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Alicia Blain

Entries tagged with “Millenials”.


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.

Over the last few months I’ve been interviewing Gen Yers all over the country who have been working in corporate jobs spanning 1 to 5 years.  The chats have been unbelievable & as always, I love how open Gen Yers are about  things. It didn’t surprise me to find a large majority of them  – over 80% – were frustrated & disillusioned with the corporate experience. 

That’s a big number but I think that anyone who has worked in corporate for any amount of time can relate to how they feel & isn’t surprised by it. Through the interviews I began to hear a theme being repeated by the Gen Yers.  There were about 5 things that kept coming up as the most surprising for them to find once they were on the “inside”.  They believed there was a big disconnect between the perception they had of the company as an outsider through websites, brochures,etc & the reality of working as an employee.

Many of them repeated the same thing:  I wish I had known what to expect before taking the job.  They admitted that the  tight job market would have probably forced to take the job anyway . However, knowing what to expect, the “shocking truth” so to speak, would have spared them from spending so much time & energy trying to understand why .  That wasted time could have been better spent focusing on advancing their career & other important priorities.

The interviews led me to write the first of a series of ebooks.  I have just finished it & officially sent to my editor yesterday (Who-hoo!).  It’s called “The Top 5 Lies Told to Gen Ys“.   More on the book in future posts but for now, I’d like to hear from Gen Yers out there who have been working for some time.

What did you wish you had known about corporate life before you took your first job?  What shocked you the most about corporate when you took your first job?  Thanks for sharing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the link:  bit.ly/fnN2tF 

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

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

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

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

Why? Understanding the Millennial mindset at the C level is critical to acknowledge and understand how and why this new workforce is so unfamiliar to us.  We have 2 choices:  complain and reject them or connect and capitalize on their talents.

The first choice is easy and many of us are doing that now.  We may feel better when we complain but it doesn’t change anything.  According to demographers,  in less than 5 years, 50% of the workforce will be the very same workforce we are rejecting today.  Smart executives are opting for the second choice.

Connecting with Millennials means we have to let go of the status quo so to speak and get out of our comfort zones.  For us to truly understand them we have to work among them. This is the first step to initiate change in the corporate structure to begin to capitalize on their talents.  We can’t capitalize if we don’t see it in action.  Working comfortably in our offices on the executive floor of our organizations has isolated us from what is happening in the trenches, at the ground level. Occasionally walking around the department or having a working lunch with our team doesn’t give us much insight either. 

It’s when we spend time with our team especially the Millennials that we see the hidden potential they offer and they get to feel comfortable with us and share their ideas.  When I first did this I felt awkward and uncomfortable and almost stopped the effort. But I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and stuck with it just a baby step at a time.  The results were amazing.  It gave me the courage to continue challenging the management principles I had acquired and adapt them for the 21st Century workforce I was leading. 

Today, the number of Millennials in the workplace is small.  They are just gently tapping on our management door and rattling our cage a bit.  In the very near future, they will be a large percentage of our workforce and instead of tapping, they will be knocking the door down.  

Do you want to follow them now or be run over later?

An interesting article by Jonathan Clegg in the Management section of today’s Wall Street Journal would typically not have caught my eye.  It talked about José Mourinho, the new coach of a soccer team in Europe called Real Madrid.  To say that I don’t follow sports, much less soccer, is an understatement. I was about to move to the next article when the following quote from the reporter caught my eye.  He said that Mourinho was  ”celebrated for the way he monitors and communicates with his players, sending them memos and motivational messages through e-mail and texts, part of a broader model of man-management that shuns the old-school approach of haranguing people for bad performance, and instead treats his team as an extension of his family”.

Instantly, I knew that this new coach understood how to reach his young Millennial players.  Even in a sport like soccer, the old school approaches to managing a team are proving to be ineffective and outdated.  The same as they are in the corporate world. 

So now the reporter had my attention which led me to the next quote that prompted this blog.  The reporter interviewed Alex Linley, director of the Center of Applied Positive Psychology in Coventry and asked his opinion about Mourinho’s approach.  Mr. Linley responded:  “He’s got the remarkable ability to merge individual talent as a team rather than being dazzled by individual brilliance,” he said. “It is too relatively rare to find managers with this ability. Often junior and middle managers are sucked into other activities that prevent them to spend enough time harnessing the collective strength of a team.”

And I’ve seen it happen.  Many managers even experienced ones allow themselves to be dazzled by an individual team member’s brilliance instead of harnessing the collective strength of their entire team. To truly harness the team collective  requires you to spend time with all your employees. This rarely happens in today’s hectic corporate environment and unfortunately there is no incentive to make it happen.  The result:  a lot of great ideas and talent are left untapped.  Innovation out the window.

Many leaders today are not taking advantage of the talents of Millennials because they don’t realize the power that exists in the collective.

What about you? Are you finding ways to harness the collective strength of your team or are you dazzled by individual contributors?

No I don’t mean Cloud Computing although that’s totally cool also.  I mean a cloud workspace.  Confused?  I was too when I began to see it in action with the Millennials at work.  Like most teams in a company, everyone in my team was assigned a workspace or cubicle right down to the cryptic cubicle ID that the facilities team velcroed (is that a word?) to the side of  all the cubicle desks.  Each cubicle came equipped with a small, portable work table that could be moved around as needed by each team member.  So far so good.

I noticed that every time I passed through the team the Millennials wouldn’t be at their respective cubicles.  Now I have to be honest and tell you that this didn’t register with me until about the 30th time that I saw it.  Until then I just thought they were in meetings or just busy.  On about the 30th time, I realized where they were. They would be gathered around the  cubicle of one of their young teammates.  Now picture a typical corporate cubicle – not too big.  But there they were 3, 4, 5 of them together and as happy as can be in that small space, working.  At first, I would encourage them to work in their own cubicles where they had more space and were more comfortable only to find them back together in someone’s teeny workspace.  That’s the Cloud Workspace.

Instead of working in their own cubicles or workspace, Millennials like working side by side or next to their coworkers.  As I saw this behavior I couldn’t help but compare them to my generation, the Baby Boomers.  How many times did we fight tooth and nail to get an office with a door  – forget about a cubicle.  Yet Millennials are perfectly content working collaboratively in an open space that doesn’t have to be too big.  In fact it seems they prefer it. As long as they are connected they are good.  They are cloud dwellers in every sense of the word.

As I observed this cloud workspace experience over time, I noticed something else.  A lot more sharing of ideas, a lot more creativity, a lot more productivity and work getting done.  And yes, a lot more fun in getting it done.  Cloud dwelling is a good thing…

As I read about these co-working locations springing up all across the country, I can see them growing in number if my team was any indication.  To me, it’s just another sign that the corporation is being reshaped not only in principles and behavior but physically as well.   And that’s a good thing too.

What about you?  Do you have cloud workspaces in your team? Remember it took me 30 times before I noticed.

Are you embracing your cloud dwellers?

I read this great post by Tammy Erickson in the Harvard Business Review (See link below)  and it got me thinking about the challenges I faced as a corporate executive when I first began dealing with our newest entrants, the Millennials. I thought aliens had finally figured out how to live among us. None of the management tools I had learned over the years were helping me figure them out. 

This is where I learned one of the 10 lessons in managing the new workforce:  let go of the past to innovate for the future.  I had to take what I had learned in the past and reshape it to work in the 21st Century. This did not come easy and required me to experiment and start from scratch in many of my comfort areas.  But I had amazing results.  One of the things I did was to shadow the Millennials.  I sat with them at their desks, I saw how they interacted and the challenges they faced on a daily basis.  I had the rare opportunity to see how differently they work and interact and that opened the door to capitalize on their talents.  I certainly would not have been able to do that sitting at my desk everyday.

Having the opportunity to connect with them and for them to connect with me made a huge difference.  Many of them stayed with us for years.  Who said loyalty is dead?  It’s not dead, it just has to be re-framed for the 21st Century.   But as Tammy says in her blog,  we can do that ” only if we create a new equation, one that is a realistic reflection of today’s environment, one in which we all can trust.”

So what about you?  Are you willing to let go of the past and create a new management equation that will work in the 21st Century?

Here’s Tammy’s blog in the Harvard Business Review.

For years, I’ve heard companies encourage their leaders and staff to “think outside the box”. At first I thought it was a great concept until I wondered if thinking outside one box would truly challenge me and make me innovative or simply put me on the path to creating yet another box.

The notion of stretching beyond our corporate comfort zone is not enough in today’s frenetic world.  It keeps us from experimenting and challenging ourselves to find new ways of leading our teams.   Years ago I started hiring Millennials into my team.  After managing as many people as I had for as long as I had, I developed a series of boxes where I grouped employees based on the behaviors and traits they exhibited.  These boxes made it easier to then determine exactly how I was going to manage them.  

As I dealt with Millennials I was extremely frustrated because they were not fitting neatly into any of these boxes.  No matter how much I stretched my thinking, I was not getting them.  After many failed attempts, I realized that simply stretching outside my box wasn’t working.  I needed to throw it out altogether.  Once I did that things began to change and my journey to understanding and capitalizing on the talents of the Millennials began.

How about you? How comfortable are you throwing out the box instead of  just thinking outside it?