One Boomer’s Advice to Millennials

April 7, 2017

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.

Group Accountability for Effective Teamwork

November 19, 2012

Effective teamwork depends on many things. At a minimum, it requires capable people working together cooperatively to achieve a common goal.

According to author Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, truly cohesive teams trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering those plans, and focus on achieving collective results.

Effective teamwork ultimately requires practicing a small set of principles over a long period of time, says Lencioni. “Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.”

Unlike individual accountability, which I’ve written about in previous posts, group accountability is about the willingness of all team members to call each other on performance or behaviors that are detrimental to the team. This requires a great deal of trust and commitment, and it also requires courage.

Holding one another accountable can actually demonstrate respect as well as maintain high expectations for everyone. This peer pressure encourages everyone to take part in achieving the team’s goals through shared leadership, which I believe is vital to successful teams.

Teams that avoid holding one other accountable:

  • Create resentment among team members who have different standards of performance
  • Encourage mediocrity
  • Miss deadlines and key deliverables
  • Place an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline

Teams that do hold one another accountable:

  • Ensure that poor performers feel pressure to improve
  • Identify potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches without hesitation
  • Establish respect among team members who are held to the same high standards
  • Avoid excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

In addition to a foundation of trust and commitment, clarity around individual roles and responsibilities in relation to the team’s goals is vital for group accountability to occur. There can be no ambiguity and every member must know exactly what is required in order to achieve the group’s goals.

It is helpful to encourage group accountability behavior so individuals feel more comfortable speaking up with regard to each other’s performance level. Providing specific feedback on witnessed behavior demonstrating group accountability during meetings can go a long way toward encouraging others.

Keep the focus on achieving team goals and not individual accomplishments. In fact, rewarding individuals can actually be counterproductive and often undermine group goals. In the same way a basketball team suffers if players refuse to play as a team, so too do workgroups when individual performance is praised above the group’s achievement of goals. This is not to say individuals shouldn’t be rewarded, however, if their accomplishments are singled out too frequently then group goals may become secondary.

Ultimately, there should be both an internal and external focus on accountability. Each person must be internally focused with full accountability for his or her own goals. And to be an effective group member, there must also be an external attention focused on accountability for the group in order to meet its goals.

This external focus on accountability requires holding each other to the same standard you hold for yourself, helping each other stay focused on the task necessary to achieve the group’s goals, and challenging each other to raise their level of performance.

As Lencioni says, effective teamwork is simply about embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. And group accountability is one way to ensure your team can raise its performance and reach its goals.

Innovation through Trust and Accountability

June 8, 2012

There’s a great deal of discussion today about the need for innovation in business. Innovation is what fueled the enormous growth of American companies throughout the last century, leading to the proliferation of the telephone, television, and automobile, and made space flight possible.

Innovation is essential to revolutionizing the way we live and help maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. But this innovation requires fostering a workplace environment that includes employer trust and employee accountability.

Apple, with a market capitalization of more than $500 billion, is arguably the most valued and innovative company in the world. Their continual innovation has propelled Apple’s astounding profitability.

In the same way the Macintosh revolutionized the personal computer back in 1984, the iPod, iPhone and iPad created huge markets. These other products may not have been the first to market, but they were designed, manufactured and marketed in such a way that everyone had to have one.

Much credit has been attributed to the late Steve Jobs, but more than likely it was the culture he and others created at Apple that enabled this kind of innovation.

This is because Apple, unlike any other company, embedded the encouragement of creativity and “thinking different” into their corporate culture. This was no small task as creativity is all too often now left to fewer and fewer individuals in school and business.

Sir Ken Robinson, a leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation, says that if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. He contends that our educational system frightens us out of being wrong, and the willingness to be wrong is absolutely necessary in order to foster creativity.

In his book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World,” Tony Wagner writes about the common characteristics of learning cultures at many schools and programs he profiled that offer innovative learning. They are all organized around the values of:

  • collaboration
  • multidisciplinary learning
  • thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error
  • creating
  • intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose

David Liddle, co-founder of Interval Research, speaks of the fundamental characteristics of a creative organization. “It is first and foremost a place that gives people freedom to take risks; second it is a place that allows people to discover and develop their own natural intelligence; third, it is a place where there are no ‘stupid’ questions and no ‘right’ answers; and fourth it is a place that values irreverence, the lively, the dynamic, the surprising, the playful.”

The willingness of individuals to be wrong and management’s acceptance of them being wrong in service of innovation is critical to bring on real innovation.

Steve Jobs and the other Apple employees were able to see beyond where the technology and market was in the present in order to envision and deliver something entirely new. I’m sure there were plenty of false starts and jettisoned projects along the way, but this didn’t result in a reduced research and development budget. Instead, Apple embraced those setbacks as necessary in the natural order of innovation.

Google is another example of a company who provides engineers with space and time to play with ideas. Their 20 percent time program has so far resulted in Gmail, Orkut, Google News and Adsense as well as many internal projects.

All companies could encourage innovation not only in research and development, but in sales, marketing, operations, and even human resources. But this requires a great deal of trust for management and accountability for employees.

When management trusts employees enough to give them the freedom and opportunity to ask stupid questions, take risks, play with ideas, and not suffer from being wrong, then there is an environment that fosters true innovation. And when employees are held accountable for eventual results, they are no longer just doing a job but helping to make a difference in their company, themselves and quite possibly the world.

Bringing more trust and accountability to the workplace can provide an environment that enables innovation to occur. And that is a good thing for everyone.

Managing Accountability

June 8, 2011

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” — Stephen R. Covey.

Many of the organizations I see today reflect our society’s tendency to blame other people, act like a victim, and generally not take responsibility for our own actions. This lack of accountability is a problem in the workplace because it is unproductive, it negatively impacts employee engagement and it leads to poor results.

A productive workplace requires every employee to be held accountable for his or her actions. This begins with the leader and it needs to be modeled and practiced in all employee supervision.

In Denny F. Strigl’s new book “Managers, Can You Hear Me Now? Hard Hitting Lessons on How to Get Real Results,” the former CEO and president of Verizon Wireless offers many lessons on how managers fail and how they can improve.

Specifically, Strigl sees nine reasons managers struggle:

  1. They fail to build trust and integrity
  2. They have the wrong focus
  3. They don’t model or build accountability
  4. The fail to consistently reinforce what’s important
  5. They overrely on concensus
  6. They focus on being popular
  7. They get caught up in their self-importance
  8. They put their heads in the sand
  9. They fix problems, no causes

What I see common in all of these is that they are about specific behaviors. It’s no wonder research has shown that the single most important factor in success is not education, intelligence, experience and technical expertise. It is behavior.

Exceptional managers create positive results by specific behaviors that are consistently repeated day in and day out until they become a habit.

Accountability is the specific behavior that stands out for me and Strigl has what he calls eight accountability techniques that can be helpful.

1.      The Surprise Visit – Hopefully this will catch employees doing something well and provides an opportunity to commend them. However, it also helps managers identify what’s not being done well and rectify it right then and there before it can be covered up.

2.      The Unexpected Follow-Up Phone Call – When someone on your staff tells you something they are working on, don’t let it slide until the next time he or she brings it up. Make an unscheduled call and ask them about the progress to show you listened and are holding them accountable for it

3.      Coaching – As a manager, there is a coaching opportunity in every interaction with your staff that can have accountability attached to it. Practice coaching with accountability included until it becomes an instinctive management habit and is a part of every interaction.

4.      The 5:15 Report – This is a simple reporting system should take no more than 5 minutes for you to read and 15 minutes for an employee to prepare. Examples of what to include in such a report are: progress on goals, plans and pojects; emerging long-term issues; emerging short-term problems; improvement ideas; accomplishments achieved; business opportunities; unexpected events.

5.      The Performance Agreement – This is essentially a method for documenting what a manager and direct report agree the employee will accomplish over a specific period of time. To be effective, it should be simple and leave no room for misunderstanding. This can help directly measure one’s accountability.

6.      The Operations Review – This enables senior level managers the ability to review all functions within an organization, the performances of specific managers of those functions, the results managers have achieved, and the plans they have to reach future goals. It demonstrates accountability organization-wide.

7.      The Performance Appraisal – Often dreaded by both managers and employees, this should be a fine opportunity to review 1) the goals the employee met or exceeded; 2) the goals the employee has not met; 3) the manager’s recommendations concerning what the employee should do to meet his or her goals. It should be a helpful conversation that encourages accountability.

8.      The Performance Improvement Plan – This plan clarifies issues the employee is encountering or goals that he or she is missing and sets up a course of action for improvement. For the employee this can be a wake up call. The manager must be helpful, set a clear deadline, make it measurable, and support the employee through the process.

Exceptional managers are able to delegate accountability to their staff and remain accountable themselves. This accountability must be modeled continually in word, attitude and action.

In the same way children will ignore parents’ words when their behavior does not match, employees constantly monitor their manager’s behaviors to find congruence.

“When a manager is not accountable, commitments slide,” writes Strigl. “Decisions don’t get made. Responsibilities are not fulfilled. Worst of all, results are not delivered.”

And accountability is the tool that enables managers to deliver results, says Strigl.

What about you and your organization? Are you and the people who report to you held accountable? Is accountability a core value in your workplace?