Excerpt from Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia, Page 163,
"Me? Get Involved? Are You Serious?"
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“Oh, that one is easy. I’ve been coaching an IT manager who just got the ‘Boomer wake-up call.’” By now, you know what this means. It takes time, but eventually some Boomers are forced to realize that their old dogma is useless and the old paradigms are over, especially the one that says age and seasonality automatically earn the top position.
Tim explained to me how a Fortune 500 client had hired him to coach Nathan, a Baby Boomer in his late fifties with a few years to go before retirement. An IT veteran of more than twenty-five years, Nathan worked for one of the top insurance companies in the world. With the company headquarters in New York City, it went without saying that day-to-day operations were busy and cutting-edge.
Nathan was under great pressure from the CEO to go digital across the board, starting with the New York City office. And to get the job done as quickly as possible, Nathan had been given carte blanche. He could hire as many Gen Y Millennials as he felt were necessary, with HR fully prepared to expedite the hiring. Nathan was ecstatic about this opportunity to take the company’s technology up a level.
Nathan decided to hire four IT specialists ranging in age from twentyfour to thirty and put them to work. Things seemed to go well for the first couple of weeks, but over time, Nathan started to notice that his young protégés weren’t exactly following orders. They started to ignore major deadlines and prioritized workflow according to what they wanted to work on for the day. Many of the smaller tasks began to pile up, and Nathan was getting short-tempered with his team.
In Nathan’s Boomer world, younger generations were supposed to listen and obey their superiors’ commands without question. These Gen Y tech-heads didn’t seem to get it. He felt strongly that they must answer to him since he was the boss. In his mind set, they were the ones who were out of touch with reality.
When Nathan finally sat down on a Friday morning to make sure all the deadlines would be ready by five o’clock, he was met with an empty conference room. After twenty minutes of waiting, he stormed down the hall to the IT department.
Nathan couldn’t hide his anger. “Why didn’t anyone come to the meeting?”
“We had a defrag emergency.”
“All four of you needed to work on it?” They looked at Nathan, dumbfounded. Why was he so angry?
Nathan gave them a piece of his mind and a list of every single complaint he had amassed since Day One. Months of frustration had welled up. “None of you get it! I have deadlines to meet, and you have been puttering around for days on nothing but crappy, self-indulgent projects that, quite frankly, aren’t going to get us any closer to our goals!”
Nathan continued to berate, complain, and threaten. The entire team—Gary, Rob, Ken, and Nancy—stared back at him without speaking, like deer caught in the headlights.
After Nathan ran out of things to shout about, he went to complain to his superior. In the world of twenty years ago, Nathan would have been justified. Work styles fit into a black-and-white paradigm: Work hard; get rewarded. Screw up; get terminated.
As Nathan sat in front of his director, Valeria, he was running on adrenaline. Maybe that added to the shock he felt when he heard her answer, “Nathan, I need you to go back down there and apologize to your team.”
“What? Valeria, they are missing major deadlines.”
I understand your frustration, Nathan, but . . . How can I put this delicately? Times have changed. Gen Y has an innate skill set and comfort with technology. Not only that, but they aren’t into traditional hierarchy. This is hard to say, but I need them more than I need you.
Managers who have your skills are a dime a dozen, Nathan, but the technology that those young IT specialists have in their brains is what I need now. So, you have two choices: You go down and apologize to them. After that, I want you to get some coaching that teaches you specifically how to speak to Gen Y.”
“And my second choice?”
“You can clean out your desk, and I’ll have your last check mailed to you.”
Nathan of course said yes, he would apologize, and he immediately called Tim Davis, the coach recommended by Valeria.
As he started the coaching sessions, Nathan began to see that Valeria was right. He needed what so many Boomer managers need: an upgrade in his management style. Originally the term for the process of updating business software, “upgrade” became a common word in the gaming industry as well. It wasn’t long before it became a metaphor for updating just about anything, including people who needed to learn new skills and attitudes.
Someday Generation Y Millennials will need a major upgrade. But an upgrade starts with your oldest components first, which means guys like Nathan. Those who don’t get it drag organizations down. To a Baby Boomer, taking classes to learn how to get along and communicate with Generation Y makes no sense whatsoever. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? It would be, if Gen Y didn’t have us backed into a corner: their skill set of technological expertise has been timed perfectly to meet the demands of an ever-expanding Information Age.
Like it or not, the new kids on the block have money and freedom, and that equals power.
They are also hardwired differently from the rest of us.
What Boomers do excel in is this: They have better communication skills, empathy, and life understanding, skills that Gen Y lacks completely. And it is these very skills and understanding that need to be taught to anyone under thirty-five. It can be hard to explain to someone that IMing, texting, and fielding over a hundred emails a day may not be real communication. Only with the help of Boomers can Millennials achieve the empathy for others that they so often lack and learn that every member of an organization is valid.
When someone has sat in front of computers all day for their entire life, they lose the ability to communicate with an actual person. Boomers can teach computer-immersed generations that text messaging, instant messaging, emails, and Twittering might seem like communication, but aren’t necessarily so. Just as several hours on Facebook lulls one into a false sense of having a rich social life, this type of staccato interaction through technology is not communication; it’s only an aspect of it. Worse yet, all this texting and Twittering and Facebooking can give people the illusion that they are actually spending “time” with friends.
The best communicators rise to the top in every organization, political arena, and endeavor. Communication as skill set is awarded top dollar. Each generation needs to be proficient at it on all fronts.
There are two things a manager like Nathan must learn about Gen Y workers before he can hope to manage them effectively: why they are so eager to work on their own stuff, stuff that may seem unimportant to the business, and why these workers may ignore their manager.
First let’s delve into why Gen Y only works on what they like. Whether they wanted it or not, Baby Boomers were given a well-rounded education; meanwhile, the later gaming generations could cherry-pick their curriculum. They picked what they liked best, and teachers designed their teaching around a child’s skill set. Learning by memorization was tossed in favor of kinesthetic learning. These young wunderkind also grew up with a micromanaged schedule of karate classes, soccer practices, and dance lessons. They have logged in more than ten thousand hours on video games, where they self-managed their time and direction, and now you expect them to sit in a cubicle for nine hours at a time? Hello?
Yes, this has created one generation after another that only specializes in what they like to do rather than what is necessary. Boring work is either placed on the back burner or outsourced or, worse yet, rushed over by cutting and pasting someone else’s previous work. Gen Yers choose exciting careers and shun the mundane . . . because they have been taught to do so.
While Boomers were trained to do something once, and do it right the first time, Generation Y was trained to hurry up and get it done and fix the problems later. Now do you see why there is such an informational gap in corporations around the world?
On the other hand, your thirty years of experience means nothing to young people, for one big reason: In their view, the only knowledge that counts has to do with technology, and the majority of the technology that is being used these days, such as Facebook, Twitter, and iPhone apps, didn’t exist [ten] years ago. In their view, you can’t possibly know anything about new technology because Boomers have no experience with most of it . . . and no understanding of its worthiness.
Another cause for their disdain is that they have been raised to see an authority figure as a peer, not someone to look up to. They simply do not see hierarchy at all. Their ideology is “If you can do it, so can I, but unlike you I won’t take thirty years to get the corner office.” If you try and boss them around the way you are used to bossing your staff, they’ll stare at you as if you’ve lost your mind.
Peers don’t obey peers.
Nor is Gen Y into listening to you talk about how awesome you were back in 1977 or some other dead year. (Note to self: Stop talking about your 1974 Duster, Brad.) They see this behavior on your part as arrogance. Your boasts mean nothing to them because they themselves are always “on,” and they expect everyone else to be on top of their game too. Like professional athletes, Generation Y is into improving and upgrading constantly in order to stay employable. Stopping to rest and reflect is not built into Generation Y. They just want to get to another, cooler level in the game.
Using these concepts, Tim started coaching Nathan on the finer points of managing Generation Y. Instead of calling meeting after meeting, throughout which he barked orders, it was time for Nathan to integrate his knowledge base into the young workforce he was managing and set the example for leadership. Tim encouraged Nathan to drop the hierarchy he held in his mind, along with any assumptions that his seasonality meant he was “boss.” Instead, he taught Nathan to ask his team how they wanted to work, within limits. The goal was to create an environment of genuine engagement, communication, meaningful deadlines, support for goals, and company loyalty.
Second, Nathan stopped his twice-a-week meetings. He started to understand that his meetings had only wasted people’s time and interrupted their ability to work toward his deadlines. Instead, Nathan instituted social network–style instant messaging software to keep his crews in constant up-to-the-minute communication during the day, whether for ad hoc communication or one-on-one meetings. As Nathan’s staff expanded, face-to-face meetings became irrelevant and IMing could speed up each department. When he did have a meeting, it was packed with people who understood that this must be something important.
Third, Nathan encouraged each team member to set their own goals and tasks, rather than look to him all the time. Each employee was required to post weekly goals on their own home page on the company’s intranet.
Their direct managers were instructed to manage and support these goals by publicly viewing the pages and privately offering support, checking in on what each person needed in order to accomplish their goals as well as monitoring deadlines. Teams were encouraged to support one another and pick up the slack. Each member was required to handle two high-level projects and four lower-level ones during each work cycle. If someone needed help to meet a deadline, the whole team was encouraged to help.
All Nathan had to do was check each team member’s goals and where they were at in terms of accomplishing them.
This approach changed the way Nathan’s division managed their time. Each member of a team could get their work done whenever and wherever they decided, as long as deadlines were met. This meant that if someone wanted to work later in the day, fine. If eight hours’ worth of work could be finished in four, then the reward was that they could move on to the next task. Also, eight hours during any given week were to be used for one’s own personal projects. These projects were posted to the person’s goal page. The personal project could be something as complex as designing anew app to make the company work more efficiently, or something as simple as planning a company ski trip. Either way, the personal project had two criteria: It had to be something that the employee was passionate about, and it had to benefit the entire group.
These steps freed up Nathan to manage just his managers instead of trying to manage the entire network by himself. He eliminated the bottleneck that had inhibited communication and decision making—which had mainly been caused by him. The result was increased productivity and newly responsible employees. No one missed a deadline after the new system was implemented. Nathan had shifted his management style from “angry parent” to mentor and production shepherd and had gained his people’s respect.
Look, Gen Y Millennials do NOT understand linear time. It doesn’t make sense to them: Why sit at a desk for eight hours when one can get the same work done in four hours and then go home? This may sound outrageous to Baby Boomers—flexible work time?—but see it from their perspective: Come up with a great idea at 2:00 am, work on a proposal until 7:00 am, print it out, bring it to the office, show it to the right people, and expect to go home at 10:00 am. Workday done.
Younger workers think and operate more like entrepreneurs than employees. They have had parents who managed their schedules and were involved in their school life. They have had thousand and thousands of self-directed video game missions, where they chose every single aspect of the adventure; in other words, they aren’t watching the video game as if it were a movie. Instead, they are engaged and involved in it. They are rebelling, if you haven’t noticed, by doing things their way. So instead of fighting it, why not treat them like entrepreneurs and get the most out of their quirky behavior and technologically driven ideas?
Sitting in an office and having everyone report to a boss is an incredibly inefficient paradigm, especially in today’s chaotic environment. Leadership must learn a different route. Show respect and support for your people’s initiatives and skill sets, and you’ll get the most out of today’s workforce. Everyone must be involved in order for a company to stay relevant and cutting-edge today. By trusting in the fact that people are self-managing, you can be free to lead effectively.
And just in case you haven't figured it out by now, #Millennials act the way they do because Baby Boomers raised them to be this way.
Hope you enjoyed this one...
And as always, thanks for reading,
Bridging The Generational Divide: Multigenerational management expert, award-winning author, business consultant and keynote speaker
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But this is not based on management theory: With a 30 year career as an entrepreneur he knows firsthand what it’s like to grow a company from a simple idea in a coffee shop to an internationally recognized brand.
Brad is a former C-Level Internet Executive who went from entrepreneur to IPO in 3 yrs—co-founding K2 Design, the very first Dot Com Agency to go public on NASDAQ. His company experienced 425% hyper-growth for 5 straight years, expanded from 2 business partners to 4 with 60+ employees and offices worldwide. At its height, K2 was valuated at over $26 million. His results only management model (ROWE) was applied to the first wave of young Generation Y workers producing great results—winning K2 the Arthur Andersen NY Enterprise Award for Best Practices in Fostering Innovation.
Brad Szollose is also the *award-winning author of Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia which explores the subject of new leadership styles – mainly how to get the tech-savvy Generation Y and analog driven Baby Boomers working together. ISBN-13: 978-1608320554
Known for his humorous and thought-provoking presentations, Szollose received the highest testimonial of his career from a C-Level audience member: "I just had my mind blown." Brad’s keynotes and workshops are highly interactive, heart-warming, humorous, and filled with high-content information that challenge assumptions and help leaders and managers create a better work environment for innovation to thrive.
Today, Brad helps businesses close the Digital Divide by understanding it as a Cultural Divide – created by the new tech-savvy worker...and customer.
* 2011 Axiom Business Book silver medal winner in the leadership
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