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The Myth of the Generational Divide: Just Another Brick in the Wall

ABC generations

“Hey teachers, leave us kids alone.” It was the rallying cry for a generation of teenagers – dubbed Generation X – predicted to be nomads, slackers and underachievers. It was 1979. I was ten years old…and it was my favorite song.

At this point, I expect mixed reactions to the lead into my latest article:

  • Applause from Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and perhaps a few Traditionalists who immediately recognize (and will probably sing) the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s iconic rock anthem “Another Brick in the Wall.”
  • Confusion from Gen Y and Z who will promptly Google the song, bring up a Spotify playlist or just move on to another article.
  • Curiosity from music lovers – young, old and everywhere in between – about the song, the band and exactly why I’ve used this pop culture reference to make a point.

Okay, I made a few assumptions that led to a few generalizations about people and music. To some degree they are, in fact, rooted in truth. But before I create any “Bad Blood” between different generations, let me explain.

The term ‘generation gap’ was, in the past, used mostly to describe conflicts between parents and children, but over time it’s taken on an entirely different meaning. Today, it’s been replaced by the phrase ‘generational divide,’ where employees from different generations are finding it difficult to work side by side because their experiences, goals and expectations are different. What was once considered a set of minor differences has, allegedly, become a great and challenging divide.

As I prepared for a recent team building workshop, including a conversation about the so called ‘generational divide,’ I searched for a creative way to debunk the pervasive notion that time, age and experience conspire to create a deep and divisive barrier to effective communication and collaboration. And then Pink Floyd showed me the writing on the wall.

I walked into Starbuck’s wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt. The twenty something barista smiled and said, “Welcome to Starbuck’s. What can I get started for you?” I gave him my order, scanned my Apple Pay and fell back into a comfy chair dreaming of pumpkin spice latte and crisp autumn mornings. When my warm delight was ready, he called my name and yelled, “Awesome shirt dude. PF rocks.” As I sipped my little piece of heaven I whispered, “Yes, my millennial friend, they do.”

That was my ‘a-ha’ moment:  confirmation that the connections between generations are much stronger than the disconnects. And it’s not just music.

Yes, there are many differences driven by age and experience, but those differences only create a ‘divide’ when we see them as challenges rather than opportunities. The incessant, and frankly annoying, focus on the ‘generational divide’ is a recurring myth that arrives on cue every 15-20 years. And it predictably creates barriers – those metaphorical bricks in the wall – that distract us from what actually connects us.

We’ve spent so much talking about the idea of an entire group of people, that we’ve lost sight of people themselves:  real, individual, unique people and the relationships that allow us to connect, collaborate and create value for ourselves, our teams and our organizations. There’s one simple truth that we’ve all overlooked:

The workplace isn’t changing simply because one generation has come of age while another has grown old. It’s because we collectively – regardless of age and experience – have evolved.

We need to re-focus on connecting with people, not adapting to an entire generation. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

The music of Pink Floyd and other classic rock bands is uniquely celebrated by older generations, but the love of music – in all its forms – is not a generational ‘thing.’ Music is core to the human condition. It provides the soundtrack to our lives and connects us across time and space. I should know, I’m listening to Taylor Swift right now…and so are millions of Gen Zs.

So, listen to the music, but please, don’t put another brick in the wall.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create!™

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

Creating The Social Customer Experience: Lessons From Beatrice

esurance-beatrice-EsuranceBeatriceChrisSmithNikkiVapenskyattheWhitehousePostChicago-1000x563

Beatrice and her friends don’t agree on much – at least when it comes to sharing and social skills. In fact, her more socially engaged friends have a very clear (video) message:  “That’s not how it works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

Beatrice isn’t alone. Like Beatrice, many companies don’t know how to socially engage their customers in ways that actually matter. Creating meaningful, memorable, measurable and, ultimately, profitable social experiences for customers isn’t (and shouldn’t be) as easy as sharing a recent company event picture on Instagram or posting status updates about your latest promotion on Facebook. There’s a lot more to it, but becoming more socially engaged with your customers doesn’t have to be difficult.

Here are four strategies for success:

1. Identify the relationships that matter – all of them. Many organizations don’t see their customers clearly. Often it’s an issue of balance. It can be too much focus on obtaining new customers at the expense of existing customers. Or it’s the inability to translate the excellent customer experiences created for existing customers into similar experiences for potential customers. Companies also forget about their extended network of customers:  licensed franchisees, dealers, distributors, etc. How you engage them is just as important (sometimes more important) as how you engage your target customers. They aren’t only your customers, they are also the promoters – and protectors – of your brand. Many companies forget to include these business partners in the creation, facilitation, measurement and improvement of the overall customer experience.

2. Build your customer experience(s) from the inside out. Earlier, I deliberately left out one critical group of people and relationships. That’s because they truly are your most important customers. Creating a consistently positive customer experience begins with your most valuable relationships: the ones you create with your employees.

Our lives are touched and shaped by customer experiences every day. Our interactions on-line, in-person, on the phone or through mobile applications involve “moments of truths” that ultimately determine the quality of those experiences as well as the outcomes. We’ve all found ourselves immersed somewhere in the customer experience continuum:  exceptional, good (but not great), boringly mundane, surprisingly bad and horribly ugly. Why not start there? Engage your employees in candid discussions about their experiences before you ask them to “walk in the shoes” of the customers they serve.

There’s a lot of talk about employee engagement, but it tends to be overlooked as a critical element in creating a consistently positive customer experience. Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 research shows that 78% of business leaders rate retention and engagement urgent or important. When I talk with business leaders they consistently identify talent acquisition, development and retention as core business issues, not simply from an HR perspective, but from a customer perspective. They understand that creating consistently positive and profitable external customer experiences begins with creating the right kinds of employee experiences over and over again.

Learn more about building your customer experiences from the inside out in my recent presentation:  Creating a Positive Customer Experience: An Introduction to Moments That Matter.

3. Create customer experiences that are perfectly “blended” for them. Ask, listen and learn from your customers. Determine what “blend” of high-touch, on-line and on-demand experiences your customers want, need and prefer. The Ritz Carlton and State Farm are two best practice examples. They emphasize the personal touch while also offering multiple and alternative experiences through their websites, social media platforms and phone applications. Discover’s “It” card highlights a similar concept:  the customer experience is tailored to what you need, when you need it and how you get it because Discover “really” knows you.

4. Strategically manage, monitor and measure social engagement. Social media has become one of the primary ways in which companies try to connect with customers and employees. Unfortunately, many have jumped on the social media ‘bandwagon’ only to fall off. Why? Because the lure of social media i, literally, “social.” Like a good mixer or party, social media is enjoyable and fun, but rarely planned with a specific objective or outcome in mind. Many companies have a “Field of Dreams” approach to creating engagement through social media: build it and they will come. Bad news: they won’t come unless they have a reason to and they certainly won’t come back if they’re not engaged.

Social engagement requires a clear strategy, measurement and constant attention. Dr. Frank Cespedes, in his recent article Avoid These 4 Common Social Media Measurement Traps, points out that companies often leave the ROI behind:  “It’s now common to say that social media is really about awareness, not sales or calculating the returns of customer response. But, it’s wrong, a circular argument, and smart companies should not follow this flawed business logic.”

Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Target are among the most successful in the social media space because their presence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are an extension of their brand and, more importantly, a continuation of the customer experience, whether it’s enjoying a new latte, introducing new product swag or claiming an in-store or on-line reward. The bottom line? Social media is an investment in time, research, strategy and yes, money. Ask yourself:  should we be doing this? The answer, surprisingly, may be no – at least not yet.

Beatrice and her friends brilliantly remind us that we are – at our core – social creatures and our purchasing decisions and buying behavior have become an integral part of our social DNA.

Next time you run into a “Beatrice,” a “Brad” or someone like them, resist the urge to say “That’s not how any of this works.” Instead, show them this article and maybe they’ll understand a little more about how this works…at least some of it.

*Video courtesy of Esurance.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create!™

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

I’m Leaning In Because I’m Listening

I am Leaning In Because

“Go ahead caller…I’m listening.” It was the famous tagline fictional radio host Frasier Crane used to jump-start a conversation with his audience. In her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg does something very similar by asking readers to “Lean In.”

As I read Sandberg’s book, something simple occurred to me: good listeners always lean in before they weigh in.

I also couldn’t help but wonder how Frasier would have reacted to Sandberg’s book. I think that Frasier, after a little intellectual sparring with his brother Niles, would have uncovered something unusual: the absence of men. Not from the book itself, but from the conversation surrounding it.

Sandberg’s book is, of course, written from the unique perspective of a woman: the challenges, the obstacles and the opportunities to succeed professionally and personally. That, however, doesn’t give men a free pass.

The book is really a call to action, for both women and men. John Chambers, Cisco CEO, did just that when he sent an email encouraging all Cisco employees to Lean In. Chambers hoped that reading the book would “open their eyes to bias and discrimination in the workplace in the same way it did for him.”

Why am I Leaning In? It’s simple. Many of the most important people in our lives are women: mothers, managers, co-workers, friends, partners, daughters (the list goes on…). It makes sense, then, that we should look inward to better understand how we perceive and interact with the women in our lives.

So, I’m asking men to Lean In and do three things:

  • Watch, Listen and Learn: Gender bias and sexism – in all its forms – still exist everywhere we turn: the corporate office, politics, Hollywood, the manufacturing floor and yes, even at home. Sandberg, along with Adam Grant (author of Give and Take) illustrate just one aspect of gender bias in the workplace in their recent article Speaking While Female. “We see it happen again and again. When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.” Becoming more attuned to how we interact with the women in our lives can help improve our relationships exponentially.
  • Stand Up and Speak Out: Men not only have a responsibility to watch, listen and learn, but must also add their voice to conversations related to diversity in the workplace. Beyond gender, men need to take a more active role in discussing and promoting inclusion in all its forms including ethnicity, health and wellness, sexual orientation and age (among others).
  • Continue the Conversation: Proactively Leaning In requires that we take accountability for how we think and act. It’s not a one-off event. It’s not just about reading the book. It’s about participating in and continuing the conversation. Not only in the workplace, but also at home and through social media communities like Lean In – Facebook and LeanIn.Org.

I’d like to think that Frasier Crane, after reading Sandberg’s book, would invite both men and women to join in the conversation by saying “Go ahead readers…I’m Leaning In and listening.” I know I am.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

The Collective Power of Generosity

give a gift that counts

Pay it forward. It’s a simple idea: You may be just one person in this world, but to one person, at one time, you are the world. Imagine if we each looked for an opportunity to help others each day. Imagine the difference that would make.

During the holiday season it’s very easy to imagine and make happen. We deliberately take time to be thankful for what we have and to help others who are less fortunate.

Giving is not just an individual act of generosity it’s also a collective force of kindness in our communities and in the workplace. Providing opportunities for employees to give back is, in fact, a significant contributor to employee engagement, satisfaction and retention. But it’s not always an easy path to navigate.

There are, however, a number of ways to help ensure that workplace giving is productive, powerful and satisfying for employees and the company they work for. One of my favorite articles about giving back to the community is Forbes Making It Big – Giving It Big: The Titans of Philanthropy.

Insights from the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Steve Case made a strong impression. I encourage you to read it. It may motivate you to rethink how you and your organization give back to the community, and the role of volunteering and philanthropic giving in employee engagement.

The Forbes articles demonstrates the need and power of ‘giving’ in the larger scheme of things. It helps us to think globally while acting locally. Katherine Fulton, President of Monitor Institute, brings it even closer to home in her TED Talk, You are the Future of Philanthropy, by speaking about “the democratization of philanthropy: where collaboration and innovation allow regular people to do big things, even when money is scarce.”

While I have not yet been invited to TED and share “ideas worth spreading,” I can share my experience working with clients to design and deploy programs that engage employees while giving back.

So, what I have learned? Over the years, I’ve identified three common themes that successfully link company giving programs to increased levels of employee engagement:

1. Ask, Listen and Learn: Your employees want to give back to the community – and they want their companies to do the same. In fact, 81% of employees want their company to offer matching support programs for non-profit charitable organizations, whether locally or on a larger scale, and to provide opportunities to volunteer during work hours (Cone Cause Evolution Study and Workplace Giving Works! Make It Work For You).

2. Connect Your People With Their Passion: Many companies offer one or very limited options for volunteering their time, financial resources and receiving matching contributions. The result is low participation in volunteer activities and, in many cases, dissatisfaction with their employers. Companies that truly invite their employees to align their time and financial resources to causes that have personal meaning have higher participation rates in fund-raising and volunteer activities than those that don’t. Matching contributions to causes that employees choose themselves (that fall within company guidelines and approval processes) are the most meaningful and contribute to higher levels of satisfaction and engagement. For more information, visit Volunteer Match.

3. Use Giving Back as Opportunities to Re-Connect and Re-Energize Your Teams: America’s Charities is another way to connect your employees with opportunities to give back. Whether it’s working together with Habitat For Humanity, running in The Race for the Cure, collaborating with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to help children in need, or partnering with the The Clinton Foundation to bring health services to communities decimated by HIV/ADS around the world, the opportunities – the need – to help and give back to our communities are endless.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “When you go to Nelson Mandela’s house what do you take? You can’t take a candle.”

Giving is personal. The logical next step is to make it personal to you…and the company you call home.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

The Backward Thinking About Change

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Change is a loaded word. Take 30 seconds to write down all the words that come to mind when you think about change. I’ll wait.

Here are a few on my list: People. Progress. Systems. Failure. Processes. Improvement. Vision. Strategy. Beginning. Ending. Learn. Unlearn. Continuous. Journey. Leadership. Teamwork. Success. Stakeholders. Complex. Communication. Commitment. Buy-In. Readiness. Resistance. Goals. Measurement. Forward. Backward.

That last word may raise a few (metaphorical) eyebrows. Yes, dare I say it, the way we’ve been thinking about change is backward. ‘Change management’ is still the prevailing term we use to describe efforts to improve efficiency, effectiveness, performance, growth and profitability. Yet, it’s an incredibly boring, stale and misleading way to look at change.

Change management, at its core, refers to a set of basic tools and structures intended to keep change under control. The focus is often reactionary. Even when change is planned, it is usually segmented, imbalanced and driven only by measurable quantitative outcomes. Change is treated as an event. A singular experience, rather than a series of transitions. It can be cold, impersonal and extremely ineffective. Change management, as a core competency, is on life support and fading fast.

The truth about change? Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a conversation about change management with a group of senior leaders in the manufacturing industry. The topic was straightforward, but as I prepared for the event, I realized that my response was not.

The circumstances surrounding any change program, like DNA, are unique to the situation, organization and people. What you must do to transform your organization cannot be detailed precisely by any model, methodology or book. That is, perhaps, the most daunting aspect of the work we do to facilitate successful change.

Rather than talk about the mechanics of managing change with this group of leaders, I chose to focus primarily on how we think about change and the philosophy that drives the work I do with organizations. As a consultant, I believe it’s critical to connect with clients around the fundamentals of change first before talking about change strategies, activities and tools.

Our lives are driven by change. Some of it is planned. A lot of it just happens. We experience change in many of the same ways, but our individual experiences are also uniquely different and deeply personal. It’s those experiences – both the similar and dissimilar – that provide the foundation for effective and lasting change.

The conversation evolved into a discussion built around my observations, insights and the best practices I’ve accumulated helping facilitate change with organizations over the course of nearly 20 years. Throughout my career as both an internal leader and external consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to work with top industry leaders and discipline experts from Arthur Andersen, KPMG, MIT and Harvard along with pioneers in the field of organizational development and change including Edgar Schein, Chris Argyris and William Bridges. I was, in fact, one of the primary authors of Arthur Andersen’s Change Enablement framework and methodology.

Yes, I shared some suggested strategies and tools with this group of leaders. The true power of the conversation, however, was largely shaped by the experience itself. It was a conversation I ‘jump started’ but was ultimately driven by a group of leaders who suddenly had a lot more to say about change than I did. In the end, the conversation was not about managing change. It was about enabling change.

Successful change has a lot to do with what we learn from both our triumphs and our failures…and how we share that forward. So, here’s a look at what I’ve learned:

Enabling Positive Change: An Introduction

I ended the conversation the same way I started this article. Change is a loaded word with the power to move us forward, take us backward or go nowhere at all. But in the end, the story of change always has one common theme: change is rarely consistent, but it’s always constant.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

10 Life Lessons From The Doctor

Doctor-who-logo-nine

I recently came clean about my addiction. It was a confession about my obsession. A revelation about my life away from the office. My secret? I’m a Whovian!

Whovians are “the epitome of awesome. They secretly run the world’s major services, have good grammar and insert Doctor Who references into every piece of popular culture available.” At least that’s what the Urban Dictionary says about these cosmically committed fans of The Doctor.

My conversion to this wildly imaginative British television show was sudden and unexpected. Many friends and colleagues have been fans of the show since its first run from 1963 to 1989. Its current incarnation began in 2005, making it one of the longest running shows in television history. The show is often described as science fiction, but the creativity, compassion and connection with its audience make it much more than a simple fairy tale across space and time. The narrative that drives this show (and is so brilliantly brought to life by writers, producers, directors and actors) is a series of timeless life lessons.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned from Doctor Who:

1. Imagine the possibilities. The central premise of the show revolves around a Time Lord who explores the universe back and forward in time. His method of transportation is the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space).  In civilian terms, it’s a blue police call box otherwise known as a time machine.

Those who experience The Doctor for the first time are understandably dazed and confused. The realization that the TARDIS “is bigger in the inside” is just the first glimpse at the infinite possibilities that lie ahead.  It’s The Doctor, however, who captures our attention and ignites our imagination. We can’t help but be drawn to this man who, despite his age (he’s 2,000 years old, give or take a few hundred years), retains an endless admiration, respect and wide-eyed wonder of the universe. He, above all things, is an ‘imagineer’ of epic proportions.

2. Don’t go it alone. Although he is often hesitant to bring along traveling companions or align himself with allies, The Doctor has, through the years, learned he doesn’t need to do it alone. Great leaders surround themselves with people who complement and supplement their skills, abilities and personalities. From its beginning, the show was a celebration of diversity and inclusion. The show’s founding producer, Verity Lambert, was a rarity in television. In the early 1960’s, she was the only female producer working at the BBC. Throughout time and space, The Doctor has traveled with human companions of both genders and with various ethnic backgrounds, as well as a host of aliens and even same sex (but different species) partners. The Doctor and his time traveling team teach us that if you want to go fast, go it alone. If you want to go far…go together.

3. Be here…and nowhere else. Doctor Who is a time traveler. He is a nomad of the universe. He wanders a bit, but rarely without focus. When the The Doctor is called to action, his arrival may be delayed by an occasional cosmic detour, but he always lands with the knowledge and courage to act. Perpetuity depends on his ability to be everywhere and yet only where he’s needed in the moment…and one challenge at a time.

4. Embrace change. Change is constant. As The Doctor travels back in time and flashes forward to the future, we witness the end of civilizations, the birth of stars and the everlasting quest for self-actualization. The Doctor himself has lived thousands of years and yet the time-space continuum requires him to adjust to a changing universe. Twelve actors have portrayed The Doctor over the past 50 years. The Doctor looks, acts and feels differently with each actor and yet his purpose remains the same. His regeneration is both a reaction to what has already happened and preparation for what is ahead. His time traveling team also reflects a constant reality of life: people come in and out of your life. Some stay for only a brief moment, while others remain with you throughout your journey.

5. Question everything. The Doctor interrogates reality. Not because he’s a cynic, but because he understands that people and situations are almost always more than they seem. He lives life with curiosity and with an endless willingness to learn. In each episode this life perspective is almost always a pivotal moment that determines which path the team takes: the seemingly easy path to success or the more difficult terrain littered with obstacles. He teaches us to assume nothing, open our eyes and think for ourselves.

6. Live life to its fullest. In “Vincent and The Doctor” we witness the bouts of mental illness that influenced the work of Vincent van Gogh. The Doctor takes him forward in time to witness his place in history as one of the most celebrated artist of all time.  In the episode, as in life, Van Gogh somehow found the beauty that surrounded him: “Pain is easy to portray. Turn that pain into your passion to portray the ecstasy, joy and magnificence of our world.”  The Doctor shows us that life, without challenges, would not allow allow us to grow, learn and shape our own destinies.

7. Look for the remarkable in the most unlikely places. The Doctor, at first glance, seems a very unlikely hero. “He’s like a mad professor,” says actress Karen Gillian. Extremely creative and insightful people don’t follow the rules. They think while they talk and improvise as they go. To many, they may seem undisciplined and ‘messy. They are often underestimated, undervalued and overlooked because they operate outside the norm. Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor, captured this method in the madness: “The Doctor is the cleverest man in the universe. He’s this blend of good, fun and madness.” Whovians wouldn’t have it any other way.

8. Own what you leave behind and be thoughtful as you move forward. Peter Capaldi, the current incarnation of The Doctor, explains that an unintended consequence of The Doctor’s work “traveling back and forward is the wreckage he leaves.” It’s what Susan Scott, in her book Fierce Conversations, calls your ’emotional wake.’ The impact, positive or negative, on relationships. Our lives, professional and personal, are much more than outcomes, achievements and accomplishments. The true measure of one’s life revolves around how you lived and who came along for the journey. What you leave behind, and take forward, can leave people either disgruntled and discouraged or confident and committed.

9. Celebrate your successes. Our culture is heavily weighted toward negativity. We spend more time looking for what’s wrong rather than seeking out and celebrating what’s right. The Doctor may be harsh at times, but his actions in the moment are dictated by decisions that determine success or failure…life or death. He is often detached and seemingly without emotion. His heart (correction: Time Lords have two hearts) shines through when he empowers his companions through positive feedback. The ninth Doctor, portrayed by Christopher Eccelston, may have captured it best: “Before I go, I just want to tell you…you were absolutely fantastic.”

10. Have faith in yourself and others. Fans of Doctor Who know that there are a number of rules associated with the complex relationships The Doctor forges with anyone (or anything) he meets. The most important rule? “Don’t trust The Doctor.” While his most powerful nemesis,  The Daleks, accept this as a literal, unconditional and unwavering rule, his time traveling team understands the true meaning.

The lesson lies not in what is said, but rather what isn’t said. Trust is a currency that gains value through relationships and over time. When you meet The Doctor there’s little time to establish and earn trust. Worlds are colliding. Lives are at stake. The future relies on action sooner rather than later.  “Don’t trust The Doctor” isn’t a warning. It’s a call to action. In the absence of tangible evidence or previous actions to earn our trust, he asks us to to believe. To leap forward with faith…in him and ourselves. In doing so, he encourages us to look inward and find our own strength.

So, there it is: my confession about an obsession with Doctor Who.

One last thought: While I do not know this to be true, I have one last lesson to share about Who. Through space and time he arrives on cue, but his name we never really knew. People ask, who is this Doctor…Doctor Who? This man of magic and mystery known only to a few. While we know him as The Doctor – Doctor Who – the real story here is about the brilliance that resides in YOU.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com