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?

Personality Assessments Best for Existing Employees

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In my work as a leadership coach I often use personality assessments to better understand my clients, especially with regard to how they show up behaviorally in the workplace. This gives me a different lens from which I can often view their blind spots and leadership potential.

Placing people into one segment of a four-square grid or attaching a label to them is not necessarily informative on its own, yet such assessments can be instructive in understanding how an individual interacts with others. When used in conjunction with feedback from co-workers, supervisors, direct reports as well as in-depth conversations with the individual client, I am able to assess where they are and what they may need to work on.

These assessments can add a great deal of value in workplace communication, improving teamwork, overall leadership development and other areas with existing employees. However, when they are used in the hiring process, they can often be counter-productive.

With more than 2,500 different personality tests available and up to 60 percent of workers now taking them, this is a huge industry—estimates of up to $500 million and growing as much as 15 percent annually. And these assessments are subject to very little regulation, in part because they measure intangible concepts with hard-to-calculate qualitative evidence.

While the majority of these assessments are used for career development, about 22 percent of organizations now use them to evaluate job candidates, according a 2014 survey of 344 Society for Human Resource Management members.

Many of these personality tests purport to show an individual’s tendencies, but not an absolute truth. And this is where making decisions on who to hire based on such tests can be especially troublesome. Let’s say, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI) determines that a job applicant is an introvert and you’re looking to fulfill a sales position. Would you look only at extroverted candidates or would you accept the fact that introverts can also be very successful at sales, though they may go about it differently?

When compared to other hiring selection practices, personality assessments are among the least effective in predicting job performance, according to by Frank Schmidt, a management and organizations professor emeritus at the University of Iowa. Schmidt says these tests are useful only when combined with other measures such as cognitive ability or integrity tests that have a higher predictive validity.

In fact, personality tests were found to be only one-third as predictive as cognitive exams and far below reference checks with regard to whether an applicant will be a successful employee.

Nevertheless, McDonald’s uses an assessment and asks prospective workers to choose which of the following best describes them:

“It is difficult to be cheerful when there are many problems to take care of” or “Sometimes, I need to push to get started on my work.”

The Wall Street Journal asked industrial psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic to analyze questions such as these. He said the first item captured “individual differences in neuroticism and conscientiousness.” The second captured “low ambition and drive.” A prospective worker is then pleading guilty to being either high-strung or lazy. Which is McDonald’s looking to hire?

Kroger’s questions were far simpler: “Which adjective best describes you at work: unique or orderly?” By answering “unique,” said Chamorro-Premuzic suggests “high self-concept, openness and narcissism,” and “orderly” expresses “conscientiousness and self-control.” Kindergarten teachers emphasize to children that they are all unique in an attempt to boost their self-esteem. Twelve years later, when that student chooses “unique” on a personality test while applying for a minimum wage job, the program might read the answers as a red flag because nobody wants a workforce filled with narcissists.

According to a 2014 Aberdeen study, just 14% of organizations had data to prove the positive business impact of their assessment strategy when it comes to hiring.

Using any assessment, the hiring manager should determine whether the results of the test will be predictive of future job performance. If there is not a clear affirmation, then focusing on other more important elements of hiring should be considered.

Personality assessments have enormous potential when deployed to existing employees as they can provide self-discovery, improved communication, team building, and other benefits. With regard to hiring, however, such tests have little predictive validity, low reliability over time, and fail to measure what is important in doing a specific job.

Presence in the Age of Distraction

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Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but never before have I felt it so difficult to be present. Whether this is about mindfulness, grounded or being in the moment, the ability to stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time has become harder to do.

Technology certainly enables us to do many things simultaneously in the belief that we are accomplishing more, staying better informed, making higher quality decisions, and being more connected to others. And while that potential is certainly there, I would argue that for most of us we are not using technology to do this. Instead, the very technology we embrace is no longer serving as a tool, it has actually contributed to keeping us from being present.

You don’t have to look far for examples:

  • Screen Time – In 2014 Americans spent an average of 7.4 hours staring at screens (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet) each day, according to Kleiner Perkins Internet analyst Mary Meeker.
  • Cell Phones – We now check our cell phones on average 46 times each day and this is up from 33 times each day in 2014, according to a study by Deloitte. For 18-24 year olds, that figure rises to 82 times per day. In total, we spend an average of 4.7 hours each day on our phones.
  • Email – The average office worker receives 121 emails per day, according to a report by DMR Stats in 2015. Not nearly enough of us control how these incoming emails are managed and how often the messages interrupt our focus on the task at hand.
  • Text Messages – According to a Forrester research study, more than 6 billion text messages are sent every day in the United States. And 90% of these messages are read within three minutes, according to ConnectMogul.
  • Social Media – Americans on average check their social media sites 17 times each day. While it is tempting to believe this is all about teenagers, it turns out the highest reported usage was among those 25 to 54 years old.

So what’s the big deal you may ask. Aren’t we being more present in more places and with more people? Presence doesn’t work that way.

Being present means you are fully engaged on the immediate task or the person in front of you. The notion of parallel processing is fine for computers, but we humans cannot optimally function when our brains are tasked with multiple processes. The more fragmented our focus, the harder it is to concentrate on any given thing.

This is not to say you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. It is not the things that require little concentration or focus, but the ones that do. And by not exercising this focused attention, we are likely to fail at it when we need it most.

“Optimizing your presence is about learning how to flourish during stressful moments,” according to Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Opportunities. Accessing your personal power can help you achieve presence—the state in which you stop worrying about the impression you’re making on others and instead adjust the impression you’ve been making on yourself.

“To be present, it’s not enough to know who you are and express it to others,” writes Cuddy. “You need to act on it.”

In 1992 psychologist William Kahn studied psychological presence in the workplace and he identified four critical dimensions: a person must be attentive, connected, integrated and focused.

“These dimensions collectively define what it means to be alive, there in the fullest sense, and accessible in the work role,” Kahn wrote. “The result is personal accessibility to work (in terms of contributing ideas and effort), others (in terms of being open and empathetic), and one’s growth (in terms of growth and learning). Such presence is manifested as personally engaged behaviors.”

Perhaps Cuddy, the Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist who became famous when her Wonder Woman pose 2012 TED Talk went viral, sums it up best:

“Your body shapes your mind. Your mind shapes your behavior. And your behavior shapes your future. Let your body tell you that you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic, and authentically yourself.”

Leadership Lessons from New POTUS

We can learn a great deal from leaders who model excellent behavior and traits we want to emulate. Other times, when we see poor behavior and traits that demonstrate ineffective leadership, we can learn from this too.

With a new President of the United States, we have an opportunity to see a different kind of leadership, and in many ways an unprecedented approach to governing. Since he has no track record in government, we will have to wait and see whether this translates into an effective new model or a calamitous failure when it comes to leading our country.

In his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, author Marshall Goldsmith along with Mark Reiter detail behaviors and traits that have contributed to leaders reaching their current status, yet may be the very things holding them back from succeeding further.

“The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral,” write the authors. In my work as a leadership coach and organizational consultant, I have found that it is not so much your intelligence or overall aptitude that inhibits growth in a leader as it is your interpersonal skills. And the further you rise in an organization, the more time and energy you will spend interacting with others.

Of the 20 behaviors detailed by Goldsmith and Reiter, I have selected the following five from which I think we can derive some insight with regard to Donald Trump. Though my comments on these particular traits and behaviors can so far only be attributed to Trump as real estate developer, Presidential candidate and President-elect, I have seen no change to suggest he will be different once he is seated in the oval office.

Five behaviors or traits that undermine strong leadership:

  • Making destructive comments – Witness the disparaging remarks Trump has made towards women, Muslims, Mexicans, celebrities, the media, Presidential candidates, etc. and you can see that this pattern only serves to weaken his stature as a leader. A strong leader should not demean others in order to appeal to those he wants to lead.
  • Telling the world how smart we are – Trump’s short declarative statements that rarely contain words demonstrating a broad vocabulary run counter to his contention that he is “very smart.” Demonstrating confidence is vital to leadership, yet boasting too much comes across as arrogant and/or egotistical.
  • Speaking when angry – This could and should be updated to include “tweeting” to reflect Trump’s rampant use of 140 characters to vent when he feels slighted or intends to shift the focus away from more important issues. Composure is important in leadership and a measured tone is especially vital in matters of international affairs.
  • Withholding information – Whether it’s refusing to release his tax returns, not detailing potential conflicts of interest, or offering no specifics on an alternative health care plan, these all demonstrate not only a lack of transparency, but the intention to deceive. Effective leadership first and foremost requires trust and holding back information weakens this.
  • Refusing to express regret – Back in August 2016, the candidate finally expressed a blanket statement of regret for unspecified things he’d said. Though he had a lot of material to point to, Trump refused to specify what it is he regrets. Leadership requires the humility to admit having made mistakes, the knowledge to learn from them, and the discipline to not make them again. If you can’t acknowledge them in the first place, you are bound to repeat them.

Accepting that each of us is a work in progress and capable of life-long learning, leaders have the opportunity to continue their growth to reach their full potential. Perhaps the most important trait is the self-awareness in order to see how our behaviors may undermine our intentions. It is this self-knowledge combined with the insight of a potential disconnect with our values that can bring about the process of change.

As Goldsmith and Reiter point out in their book: “We all obey this natural law: People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

I am hopeful that Donald Trump’s values are higher than those represented so far in his behaviors, and that he will soon recognize that the disconnect needs to be rectified in order for him to become a great leader. If not, perhaps we can learn how to become better leaders by acting counter to his example.