Monthly Archives: February 2017

Simple Ways to End Generational Stereotyping in Your Organization

These days, the Millennial Generation is hyped, perhaps even more than Baby Boomers were hyped in the 1950s and 1960s. As I meet with executives around the globe, there is widespread confusion and misunderstanding about generational differences. This is creating stereotypes that are inappropriate, rarely true, and costing corporations millions of dollars tied to Millennial programs that don’t work, low employee engagement, mediocre performance and higher employee turnover.

Millennials are often defined by the group that is roughly 20-35 years old currently—a 15-year span. What’s amazing is how often organizational leaders that I regularly interview at the Metrus Institute try to label these younger employees as needy, coddled, technology snobs, unprepared for organizational life, independent, or scores of other attributes. And then as we dig deeper, I ask if there are differences between their 20-25 and their 30-35 year old Millennials. “Oh yes” is the typical response. The older Millennials are more ‘settled,’ have clearer goals, understand organizations better, more educated and so forth.

What?! Dial this back for a moment. Of course, they are more mature and understand their goals and organizations better. On Average, they have 10 more years of experience over their younger Millennial cohorts, in a relatively short work history. One of the most interesting differences comes from 30-35 year old Millennials who say they are having a tough time keeping up with technology. Even they are threatened by younger Millennial skills.

And then, the insightful moment of our interviews occurs when I ask, “Think about your 25-30 year olds for a moment. What differences do you see among them?”  I begin to hear about introverts and extroverts, high and low performers, high and low creativity, strong and weak service mindsets, good and poor communicators. You get the point! The stereotyping insanity has led to classifying men and women, racial groups, and now generations inappropriately.

Even among a narrow slice of Millennials, there are HUGE individual differences, which have been confirmed by research data from the Metrus Institute that found within-generation differences larger than across generation differences.[i]  Across generations, Jennifer Deal at Center for Creative Leadership has found similar values across age groups—integrity, family, spirituality, love, meaning—as well as a desire to learn new things, balance work and non-work, and be part of a successful team. But within any generational group, we find lots of differences in personalities, current work and family needs, type of skills sought, work style and life goals.

Simply put, we must look more appreciatively at individual differences. Failing to do so in our research is tied to low engagement and alignment with the organization, a proven formula for lower performance, retention and productivity.[ii]

Here are a few ways to address stereotyping in your organization:

1. Expand Diversity and Inclusion Training.  If you don’t have a program aimed at diversity and inclusion, you are late to the game.  But too many of those programs have focused primarily on race and gender and fail to address generational stereotyping effectively.  But there are other forms of stereotyping—think about working mothers, dual-career couples, part-timers, and many other stereotypes that persist.  The real issues that leaders should be focused on are performance, innovation, service, quality and employee desires.

2. Add Fulfillment Training. Don’t stop at diversity and inclusion, which is great for creating awareness, but often doesn’t move beyond sensitivity.  Help managers and employees develop skills needed to increase fulfillment, which will align and energize people across many different walks of life. In a restaurant chain that we diagnosed a few years ago, we found that great managers were deeply familiar with their people—who had a sick parent, needed a schedule to work around school, or was dealing with work-life balancing issues.  Differences also extended to who was best at interfacing with customers or speed and efficiency.  The great managers are like chefs who combine unique ingredients into a wonderful meal.  Weak managers, on the other hand, tend to rule by one-size-fits-all edicts such as forcing all employees to serve on Friday nights—rather than empowering the team to meet customer needs in creative ways.

3. Create Time to Discuss These Issues. It should not be hard to find examples of likely stereotypes that are not true—a part-timer who is ripping great code, a working mother who is one of the most innovative producers, or a ‘youngster’ who is strategic and savvy.  The reverse is also true—a Baby Boomer who is teaching younger cohorts about technology. Use town halls and other forums to surface the issue. Solutions begin with awareness.

4. Role Play. Bring people to a training event or company party and ask them to role play a member of a different generation or other stereotypical group.  Ask other members to treat them as a member of that group. Ask them to project how they think someone with that ‘label’ would talk and interact. People should quickly see how they are making assumptions that may not be true.

5. Eschew One-Size-Fits-All Programs. It is demeaning to require leaders who already have highly engaged people to attend engagement training because it is de rigueur. This penalizes leaders who should probably be teaching the program in order to reach leaders who really need it—sounds like everyone in class being punished because a few came late! Ask HR and other guardians of people processes to avoid one-size-fits-all programs. Recognize differentiation and manage to it.

You can never go wrong treating people with respect as individuals. It is time to overcome traditional and emerging stereotypes and begin thinking about how your organization can leverage those differences to be more innovative and to begin matching the energy of the individual with the energy of the organization

Know About Job Analysis and Why It’s Important

Recruiting and hiring employees is difficult for most small business owners. Whether you are going to hire your first employee or your tenth, it’s important to choose the right person for the job. Bad hires are costly, stressful and time-consuming to deal with.  They are also quite common. According to a Robert Half report, 62% of small business owners have made a bad hire.

One thing that causes business owners to employ the wrong person is a failure to do a detailed job analysis before starting the recruiting process. In a rush to fill a vacant position or to fill new jobs as the business is grows, employers often fall back on generic job titles and job descriptions when they write help wanted ads. They may know, for instance, that they want to hire an administrative assistant or a salesperson, but they don’t think about all the tasks the new employee will need to do and what skills the job candidate will need to perform the job they will be hired to do. Don’t fall into this trap.

What is a job analysis?

A job analysis is an in-depth study of the tasks, responsibilities, skills and soft skills needed to perform a job successfully. The job analysis should be conducted as the first step in the recruiting process. It gathers together the information you will need to write an job description.

To perform a job analyis, make a list of the tasks that you will expect the new hire to perform, and be clear about what you hope to achieve by having someone do these tasks.

For each task, identify and list the skills, training, abilities and soft skills needed to perform the task. You may know for instance, that you need someone to help answer phones, take orders, and do other “routine” things. But the devil is in the details. Be clear about how that work will need to be done.

Will the employee need computer skills? Will he or she have to take care of orders that come in through an online shopping cart as well as over the phone? Will the employee have to pack up and ship the orders as well? If so, will they have to lift anything heavy? Will those “other routine things” you’ll want done include ordering supplies and managing inventory? What about answering questions about your products and services if customers call in or replying  to email inquiries or customer complaints? Will the person you hire need excellent spelling and grammar skills? Will they also be expected to update spreadsheets, manage your appointments, and make arrangements for travel and meetings?

What about language skills? Will the new warehouse supervisor you want to hire need to be fluent in some language other than English in order to communicate with the people they supervise? If you’re hiring a waiter or cook for your restaurant, will they have to be able to read and write English or need to be bilingual? (A friend and I had dinner one night in a Chinese restaurant on Long Island, NY, and when we got our check we couldn’t tell what each of us owed. The waiter had written our orders down in Chinese.)

Or perhaps you need an administrative assistant or secretary. In a small company, it’s not unusual for the admin or “secretary” to be a key player who knows how to complete documents for government agencies, screen calls, set up accounts for supplies, interact with vendors, or even do the bookkeeping. Will this person handle the office in the owner’s absence? Oversee and manage other employees? Many job applicants can type 50 wpm, but not everyone is cut out to handle these other tasks.

Hiring technical or scientific staff? How skilled do they need to be? What specific programming skills will that web developer need? And what instrumentation will the chemist need to know? How much independent work will your tech or scientist be expected to do? Will they have to speak in public or deal directly with clients? Write scientific papers? Or will they just be following orders and doing routine work.

A thorough job analysis is equally important for the most senior of positions to be filled. Sales and management are critical to a company’s success, especially a small or growing enterprise. Experienced applicants bring to the company backgrounds that must be evaluated. Were they successful? Were they team players? Did they merely follow directions or did they take control of their previous work environment, devising innovative solutions to tough problems? Did they achieve the results desired and can they get results for your company?

Put your job analysis on paper

Don’t just “think” about skills the employee will need and the tasks you’d want them to do. Create a formal job analysis document.

If someone other than you will be supervising or interacting in some way with the new employee, have that person complete a job analysis, too. The supervisor may think of requirements that slipped your mind. Before you proceed, compare your analysis with theirs to identify differences in opinions on what’s needed. Doing so will help make sure you haven’t left out any major criteria.

Putting your needs, wants and expectations in writing may take thought and time, but it’s one of the most important steps in the hiring process. If you aren’t clear about the skills and traits you need an employee to possess to do a good job, how can you find the right person to fill that job? The documentation of your needs will guide you throughout the entire hiring process, whether you do the recruiting yourself or hire a recruiter to find the right employee

Top Skills That Will Make You Automation Proof

Large areas of today’s economy will be impacted by advances in robotics and AI over the coming decades. Forecasts show 47% of current jobs in the US being automated over the next two decades. They will be very tough areas to try to build a career.

However, there are also areas that technology will impact far less and skills that nobody believes will be replicated by computers in our lifetimes. Far better to build a career there.

1. Leadership

Groups of people need leaders, and people will always want to be led by other people.

If you’ve ever been at a kid’s birthday party before the entertainer arrives you’ll know what happens when you have lots of people and no leader.

A computer won’t struggle to have the courage to say “Follow me, we need to go this way.” The problem is that it also won’t have the emotional intelligence to know when and how to say “Follow me” so that people will actually listen and buy into that vision for the future.

In leadership it is the how that is so crucial. Each group of people is different and unique. Yes, there are some underlying basics of human psychology and organizational design that apply to all of us but those are the basics.

High level leadership requires a clear understanding of culture, emotion, history, group dynamics and also the physical environment. Understanding, weighing and combining all of these items is something that humans do naturally but it’s incredibly complicated (currently impossible) to encode.

It is the tailoring of your leadership approach so that it works for each group’s specific dynamics that is vital.

Communication is only a small (but vital!) piece of leadership, however it illustrates the point vividly.

Only 7% of communication is verbal. The other 93% is body language which includes tone of voice, body position, eye contact, the position of your head … The list goes on and on of things that humans do and interpret naturally when communicating which computers find impossible currently.

The other component parts of leadership we mentioned above, like culture and group dynamics, are equally vital and undecipherable for computers. The day may come when computers can do all of these things as well as humans, but it’s an awful long way off.

Certainly no one is currently even hazarding a guess as to when computers can put all of this together. Some researchers believe that computers will outperform humans in all activities in 120 years time. My guess is that leadership skills will be one of the last, whenever that day finally comes.

Build your leadership skills. Leaders will be valuable and needed while groups of people come together to achieve a goal.

2. Problem-solving

There will always be problems. The unexpected will always happen. Things will always go wrong. Sadly this is an immutable law of the universe.

The ability to look at a new problem, come up with a solution and then implement that solution is always going to be in demand.

It is precisely because problems are unexpected that computers struggle with them. If it was expected it would have been programmed into the computer upfront.

Problem solving requires the ability to look at the time and resources that are available and then come up with a new way forward. It is a creative skill that requires you to see connections where they haven’t previously been seen.

Who would have thought that removing road markings from roads would actually make roads safer not more dangerous. Someone who thinks carefully about the problem and realises that actually road markings mean that drivers ‘switch off’ and so are less engaged when they are driving. A connection that a computer would never make.

There are actually a large number of types of problems that we humans have proved that computers will never be able to solve. For example did you know that it is impossible for a computer to determine with 100% accuracy if a piece of computer code is a computer virus. There goes our dream of perfect anti-virus software!

No matter what industry and what area you work in there will always be demand for people who are creative and who are good problem solvers. By focusing on activities that are not repetitive and not straightforward you will make yourself incredibly difficult to automate.

3. Adaptability

Change is coming and it’s only going to accelerate.It is going to be part of your career whether you like it or not. Even if AI and robotics can’t replicate your job you can bet that how you carry out your job will probably change markedly.

If you are someone that struggles with learning new things and adapting to changes then you are putting a big issue in the way of your career.

As the business environment changes you will need to change with it, learning how to use new technologies and ways of interacting.

In the distant past I had a boss who refused to use email. His secretary would print his emails and he would dictate his responses to her. It was a waste of both their time and painful to see, however it worked and he continued to be a top performer for a number of years. He thought he’d been clever to find a way not to adapt to email.

Then the day came when the firm decided that email meant senior people could share secretaries. His workaround no longer worked. His shared secretary didn’t have time to write his dictated emails. Overnight his productivity halved and he missed his sales targets for two quarters.

He got some training and ultimately turned things around but not before he’d been labelled as a dinosaur and damaged his reputation. When a round of redundancies came two years later guess whose name was on the list?

Being someone who takes every opportunity to learn whether formally or informally will allow you to move with changes in your company and industry