Leadership is easy. Okay, not really, but it is easy to define what makes an effective leader. It requires just two things.
Last time we explored the first trait, outstanding character. While a leader needs to be a lot of things, above everything sits character. All other great leadership traits – energetic, humble, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and the list goes on – flow from high character.
There is no compromise with character. But what if you do have a momentary lapse in this can’t-have-a-lapse area. Is it possible to rise again as an effective leader? Perhaps, but there’s no guarantee a leader will recover from a slip in character, at least not with the followers who witnessed or experienced the failure. Given time, though, a fallen leader might recover their leadership mojo.
Effective leaders more often need to recover from lesser mistakes. On any given day for any given reason, a leader may “break” an essential leadership trait. Maybe the leader talked harshly to a teammate or embarrassed someone in a team meeting. Maybe the leader caused confusion because of a poor communication, causing strife and angst in the team. Or perhaps the leader took credit for a team’s success or blamed someone else for poor performance rather than taking responsibility.
In any of the above failures, a leader needs our second key leadership trait, transparency.
No leader is perfect. No person is perfect. So mistakes will be made. Hopefully, these mistakes will be in lesser leadership areas such as being empathetic, disciplined, or fair. Regardless of failure, major or minor, a leader must quickly and authentically admit the mistake and apologize for the shortcoming.
Upon displaying a mistake, an effective leader must simply say, “I’m sorry. I did this. I apologize for the pain and confusion my mistake has caused. I will work hard to never do this again.” That’s it. Quick and authentic.
Unfortunately, the world is full of leaders who say, “I’m sorry if this offended or hurt you.” This isn’t an apology. This is saying the other person has the problem. Nor does an apology end with a “but.” As in, “I’m sorry but this is what I meant.”
Transparent does not describe United CEO Oscar Munoz after dragging a passenger off a United flight a few weeks ago (check here for PCC’s thoughts on United’s biggest problem). He was neither quick nor authentic. It took two days and two attempts at an apology before Mr. Munoz finally offered an appropriate response to the traveling public.
In his first two statements, Mr. Munoz said things like United staff treated their passenger “politely” and “apologetically” as they literally dragged him off the plane. He also blamed the passenger, calling him “disruptive and belligerent.” Rather than speaking to the bloodied passenger or the traveling public at large, Mr. Munoz wrote to his employees, “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you . . . Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are.” Really? Allowing a passenger to be seated and then dragging that passenger off the plane, breaking several teeth in the process, that’s respect and dignity?
In his third statement two days after the incident, Mr. Munoz was finally transparent. “I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.” With this third attempt, Mr. Munoz was finally transparent. But after two days and two failed apologies, does this apology really count for anything?
“I think the currency of leadership is transparency.”
~ Howard Schultz
Of course, transparency isn’t just for apologizing. After the above statement, Mr. Schultz went on to say, “. . . there are moments where you’ve got to share your soul and conscience with people and show them who you are, and not be afraid of it.” So transparency also allows a leader to be “real.” It builds trust. And it helps others be transparent as well.
So think about your leadership. Are you always fair? Empathetic? Humble? Do others describe you as disciplined, flexible, and honest?
Most importantly, do you always display the two most important leadership characteristics, character and transparency?
Or are they the only qualities needed for effective leadership?
When we teach Leadership here at PCC, we explore and practice the skills necessary to be a good leader or supervisor. For example, setting clear or SMART goals is key to employee success. Communicating often, holding people accountable, and having performance improvement and other challenging conversations are also required to make the “good boss list.” Mastering these skills will not only make for an effective leader or supervisor but also help employees find success and satisfaction in their daily activities.
Mastery of those skills, as important as they are, is not as critical to a leader’s success as the other tack we take here at PCC, leadership traits or qualities. What are those internal characteristics needed for outstanding leadership? There are many:
Energetic Communicative Knowledgeable
Confident Persistent Honest
Dedicated Creative Caring
Humble Disciplined Passionate
Fair Flexible Humorous
Courageous Empathetic Trustworthy
Yes, that’s quite a list (and we could actually add several more!). Is it possible for a leader to be all of these things all of the time? That should certainly be the goal of every leader. There are times, however, when a leader fails to display each of these traits.
For example, on those days when a leader is sick, energy levels may be a bit low. Have a fight with the spouse? You may not feel like laughing at work. Kids go off the rails at school or abuse your parental trust? You may not be flexible at work with your employees (after all, sometimes managing people is much like parenting kids!). Have an accident on your way home from work, laptop crashed, or got beat up by a customer or even your own boss? You may not even want to go into the office the next day!
Life happens. When it does, you may be less than your best leader-self. Hopefully, though, it’s just a momentary setback and with a little time, you’re back to your energetic, light-hearted, flexible self.
There are, though, two leadership characteristics that are not negotiable. Two traits that, when violated, bring your entire leadership and even personal convictions into question. The first of these two traits is high moral character.
Often during leadership workshops, after listing all of the leadership traits above (including character and our second trait we’ll name later), I will ask which two are most important. Things like honest, caring, and trustworthy jump off the lips of most participants. No, no, and no. It takes a while but we finally hit our first key trait, character.
Hold on here. What about honesty and trustworthiness – aren’t they critical characteristics for a leader? Absolutely! But not as critical as being a leader with high character. Why? Because you might be honest but not a caring leader. You may be trustworthy and believable but not humble or persistent.
If, however, a leader has high character, then he/she will also be honest, trustworthy, caring, persistent, . . . You see, everything flows from character!
That’s why character must be uncompromising, because a lack of character ruins leadership ability. In other words, people will forgive a leader who has a low-energy day or sends out a poor communication. But have a lapse of character? Your entire leadership ability will be called into question – for a long time!
Sadly, business history is littered with low-character leaders. Who remembers Bernie Ebbers (Worldcom)? Dennis Kozlowski (Tyco)? Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling (Enron)? Just a few years ago, there were countless Wall Street, bank, and mortgage executives whose greed sent our entire economy into a tailspin. Most recently, lack of moral character allowed Wells Fargo to fraudulently set up thousands of fake accounts.
I am both amazed and dismayed that character as a key leadership quality is not a given for some people. Take a recent issue of Fortune, for example, which listed the world’s 50 greatest leaders. While I am a die-hard Cubs fan, I was disappointed to see Theo Epstein listed as the #1 leader in the world.
Not because of his ability to build and lead a championship baseball team. He is obviously incredibly skilled at this, winning two World Series with Boston and then again last year with Chicago. But after years of building teams, Mr. Epstein has just figured out that character is important!
“The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup. Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.”
At 28 years old, Mr. Epstein was the youngest general manager in baseball history when he took that position with the Boston Red Sox in 2002. Fifteen years later, as President of Operations for the Cubs, he finally realized that character is the most important leadership quality.
So there’s hope! While business still has (and probably always will have) leaders who don’t protect their character and live by the highest standards possible, other leaders can grow and learn like Mr. Epstein. Let’s hope Mr. Epstein’s experience becomes a growing trend!
What do you think? Is character the most important quality? What would you put ahead of character?
Unless you’ve disconnected from the World Wide Web, turned off your TV, and cancelled your newspaper subscription, you’re probably familiar with David Dao. He’s the United Airlines passenger who was forcibly removed from a Chicago-to-Louisville flight.
You may also be familiar with Dave Carroll. He’s a singer/songwriter who rose to fame after United Airlines broke his guitar on a Chicago-to-Omaha flight. The actual incident did not make headlines but his song, "United Breaks Guitars", has over 17 million views on YouTube (check it out here).
Even less known than breaking guitars are two United incidents I experienced within the last couple of years, both taking place at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. While returning from an East Coast consulting project, I had a connection and small layover at O’Hare. Our DFW-bound flight was running a bit late so by the time the plane arrived, the gate area was full of anxious travelers.
When our MD-80 finally arrived, there was no gate agent to move the jet bridge. Two minutes passed. Three. Four. At the five-minute point, I walked a few steps to the next gate where two United agents stood talking. I pointed to our non-moving jet bridge and asked for some help. One agent replied, “It’s not our gate.”
I was stunned. Just several feet away were about 150 passengers (well, we wanted to be passengers) trying to get to Dallas and their only action was to say, “It’s not my gate.” Now, perhaps their union contract prevented them from actually working that gate but I doubt it prevented them from calling someone who could help.
Another “not my job” incident took place last year. Getting to O’Hare well before my departure, I grabbed something to eat and found an empty area in the terminal to do some work. Shortly after sitting down and opening my laptop, I noticed a United employee walking my way. She was obviously on break as she had a book and a soda in hand.
She approached my empty gate area, looked at a Big Gulp cup sitting on the floor as she came within inches of knocking it over, and simply kept walking to an empty chair. Although she did not seem to look at the cup as she left the gate area, she did pass within several feet of this trash. Why didn’t she take the extra five seconds to throw this trash away, making the United gate area a little more inviting? Maybe it wasn’t her gate?
These two “It’s not my job” examples, although quite small, have the same genesis as the two much larger problems of throwing passengers off planes and breaking guitars. In business terms, it’s a lack of accountability.
The United employees mentioned here were not accountable for making great customer experiences. They each had very narrow job descriptions that dictated their actions. So even though these employees could say they were doing their job (although the ramp agents who broke the guitar severely abused their job description), they were not responsible for building an overall good customer experience.
Lack of accountability is one term. Another description is lack of caring. None of these employees cared about me or any other United passenger. They cared about having fun. They cared about taking their break. But they didn’t care for the customers’ belongings, didn’t care if they arrived or departed on time, and didn’t care about the United brand overall.
That’s why we talk about culture so much! A culture of caring or accountability to several key metrics, in these cases on-time departures and satisfied customers, could have prevented these PR disasters. Culture (along with core values) allows all employees to work toward the same goals. Culture helps employees find career success and satisfaction. Culture is unique and gives an organization a competitive advantage that can’t be replicated.
Yes, building and sustaining a healthy corporate culture takes time and effort. It’s something that must be monitored and managed. But the concept is simple:
Corporate culture is the driving force behind corporate success.
Why don’t more companies understand this?
Our last Insight looked at the challenge organizations face with employee engagement. According to Gallup Research, most companies have only 30% of their workers really making a difference in the company. These employees are giving that extra effort in order to see the company grow and succeed.
Half of the company is simply along for the ride. They may not be a drag on the company, but they sure aren’t making things easier for the 30% who are really trying.
That last 20%? They are actually giving extra effort as well, just not the right kind of effort! These people are sabotaging the entire organization, making life miserable for everyone.
So how does an organization change that 30% engagement number that’s held steady for the past 15 years? Adopting these three employee engagement strategies, while they won’t guarantee success, without them, it is a guarantee that your engagement numbers will remain flat for years to come.
As we’ve said numerous times in these Insight entries, developing engaged employees (and engaging cultures) takes exhaustive, consistent, ferocious, deliberate, intense, aggressive, meticulous, and thoughtful energy and effort.
Are all of these words (and the list could be even longer) really necessary for employee engagement? YES! That was really the point of the last Insight entry. Most organizations just talk about employee engagement or do very little in this area. While putting a foosball table in the break from, throwing an occasional pizza party, or having a summer picnic for employees and their families are certainly ideas to consider, doing just one or even all three of these ideas would not be considered aggressive or intense.
So what does an aggressive employee engagement strategy look like? Consider several of the above words.
Deliberate: Employee engagement doesn’t just happen. Organizations, particularly the HR people who are typically responsible for this area, must make employee engagement a top planning priority. Engagement must be part of the yearly goal-setting process.
Consistent: Employee engagement isn’t a quarterly goal. It isn’t an every other year thing. It’s all the time – forever. As long as the organization is in business, employee engagement must be part of the business plan. Let up for just a short time and your engagement scores will begin to flatten if not retreat.
Meticulous: Look for every opportunity to engage employees. Land a big contract? Celebrate with all the employees. Lose a big contract? Involve key employees to explore what happened and how that can be prevented in the future. Examine all your corporate policies and procedures and see how you can engage employees each and every day.
Aggressive: Think big! Ask the question, “What can we do here for the very first time?”
Author and management expert Tom Peters says, “The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization.” In order to increase employee engagement scores, the organization must be committed to listening to employees. This is done on a large scale such as corporate-wide yearly engagement surveys or more frequent pulse surveys and on a smaller scale with supervisors and leaders committed to listening to their direct reports and other employees.
Listening, though, is only half of the equation. Leaders must hear their employees! That doesn’t mean ever single item that is dropped into the suggestion box is implemented. It does mean that employees see the organization improving as a result of their opinions. Employees also want hear back from their leadership, particularly executive leadership, on a regular basis. Employees want to know their hard work and their opinions make a difference in the company!
Everything the organization does, including employee engagement, must reflect the organization’s core values. Is Excellence a core value? How do your employee engagement efforts support and reflect this value? Is Respect a value? Be sure your engagement activities clearly show respect for all of the employees along with customers, vendors, and the community.
So be intense, listen, and reflect your core values as you commit to improving your employee engagement levels. Yes, you’ve been successful with just 30% of employees giving that extra effort. But what if more employees were actively “rowing the boat”? The possibilities are absolutely thrilling!
It’s no secret that employee engagement is low. Most of us have (repeatedly) heard the Gallup research that just over 30% of employees are engaged at work. Another 50% are “not engaged.” Said differently, 50% of employees are simply trading hours for dollars – workers give their company a few hours each day and, in return, the company gives the workers a few dollars. While these “unengaged” workers aren’t necessarily dragging your company down, they are preventing your organization from reaching its true potential.
That last 20%? These “actively disengaged” workers are not only dragging your company down, they are doing so with energy! As one employee engagement video depicts, these workers are drilling holes in the bottom of the boat as they try to sink the organization, taking all of their workers down with them.
Gallup’s most amazing statistic, though, is not the percentage of unengaged and actively disengaged employees. It’s that these figures haven’t changed in 15 years!
Why is this? We’ve been talking about engagement for years yet the needle has barely budged. I think it’s because many organizations have yet to truly address the issue. It’s easy to talk about employee engagement. And it’s easy to check employee engagement with pulse surveys.
But actually moving the engagement needle? That’s the hard part. That takes exhaustive, consistent, aggressive, deliberate, fanatical effort (click here to read a PCC blog about these culture words). Of course, some organizations put this kind of effort behind their employee engagement and culture efforts. As a result, many of these companies make some sort of Top 100 or Best Places To Work list. Unfortunately, there are many more organizations that stop at the employee survey or think throwing a regular pizza party is enough to develop satisfied, engaged employees.
In the Fast Company article titled “The War For Talent Is Over, And Everyone Lost,” authors Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Adam Yearsley state, “Of course, many workers excel in their jobs and make pivotal contributions to their organizations. But for every one employee who does, there are many more who are underemployed, underperforming, and just plain miserable at work.”
But is employee engagement really that big of a deal? Even with miserable employees, many companies not on a Best Workplace list seem to grow and make money. But could they make more money? Will they be able to replace the miserable employees who leave with new, excited employees (who at some point will most likely become miserable)? Can they keep up with their competition? Most importantly, what are their long-term prospects for success?
Another Gallup study can help us here. According to their research, organizations with high employee engagement enjoy:
Gallup’s study along with countless others paint a very clear picture – employee engagement is critical for success. Yes, many companies do fine with unimpressive employee engagement scores. But who thinks “fine” is acceptable? Certainly not a CEO or a corporate shareholder. And what about employees themselves? Would they rather work for a fine company or an outstanding one? Of course, the answer is obvious.
With such clear evidence about the importance of highly engaged workforces, it’s shocking that more companies don’t attack this area with intensity. With flat engagement scores for the last 15 years, it’s clear that most organizations haven’t moved beyond the “blah blah blah” of employee engagement.
So how do you actually move that engagement needle? We’ll answer that question in PCC’s next blog. Until then, let us know what you think of employee engagement. Are you engaged? Does your company “attack” engagement or simply pay lip service to this idea? Join the discussion!
This past Sunday morning while enjoying time with my beautiful bride of almost 30 years, I also enjoyed another one of my favorite things, observing excellent leadership.
When we pulled up to Eggsellent Café in Carrollton, Texas, we noticed people standing outside waiting to be seated. While we wanted to get home to do some weekend gardening, we were not in a huge hurry so decided to join the others who were waiting for their breakfast.
As we sat outside enjoying the wonderful spring weather and making a few new friends as we waited, the restaurant’s owner (“My name is Meff. Just like Jeff but with an M.”) was busy adding names to the waitlist, calling other names to be seated, and visiting with everyone, making all of his customers smile and feel welcomed. He never stopped moving!
After a short 15-minute wait, Meff approached us with a big smile and said, “Your table is ready. Enjoy your breakfast!” Immediately after being seated, our coffee was poured and from that moment on, I never saw the bottom of my coffee mug.
Since our table was right by the door, we saw Meff walk in and out, ushering in new patrons and saying “Thank you. I hope you enjoyed your time with us,” as satisfied customers walked out the door. During a brief break, Meff stopped at our table to ask if we needed anything. I responded by saying how impressed I was with the service. Meff said, “Customer service is everything. If a customer has to raise his or her cup for more coffee, I am disappointed. We must pour the coffee before they ask for it. It is important to make the customer happy.”
Meff went on to say that he works hard to ensure his staff works hard. “I want them to see me constantly moving. If I set the example, then they will work hard as well. After we close, I will buy the entire staff drinks and all the food they want. But while we are serving customers, we must work hard. There is no standing around.” So that’s why my coffee mug was never empty!
Leadership examples don’t get much better than Meff. He cares deeply for his customers. He realizes that other restaurants can cook eggs and pancakes (although I would put Meff’s Belgian waffle against any competitor – it was outstanding!) but setting the tone for the customer experience starts with him. Meff expects his staff to work hard but doesn’t just demand it. He models it! And after a day of serving customers, Meff serves his staff, showing appreciation for a job well done.
That’s why people wait at this restaurant. They could probably go down the street and get seated immediately. But will they get that personal touch from the owner or general manager? Will they receive outstanding customer service? Will they see the bottom of their coffee mug?
So on a beautiful Sunday morning, Meff entered into my personal Leadership Hall of Fame. He gets it. Meff understands that leadership isn’t something you talk about. It isn’t an attitude. Leadership doesn’t bark orders and expect things to happen.
Leadership sets the example.
Why don’t more leaders live by this philosophy? What keeps leaders from leading?
In his article “Core Values or Corporate Dogma?” author and Talent Acquisition professional Ed Nathanson questions the need for corporate values. With a very negative spin throughout the article, the author suggests a corporate values program is “pushing corporate dogma and rules down employees’ throats.” Mr. Nathanson also says values-based companies force employees to “get on board or get out” and states some employees, particularly “innovators or disruptors,” most likely don’t “want to have to forcefully prescribe to a belief system created by someone else.”
When asked about their workplace, Mr. Nathanson says happy employees “are likely to talk about the work they are doing, their great teammates and the environment/culture they work in.” I agree with Mr. Nathanson here. The author continues, though, arguing that by not mentioning values, those happy employees don’t want them or believe in them.
But what makes for a great culture? Values!
In her article “Core Values: Wall Posters or Culture Builders?” for Psychology Today, author Jennell Evans defines core values as the “behavioral norms expected to be upheld by all when interacting to accomplish work together.” More simply, values are how an organization thinks and acts. So even though employees may not give credit to core values as the source of their happiness as Mr. Nathanson argues, it is those values that produce a healthy culture that in turn makes employees happy!
While I disagree with Mr. Nathanson, the question posed by Ms. Evans is spot on. Do values shape a corporate culture or are they simply “words on the wall”? As we explored in PCC’s last blog entry, for many organizations, core values are meaningless. Unless an organization, particularly an organization’s leadership, is willing to spend exhaustive energy making their core values come alive and stay alive, words such as respect, trust, excellence, and customer service will be just that – words.
Most if not all organizations have values that are acceptable to all employees. Take the above-mentioned “Excellence,” for example. Four of the Fortune 10 companies mention Excellence in their Values proposition. I’ve also seen Accountability, Integrity, and Caring. Who would argue with any of these values? In fact, many people will say these values along with others such as Commitment, Hard Work, and Flexibility are not just their organization’s values; they are personal values as well.
So why not let employees live by their own Code of Conduct? Why should an organization expect employees to “get on board” with core values? Because an organization’s performance depends on everyone rowing with the same cadence. This means all employees must know what the company stands for, how they expect employees to show up every day. If these core values line up with an employee’s personal values, so much the better!
Core values also help organizations make decisions, particularly in difficult situations. What if the business finds itself over-staffed when mired in a challenging business environment? How is an employee treated when they make a mistake, even a costly one? How does the company respond when an employee breaks the rules or is dishonest? Core values deeply rooted throughout the organization helps it “live by the rules,” and helps it move the business forward in an impartial, consistent manner.
So core values, if proactively promoted by the organization and lived out in daily interactions among all employees, build a healthy culture. That healthy culture allows employees to do their best work and enjoy their organization. And if employees enjoy showing up every day and they do great work, that organization is going make a “Best Place to Work” list, a list every organization should strive for.
So know your corporate values. Live by them daily. If you’re a supervisor, know them and hold your people accountable to them. Doing so will build engaged employees and an engaging culture, two critical components to business success.
Agree? Disagree? Do you think employees should memorize corporate values? Do values make a difference in your organization? So many questions! Tell us what you think!
Our values should guide every conversation, decision, and interaction. Our values should anchor every product and service we provide and every channel we operate. If we can’t link what we do to one of our values, we should ask ourselves why we’re doing it. It’s that simple.
We have five primary values that are based on our vision and provide the foundation for everything we do:
- People as a competitive advantage
- What's right for customers
- Diversity and inclusion
The above verbiage sounds great, doesn’t it? These are values of a major U.S. bank in support of their vision: “We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.” Who wouldn’t want to work for or do business with a company that believes this?
Sadly, the above words, taken directly from the Wells Fargo website, mean absolutely nothing. A slow-burning scandal that took place for years, low-level bank employees siphoned money from customers and opened bogus accounts and cards using current customers’ personal information, all to meet sales quotas and get sales bonuses. Obviously, this bank’s belief in ethics and customers was simply rhetoric.
In the end, Wells Fargo customers lost money and 5,300 bank employees lost their jobs. One of those employees was Carrie Tolstedt, the senior executive in charge of Wells Fargo’s branches. Amazingly, even though arguably she was the senior executive in charge of the fraudulent scheme, she was able to walk away with a $125 million bonus!
How can this happen? How can a company that espouses the customer and ethics have such widespread fraud? I believe it’s a lack of accountability and a lack of leadership.
I’m confident that if you asked Wells Fargo employees, “What are Wells’ values and how do you live them?” you would get blank stares in return. In fact, asking employees to simply recite the values would get that same response. Obviously, no one at Wells Fargo was asking employees to name and live out their values. To Wells Fargo employees, those values were simply a nice plaque that hung on the bank branch walls.
While all employees are responsible for living out the corporate values, the person who should live out those values more than anyone is the top leader, in this case Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf. Even when announcing Tolstedt’s departure, he complimented her for being “a champion for our customers.” Apparently, employees, ethics, and customers were just words on a wall for Mr. Stumpf as well.
So how can organizations avoid Wells Fargo’s situation? By openly talking about corporate values, by practicing those values daily, and by having a leadership team that models those values. If you aren’t putting deliberate effort against core values, they will not become ingrained in everyday behaviors and actions.
But what about your company and your leadership? What do you do if your leaders refuse to live out the corporate values? First, you have a choice to make. Do you stay or go? Do you remain with your current organization where “gutless leadership,” a term used to describe Mr. Stumpf’s governance, could lead the entire organization down a very wrong path? Or do you find another organization where leadership believes in and lives out their values?
Second, and most importantly, think about your own actions. Regardless of how leadership and everyone around you behave, you can be true to your corporate values. With every action, decision, and conversation, you have an opportunity to align with your organization’s mission and values.
So hold yourself accountable to making your organization’s values ring true. Doing so will most likely help you engage more with your work and your colleagues, ultimately leading to greater job success and satisfaction.
Do you have a corporate values stories, either good or bad? Please share and start a conversation!
Millennials (people born from the early 1980s to 2000) are the most talked about and most studied generation in today’s workforce. That trend is certainly true here at PCC. We’ve explored Millennials in depth through The Millennial Challenge, written about Millennials in several blog entries (click here for a few examples), and I’ve even appeared on The Curated Experience – twice (episode 11 and episode 13)! And our Millennial presentation continues to be one of our most requested programs.
Strangely, we don’t talk about any other generation like we do Millennials. We also don’t change an entire organization’s hiring practices, management policies, and even corporate culture to attract and keep workers like we do Millennial employees.
Most of the editorial written about Millennials revolves around negative stereotypes and characteristics. When asking older workers about Millennials, words such as entitled, lazy, and opinionated quickly roll off the tongue. While stereotypes come about for a reason and these words may in fact be applied to some if not many young workers, there is growing thought that the differences Millennials bring to the workplace are not so unique from previous generations.
For example, Millennials want to make as much money as possible. Millennials want to be respected. And Millennials want to enjoy the work environment and their colleagues, want the opportunity to learn new things and grow within the organization, and want a good boss. How are these things different than any other generation?
Within these similarities, though, Millennials may have slightly different expectations. For example, Millennials want to work for an organization that will invest them. Millennials, more than previous generations, want to work for a company that has a healthy corporate culture. Millennials also want to know how their individual work contributes to the organization’s overall performance as well as understand how the organization itself makes their community and the world a better place.
Millennials do, though, have several defining characteristics. Research shows a Millennial brain thinks and fires differently than brains of older workers. This new way of thinking allows Millennials to address business issues in unique ways, often finding distinct and creative solutions to business problems.
Millennials also tend to be more flexible than previous generations and like flexibility more than previous generations. This desire for a flexible work life, also known as work/life integration, means a Millennial worker may leave the office at 4pm, hang out with friends until 7, go home and log into the network for a few minutes, break for a three-hour Netflix binge, and then log back into the corporate network at 11pm for a few hours. Yes, some Baby Boomers may do the same, but most Boomers will be sleeping at midnight.
So what’s the bottom line? To be a high-performing organization, workers of all ages must work side-by-side in a healthy corporate environment. In fact, generational differences are just one aspect of diversity. Research is beginning to show that the highest performing organizations are also high in ethnic, gender and cultural diversity.
And for all of the hand wringing around the downfall of business due to Millennials’ inability to contribute to the corporate world, it’s turning out that Millennials have much to offer the workplace. In fact, the tactics implemented to attract and retain Millennials are the same tactics organizations should use to build an attractive work environment for workers of all ages.
Are we losing the ability to connect with people on a deep level? Is technology preventing us from making meaningful, personal connections with each other?
At least in the business world, I would say yes. Not only are we becoming a less “personal touch” society, we are becoming a less helpful society.
Years ago, before mobile phones, before email, and even before voicemail, we conducted business either face-to-face or by phone. Working with customers or handling internal business issues, you had to speak to someone. Yes, certain people, primarily executives, could hide behind their secretary, avoiding pesky sales people, customer complaints, or high-maintenance clients and employees. For the most part, though, we got to know each other – employees, colleagues, clients, customers, and vendors – by visiting face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
Voicemail was our first big step away from personal touch. We pretended (and still do) to want to talk to people, but our actions said (and still do) otherwise. “Your call is very important to me so please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.” Really? My call is very important to you? For many people, that is simply not true.
A more truthful message would be, “Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you. If you don’t receive a return call within 48 hours, then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Our next step down the avoid-people rabbit hole was email. Why talk to someone when I could simply send a note? Of course, in some ways, email improved our communication by allowing “conversations” even when someone wasn’t available by phone. The flipside, though, is we now get so many emails, we have little time to do much anything else. How many messages are in your Inbox right now?
Next up – mobile phones and texting. Now, not only are we receiving short messages, this technology has ruined our ability to spell.
Today, we live and work in a world of Facebook and LinkedIn, two fantastic web services which allow us to stay in touch with friends and business associates. One unintended consequence of these technologies is we now send happy birthday wishes and congratulations on the promotion with just a touch of the button. "Done. I just said congratulations and showed my good friend that I rally care about them." Really? I would argue this is simply another step down that impersonal rabbit hole.
Yet for all of the impersonal aspects of technology, it can help people stay connected. As I write this blog, I’m traveling to Kansas State University with my wife and our dear friend Mattie to visit our son. Our friend Mattie has lived overseas for ten years and credits technology, particularly Facebook and Skype, for allowing her to stay closely connected with friends here at home.
So I’m certainly not bashing technology nor do I wish for a time without email and smart phones (truth be known, I get really annoyed when wifi isn’t working on a plane – and I didn’t even have that option a couple of years ago!).
But what would life be like if, rather than just hitting the Like button or sending an automated “Congrats” note, we did it the old-fashioned way by actually calling our friend to say, “Congratulations on your new job! Have a few minutes to catch up?"
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.