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

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 Today, it’s been replaced by the phrase ‘generational divide,’ where employees from different generations are finding it difficult to work side by side because their experiences, goals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

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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

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

Take an Inspiration Break: An Unlikely Lesson From an ’80s Sitcom

you are your inspiration

 

 

 

 

Nell Carter, the star of the hit ’80s sitcom “Gimme A Break,” has been haunting me.  Okay, she was haunting me.

Not in a scary way.  It’s was a happy and humorous haunting.  I knew it would be the moment I heard her ghost sing that familiar tune:

“Give me a break, I sure deserve one. I want a happy ending. I’m tired of pretending. I wanna piece of the cake…give me a break!” 

It was fun to have her ghost around.  I laughed.  I sang.  I even danced a little. I did wonder, however, why she decided to haunt me.  I’m sure Nell Carter’s ghost had better things to do than hang around while I worked on client projects, wrote articles and updated my Facebook status.  After all, I was just doing ‘stuff.’

Then it hit me.  I was always busy.  Doing things.  Getting things done. Productive?Yes.  Inspired?  No.  That’s what she was trying to tell me:  I needed an inspiration break!

So, I set out on an inspiration quest and stumbled across Inspiration Break: Creative Confidence by Tim Brown, CEO at IDEO. The article, along with Nell Carter’s booming voice, reminded me that lack of “me time” often comes at a very big cost: losing your passion, creativity and confidence.

So, how do you find, or rediscover, that creative inspiration? You don’t ask for it. You seek it out. You own it. Tom and David Kelly, in their article Reclaim Your Creative Confidence, sum it up this way: “creative confidence is the ability to come up with breakthrough ideas, combined with the courage to act.”

And what about Nell Carter and her early pleas to “gimme a break?” It turns out that “Nellie Ruth” (Carter’s character on the show) found her creative confidence somewhere between Season 1 and Season 3. Nell found her ‘voice’ and the theme song evolved from a victim’s plea for help to a triumphant anthem announcing to the world that she made her own ‘breaks’ in life.

Here’s a glimpse at the transformation that made Carter’s character a role model for anyone who has the courage to discover and claim their own creative inspiration:

  • Season 3 Opening Theme (partial lyrics): “Give me a break…’cause now I know what it takes. I’m putting a face on the old one…I’m showing the world nothing can get me down. Give me a break!”

Nell Carter’s ghost doesn’t haunt me anymore.  I miss her laughter and joy, but her message is alive and well:  no one will give you a break unless you have the courage to make your own first.

How ’bout it?  Are you ready for an inspiration break?

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

Horrible Bosses: More Than Just A Movie

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Great comedians know that within every laugh there’s always a dose of truth. So, when I came across my copy of “Horrible Bosses” several weeks ago, I realized I was both laughing at and learning from the characters played by Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey, Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston (among others). If you haven’t seen the movie, run out and rent it. It’s LOL funny and worth every penny of the $1.99 rental fee at Redbox – Horrible Bosses.

“Horrible Bosses” is more than just a movie about poor managers. It’s the tale of unbearable managers and the unhinged employees who are ready to do just about anything to change their miserable work lives. With plenty of twists and turns (including a hysterical appearance by Jamie Foxx) , “Horrible Bosses” is funny and grabs our attention through a shared experience: working for an ineffective and, in some instances, ‘horrible’ boss.

Of course, the film is an exaggeration of common supervisor-employee challenges and runs to the extreme when three unhappy employees plot to kill their managers (legal disclaimer: I do not endorse, suggest or promote this strategy). There are, however, a few nuggets of wisdom in “Horrible Bosses” if you stop laughing long enough to learn:

It’s about them…not you. “Horrible Bosses” draws upon the management-challenged supervisors most of us have experienced at some point in our careers: the absent manager, the micro-manager, the incompetent walking time bomb, the credit taker, the blamer, the ambiguous goal setter, the suck up, the unrealistic workload driver and the “throw you under the bus” manager. Read Dave Kerpen’s article 17 Things a Boss Should Never Say and you’ll likely find a few one-liners you’ve heard before.

As much as we’d like to, we can’t change our managers. So, let yourself off the hook for a moment and let your manager do the heavy lifting. Geoffrey James’ article 9 Core Beliefs of Horrible Bosses contrasts ‘horrible’ and ‘smart’ bosses in a much less dark and humorous way than the movie. Ultimately, it’s all about the manager’s behavior. A poor manager (with the help of HR, training or a coach) can become a ‘smart’ manager by making some fundamental changes in his behavior. Transforming from a ‘horrible’ boss to a ‘smart’ boss isn’t always easy, but is definitely within reach. So, what about those exceptional leaders? I’ll save that for another post, but in the meantime, read James’ follow-up article and take a look around you. I bet you’ve also encountered some Extraordinary Bosses in your life as well.

The truth? It’s also about you and what you choose to do right now.Yes, horrible bosses are a problem. Their impacts include an unpleasant workplace, mediocre performance, legal issues and high levels of turnover (all of which, eventually, have financial implications). But let’s face it, they’re your problem – like it or not – until that manager improves, is discharged or leaves the organization.

In the meantime, you have a choice. You can live with it and remain unhappy or you can do something about it. The employees in “Horrible Bosses” looked at their situation and assessed what they could (within their realm of control) actually do to change it. While their solution itself is flawed, they understood that you can change an entire ‘story’ by changing how you react to and work through whatever’s thrown at you. Ask yourself: How am I reacting to this situation? Am I letting it impact my job, my relationships and my life? What can I do differently that allows me to both perform my job well and be more satisfied (or less miserable) with what I do every day?

It’s still about you…and how you look at the bigger picture. Changing your situation – personally and professionally – requires that you balance immediate changes with longer term objectives. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘right now’ and simply stay there without looking at what happens next. Your relationship with your manager – good or bad – is one of the most influential drivers of success, or failure, today and in the future. There are times in our career when we are forced to, but ideally should, step back and evaluate where we are now and where we want to be in the future.

In the movie, Bob Newhart makes a surprise appearance as Jason Bateman’s new boss. Newhart, naturally, is quite a character and it’s clear that Bateman is in for another ‘interesting’ ride. The lesson here is that managers, good and bad, come and go. The question, more importantly, for you is: should I stay or should I go? That question can translate into many options both within and outside your current employer. What you do next is up to you.

The sequel to “Horrible Bosses” is due in theaters November 25, 2014. Go see it, but don’t wait to take action. We’d all be laughing a little bit more if ‘horrible’ bosses stay where they belong: on the big screen in a theater near you.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

Next Time: Make It Fierce!

We all make lists: to do lists, bucket lists and, of course, our ‘favorites’ list. My 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”
  • 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 tops my list because it 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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Follow Me On Twitter