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. EmbracingReal-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?
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.
Like most Baby Boomers, I am used to getting information with enough detail and relevance that I can use it as needed. Notice I said as needed and not necessarily immediately. In other words, I like my information to be relatively meaty. One of the biggest lessons I learned in my lab when I was a corporate executive was that 20-somethings or Millennials don’t like information delivered the same way I like it. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They like it bite-sized, punchy and when needed and not a minute before. Instead of a meal, they want a snack.
That changed the way I communicated with this group in my team. It was also one of the determining factors in transforming the way I led. Since I learned and honed my management techniques and style under the 20th Century model, I was committed to communicating in the same way to all my team members. After all, I didn’t want to be accused of being inconsistent or treating people differently. How many times were we told that “one size fits all” was best when it came to employees? That way there was no confusion or misunderstandings.
Well, in the 21st Century model, when it comes to our newest job entrants and customers, one size fits all simply doesn’t work & is totally ineffective. When it comes to communicating, it’s absolutely necessary to chunk down your message. It’s called “information snacking”. Love the term!
I’m including a video where Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications is talking to Erin Lieberman Moran of the Great Place To Work Institute. By the way, the Great Place to Work Institute is the company that selects the top 100 companies to work for every year and Fortune Magazine reports on the results in their magazine. According to their website, Ragan Communications is the “leading publisher of corporate communications, public relations, and leadership development newsletters”. So both Erin and Mark know a thing or two about communicating in today’s world. Check out what they have to say about information snacking.
Right below that video, I included a video I did a couple of months ago from my Gen Yer on Fire series. The goal of the series is to highlight “the other side of Gen Y.” In other words, the good side of Gen Y that many of us as leaders often overlook. The series shows how Gen Yers are opting out of corporate careers and applying their creativity and hard work in areas they are passionate about.
So here’s Erin and Mark chatting about information snacking :
Here’s my Gen Yer on Fire video with a different but similar slant on information snacking. Oh, yeah, and one more thing: I’m not an actress and you’ll clearly see I don’t play one on the video. I’m just doing what Millennials say to do: live out loud and share my message!
So what about you? What can you do today to provide your 20-somethings with an information snack rather than a meal? I know you can do it !!!
“Yeah, sounds great BUT we’re not R&D… I don’t have the luxury of experimenting to see whether or not an idea will fly” That was the response a corporate colleague of mine gave when I approached him about collaborating on an idea. It also highlights the last Yeah But of the series – Not my Yob, man.
When it comes down to it, most corporate leaders today are so swamped with their day to day responsibilities that it leaves them little time to do, much less think about, activities that don’t contribute to those specific responsibilities. They practically freak out when someone approaches them about working on something new. The response is to always try to get out of it or put the least amount of effort into it. Their job is to carry out the specific deliverables they committed to delivering this year during the goals setting process. That’s it & as far as they’re concerned, that’s plenty.
The problem with that type of thinking is that it immediately rules out innovation & experimentation. New ideas don’t conveniently pop up when you have time on your hands. In fact, I’ve found that they usually manifest themselves when it’s most chaotic, when you are knee deep in a problem & trying to find a solution or a workaround. Those hectic situations get people focused on thinking creatively for an answer. The problem is that in the heat of the problem, a lot of the very creative ideas get thrown out because there is no time to put them into action. Instead of holding on to the idea for further investigation, most teams just forget about them. The spark of an idea is allowed to fizzle into obscurity.
Years ago I conducted an experiment as I began to grapple with all 5 Yeah-Buts keeping me from pursuing innovation in my team. As my team & I were in the throes of solving an issue or finding an answer to a problem, I began to pay attention & look for instances where someone said “I wish we could do xxx” or “Too bad we don’t have time for xxx” or “Does anybody know how to xxx”. Those phrases carried the spark of a possible great idea.
As I heard these phrases, I began to write them down. Pretty soon I had accumulated a nice list. Any one of the ideas on the list could potentially lead us to a new product, a new service, a more efficient way of doing things. The only thing is that we needed to fuel the spark. That’s what ultimately led to the creation of the Idea Incubator. With the help of my team, we purposely & purposefully looked at ways we could carve out time to fuel the spark of those ideas.
At first, we could only find small amounts of time & were very selective about the idea (s) we pursued. What we discovered is that we all really enjoyed that small sliver of time away from the day to day grind to focus on what was possible. That laser focus on the idea gave us incredible momentum & results. Amazingly, one of the results was to really examine our daily activities & where we spent our time. We all found time wasters in our daily activities.
But here was the best part. We quickly acted on eliminating the time wasters. Why now & not before? Because everyone got a lot of satisfaction from experimenting with the new ideas & helping them take shape. Everyone was engaged in the process & learning a lot from it. The goal quickly became to find a way to make the Idea Incubator a part of our daily schedule. With time, we accomplished that goal & it was a game changer for the team.
Not all of the ideas we pursued led somewhere but all of them made us learn, challenged our comfort zones & contributed to finding solutions for other ideas. More importantly, everyone - from Gen Yers to Boomers – was engaged & motivated to come to work. What I realized as I battled the 5 Yeah-Buts is that I, as the leader of my team, had to find a way to integrate innovation into the daily fabric of the team or else it would never get done. The reality was that it wasn’t another team’s responsibility to experiment with new ideas. It was my responsibility as well.
I can’t argue with the fact that completing our day to day activities takes priority if we are to accomplish our annual goals & priorities. But we sacrifice our future if we only focus on the tasks at hand. Building a framework that allows experimentation to stand beside the day to day is the key to staying competitive in the future. Ensuring the company stays innovative & pioneers new ideas is every leaders responsibility & should never be assigned to one department or one function. Our jobs as leaders are to ensure our companies stay competitive, relevant & financially viable not just today but into the future.
So what about you? What are you doing today to fight the 5 Yeah-Buts to innovation? What framework are you building in your team that allows experimentation to thrive alongside the day to day? Remember, it starts with a baby step & it’s up to us to take the first one…
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?
It’s been a while since I added to this series that looks at the trends in corporate America that I think are pointing to its inability to retain top talent in the future. The third trend that threatens to keep corporate mediocrity alive & flourishing is the fact that better alternatives to corporate now exist.
Those alternatives haven’t existed for that long. You could argue that anyone who wasn’t satisfied with corporate has always had the choice to leave & open up their own business. That’s true and many people have left corporate to do that very thing. But in recent years, the availability of options to do that have skyrocketed. The Internet has blown away many of the barriers to entry in industries that were once dominated by large corporations. Social media tools like Facebook and You Tube give small business owners direct access to markets they simply could not penetrate years ago. Internet marketing has made millionaires of startups who have taken their products & messages directly to consumers.
Even more interesting are the number of startups that are blossoming all over the world especially in lesser developed nations. This shows the tremendous power that technology is putting in the hands of ordinary people with a dream & a purpose & desire to make money.
Then you have a pretty stable & robust venture capital industry that is helping fuel startups all over the world. In the past, access to capital has always been difficult for an individual that was tired of working for a corporation yet had a dream he or she wanted to pursue. Without capital, a dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. These days individuals have more funding options available to pursue their own business and many of them are doing so. With corporatons laying off millions of people in this recent recession, many individuals, especially Baby Boomers, are looking at self-employment options especially since the chances of corporations re-hiring them in the future are slim to none.
Finally, you have the Millennials. Over the past few months, I have been conducting a series of Gen Y Interviews that I call Millennial Musings. The reason for the interviews is that I wanted to get a pulse on how Gen Yers felt about their corporate experience. The oldest members of the group are now in their 30s so they have had a good taste of what working for a corporation is like. To my surprise, over 80% of the Gen Yers I’ve interviewed thus far are extremely dissapointed with their corporate experience. Many of them have left corporate and have either chosen smaller companies or have started their own businesses.
But here’s the really interesting trend I’ve seen with the Gen Yers that have opted to start their own business. Many of them are teaming up with their laid off Boomer parents & starting a family business. Now that’s a twist that has not been seen before. The Boomer parents are bringing their tremendous experience & body of knowledge while their Gen Y children bring their tech savviness, passion & collaborative networks. The combination is proving to be quite powerful & profitable. As one of my Gen Y interviewees remarked ”Why would I want to work for some corporate boss who is a jerk when I can work with my parents who are cool” It’s always refreshing to see how well Gen Yers get along with their parents & how at such a young age, they are throwing out the box & coming up with creative ways to succeed in their own business instead of trading hours for dollars in a corporate job.
The alternatives to working for a corporation have indeed expanded and are providing all generations with viable & certainly attainable options that don’t include corporate. Newspapers, magazines & blogs are filled with stories of how very talented individuals who were laid off by their corporations after years of service have stopped looking for a corporate job & pursued their own businesses & are thriving. This is good talent that is now lost to a corporation forever. In many cases, their Gen Y children, underwhelmed by their corporate experience are joining them outside the corporation & are contributing to that success.
In the final installment of this series, we will look at Trend #4, the Millennials. My favorite of them all.
The great thing about people knowing about my interest in Gen Y is that they always send me anything they come across that relates to the generation. A colleague of mine recently sent me this video below of a TED talk in Australia. You all know how I love TED and TEDx and often encourage leaders to use some of the great TED footage to spark interesting conversations & ideas within their teams.
This particular TED talk is given by a Gen Yer called Rachel Botsman. Rachel has been fascinated by the topic of collaboration which as a Gen Yer doesn’t surprise me. But in particular, she is looking at the trends that are evolving related to collaboration and consumption which she is calling collaborative consumption. It’s a fascinating look at some of the ways that technology is radically shaping the 21st Century in ways we can’t even fathom.
According to Rachel, her generation is not as interested as Baby Boomers in owning “stuff”. They are more interested in the experience that the “stuff” provides. She gives many examples of what she means. Here’s a simple one: a DVD. In the past, people were focused on buying a DVD so they could have a copy of their favorite movie or show to watch as their convenience. Today, young people are more interested in the experience the DVD provides them than actually owning the DVD itself. In fact, they’d prefer not to own it at all and just have access when needed.
Watch the video & see what I mean:
To me, this is another great example of how Gen Yers are wired & how differently they see things when compared to Baby Boomers. What they value, how they think, even how they come up with ideas is totally distinctive. I’ve seen this firsthand as I have observed Gen Yers intently over these past 8 years. This is one of the major reasons I work with corporate leaders to get them to understand that trying to mold Gen Yers into the existing corporate structure is a big mistake. The leaders and organizations that do that are leaving money & talent on the table.
All the societal, technological, & global forces that came together to shape the lives of Gen Yers from a very early age manifest themselves in how differently they see the world & in how they think. Trying to make them conform to a corporate structure that was created in a past that is very different than what we face today is a recipe for failure. More importantly, we are not serving these next generation leaders. We are not helping to prepare them to be effective leaders in a world that resembles what they are used to much more than what we are used to as Baby Boomers. Because we are not always comfortable in their world, we often choose to ignore it and stick to what is comfortable to us. But is that fair to Gen Y? How do we ensure the leadership of corporations in the 21st Century is the best it can be if we don’t challenge our leadership comfort zones and pay attention to the next generation?
In addition to being our future leaders, Gen Yers will be a huge consumer force when they all reach adulthood. We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of how their unique experiences will shape their interest in all types of products in the future – from gadgets, to clothes to cars. The sooner we as leaders learn to appreciate their unique perspectives as employees currently working in our organizations today, the sooner we will get to understand them as consumers & be prepared to meet their needs in the future.
So what are you doing today to leverage the unique mindset of the Millennials in your team? What are you doing to unleash creative ideas that can lead to innovation down the line? Remember the future will look more like the world the Millennials have grown up in than the one you are comfortable in. It might be a good idea to start to C.A.R.E. about what that Gen Yworld looks like.
Isn’t that a great question? Well I didn’t think of it myself. I heard it from one of today’s leadership gurus – Mr. John C. Maxwell. I was in my car Saturday morning heading off to attend a workshop & as I do when I’m in my car, I slipped in an educational CD. Driving is a great time for me to absorb information because I am ususally by myself & can give the person talking on the CD my full attention. It also helps me focus on something other than the horrific traffic that seems to plague South Florida 24/7.
This particular CD was from one of my favorite monthly series. It was the December edition of Success Magazine’s wonderful complimentary ( yes, it’s free!) CD hosted by its publisher, Darren Hardy. I’ve raved about Success Magazine & their CDs before so I’ll refrain from gushing again. In every one of their CDs, there’s a segment with John C. Maxwell where he shares his leadership insights. In December’s CD, Mr. Maxwell was talking about how important it was for people to start or initiate something in order to be successful. He then went on to explain all the reasons why it was important to get going on something. The first place he recommended we start was with ourselves. According to him, starting with yourself gives you experience, confidence, integrity and influence.
It was when he was describing how starting helps you gain experience that he caught my attention with the analogy of leaders being either travel agents or tour guides. What a great analogy. I perked up right away. Basically, Mr. Maxwell explained that travel agents typically send you places they’ve never been themselves. They arm you with brochures and maps and other information to get you ready for your trip. But tour guides do something else. They take you by the hand & show you where they’ve been. That enriches your experience because they have the inside track & can share little known secrets about the location you are visiting that makes it special.
The concept of being a travel agent vs. a tour guide leader resonated with me because of what I see happening in corporate America these days as it relates to our newest entrants, the Millennials. I think many leaders would say that they are trying to be the tour guide for this new generation of workers but that Millennials are refusing to listen to the advice they, as leaders, have garnered from years of corporate experience. It is true that the many years of working for a corporation is certainly valuable and leaders should be tour guides by all means. But what happens if, as a tour guide, you haven’t visited a particular destination in years?
Although you may still know your way around & are still familiar with the old landmarks, etc., there may be new things that have sprung up in that location that you don’t know or aren’t familiar with – new restaurants, new neighborhoods, etc. For tour guides to be effective & relevant to their customers, they need to stay current with what’s going on in the destinations they are experts in. If not , they run the risk of becoming more like travel agents as time passes. So it would appear that a pre-requisite for someone to continue being a relevant tour guide would be for them to keep up to date with the destinations & the clients they serve, to be frequent travelers themselves so they don’t lose touch with the latest trends & happenings in the destinations for which they provide tour services.
The same applies to leadership. Although those of us with years of corporate management experience can be great tour guides, we can only be so if we stay relevant to the employees we are leading today and not just those that we led yesterday. Many things have taken place in the young lives of Millennials that make them very unfamiliar to us as employees & as people. They grew up very differently than most of us did & that impacts how they perceive work, the world & those around them. If we don’t understand & accept this unfamilarity, we won’t be very good tour guides because just like the destination tour guides, our skills & knowledge will become outdated. That puts us at a disadvantage and could make us irrelevant to our ”customer base”, the Millennials.
On the other hand, if we let them, Millennials can be our tour guides into the world of work in the 21st Century. I’ve said many times that the future will look more like what Millennials are used to than what we are used to as current corporate leaders. That means we need to get to know them better, figure them out, live in their world & harness the goldmine that is waiting to be found. If we are not careful, our status as tour guides can quickly downgrade to that of a travel agent. That would not be a good thing at this critical juncture. Millennials need our guidance & direction. We just need to provide it in ways that are meaningful to them and not just to us.
In my C.A.R.E. Sytem of Leadership, I show leaders how to maintain their tour guide status in these changing times so that they are not downgraded to travel agent. I show them how to shadow Millennials to see how they think & work, how to break down silos by bringing Millennials from different teams to collaborate together, how to leverage Millennials’ social media & tech savviness for strategic advantage. I show leaders how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and experimenting with new techniques & practices. As leaders, it is imperative that we make adjustments to our way of leading & thinking to stay relevant to the workforce of the 21st Century.
So what about you? What are you doing today to maintain your tour guide status? Are you at risk of becoming a travel agent?
Sometimes you take a look at something and you can’t help but say “You’ve come a long way, baby!” That’s what I said recently when I saw the slideshow that Benj Edwards put together on CIO Magazine titled “A brief history of computer displays“. They go way back in time to the 1940′s to show the various computer interfaces that have been used over the years. Seeing some of the displays has brought back many memories of working back in the day.
Three of the displays, in particular, caught my eye. The first one were the early mainframe computers. In the 3rd or 4th slide , they show a mainframe computer & a keypunch next to it. Believe it or not, we used to have a keypunch machine in our apartment in Astoria, NY in the early 1960′s. Why you might ask? Well, my dad was a computer programmar. He was one of those people who saw early on how computers could change the world & he wanted to be a part of it. He was working as a computer programmer at the time for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital. Back in the day, it was just called Memorial Hospital. He was given a fairly high profile project which was to move all the billing for Memorial Hospital onto the new IBM mainframes at the time. Millions of dollars on the line – no pressure!
My dad worked day & night on this project and luckily for him, he had a perfect assistant to help him get the project out. The assistant was my mom. As it turns out, my mom was a keypunch operator & was able to key in all the code my dad was creating for the project. My dad had a keypunch machine brought in from work to our apartment. I remember stacks of keypunch cards that my mom fed into the key punch machine that would make these markings as she typed on a keyboard. I remember a drum where she would wrap a special card with special instructions for a particular run. I remember the loud sound that keypunch machine made when my mom entered the information and the cards started to get punched. I also remember how fast my mom was entering the information that looked like gibberish. Well, after a lot of hard work & testing, my dad’s project was a huge success. So huge, that the head of Memorial Hospital personally congratulated him on the great work. As a matter of personal pride, my dad’s billing system was so effective & so good that Memorial Hospital kept the system for many, many years. Such a smarty, my dad was!
The second display that caught my eye was the dumb terminal. Believe it or not, that is what I worked on when I first started working at Citicorp after college. The mainframe guys would have us enter & test stuff on those clunky terminals. All this information would get entered & then we would have to go to the computer room, ask a computer operator that worked on the other side of a glass window to get us a computer printout of what we had just entered. I remember the printouts were in that lined computer paper & even back then I remember thinking how much paper we were wasting. Those dumb terminals were the only semblance of technology allowed for us, the mere “users”. Otherwise, we had pen & paper. No PCs until the mid 1980′s f0r us.
The 3rd display that caught my eye was the teletype. Another unbelievable tid bit. Again going back to my early corporate days in Citicorp, every month the monthly financials were sent to the corporate office by our accounting people via a telex machine. Yes, you read that right – a telex machine. Someone would sit there for hours, typing away on this telex that would spew little holes on a long, narrow piece of paper. When that narrow piece of paper was passed through a special machine, you would see words begin to get typed on triple part paper. You would actually see your month end financials printed on the paper. One of the copies would be sent to corporate as a backup to what they already send via telex. Because you see, those holes being created by the machine – the telex itself – was updating the mainframe somewhere in one of Citicorp’s data centers. The accounting folks would keep the second part of the triple part paper & I forget who got the third. This was in the early 80′s.
When you look through this slideshow, try to think back & picture where you worked & what was going on in your life when those displays were in their heyday. As I did that, I have to say it brought back some great memories, especially the one about my dad. Who knows what great memories it will bring back for you.
Why don’t you share the slides with your Millennial kids & tell them stories of you back in the day. They will probably be shocked to see what technology looked like but I’m sure they will appreciate what they have today. I know I do.
As 2010 was slowly winding down last week, I read so many great articles about the hopes and aspirations people have for 2011. I was reading a lot of interviews that magazines and blogs were having with corporate leaders. From the many that I read, it appears that corporate leaders are cautiously optimistic about 2011. They talked about their goals to invest again in new projects or expand their product lines or market segments.
While I was filled with optimism at what I read, I couldn’t help but wonder how many leaders were looking inward & planning to make that same investment and expansion in themselves. I wondered how many of them would test their abilities, experiment with failure & really reach outside their comfort zones. I don’t mean, the typical little “corporate” reach which usually is a pretty safe bet. I mean the really scary ones. The ones for which you don’t have a roadmap, the ones that could make a significant impact to the bottom line, the ones that no one is thinking of, the ones your team is dying for you to take on so they can show their brilliance.
When you get back into the office tomorrow, the daily rut will be there waiting for you, the daily challenges & problems you left behind in 2010 will greet you in 2011. The circumstances of our daily corporate existence is a tough nut to crack. It wants to envelope you & keep you focused on the same old thing you’ve focused on forever. It’s not easy at all to experiment & get out of your comfort zone when you have to deal with these daily challenges, the detours that take you on a tangent & the obstacles that are commonplace in a corporate setting. Those very things are the reasons many leaders don’t grow or really invest in their professional development. I don’t mean attending a workshop or a conference. I mean, going inward, taking stock of where you are as a leader & compare it to what will be needed by your team going forward.
I guarantee that when you take time to really look & evaluate yourself as a leader in today’s workplace, you will be surprised by what you see. I know that when I did that very same thing a few years back, I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to update my leadership techniques. Those techniques at which I had worked so hard to excel were quickly becoming outdated & I simply had not realized it. I was doing nothing to give my leadership techniques, prinicples & style a much needed update. Once I did, the results were amazing. I took baby steps but I made sure that everyday I was doing something outside my comfort zone. Whether that was giving up some of the control to my team, or whether it was creating a lab where it was okay to fail as long as we were learning new things or whether it was joining forces with other teams to break down silos, I was outside my comfort zone A LOT.
I had a choice as you do going into a brand new year, a brand new decade. I could have chosen to allow the daily challenges I faced and the circumstances around me to get in my way. After all, it certainly wasn’t easy to get out of my comfort zone & I worked hard at it and I didn’t have a clearly illuminated path showing me the way. But I did it anyway. Because to me the choice of staying in the status quo, of leaving things the way they were, of going with the flow was a choice I could no longer live with. As a leader, it was up to me to change, to get up to speed with a new workforce that was different than what we had in the past, in a world that is very different than the one where we learned the leadership skills we are so comfortable with today.
My hope for 2011 is that all corporate leaders choose discomfort over comfort. I hope you choose experimentation over the sure thing. I hope you choose change over leaving things the way they are because we need to change it. Our future workforce needs us to guide them & show them how to lead in the 21st Century NOT the 20th Century. There is a lot we can learn from our young workers but they need to learn so much from us and they want that more than anything. Start small and build from there. You will be surprised at how far a little discomfort will take you and your team in 2011.