option. Putting Gen Yers under the microscrope changed so many things in my life but most especially it changed the way I saw them and the way I led them.

Last week, I had a chance to observe nine of them in a personal setting instead of a professional one. Although I’ve been able to do this in the past, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it for long periods of time like I did last week. Seven glorious days!

So let me give you the quick backstory. My fiance’s mother, June, turned 90 in June. Isn’t it cute that June’s name is her birth month? Anyway, I digress. June’s daughter decided to host a family reunion in August so the entire family could make it. It’s a pretty big family so you can imagine how difficult it was to get busy schedules to align.

What was so amazing is that June’s daughter and her husband PAID for the entire reunion!! And I mean everything from renting the house next door, to stocking refrigerators full of food, to paying for dinners, a suite at a Padres game, tickets to the local outdoor symphony featuring the Beatles and Rolling Stones, to a beautiful sunset birthday dinner at a golf course. It was a magical week full of wonderful memories and all made possible by the generosity of June’s daughter & husband. I know the karma gods will reward them generously for their beautiful and selfless gesture and we are all indebted to them for everything they did.

So, the nine 20-somethings were mostly June’s grandchildren and a couple of their friends. I got to talk to them, observe them, understand what was important to them and just immerse myself in their world. In doing so, I realized that today’s 20-somethings are just like we were at their age – but with a 21st Century twist. I also realized just how much I had forgotten what it was like to be 20-something. Here are the 3 things that stood out:

1. They love having fun. Whether it was playing bananagrams in the dining room table or making signs to take to the Padres game or rocking out to the Beatles & the Rolling Stones at the Pops concert, 20-somethings live their life to the fullest. Seeing their zest for life and the dreams they had for the future, reminded me that I was exactly like them at their age – I had just forgotten.

Here’s the  twist:  At the same time they were playing bananagrams, some of them were playing scrabble on their smartphones with either someone else at the reunion or a friend online.  Before going to the Rolling Stones concert, they went to iTunes to listen to some Stones hits so they would recognize them at the concert.  Remember, the Beatles & Stones aren’t bands they listen to but yet they were totally cool about getting to know them & going to a concert that showcased their songs.  At 20-something, I know I wouldn’t even dream of going with my parents to a supper club to hear Frank Sinatra.  How about you?

2.  They love to Party.   While the boring Boomers would scramble to bed exhausted at 9:00 or 10:00, their evening was just beginning.  They would either congregate in one of the houses or they’d go to a local bar.  Sometimes, I’d hear them getting back at 3 0r 4 in the morning.  It reminded me of how I’d do the same thing in my twenties. But again, going to bed at 10PM makes you forget the days when 10PM meant you were getting ready to go out and party the night away.

Here’s the twist: Unlike their parent’s generation, I found that 20-somethings today are more aware of the hazards of drinking and driving. Instead of putting their lives and those of others at risk, these 20-somethings chose to let someone else do the driving instead. I find that 20-somethings today take cabs after a night of partying rather than get behind a wheel.  For a group that’s considered to be immature and irresponsible, that’s a pretty responsible thing to do and it’s smart too. How many times did you call a cab after a night of partying?

 Through all of their partying, these 20-somethings are connected at all times to their smartphones/cellphones.  They are either letting their friends know where they are, or finding a place to go eat afterwards or taking a picture to put on their facebook page, the technology is always with them and utilized all the time. Boomers will never know what that feels like.  We had to find our way to a payphone and prayed that it worked if we wanted to make a call.

3.  They love their families.  One of my fondest memories of this reunion will be how well all the generations – Veterans, Boomers, Xers, Gen Yers and iGen (yes, there were even children under the age of 11) got along.  There was love and respect even when understanding a certain way of thinking was difficult.  After all, what someone in their 90s thinks is important is very different than what a 20-something thinks it is. I loved how everyone laughed and interacted with one another and the genuine interest the 20-somethings had in the stories told by the older generations.  I thought back to the family reunions I attended in my twenties and how despite our differences, I respected and loved my family.  I still remember the wonderful family stories that were told that I still remember today.   I had just forgotten where I first heard them.

Here’s the twist:  20-somethings today really like to hang out with their parents.  They didn’t congregate in a group removed from the older folks, they got right into the conversation and the action.  In  my twenties, I distinctly remember how the younger group would separate themselves from the older folks and hang out separately.  Not so today.  Here’s an even bigger shocker – these 20-somethings didn’t even mind if their parents hung out with them at the bar or late into the night.  That NEVER happened when I was in my twenties.  Parents were simply not allowed into our space.  Not so with this crop of 20-somethings.  They include everyone… at least to a certain point.

It seems like every day I read or hear someone highlighting how different or strange these 20-somethings are.  After spending seven fun-filled days with nine of them, I can tell you they are more like us than we give them credit for.  It’s just very hard to think back to the days we were their age.  Also, they have their own unique twist that makes them unfamiliar – but not different.  From the generation that lived the  sex, drugs & rock n’ roll mantra, imagine how frightening we must have been for our very proper and “square” parents?

I think that if we start from a place of acceptance and commonality, the differences among us aren’t so stark. They add flavor to the rich fabric of our personal and professional lives.  And we are all the more blessed because of it.

To all the 20-somethings out there – You ROCK!!

I was reading the February edition of Success Magazine and an article written by Beth Douglass Silcox titled “Perception is everything: As a salesperson, your social skills can open doors – or slam them shut” caught my interest As  you can tell by the title, the article centered around selling techniques.  As I reading the advice that the sales gurus were sharing, I realized that a lot of the advice was relevant to leaders.

According to one of the sales experts, Gary Hankins,  author of  “The Power of the Pitch“  perception is reality and the difference between a successful salesperson & a mediocre one is that the successful ones know how to control another person’s perception & understands the value of building relationships & social behavior.  That made me wonder how many leaders truly sees themselves as their employees do?

When working with leaders & their teams, I see this disconnect time & time again.  The leader always thinks the team sees him/her in one way when they actually see him/her in a very different way.  The team’s perception is usually not as flattering as the leader’s perception of him or herself.  The article is full of great advice that I think leaders can apply just as much as salespeople.  I would actually add that in today’s world, leaders are salespeople, too, because they need to constantly influence others – stakeholders, clients, bosses & employees – to get the work done.  The more we show the love, the more successful we will be.  I’ve heard leaders actually say they don’t have time to show the love.  They are too busy getting the work done.  Well, as the article shows, the more you show the love, the more people will want to work with you and actually, the easier it will be for you to get the work done.

So, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day today, and we show the love to our spouses, parents, children & all the special people in our lives, let’s remember to show the love to the people we spend a lot of time with everyday: our employees.  Here are some great ideas gleaned from the Success Magazine article that I think leaders can apply immediately to show their appreciation of their staff;

  • Foster relationships with your team by giving rather than receiving
  • Take an interest in WHO your employees are & not just WHAT they do or can do for you
  • Listen empathetically to what your employees say
  • Put your social ego aside & be natural with your employees
  • Lighten Up! Bring a little fun & humor into your relationship with them
  • Ask them questions & enjoy the dialogue
  • Focus on building a relationship with each employee rather than just “managing” them

The more we, as leaders, can connect with our team,  the more we can show them the love, the more we help them succeed and consequently, the more they will help us succeed.  In the end, that’s a beautiful legacy for a leader.

So what about it?  Ready to show the love to your team?  Today, Valentine’s Day is a good day to start.

Happy Valentine’s Day , everybody!

    Any time there is an opportunity to have Gen Yers share how they feel about their corporate experience, about work or the future of work, my ears perk up. It’s so important to give Gen Yers a way to express their views  &  it’s even better when it’s done in a collective fashion. That’s why I have to tell you about an exciting opportunity for you, Gen Y, to share the good, the bad & the ugly about work.

    Stacey Randall, founder of SBR Consulting, LLC in Charlotte,  NC shares my passion for listening to Gen Ys and leveraging the amazing talent you  bring to the workplace.  Her company is an employee engagement HR consulting firm specializing in understanding generational diversity. 

    During the month of February,  her company is conducting a survey to determine how you, Gen Y,  feel about working in corporate America,  about future employment decisions, what’s important about work and the future.  Much has been said about your generation in the past five to 10 years but has the recession and slow recovery changed your thoughts, perceptions and behaviors in regard to work? 

    The survey taking place now is actually Phase II of  the project.  In January,  2010 SBR published their  findings from a national survey of Millennials who had been laid off in 2007, 2008 or 2009.  To find the results and download the whitepaper visit www.sbrconsult.com & register to get a copy.

    In Phase II,  you get to weigh in on how you feel about work today & what you want it to look like in the future.  It’s your turn to tell everyone what you think instead of letting them tell you what you think or think you should think – :-) .

    So here’s the deal:  The survey is for Gen Yers only – those born between 1980 & 2000.

    Here’s the link:  bit.ly/fnN2tF 

    Don’t worry.. The survey is completely confidential & you won’t get spammed.

    The important thing about surveys is the number of people that complete it – the more, the better the results. So feel free to share the link with ALL your friends – the more, the better.  Do it today so they can share it with their friends & everyone can give their opinion before the end of the month.  The survey will be live through March 1st so hurry…

    Don’t miss this great opportunity to share your opinions & make a difference.  Take the survey & be counted!

    Can’t wait to see what you say as a group… I’m sure it’ll be eye opening !!!

    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?

    I love to see examples of the generations working collaboratively and harmoniously side by side and I ran into a great story in this month’s AARP bulletin.  It was an article written by Susan Kreimer called ” Senior Dance Teams Score on NBA Courts“.

    Did you know that there are senior dance squads performing at NBA games?  Seriously… Apparently for the past few years, retired members of the Veteran Generation (those over 65 years old) audition to be part of these senior dance squads with names like the “Orlando Magic Silver Stars” and the ”Phoenix Suns’ Golden Grannies”.  I love it!

    The picture in the AARP bulletin (those of you with an AARP membership can log in & view the story online) is priceless.  It shows a young Millennial woman practicing dance moves along side a retired veteran called Fanny Militar.  Fanny was auditioning for the NJ Nets. Both of them looked like they were having a blast.

    The article is a reminder that while each generation may seem unfamiliar, there are many things that we have in common.  Isn’t it better to focus on the commonalities instead of the conflicts?

    Isn’t that a good lesson to put into play in corporate?  Let’s try focusing on commonalities instead of conflicts for a change.  We  might learn something from the NBA [ here I go with Sports again!!]

    I came across an interesting article in the September edition of AARP Bulletin. The article was written by Cynthia Ramnarace and it was called “Smartphone NationIt had some great statistics on smartphone usage that surprised me.  The biggest surprise was that 50% of all Baby Boomers sleep with their cellphones within arm’s reach.  I wouldn’t have guessed it was that high.  I would have thought that we were so attached to it during the day that the last thing we want is to put it next to our nightstands at night.  I guess only half of us agree with me. 

    Another interesting statistic from the Pew Research Center is how the IPhone has increased usage by turning the cellphones into what the reporter calls  “entertainment centers”.  I had never thought of cell phones or really smartphones in that light but I think it’s so true.  According to Pew in 2007, the year the IPhone made its debut, only 11% of people used a phone to access the Internet. By May of this year, that percentage  has gone up to 38%.  What percentage do you think it will be next May?

    But the article really warns about our addiction to smartphones.  Ramnarace quotes Patricia Wallace, author of The Pychology of the Internet” who describes smartphones as a “pocket-size game of chance”.  The author compares it to a slot machine where you never know whether you will be rewarded or not when you pull the lever.  What a great description.  Everytime I hear my IPhone alert me of a call, a text, a voicemail or email, I have to fight the urge to pick up the phone and look at the message.  Most of the time, I’m disappointed because it wasn’t anything urgent and it made me get distracted from what I was doing.

    I often hear many Baby Boomers criticize Millennials for their need to be constantly connected but truthfully, what about us?  Aren’t we doing the same thing with our smartphones?   Recently, I’ve forced myself to observe fellow Baby Boomers in  networking  events to see if they were overindulging their smartphones.  Over 70% of them took out their smartphones either while listening to a speaker, while engaging in conversation with a group of people or while standing off on their own.  That’s a lot of indulgence.  We talk about technology getting in the way of the Millennials’ ability to be in the moment but frankly, what about us?  We can apologize all we want for having to “take” this call, or respond ”quickly” to this email, or “answer” this text but we are engaging in the same multi-tasking activities that drive us crazy when we see it in the Millennials.

    Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to criticize Millennials?  Maybe the quick pace of today’s workplace affects all of us but we just don’t see it as well in ourselves as we do in others? Maybe we should try to stop overindulging the smartphone and overindulge in connecting and interacting with others.  That’s always more rewarding.

    The article has a quick quiz at the end to spot if you are hooked on your smartphone.  Take it and see if you need an intervention.  Chances are you will…

    Do you like trivia games?  I love them and if you do too, today’s post will be a treat.  There’s a Powerpoint slide on the Author Stream site that is called “Generation Gap Trivia“.  The author put together some great pop culture questions dating way back to the 50′s and as recently as the 90′s.  I love the quiz because by testing how hip you are on pop culture stuff, it shows where you fall within the 4 generational groups.  The questions you miss probably fall in the age group or generation you know least. It’s a fun way to remind us all to break out of our generational comfort zone and get hip with the pop culture and interests of the younger (or older) generations. It’s a nice way to connect or to even start a conversation with the generation that’s perplexing you.   Enjoy!

    Happy Friday everybody!

    So remember a couple of months ago I blogged  about my panic attack after leaving my cell phone at home?  In the blog I reminisced about the original cell phones and what clunkers they were.  Well guess what?  My fiance’s sister read the blog and sent me this link to the July edition of a local community newsletter.  The reporter, Sherryl L. Parks, gave a great summary of a TEDx conference that had been held in the town. As an aside,  I not only love the TED conferences but think the TEDx conferences provide a wonderful opportunity for local venues to showcase topics and speakers that are important or interesting to the local community.  

    The newsletter talked about some of the topics that were presented at  that particular TEDx. From the topics selected , you could clearly see that this particular community was very interested in science and technology.  In the article there’s a picture of a young man standing next to an older one.  What are they holding?  Well, the  young man, a Millennial, is holding one of the old, original cell phones.  You know, the clunker I talked about in my previous blog.  The older man, a Veteran, is holding an IPhone.   Isn’t that great!  The Millennial is holding  the original cell phone that paved the way for him to have the IPhone he can’t live without today.  Can you imagine what was going through the Millennial’s mind when he took a look at that clunky phone?  But it gets better.

    Do you know who the older man is in the picture?  It’s none other than Martin Cooper?  Does his name ring a bell?  Well, it should because today Millennials and many of us would be lost without him.  He is the man credited with being the inventor of the cell phone!  It’s true – google his name and you will see.  How cool it is to see a picture of Martin Cooper holding the most recent transformation of the invention he created?  He must be so proud.  And how cool is the fact that a Millennial gets to actually see the roots of his precious IPhone.  But more importantly, he gets the rare privilege of talking to its inventor.  I can just imagine the wonderful stories that Martin Cooper is sharing with the young man about the history of the cell phone.  

    Conversely, I can picture the Millennial gushing about all the neat IPhone features.   I’m sure Martin Cooper is secretly chuckling because those new features have nothing to do with the phone itself.  The cell phone he created has morphed into a mini-PC.  As we all know, the last thing the Millennials use their cell phones for is to make a call.  Yet, the only thing the original cell phone could do was make a call.  I’m sure Martin Cooper could never have imagined “his” cell phone becoming what it has today. But he put the wheels in motion and the Millennials and the rest of us will be forever indebted to him for that stroke of genius.

    There is so much that each of the generations can learn from one another.  The trick is to open yourself to the opportunities that present themselves to be able to do that.  It’s nice to know the roots of things because it make us so much more appreciative of what we have today.  The more we share the roots of things with Millennials the better we will all be.

    In my earlier blog, I was going to include a picture of the original cell phone like the one pictured in this community newsletter.  I’m so glad I didn’t.  This picture is so much better. Especially because a Millennial is holding it and he is standing next to its inventor.  Can’t get any better than that!

    Happy Friday, everybody!

    Yes, according to some of the people recently interviewed by the Miami Herald reporter, Cindy Krischer Goodman. I am a huge fan of  Cindy’s.  She writes for the business section of the Miami Herald.  Having been a corporate executive for over 25 years, I naturally gravitate to the business section of the paper and it’s usually what I read first.  Cindy writes about a lot of different topics that affect the business world. One thing is always consistent in her writing and is the reason why I follow her: she blends the human element to the often impersonal, fact based and stodgy world of business.  That is not an easy thing to do and that’s precisely what makes her articles stand out and pop.  Wouldn’t you rather read the facts and figures wrapped up in an interesting  story?  

    Anyway,  in last Sunday’s edition, she wrote an article called “Recession Sparks New Attitudes for Gen Y“.  In the article, she interviewed some of the local corporate executives who felt that the Millennials currently working for them had indeed become easier to manage.  They were not being as demanding as they had been about fast tracking their careers.  They were staying longer too. 

     A big focus of the article was on Millennials working in law firms.  For years, Boomer lawyers have been going crazy trying to figure out how to deal with Millennials.  Having worked with lawyers and being acquainted with many of them, I can personally attest to the frustration they feel with their Gen Y staff.  I have shared with them many of the techniques I learned and developed as a result of putting my Millennial staff under the microscope.  Although skeptical at first,  these Boomer lawyers were able to see how I went from frustration to amazement as I got know and understand the Millennials. If I could do it, so could they.

    I think the recession has touched all of us in some unexpected ways so it doesn’t surprise me to read about how Millennials are adapting to this “new normal”.  Millennials are extremely adaptable.  Look at the world they’ve had to live in.  Rapid change has truly been the only constant in their young lives.  No other generation, except perhaps the Veterans, has had to deal with such life altering events as they have over such a short period of time.  The recession has undoubtedly made them evaluate their situation and they will factor that into their outlook going forward.  Instead of seeing it as a negative, they will learn from it and grow from the experience.

    However, leaders would be unwise to take the Millennials for granted and believe the corporation has the upper hand.  The current events may provide some tweaks to the traits and values of this young workforce but it will not eliminate them. I agree with Stan Smith in the article who believes Gen Yers are compliant for now.  That doesn’t mean that their values aren’t still there.  Savvy leaders will continue to find ways to connect with this young group. They will challenge their legacy leadership principles and experiment with new techniques that will be effective in leading  a very diverse and dynamic 21st Century workforce.

    I like the ending quote from the article.  Richard Berkowitz, the  director of a local accounting firm learned something important by working with his Millennial staff:  “They aren’t going to walk in and become great. You have to teach them how to be great professionals.”

    Isn’t that what leadership is all about?  What about you?  How are you leading during this recession?  What are you doing to help your staff become great professionals?

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