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Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “Managing Teams”.


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?

I know some people may be saying, “Duh. It’s the same thing.  A team is made up of a group of individuals”.  Yes, but do we manage the group or the individuals that make up the group?

I know it’s a subtle point but a leader’s perspective on that point has a palpable impact on whether they can attract and retain their most talented employees in today’s workplace.

The leadership models of the past and the ones most of us have cut our teeth on focused on the one size fits all theory.  That is, each of us has a leadership style that we are either comfortable with or have learned along the way and we apply that style to running our “teams”.   We don’t deviate much away from that style.  Actually, the more consistently we apply it the better since it shows we are treating everyone the same.  But does it actually show that?

I used to think it did.  After all, I was trained and compensated on how consistent my style was.  Everyone in my team knew exactly how I ran things and the subtle message was that they had to conform to that style if they wanted to succeed in my team.  I felt that my consistent, one size fits all style helped me weed out the non-performers, those people that were not , A-players, or at least they weren’t in my mind.

It wasn’t until I started hiring Gen Yers in my team and created a lab to figure them out that I questioned that approach.  I realized that I was leading the masses, the amorphous “TEAM” and not the individuals that made up my team.  By being consistent in my leadership style I was telling the masses how to conform. That gave me the advantage of running a very efficient and productive team. What I didn’t realize is that its side effect was creating sameness instead of variety. Now years ago, a lot could be said for efficiency and productivity and sameness. But as the pace of change increased and continues to do so at breakneck speeds, sameness is a creativity and innovation killer. 

What I discovered as I tried to make sense of Gen Yers  (certainly NOT the same as me)  was that if I wanted my team to be innovative going forward,  my leadership style had to take a more unconventional approach.  Instead of having my “team” conform to my leadership style, I had to understand and capitalize on the richness of skills, attributes and experiences that each person in my team brought with them.  Instead of leading the masses with a one size fits all style, I learned to understand, appreciate and leverage the unique, distinctive and one of a kind qualities each individual brought to my team.  That was a “massive” shift for me and a total game changer.

The days of one size fits all leadership are quickly coming to an end and are on life support.  Don’t try to hold on to it.  Let it go.  It’s a recipe for being left behind.  Embrace the unfamiliar so you can understand and capitalize on the unique talents each of your employees brings to the workplace.

In a recent blog, Seth Godin wrote a blog titled “Please consider Weird”.  In it he says that “The defining idea of the twentieth century, more than any other, was mass”.  He continues to say that the concept of mass is dead and that although that gets us uncomfortable it also provides us with a great opportunity.

The same applies to leadership. Although leadership of the masses (aka TEAM) is  our comfort zone,  we need to get uncomfortable to pave another way to harness the variety, creativity and innovation that each of our employees bring to the workplace. 

In a recent blog, Seth Godin wrote a blog titled “Please consider Weird”.  In it he says that “The defining idea of the twentieth century, more than any other, was mass”.  He continues to say that the concept of mass is dead and that although that gets us uncomfortable it also provides us with a great opportunity.

The same applies to leadership. Although leadership of the masses (aka TEAM) is  our comfort zone,  we need to get uncomfortable to create an opportunity to harness the variety, creativity and innovation that each of our employees bring to 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.

Since I left corporate to start my business a few years ago, I’ve had a steady stream of inquiries from friends and colleagues about getting out of corporate. For some reason, over the last few months, those inquiries have increased significantly.  Now these are bright, talented individuals making very decent incomes who are absolutely miserable and disgusted with corporate life.  I point that out because many times people think it’s just the 20-somethings that are complaining about corporate life. No, folks.  It’s not just the Gen Yers – it’s Xers and lots of Boomers doing the complaining.

In every case , without exception, when I dig a little bit to find out what is at the root of the unhappiness, it turns out to be poor leadership.  There are many reasons given.  Here’s the top 10 list of complaints:

  1. My boss has no clue what’s going on in the team.
  2. My boss is a very good [fill in the expertise – salesperson, accountant, lawyer] but he’s a lousy manager.
  3. My boss doesn’t stick up for us and caves in to the demands of other departments or higher ups.
  4. The staff isn’t getting a raise but the higher ups are getting outrageous bonuses this year.
  5. My boss is so afraid of losing her job that she refuses to listen to new ideas we’ve presented that can help the team.
  6. My boss listens to people who are out of touch with the realities of what the team faces.
  7. My boss is not well respected by the higher ups or his colleagues and is ineffective.
  8. My boss is just holding on long enough to get retirement.
  9. My boss has a sink or swim mentality.
  10. My boss has no time for his employees.

Any of these ring a bell?  Which ones resonate the most with you?  What complaint isn’t on there that you feel strongly about? For me, the ones that would put me over the edge were #1, 3, 5 and 7.

After listening to so many people repeat these reasons over and over again, I wondered how so many leaders could be so clueless about how their employees felt? I realize that employees aren’t going to volunteer that information to their boss even if he or she asks. I also know that employees aren’t always forthcoming in giving that information on employee engagement surveys no matter how much the company tries to convince them their answers are “confidential”.

So I decided to post the top 10 complaints here in the hopes that leaders would read them and ask themselves 3 probing questions.

  1. Who is someone inside or outside the company that I trust that can give me an honest assessment of how I am perceived as a leader?  We all know people in our careers that are honest, trustworthy and discreet that can help us answer whether our perception of how we lead matches how others see us lead.  The answer might surprise you.
  2. Do any of these complaints describe my peers or bosses? Can any of them remotely describe me? Many times if you can spot these behaviors in others around you, it makes you stop and reflect on your own and causes you to take some time to be introspective.
  3. What is one thing I can do today to ensure that my perception of how I lead is aligned to how others see me as a leader?

Of course, to answer these questions truthfully require you, as a leader, to be objective about yourself.  But more importantly, it requires you to still CARE about being an effective leader. From the sounds of the heightened grumblings I’m hearing lately, that may be the missing ingredient.

So my question for you is: are you one of the leaders described in this Top 10 list?  What are you doing to make sure you’re not?

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!!

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 !!!

Drumroll, please…  The last & what I consider the worst of the 5 batty bosses at work is Mr. Snarly.

This is the angry, moody, obnoxious boss who spends his day screaming at everyone, regardless of whether it’s his team members, his assistant, his kids or the barista at Starbucks. He loves belittling people in meetings and has absolutely no manners or delicacy. He thrives on intimidation. Reporting to him keeps you constantly wondering when his tirade will fall on you.

Certainly not a fun person to work for.  It will amaze you how many Mr. Snarly’s still exist in the workplace today.  You would think with all the leadership advice out there & the money companies spend on mentoring their leaders & managers that a Mr. Snarly could never be allowed to exist & wreak havoc at work.  But they do.  And chances are, you will run into one if you are not already reporting to one.

That’s why it’s so important to ask probing questions during an interview especially for those first entering the workplace. Working for a Mr. Snarly right out of school is almost harmful to someone new to the grim realities of work. A young employee is not savvy enough or experienced enough to deal with Snarly’s tirades & unprofessional behavior. There are many seasoned professionals that can’t deal with that type either. But the point is to try & flush that out before you take the job.

If you don’t want to get caught working for Mr. Snarly, you need to ask probing questions when interviewing with your prosepective boss.  The person the position reports to has the ultimate decision in who gets hired. Here’s a insider tip. Most prospective bosses have interviewed hundreds of candidates over the years. They know that young people are  more focused on impressing them. They know that young candidates don’t know the corporate realities of being an insider.  After years of interviewing young people, they already know by heart the types of questions you will ask them – questions that are meant to impress them with your knowledge. 

What they don’t expect is for you to be a savvy interviewee & ask them questions like experienced candidates do. On the rare occasion a young person asks probing questions, the prospective boss immediately takes notice. I know I did when I interviewed.  Here is a person that is making the boss think about the answer instead of asking a question everyone else asks. This person will automatically stand out from the throngs of other interviewees they will see.  And that’s what you want.  You want to stand out & ultimately get the job.

So here are some questions you can ask your potential boss to make him think & take notice of you.

  • Can you describe your leadership style?
  • Give me an example of a famous leader you admire.
  • What are your top 3 pet peeves?
  • Do you enjoy mentoring your staff?
  • Give me an example of someone you’ve mentored in your team and what you liked and didn’t like about it.
  • How would your employees describe you?
  • What are 3 things you enjoy about leading your team and 3 things you don’t enjoy?

You need to listen carefully to the responses given since that will give you clues as to the type of person you will be reporting to.  Now that you know the list of batty bosses you can be better prepared.  You may hit the jackpot & find that you will work for a great boss.  If so, it is even more critical for you to do everything you can to stand out & get the job.  Great bosses are rare to find & when you find one, you want to work for them as long as you can.

If you currently work for a Mr. Snarly & can’t stomach his outbursts, now you have the questions you need to ask in your new job search.  Don’t get caught by surprise again.  For those college graduates interviewing for their first jobs, stay out of Mr. Snarly’s clutches.  Ask probing questions & know what you’re getting into.  The more you know, the less job shock you will experience when you start working. That means the quicker you can focus on making an impact on the inside & moving your career forward.  Instead of a deer in the headlights, you will walk into the spotlight with confidence & knowledge.