Posts Tagged ‘Gen Ys’

Leader driven Harmony #41: Read a Book, ANY Book!

by Mack McKinney on October 14, 2011

Have you Gen-Yers noticed how seldom any of your friends mention a great book they have read?  Not an online article or a short news article but a real, honest-to-goodness BOOK?  Not very often, huh.

I know.  Why bother?  You can learn everything you need to know about most any subject with just a quick search on Google or Wikipedia, right?

Wrong.  An insidious, sneaky thing is happening to us.  We are losing the ability to read.  Book sales have plummeted in just the past 5 years.  This is more common among young people than middle-aged and older people.  And here is the danger – – – if you don’t read books at all, very soon you’ll notice that you NEVER read books anymore and now here is the contentious question:  WHY is that?  Why do we stop reading books?  Several respected studies and books conclude that the reason is as follows:

  • When we read short articles, and get quick answers, two things happen – – – 1) our brain gets a shot of the feel-good chemical dopamine as a result of our completing the research task we assigned ourselves and 2) our attention span shrinks just a bit.
  • Soon we are more comfortable tackling short-duration tasks and so we do just that – – – every study task becomes a short-duration task as we force the problem-solving job to match our now-shrinking attention span.
  • We are almost never required to consult a book to solve a problem or learn a new skill since someone else usually has developed the Cliff Notes © version which spoon feeds us ONLY what we must know to gain a basic familiarity with any new subject, computer, phone, TV, etc.
  • Eventually, we no longer have the patience to tackle a thick book with its slower progress and less fulfilling (no dopamine) effect on our minds.  The lure of the quick fix has dominated our actions for so long that any process that requires deep, detailed, significant thought will be avoided in favor of a shorter, more intense-feeling approach. And since we lose what we don’t use, before we even know it has happened to us, we no longer CAN read a book on a complex subject that requires deep thinking, introspection and internal debate.

Multiple studies are showing that it is just becoming extremely hard for young professionals to force themselves to read a book, ANY book, even on subjects of great importance to their chosen professions.  Begrudgingly, they will read a book when assigned by their boss or as part of a course of study but not otherwise.

We get best at the things we do most frequently.  If we never read deeply, many of us lose the ability to think deeply especially over a long period of time, which is the very type of thought required to solve tough problems in life, to make decisions about courses of action (one career vs other candidates, where to live, etc.).  If we ONLY make decisions quickly, after little/no deliberation, several things can happen and most of them are bad:

  • We start to view ALL problems as being relatively simple, lending themselves to knee-jerk solutions.
  • We lose the ability to stay engaged in a course of study over a long period of time, without getting bored.  So we begin to avoid making decisions about any problem whose solution is not apparent after a few minutes of deliberation.  And such “vexing” problems fester and often worsen, leading to crises in our lives.
  • We don’t just enjoy the short-cycle of thinking and acting that shallow thinking brings us, we actually begin to need it.  Studies show that the same people who do not read books also text frequently and spend a lot of time online.  We’ll discuss this more in a later post but there is ample scientific evidence that Gen-Ys who seldom read books and who are constantly texting and tweeting and browsing Facebook and other social network sites are rewiring their brains in ways that we don’t yet really understand.  But the need for constant social stimulation appears to be a byproduct of the rewiring process.

So here is some advice for people whose brains are in development, people between the ages of 12 and 24.  Read a book, any book!  Hang out at the library once a week for an hour or two.  Download  a book to your Kindle.  Take your Color Nook to Barnes and Nobles and read eBooks there for free!  No matter how you do it, just find subjects that interest you and read books on those things.  Then branch into related topics.  Go where the ideas take you and read, read, read.  Or before you know it, you won’t have either the patience or the ability to do so. Use it or lose it!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Have you noticed that the actions of some people often cause you stress and frustration? Does interacting with certain colleagues, bosses and/or direct-reports in the workplace cause your blood pressure to sky rocket?  Have you ever wished you could do something about it?  Well, you can!  You can get those behaviors changed.

(Note that in this series we’ll be talking about changing a behavior, not a person. Understanding that a person’s behavior is separate from the person himself [or herself, we use the masculine form to represent both or either] is fundamental to changing our or anyone else’s behavior.  Later posts will explain this in more detail.)

We have identified at least five distinct types of stress-producing behavior:  Day Dreaming, Comparing, Time Traveling, Gut Reacting and Grade Schooling.  Let’s look at examples of each.  (Warning: you will think of people you know when you read these descriptions and you may see yourself here!)

  1. Day Dreaming:  We sometimes say a person must be day dreaming when they seem unaware of their surroundings.  Such people can cause serious stress in others without realizing it.  If confronted they may be genuinely surprised. One glaring example is the order-taker at the restaurant drive-through speaker who mumbles or stringsallthewordstogether.  He causes stress for customers who must repeatedly ask “what?”, for the kitchen staff who keeps getting incorrect orders returned and for the manager who must apologize to frustrated customers. Another common example is the person talking very loudly into a cell phone, disrupting the peace and quiet for everyone within hearing distance – – –  usually the person is completely unaware that there ARE people around, not to mention the effect his loud voice is having on them.  At work, this can be the boss who provides poor direction and blames others for the resulting confusion (expects employees to read her mind) or routinely and cavalierly says hurtful things about others in public. It can also be the colleague who embarrasses himself and others with inappropriate jokes or sexual innuendos, totally unaware of the pained looks on the faces of onlookers. People who are Day Dreaming are often oblivious to the stress they cause in the lives of others.
  2. Comparing:  This is the often-subconscious act of looking at the happiness of another person and comparing it to your own mental state.  Some people are only happy when they come out on top in such a comparison.  They are happiest when others are miserable.  When they act on these comparisons they can cause lots of stress in others.  People who think this way will disrupt a pleasant conversation by interjecting a piece of bad news that instantly changes the feel of the gathering from happy to sad.  Or they will use a “yes, but” maneuver:  “Yes, winning the office’s sales contest would be great for our team but we are short two people and we have never been able to do it before.”
  3. Time Traveling:  This behavior is generation-driven; the Baby Boomer who cannot stop herself from asking everyone who gets to a meeting even a minute late “What time does the 9:30 meeting start?”; or the Gen Yer who cannot resist asking the Baby Boomer having cell phone problems “That advanced technology giving you problems there, Grandpa?”  The result is always more stress.
  4. Gut Reacting: People who routinely use this behavior are seen as the quick-draws at work, the people who always have a fast come-back to any comment.  But they also often omit the think step that should always occur before the speak step.  Their fast, knee-jerk response leaves no time for thoughts of “should I say this?” OR “will it hurt someone’s feelings?” OR “how could this comment be taken?” The result is often wounded pride and stress in others.
  5. Grade Schooling: This behavior is usually motivated by revenge, jealousy, power-trips or other markers of immaturity.  Examples include sabotaging an initiative at work so the originator fails; calling attention to yourself (even negatively) because you need the constant reinforcement of being noticed (poor self- image); or doing something just because you can even if it causes stress in others, for example driving continuously in the left lane of a superhighway so you can keep other people from driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.  People who do these things seem to be stuck with only the emotional maturity they had in grade school – – – they just never grew up.

In upcoming posts we’ll show you how to deal with each of these behaviors.  You’ll see how to first decide whether to intervene, then how to get the person’s attention, and establish some rapport (if possible), and lastly how to request a change in the person’s stress-inducing behavior.  We’ll show you how to do these things in the workplace but the techniques will also work well when shopping, in restaurants, with the family at home and in lots of other situations.

And if you think there are other categories of stress-inducing behavior, beyond the five we mentioned above, we’d like to hear from you.  Email me at Mack@SolidThinking.org

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In our last post we discussed the first two areas where savvy organizations are helping newly hired Gen Ys enter the workforce – – –

A) Getting them contributing (and feeling valued) very quickly and

B) Establishing clear standards for behavior so the new hire fits into the culture.

Now we’ll talk about the third area where Gen Ys sometimes need help – – – building good people skills.

C) People skills – These are hard to change because they are deeply intertwined with how we see ourselves, the world and other people.  People skills are formed, and then selectively reinforced, throughout life.  But people can change.  I have found that annual classes teaching proven inter-personal techniques for everyone is a great idea and are most effective if taught in a lighthearted, humorous style.  Humor relaxes us so we lower our defensive guards and become more receptive to new ideas.  There is evidence that such training can bring about lasting changes in how we relate to others if those changes are doable, result in better relationships and are continually reinforced.  So enlightened organizations are providing new Gen Ys with both training and with frequent nudges that reinforce the good behavior and correct the areas where they need to improve.

Frequent Feedback

Actually, that is a key point across all aspects of working with Gen-Ys:  frequent feedback. Tell them what they did right or wrong and how to improve. Our Gen Y students have told us:

  • “I cannot believe my boss waited for a year to tell me about 2-3 things I was doing wrong!  I could have been improving since I first got here but I had no idea I was doing those things wrong.  What a stupid process the ‘annual performance review’ is here.”
  • “Nobody says squat around here about what we do right or wrong until the ‘review’ and that only happens every calendar quarter if we are lucky.  I’d like to hear every month what I am doing right and wrong.  Then I can do something about it.

This need for frequent feedback goes back to the issues we discussed in Part 1 of this series of posts:  an ego that needs frequent reinforcement from others in order to feel secure.  So for the first six months, sit down every month with each new employee’s mentor and ask about the employee, how others feel about them, how well (or poorly) they are working with others, early strengths and weaknesses that may be emerging, etc.  Then meet one-on-one with each new employee, and discuss how they see themselves, their progress, fears, suggested improvements, etc.  And here’s a technique I’ve used:  schedule the 2-hour employee “performance discussion” at 4 pm on a Wednesday (“hump day”) and then continue the chat for an hour at a nearby bar or lounge where a medicinal glass of merlot or a beer will bring out the Gen Y’s real thoughts about the organization, him/herself, processes, procedures, and becoming a valued member of the team!

Choice of a Mentor/Boss

The choice of mentor is crucial but the first boss is even more so, impacting a new employee’s career perhaps more than anything else.   A poor communicator and/or insecure, overly judgmental boss can drive a new hire out the door for greener pastures.  Unfortunately, it has been our experience that the older the boss is, the more likely he/she is to make snap judgments about people and, hence the more dangerous is their assignment to supervise a new Gen Y employee fresh from college.  The difference in peoples’ perspectives usually increases with the age gap and if too wide, the two generations may not be able to relate well and no rapport is established.  Gen Y behaviors, while age-appropriate, may then trigger irreversible impressions and inaccurate conclusions in the boss’s head.  Gen Ys are still very much a “work in progress” when they leave college and often for 3-5 years after that.  Give them an initial boss who sees them that way and will help gently shape them properly.

Arranging for new Gen Ys to initially work with other Gen Ys initially also makes for an easier transition than immediately assigning them to multi-generational teams, but emphasize from the start that working well with others of all ages, not just with other Gen Ys, is essential to being promoted and given more responsibility (and more fun assignments) in the organization.

When a new person of any generation joins an organization, an unwritten agreement is formed.  Each party agrees to do their share in making the “marriage” work.  So far we have talked about what the organization can do for the new Gen Y worker.  In the next post we will talk about what the newly hired Gen Y person must do to ease the transition into that new job.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In the last post we talked about the special needs of new Gen Y workers.  Now we will look at how every new employee, Gen Y included, is judged in their new organization.  Then we will see what savvy teams are doing to help newly hired Gen Ys hit the ground running.

Upon arrival at a new job, every new employee is judged (I know, we shouldn’t “judge” people, but we do).  They will be scrutinized by established members of the organization in three areas:

  1. Why are they even here? They require salary and benefits.  What do they bring and contribute to the operation (education, technical skills, certifications, clients, special abilities)?
  2. Will we be able to rely upon them?  What kind of person they are (how is their head wired, what are their values, integrity, reliability)?
  3. Are they going to cause problems with our other people?  How good are their people-skills (how well will they work with others)?

Knowing that every organization’s current employees will be judging new people in at least those three areas, the organization should be proactive.  For each area where the new person will be judged the organization should bias the system in favor of success for them.  Give them the strongest possible start in each area. Let’s look at these one at a time:

The Gen Y’s work contribution

Find ways to put new hires to work, in their chosen field, the first week. But only do so with help from a mentor, just a few years senior if possible, who is already adapting nicely in the organization.  Before any formal training begins, have the mentor show the protégé the facilities, introduce peers, demonstrate his (the mentor’s) job, in short – launch the socialization process.  This mentor’s own, specific job in the organization is less important than having good people skills and good work ethics.  You are trying to set a good example.  And remember that new people view the organization in ways established employees no longer can.  So listen for suggestions from new hires, even fresh from school GenYs, as to how the organization can improve.  When a great idea emerges, adopt it and publicize it. (In fact, documenting and showing the disposition of EVERY suggestion in an organization is a wonderful way to demonstrate that every suggestion is important; also noting why it was implemented, deferred or rejected can be a great morale booster.)

The Person

Assume the new Gen Y is a reliable, reasonable person of integrity and reinforce that with organization-specific ethics training immediately.  Studies have shown that a person’s failure to perform can almost always be attributed to either poor training or poor motivation:  they either (1) don’t know exactly what is expected of them, so they don’t do it or (2) they know what is expected but are not sufficiently motivated to do it.  So tell them what you want in the initial in-briefings about ethics, integrity, reliability and honesty.  Then show them people in the organization living those values and being rewarded for them.  People usually rise to the benchmark their peers and bosses set for them.

You won’t know an employee’s deepest values until they are tested in some way but you can often shape a Gen Y’s still-impressionable sense of right and wrong.  You do this with a clear position written in simple English (not by lawyers) for every behavior the organization will (and won’t) tolerate.  These points can be part of an initial briefing or provided by a mentor or boss and they must be reinforced constantly by management.  Some examples could include:

  1. Expense accounts – don’t pad them. Keep thorough records and spend the organizations dollars as carefully as if it is your family’s money.
  2. Speak plainly – say what you mean and mean what you say. (* with one exception, discussed later).  Don’t use big puffy words, don’t “spin” your positions and don’t exaggerate.  Don’t understate things either. Be factual and be evidence-based.  Steer away from drama of all kinds here.
  3. You are unknown here.  From the very start, build a reputation as a hard worker who pitches in to contribute, without complaint, who speaks plainly and honestly, who shows up early and stays late.  Succeeding here can be thought of as a marathon with occasional sprints.  You must be able to do both.
  4. When you need help, ask for it.  We are a team here.

Well, you get the idea  . . . . This sharing of values and standards, repeated and demonstrated over time, is how individuals are brought into a team with shared goals, interdependencies and mutual rewards.

The organization and the new hire must agree to “meet halfway” in the process of individuals joining the team.  In our next post we will see what savvy companies are doing to help new Gen Ys improve the people skills they will need to succeed and we will look at the number one thing a newly hired Gen Y can focus on to quickly be accepted in a new job.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

If your company is hiring Gen-Ys (aka Millennials) fresh out of college, you will be eager to get them folded into your operation and feeling part of the team.  But you will need to handle this cohort of youngsters differently than any other generations entering the Western workforce.  At first glance, you might ask “So what is different?  After all, Gen-Ys are doing the same thing other generations have done before them: Leaving college friends and lovers, settling into new job and meeting new people.”  And that is true and the typical corporate socialization techniques designed to ease the transition of new employees from college to work – – –  social mixers, assignment of mentors, integrated product teams, etc. – – – will also be useful for incorporating Gen-Ys into your organization… OR one could get really creative with ideas such as these, to bridge this gap.

But it will not be enough because there are other, much more complex dynamics at work in the recently-employed Gen Y community.   We know this because we teach courses in Project Management and we have had some eye-popping, private conversations with Gen Y attendees about their job environment, their stress levels, their egos, expectations and fears.

Gen-Ys have an additional layer of issues affecting their mindsets and, hence, their job performance.  More than any previous generation, Gen-Ys:

  • Have grown up with iPods and near-constant music.  This is the first 100% iPod ™ generation and music has been a near-constant companion for them while driving, walking, jogging and even while studying or working.
  • Are accustomed to very frequent social contact with friends via texting, IM and Skype.  Boomers snicker at the typical Gen-Y texting with friends every few minutes and are amazed when they first see Gen-Ys on their phones while watching movies and sporting events.   Tweeting their remote friends about the movie or ballgame, and even Tweeting with friends right there in the crowd with them, is commonplace for Gen Ys.
  • Believe in a “flat” equalitarian culture, where levels of organization do not exist.  As a freshman in college a Gen Y could email (or call or visit) the President of the university, on almost any subject, and the President would discuss the subject, and thank the student for being straightforward and for bringing the problem to light.  “Chain of Command” is usually an alien concept to any Gen Ys who are at their first jobs and who lack military experience.
  • Have developed comparatively fragile egos and rely on frequent feedback on how they are doing in each class and with their friendships.

So the next time a Gen Y, new to your workplace, behaves strangely or does something you as a Gen-X or Baby Boomer might consider odd put yourself in their shoes:

  • The comfortable, predictable college world they have known for 4+ years is completely gone.  Professors with whom they could negotiate grades and arrange for “extra credit” work when needed have been replaced by a boss who is part of an entirely different culture, and embedded in a more rigid hierarchy of departments/divisions run by anonymous bureaucrats.
  • The social fabric that held their lives together is missing.  The face-to-face contact with college friends and professors is gone; only a poor electronic substitute is now available to them remotely through texts, Facebook, Twitter and cell phone calls.
  • A music-rich college world has been replaced at work by endless meetings, discussions and conference calls.  Colleagues and bosses constantly pop by the cubicle for chats, causing the iPod ™ ear buds to be constantly popping in and out as well.
  • They are functioning in this new world very much “in the blind”, without the comfort of frequent homework assignment and class quizzes to confirm their understanding of a subject and their comparative standing among peers.  Now there is no paper graded “B” to show the Gen-Y where they can improve performance.  In a new job, just when they desperately seek feedback, they get little or none from their bosses until a scheduled performance review occurs (once or twice a year, quarterly if they are lucky).

There are some simple things we can do to fix this disconnect between realities of the workplace and the expectations of our Gen Y colleagues.

In the next post we’ll learn what bosses, and Gen-y workers themselves, can do to ease the college-to-work transition.   And we’ll recommend a new frame of mind for Gen-X and Boomers to help fold-in the Gen-Ys who, if the rest of us are ever going to retire, must take their place in the workforce.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation