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 Today, it’s been replaced by the phrase ‘generational divide,’ where employees from different generations are finding it difficult to work side by side because their experiences, goals and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

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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

Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

RyanALS2014

Opportunities often come to us disguised as challenges.

We may not find them, much less look for them, because the pain we feel in the moment prevents us from seeing them. I know from experience. I’m guessing you do too.

I recently wrote an article Giving In the Workplace: Make It Work For Everyone. It focuses on the power of ‘giving’ and the role it plays in attracting, engaging and retaining the best talent. It’s no secret that Americans are among the most charitable people in the world. We want to help…especially when we’re faced with a challenge!

So, like many of you, I accepted the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I accepted the challenge to use my voice as one way to contribute to the fight against ALS and support those living with the disease. I also had an even more personal reason: to recognize the amazing work my friend Kathy Bagby has done to raise ALS awareness in memory of her father Dennis Peiffer and others lost to the disease.

We’re making progress in the fight against ALS, but there’s still much work to be done:

  • ALS can strike anyone and knows no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries.
  • Approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year and it’s estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may be living with the disease at any given time.
  • The onset of ALS is insidious with early symptoms including muscle weakness and stiffness. As the disease progresses, ALS causes weakness, wasting and paralysis of the muscles and limbs, along with those muscles that control vital functions such as speech, swallowing and breathing.
  • Although the life expectancy of an ALS patient averages about two to five years from the time of diagnosis, the disease is variable and many people live a full life for five years or more.
  • There can be significant costs for medical care, equipment and home healthcare. It’s important to understand the details of your insurance plan as well as other programs including SSA, Medicare and Veteran Affairs benefits that may help defer costs related to treatment and care.

ALS is a disease that we can defeat if we all work together. Take a few minutes to learn more about people living with ALS. As one man put it, “I’ve made ALS part of my life…not my whole life.”

So, how can you help? ALS is just one of the challenges so many of us face. The opportunities – the need – to help and give back to our communities are endless. Here are just a few: The Walk to Defeat ALS, Habitat For Humanity, The Race for the Cure, The Hospice Foundation and The Clinton Foundation to End HIV/AIDS. For more information on other ways to give back, visit Volunteer Match.

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. Find your passion. Accept the challenge. Make it happen. It’s your opportunity to make a difference in the life of one person…or millions!

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

Next Time Make It Fierce!

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We all make lists: to do lists, bucket lists and, of course, our ‘favorites’ list. My favorite list includes:

  • Favorite summer song: “Mad About You” by Belinda Carlisle
  • Favorite film: “The Color Purple”
  • Favorite television show: “Scandal” tied with “The Good Wife” and “Dr. Who”
  • Favorite food: Sandwiches (does that count?)

Industrial and organizational psychologist Dr. Martha Gottschalk even has a list of things she carries. At the top of her list? The Trusted Notebook!

Like Dr. Gottschalk, I carry a few items with me almost everywhere I go, including my two favorite books: John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott.

Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” is a favorite because it was the first book I remember reading that, in turn, inspired me to write. Susan Scott’s book has helped me build lasting relationships “one conversation at a time.” My well traveled copy reminds me to stay grounded – to keep it real – especially when people and situations seem a little unreal.

Fierce conversations, as Scott puts it, are “conversations that can change the trajectory of a career, a business, a relationship or a life.” I had never thought of conversations as fierce: robust, powerful, strong, passionate and untamed. My ‘a-ha’ moment? When I realized that Scott was also describing ‘authentic’ conversations.

How many times have you had a conversation worthy of a “do over?” Nothing was solved. The real issues were not discussed. People didn’t share how they were feeling or what they were truly thinking. Relationships were damaged. In other words, the conversation wasn’t real.

Here are the three essential “Fierce” lessons I practice daily:

  1. Be here and nowhere else. It’s more than shutting off the cell phone, powering down the laptop or blocking out time on your calendar. Fierce conversations are built on a common respect for each other. You can only be truly engaged when you are prepared to listen, ask questions, and contribute your thoughts and ideas.
  2. Interrogate reality. Be smart. Be specific. Outline the issues and consider the implications. Work together to solve the problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Most people want to hear the truth – even when it’s a little hard to hear. The truth does set you free.
  3. Own your ’emotional wake.’ Fierce conversations drive productivity and results through people, not at the expense of people. Can teams be successful without fierce conversations? Yes. Success, however, is often short-term and the cost to relationships very high. Owning your ’emotional wake’ requires that you take accountability for your behavior. What you leave behind can either leave people distressed and disgruntled, or engaged and committed. It’s your choice.

So, what’s on your list? Is it Fierce?

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

Giving In the Workplace: Make It Work For Everyone!

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I’m on Vacation. Enjoying the summer breeze, time with family and friends, swimming, barbecuing and listening to classic summer music like Seals & Croft, The Go Gos’ and The Cars.

I’m also volunteering. Working in the service of others is core to my spirit: who I am today…and the man I strive to be. It also gives me time to re-energize, re-fresh and re-engage with the clients and teams I work with every day.

In my recent article Next Time: Make It Fierce, I shared a few of my favorite things, including my favorite book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. As I was thinking about my next post, I came across one of my favorite articles about giving back to the community: the October 8, 2012 issue 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 have volunteered, bench-marked and worked with companies to deploy programs that engage employees while giving back to the community including: speaking with other Cable Industry leaders at the 2004 Communicating Cable’s Value Forum session on Empowering Your Employees: HIV/AIDS in the Workplace and working with the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and KNOW HIV/AIDS Campaign.

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:

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 (2011 Cone Cause Evolution Study and Workplace Giving Works! Make It Work For You).

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.

Use Giving Back as Opportunities to Re-Connect and Re-Energize Your Teams: Whether it’s working together with Habitat For Humanity, walking or running in The Race for the Cure, volunteering to help individuals and families coping with terminal illness through The Hospice Foundation, 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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Follow Me On Twitter