March for Workplace Health & Viability

The March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C. and more than 500 communities around the world on April 22, 2017. This coincides with Earth Day and it’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century there is even a need to demonstrate support for something so fundamental as the planet we live on and the very foundation of principles which have enabled us to thrive.

“Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions,” as stated on the organization’s website. “At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

With the recent downfall of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly due to the disclosure of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him, perhaps some of his viewers may be more skeptical of the moral superiority of popular talking heads such as him. Maybe they will rethink whether tuning in to hear one person’s opinions will lead them to the truth better than research-based proven scientific facts. As much as we may want easy answers to complex issues, they won’t come from any one pundit, commentator or so-called analyst.

We live at a time when we celebrate science fiction more than science. Although Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series is making inroads, it’s the fictional Star Wars, The Avengers and The Hunger Games where people spend their hard earned money and precious leisure time. As a nation we honor the achievements of athletes, musicians and actors far more than we do those of scientists, mathematicians and physicists. And they are paid a lot more as a result.

The fact is we over value entertainment and under value education. No wonder so many children when asked what they want to be when they grow up no longer say a doctor or fireman, they say they want to be rich and they want to be famous.

Actor Jim Carrey once said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous, and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

In the workplace we see the effects of this focus on shortcuts and quick fixes in the form of growth at the expense of actual value. According to a 2013 McKinsey survey, more than half of corporate executives said they would pass on a viable project “if it would cause the company to even marginally miss its quarterly earnings target.” These leaders are so afraid of shareholders that they dismiss what they believe to be in the best long-term interests of the company’s profitability because they are measured simply quarter to quarter.

This is crazy, of course, and it is not sustainable. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, says this is a tornado of technological improvements that has spun our economic model out of control and humanity as a whole is trapped by the consequences.

As an example, Rushkoff writes about robotic ad-viewing programs or bots that are now used by some unscrupulous companies to raise their pay-per-click advertising revenue. These bots are often run secretly on our computers in the form of malware and, as a result, advertisers were projected to lose $6.3 billion in pay-per-click fees to imaginary viewers in 2015.

The irony is that these malware robots watch ads that are monitored by automated tracking software tailoring every advertising message to suit the malbots’ automated habits inside this personalization of a feedback loop. No human eyeballs may ever see or respond to the ads. No value is created and yet billions of dollars are made.

While many corporations are focused on short-term growth and profitability at the expense of long-term and sustained value, their employees are contributing to this as well.

Employees contribute to this, when they seek to:

  • Accomplish individual objectives though they may be in conflict with the collective goals of the workgroup or company.
  • Look busy multitasking rather than move important things forward by taking on the challenges of critical thinking.
  • Efficiently empty our email inbox rather than doing what’s more important yet may not yield tangible results as quickly.
  • Ask for promotions based on how we match up to our colleagues rather than on our own competence and capability.
  • Simply follow along and remain “under the radar” rather than push back and risk retribution when we know better.
  • Respond to constant disruptions with the dopamine hit of “likes” on social media instead of staying focused on the laborious job-related task in front of us.

The workplace should be one where all workers seek to provide sustainable value. CEOs and employees should all be motivated and compensated for delivering products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations. Rather than focus on short-term profitability, the goal should be long-term value. In this scenario, shareholders will continue to receive their return on investment, yet over a longer period of time. Think Berkshire Hathaway rather than Facebook.

Our current economic model for publicly traded companies that demands quarterly profits at the expense of longer term viability may no longer be relevant. Instead, we need to focus on doing what’s right rather than what’s expedient.

And we cannot rely on pundits in the political or financial realms to provide us with quick and easy answers. Instead, we should seek the continually evolving, research-based, peer-reviewed nature of scientific experimentation to understand how to improve our workplace and our economy. March for science. March for truth. March for workplace health and viability.

One Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

With the Millennial Generation now representing nearly 45% of the U.S. workforce, it’s clear we are experiencing a huge cultural shift. And while these younger workers may report to other Millennials, Generation Xers or Baby Boomers, there are certain protocols they should consider as they navigate their careers.

The Baby Boomer generation was largely responsible for launching the technological age we now take for granted. This required that Boomers continually adapted to change in order to stay relevant as the workplace became more technologically mechanized.

Millennials, on the other hand, don’t know life without computers and the Internet. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also need to continually adapt to change. In fact, it may be that their generation has experienced and will continue to experience more and more rapid change than those who preceded them.

Adapting to change should ultimately be seen as a way of being. This is not only true with regard to technological skills, but also business processes and the skills of interpersonal relationships, leadership development, and other soft skills. Lifelong learning requires maintaining curiosity and a beginner’s mind.

With that, I offer a few thoughts on what may be helpful to Millennials as they navigate the workplace not only with outgoing Baby Boomers, but also Generation Xers and their fellow Millennials.

Communication
Communicating effectively requires choosing the appropriate medium and using the correct message. Don’t assume that an emoji-ridden text message will be appropriate when in fact a face-to-face conversation is necessary. And a true conversation requires listening as well as speaking. It demands your full attention to be most effective. While everyone lists “excellent communication skills” on the resume, very few people are truly excellent at it. Make it a practice to continually hone your ability to write, speak and listen effectively.

Collaboration
Unlike previous generations, Millennials have been taught from early on to work and learn in groups. Collaboration is especially valuable in today’s workplace because most of the work is completed by groups of people. These groups are also more diverse and your ability to get along with your coworkers will determine how effective the group is at accomplishing its goals. This will require shared respect, trust, and effective communication. Make it a practice to continually learn how to navigate these relationships effectively.

Accountability
The modern workplace requires more self-reliance and therefore it’s important for you to take responsibility for your career. Accept that no one is going to determine your success or failure more than you are. While you will likely always have a boss, it is up to you to determine the level of direction and support you need in order to succeed at what you do. You need to take responsibility for continually communicating this to your boss. And understand that though you may be used to and feel you require constant feedback for how you’re doing, that may not be a priority or general practice of your boss. Be accountable for what you need to do your job and to advance your career.

Finally, as I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years of work, it is vitally important to stay authentic and live your values. There may be a time when you will need to make a change because where you work or what you do comes in conflict with who you are. Life is short and therefore you should do whatever you need to do to align who you are with what you do. And remember: Love people and use things. Because the opposite never works.

Social Media’s Impact on Workplace Communication

The Internet age has led to enormous changes in the way we communicate in virtually every aspect of our lives. Social media lets us connect with others in a way that was previously unheard of. With a smart phone in hand, we can now access anyone and anything around the world at any time.

But do these technology innovations mean we are experiencing improved communication?

Wael Ghonim, aka the “Google guy,” who used Facebook to help launch the revolution against the Egyptian government in 2011, said that “if you want to liberate a society, all you need is the Internet.” Years later he explained that while the Arab Spring revealed social media’s greatest potential, it also exposed its greatest shortcomings. “The same tool that united us to topple dictators eventually tore us apart.”

In his TED Talk, Ghonim discussed five critical challenges facing today’s social media in the political arena. He explained the most critical of these is that our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posting over discussions, and shallow comments over deep conversations.

“It’s as if we agreed to talk at each other instead of talking with each other,” Ghonim said.

While emailing, texting, posting, blogging, and tweeting enable us to send out messages, they don’t necessarily enable the opportunity for give-and-take conversations. Today’s social media doesn’t encourage meaningful dialogue where we engage enough to bring about greater understanding. It’s still, for the most part, one-way communication: sender to receiver.

Not that this is necessarily bad in and of itself, but it is limited and may undermine our ability to truly connect and understand one another.

Workplace Communication
Today’s social media experiences can’t help but spill over from our personal and political lives into the workplace, and this is where I am concerned. Without the exchange of meaningful dialogue, we are unable to maximize our ability to collaboratively solve problems and innovate with new products and services. Sending messages only in one direction isn’t effective communication.

This degradation in communicating can show up every aspect of our lives, including the workplace. Examples include:

  • Failure to actively listening when the other person is speaking
  • Being too concerned with what we want to say rather than fully hearing and understanding what the other person says, and what is left unspoken
  • Not ensuring our overall physical behavior that includes tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact, etc. are congruent with and supportive of our message
  • Not making our intention clear so there is no misunderstanding in what we say
  • Using the wrong medium to communicate our message (e.g., using email instead of face-to-face; using the phone when video conferencing would be better; using text messaging instead of a phone call, etc.)
  • Demonstrating that we are listening, yet not ensuring the other person is feeling heard

Some research suggests that only 7 percent of communication is conveyed by the spoken words. The other 93 percent is conveyed by tone, inflexion, and other elements of voice as well as by body language, movements, eye contact, etc. When communicating is conducted by any other method than face-to-face, a serious drop-off in understanding and learning will result.

Knowing how little the words alone can enable true communication should be a warning sign that the medium really does impact the effectiveness of the message.

Workgroup Effectiveness
Researchers from Google’s Project Aristotle concluded that understanding and influencing group norms were the keys to improving Google teams. They determined that the right norms could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if all the individual members were exceptionally bright.

The two behaviors all good teams generally shared were: 1) members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking,” and 2) members had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ or they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

This means the group norms of taking turns speaking and listening with empathy were the most important factors for improving team outcomes. These are also fundamental to successful communication.

While social media continues to influence every aspect of our lives, it’s important to remember the limitations of it with regard to effective communication. In the workplace, this means choosing the right medium to convey the message, ensuring there is an appropriate feedback loop, and responding to the feedback in a way that results in true understanding.

With that, I encourage your thoughts on social media’s impact in your workplace.

Communicating with Millennials in Mind

As the American workplace shifts from being filled with Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to dominated by Millennials, this generational shift also creates a cultural shift—one with younger workers who have different expectations and values than their predecessors. This is not your father’s cubicle.

While technology, globalization, diversity and many other factors continue to impact the modern workplace, Millennials are also directly influencing how, where and when we work.

The U.S. workforce is currently represented by Baby Boomers (27%), Generation Xers (27%) and Millennials (44%) with another 2% represented by those born before Boomers and after Millennials. And this shift to majority Millennials has created a dramatic shift in workplace culture that demands we redefine how to best manage people.

According to Bruce Tulgan of Rainmaker Thinking in a white paper titled “The Great Generational Shift,”  this radical shift in numbers is accompanied by a profound transformation

in the norms, values, attitudes, expectations and behaviors of the emerging post-Boomer workforce.

“Today’s generation gap, in contrast, is about much more than a clash of styles and preferences; much more than the creative energy of youth challenging the cautious wisdom of experience; more than the new butting up against the old,” writes Tulgan. “The ‘Generational Shift’ unfolding today is of historic significance, defined by the confluence of macro forces driving change at an extraordinary magnitude and pace.”

This dynamic has made it particularly difficult for managers as they are being asked to do more with less, operate with increasing ambiguity, supervise workers in diverse locations, and rely a lot more on interdependence with other departments and workgroups. All the while, the Millennials they are managing have a different level of expectations than their predecessors.

For example, Millennials may very well expect that:

  • Relationships are less hierarchical and more situational;
  • Learning and training programs are less directed and facilitated with a defined curriculum and specific goal-orientation than they are self-directed, collaborative, on-going, open-ended and multiple sourced;
  • Communication style is less formal and about going through proper channels as it is about being more constant, on-going, high-tech and high touch;
  • Attitude about life and career is less about building a life around their career as it is building a career around the kind of life they want to have;
  • What they are looking for in a manager can be summarized as “Please help me do my job . . . Give me guidance, support and feedback every step of the way;”
  • The performance evaluation should not be annual or semi-annual, but regular and frequent, ideally daily;
  • What Millennials are looking for first and foremost in employment is not so much job security, but flexibility.

While some may complain that these Millennials are too high-maintenance and that we shouldn’t have to bend so far to meet their preferences. The reality is that Millennials are bringing on this cultural shift that is both natural and necessary in order to assimilate their unique contributions in the workplace.

And what makes managers successful in this environment is the ability to deliver clear, consistent and constant communication to these younger workers.

In their research to measure the effectiveness of successful managers, Tulgan and his associates found that all of them had employees who consistently delivered the highest productivity and quality along with higher morale, team spirit and the best business outcomes. And their direct reports were more likely to describe them as “one of the best managers I’ve ever had.”

The common denominator among these successful managers was in the high-quality communication they consistently engaged in with every direct-report in ongoing, content-rich dialogue about the work. And things went best when managers consistently made expectations clear and provided candid feedback for each employee at every step.

This more involved, more present manager may rub some the wrong way, yet for younger workers, it may be exactly what they are looking for in order to be most productive. While some may see it as “telling me how to do my job” Millennials may instead receive it as “give me direction and support as well as immediate feedback so that I can do it on my own.”

And perhaps this deliberate hand-holding is necessary for the younger generation to learn before putting their unique spin on the work and then taking it to new heights.

The manager’s role will continue to evolve but the notion of clear, consistent and constant communication will prove especially effective as our generations continue to shift.

GRIT: Growth, Rigor, Integrity, Tenacity

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Like any parent, I want my children to grow up to be successful. I also believe that success should not be measured merely in terms of a job or career, but in terms of satisfaction with all areas of one’s life.

To reach this level of success, I encourage my kids to fail early and often, build self-control and self-confidence, try new sports and extracurricular activities, be competitive with themselves and compassionate with others, and to follow their own interests.

I’ve learned about the importance of grit, and specifically the importance of grit over talent. Like many, I had grown up thinking some people were simply more talented than I was: whether this was in math, music, sports or just about anything where I witnessed a true professional demonstrate his or her abilities. I summed it up thinking, well, I didn’t win the gene pool lottery so I can’t do that.

“Mythologizing natural talent lets us all off the hook,” writes Angela Duckworth, the celebrated researcher and professor, in her book Grit. “It lets us relax into the status quo. That’s what undoubtedly occurred in my early days of teaching when I mistakenly equated talent and achievement, and by doing so, removed effort—both my students’ and my own—from further consideration.”

But Duckworth presents a compelling case with the research to back it up that grit and the power of passion and perseverance ultimately leads to achievement.

“Talent—how fast we improve in skill—absolutely matters,” she writes. “But effort factors into the calculations twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

Duckworth found that the psychological assets in “mature paragons of grit” have the following elements in common:

  1. Interest – Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what it is you do.
  2. Practice – One form of perseverance is the daily discipline of trying to do things better than we did yesterday. And deliberate practice is especially important.
  3. Purpose – What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters. For most people, interest without purpose is nearly impossible to sustain for a lifetime.
  4. Hope – Hope is rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance.

Each of these are helpful in overcoming a more fixed mind-set with regard to reaching success. Each can help you reach the success you’re looking for—whether that’s in your own professional growth or that of your children’s future. You can determine your own level of grit using Duckworth’s Grit Scale.

As I practice my own understanding of grit, I tend to hesitate more often before rescuing my children from their immediate struggles. I urge them to use deliberate practice in their efforts to improve skills. I encourage them to explore a new interest without regard to whether or not they are immediately good at it. And I try to set an example by continually trying new things myself because I know the more I demonstrate my own humility and acceptance of failure as a part of the path to success, the more likely they are to accept and adopt this as normal.

When I think about grit, I tend to see it as a combination of growth, rigor, integrity and tenacity. For me, these are the essential elements that help foster achievement.

Growth – Reaching any level of success requires a growth mind-set. Only with the notion of continually learning can anyone expect to really know and demonstrate any skill. Growth should be constant and an essential element of grit.

Rigor – Grit requires the rigor of discipline and precision in order to reach success. This is best exemplified in the deliberate practice necessary to achieve anything. Without rigorous effort, no skill can be fully reached.

Integrity – Most often thought of as doing the right thing when no one is watching, integrity in this sense has to do with following your own internal compass and following through on what is essential to who you are and not who others may want you to be. This is about purpose.

Tenacity – The idea of courage of mind as well as fortitude and resilience in tenacity are vitally important in grit. No one can fully reach their success without tenacious effort in the face of so much resistance coming both internally and externally.

As you reflect on your own efforts toward success, how does your grit scale impact this and what are doing to overcome it?