Meaning in 5 easy steps (II): The basics for Gen Y engagement

3) Work with your teams to determine the mission statement

So now you’ve established a culture of strategy-sharing in your organization. Top management has the much needed input from the field and all employees share their opinions and know where the company’s compass is pointing.

Armed with an organizational vision and a mid-term strategy, it is time to write the mission statements for the company and each team. The mission provides the path as how the vision will be achieved. In other to be sticky, the mission must generate clarity, focus, team effort, personal accountability and inspiration.

This is a time-consuming effort, but the return on investment is enormous! In order for this process to work, CEO must listen and engage everyone, managers must build their own mission statements with their teams and HR must coordinate efforts to obtain an aligned structure.

In a NY times article, Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat (the provider of Linux and other open-source technology), explains how he built his mission statement and the impact this decision had in his company.

We used it to create our mission statement. A lot of companies will either hire an external firm or have a management off-site meeting where, over a couple of good bottles of wine, 10 people do this. It took us five months to do our mission statement because we did it from the bottom up. We took in every idea. We had debates. We had work groups. It changed, and it was modified and tweaked. But by the time we finished, everybody — even if they don’t agree with it — knows our mission statement and the subtleties of every word.”

“… the best is getting people to believe what you want them to believe, and if people really fundamentally believe what you want them to believe, they will walk through walls. They will do anything. People certainly know what to think at Red Hat. We also believe in our open, transparent culture, and so everybody knows why we’re doing what we’re doing. So they will go around obstacles because they’ve bought in.”

4) Compile and revise job descriptions. Align them with mission statement

One mission statement that stuck to my mind is the HR mission statement of my first employer: “To have the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills.” Simple, yet so powerful, because it defines clear boundaries to the HR structure, often confusing in most organizations.

“Right people” means a structured performance appraisal system, recruitment and dismissal,

“Right place” means business partners that analyse roles and responsibilities (R&R) and match role needs with individuals skills and aspirations,

“Right time” means a structured career planning,

“Right skills” means training and development.

Once your vision and mission statements are done, managers and HR leaders must look to the people, for they are the ones that will drive the organization towards its vision. In reality though, a company has overlapping roles, unbalanced responsibilities, repeated positions across departments and roles created to fit political needs, so ask yourself some questions to guide the process:

  • Do individual R&R contribute towards the mission of the organization and the department?
  • Are there overlapping responsibilities and blind spots reducing ownership?
  • Are some responsibilities in the wrong department?
  • Are R&R public to everyone, allowing employees to go to the right person for assistance and creating a self-regulating environment?
  • Are employees using their R&R as a badge or a shield?
  • Are the best resources available to accomplish the tasks described in the R&R?
  • Is compensation aligned with R&R?
  • Are R&R nurturing synergy, teamwork and collaboration?
  • Do R&R create a culture of “doing things right” (precision) and “doing the right things” (latitude)?
  • Do you create a culture in which employees have a say about their R&R and priorities?

5) Revise and adapt

Once meaning and engagement is established through a clear vision and mission statement, a transparent strategy, aligned job descriptions and communication pathways, HR has the role to secure it.

Mission statements will change as market shifts. Strategy will be adapted as opportunities or threats arise. Leaders and employees will leave jobs and be replaced by others with a different skill set and aspirations. Technology in communication will improve, creating new channels for voices to be heard.

It’s therefore essential that the HR team is fully immersed in the only two stable elements of the equation: vision and culture. Through them, HR takes a new strategic role in ensuring at all time the organization has the “the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills”

If this post is to be successful, you’ve probably realized by now that there’s nothing easy about these 5 steps. It’s time-consuming and it challenges all managers to look into the way they’ve been leading the business for the past decades.

The reason I call those 5 steps “basic” is because they’re also non-negotiable when it comes to retaining Generation Y and inspiring all employees. As Yers fill more than 50% of the positions in the workplace (by 2013 in most developed countries) and social media creates an unbreakable bond between employee and client satisfaction, companies will have to create more space for purpose and meaning. Everything else we’ll share in this blog relies on the fact that this foundation exists.

How’s your company scoring in those 5 steps towards meaning?

How are you encouraging purpose within your team?

Meaning in 5 easy steps (I): The basics for Gen Y engagement

The legend says that one of the reasons for the “Y” in Generation Y is due to a persistent quest for meaning in their personal and professional lives. Unlike Boomers, they were raised in a world in which stability and meaning are scarce resources, and success depends on flexibly switching through different sets of rules.

Upon arriving in their first job, most Yers discover a world of confusing and conflicting directions. Most companies have an official vision and mission statement stacked somewhere or framed next to an elevator. However, those tools are by large undermined by an utter ignorance of the company’s direction and a strong informal culture.

The problem with this situation is that the birthplace of leadership, focus, engagement and personal accountability is precisely the meaning given by a clear vision. We all know what we do. Usually we know how to do. But as a society we’re in a severe deficiency of knowledge about why we do. In one of my Top 10 TED talks, Simon Sinek explains the significant results that businesses can achieve by focusing on the why.

1) (Re)define your vision statement.

A vision is top-down. It comes from the leader and it gives the long-term goals of where the organisation and the team is heading.

I know you’re going to say “we have one and it’s great.” Before renouncing the idea of working on it, let me ask you a few questions:

  • Is your vision ambitious enough?
  • Does it create a human connection between the individual and the company’s aspirations?
  • Is it capable of energizing your employees to go to work day in and day out?
  • If I stop a random employee in your company and ask him about the company’s vision and its meaning, would he be able to answer me?
  • How frequently are your employees able to visualize the gap between the vision and the reality?

In other words, your vision could be “Become the market leader in heart medication” but this visions is not sufficiently inspiring nor comparable with the reality on a regular basis. When was the last time your team was informed of competitive positioning? Is this vision enough to get everyone inspired?

What if instead your vision was to “Help clients benefit from a healthier life and the company of their loved ones”. This is something that can drive an entire organization and be translated into clear and objective goals for every team.

2) Share company’s strategy throughout the organization

If there’s one thing traditional businesses are struggling with in the new world order is confidentiality. Confidentiality is indeed important in some cases: it protects intellectual property, avoids unnecessary employee anxiety and is fundamental for project implementation.

However, with globalization the businesses of hidden ideas and products have in a large extent disappeared. Now it’s not about new things: it’s about having the discipline and speed to execute in new ways, preferably open-source ways.

The biggest part of the problem is unfortunately not even on the debatable confidential issues, it lies within the 90% of cases where “confidential” is not confidential at all. It’s the manager that hides information with day-to-day impact to serve his own ego, believing that retaining “confidential” information will grant him respect and admiration. A friend of mine calls this “mushroom management”: keep your employees in the dark and feed them BS.

Mushroom management has disastrous consequences: it wastes a lot of people’s time and effort in tasks that are already outdated and it breeds demotivation when people find out that important project they’ve been working for months has become unnecessary. Most importantly, it slows a company reactivity to change and it blocks top-management from a much-needed sanity check from the field.

If a company desires to really benefit from the full benefits of meaning in the workplace, all unnecessary confidentiality must go.

(To be continued)

INFO: A short break

Hello readers and followers,

Unfortunately my computer battery went flat last Saturday and I have to wait until Friday for a new one to arrive. This means that my access is limited to smart phone and this week’s posts can’t be retreaved from inside my computer.  The good news is that I’ll be using this period to further dive into the research, and next week I’ll come back with a whole new range of topics.

I’m sorry for the inconvenience and wish you a great week.


The office space of the future

Generation Y flex work and open spaces

Bringing your laptop to the coffee shop

In this week’s posts, we’ve attended to a series of issues around productivity and collaboration in our current work environment. We’ve discussed how introverts are being excluded from our current working places, the historical changes in office layouts, how management could be adapted to increase productivity, the roots of Generation Y’s demands for flexible working, but we haven’t yet discussed how all of this comes together to give birth to the office layout of the 2020 workplace (a place where all Xers, Yers and Zers collaborate effectively).

Generation Z is best known as Generation C (for Collaborative, Connected, Communicative and Creative) or iGeneration (“i” standing for customized to personality and mood).  Generation Y plays a crucial role bridging the gap between now and tomorrow, by pushing the boundaries of today’s office design before the new generation arrives to the market.

In more concrete terms:

Collaborative: Office spaces should have open space for daily tasks, pop-up meeting rooms, informal socializing rooms and hide-out places to strike a positive balance between collaboration and thought-intensive individual work.

Connected: All rooms should have internet connection and all employees should work with laptops and deviated mobile phones to facilitate movement and cross-departmental fertilization.  Some companies already propose wireless internet (with limited access to visitors) and printing on demand through a badge system (thus protecting information confidentiality) throughout their buildings.

Communicative:  The rooms could be designed to limit the number of meeting participants (and save in organizational productivity) and to display an individual’s or team’s results to the rest of the company. The social dimension is essential as studies prove cohesion, engagement, retention and creativity increase when rooms inviting for informal exchanges are available to all employees.

Creative: Room design and choice of furniture should serve different meeting purposes. Table and chair arrangements impact posture and size of personal bubbles. Playing with those elements could make a significant impact whether the meeting is an informative kick-off, an action-driven follow-up session, a creative brainstorming or a “devil’s advocate sanity check”. To ensure ideas and solutions come from the right places, flat organizations should stay away from corner offices and other sorts of status symbols.

Customized:  Room colours, lighting, sound proofing and precise accessories could be customized to serve meetings purposes, to generate an overall harmonic experience and to adapt to employee’s moods and particular needs (especially in hide-out places). The availability of hide-out places will also reduce stress levels and burnouts, and will be deeply appreciated by introverts

There are plenty of experts on the subjects that could help you design your office of the future. Feng Shui and chromotherapy consultants, sound experts like Julian Treasure and designers like Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft are just some of them. You can hear the suggestions of the latter in this podcast.

What layout changes can you apply right now in your office to improve the 5 C’s?

Time munchers and flex work: Why work doesn’t happen at work

Twenty years ago, the size of computers, phones and printers called for offices designed in a stationary fashion. There were cubicles, noise-reducing departmental walls and corner offices with extraordinary views for those who climbed the corporate ladder. Companies were compartmentalized, problems were solved by field experts and interdepartmental issues were resolved by department heads during long and extraneous meetings. This was the corporate environment in which boomers thrived.

As consumers grew more demanding, quick cross-departmental solutions became increasingly necessary. Cubicles were abolished for their dehumanizing, antisocial characteristics and pioneers like Jack Welch broke down departmental walls. It was the beginning of the stationary open office era.

Today the story takes another leap. Despite deeply enjoying the social bonds their workplace provides, Generation Y employees point fingers to the open space environment and justify their demands for a more adapted and personalized solution with some quite disturbing facts.

First of all, open spaces can be extremely noisy and unproductive. According to noise expert Julian Treasure, noise alone is responsible for reducing productivity in such spaces by 66% (yes, 66%!). Add to that constant interruption (as open spaces encourage more immediate exchanges than closed offices) and visual distractions, and soon enough the day is over and you haven’t accomplished anything.

To workers despair, in many organizations work has become the place where one goes to attend unnecessary meetings, answer emails (we spend in average more than 3 hours a day answering emails), gossip at the water cooler or worry about the next restructuring. In sum, anything but the place where we create, innovate and solve problems in a sustainable manner: those things are unfortunately done somewhere else (or never). Jason Fried, the author of avant-gardist book “Rework” puts the issue under a new light.

The result is a considerable decrease in work-life balance because responsible employees feel obliged to do creative and thought-intensive work at home or during shifted schedule. This issue is even more serious when it comes to introverted employees: incapable of recharging their batteries at home or in a quieter environment, they become particularly subject to the risks of burn out.

No wonder flexible hours and work from home has become a common request amongst Yers. As opposed to what many Y experts claim, this is not a request based on deep-seated values and agreeing to it will not stop your Yer to leave the company when conditions for learning and development aren’t met.

Instead, this request is the expression of their desire to have a meaningful contribution to the company, by asking to create their own conditions to do innovative and complex problem solving individually. This request is a cry for help of the common employee voiced over by bold and fresh eyes. HR managers can work on the symptoms and blame Gen Y or work on the causes and apply some of serious managerial and environmental changes. Google has done it, can you?

Which changes in managerial style can you put in place as from tomorrow to increase your team’s productivity?

Invite the introverts to the party

Introverts Generation YLike any other generation, Generation Y is partly the fruit of an environment and the events that mark their formative years. During the last century, in most societies, populations have moved from small agricultural communities towards fast-moving cosmopolitan cities. People had for the first time to learn to prove themselves to strangers and a culture of personality was created.

Moreover, in the last 20 years, due to educational reforms, globalization and constant travel, the pool of people with whom we must connect has shifted from the megacities to the entire globe. It is therefore no wonder our young generation inclined to job hopping and group work is stamped with the sign of extraversion.

However this is only half of the story. Though all generations since the Traditionalists have been in average and increasingly more extroverted in the in/extraversion spectrum, this doesn’t mean that introverts are disappearing and individual differences aren’t quite significant between individuals of the same generation. As a matter of fact, the internal neurological wiring of introverts is different from extroverts and studies suggest that they’ll remain a third to a half of the population.

Last week, I was following this university class called “Psychology and HR”. The topic of the day was socialization and employee integration in the workplace. After a rather vague presentation about basic integration tools for newcomers, I was astonished to hear the teacher propose that “a good socialization tool to put in place is to hire extroverted people in the first place”. I was immediately stunned by the comment: What about introverts? Should they be treated as social pariahs and be refused the right to work? When did the responsibility to ensure that newcomers have a support system (including social support) to start their activity with efficiency has shifted from the HR’s and manager’s hands to the employee’s?

In our teamwork and networking obsessed world, companies blatantly prefer the company of extroverts. “Highly developed social and communication skills” requirements are set for any position available and quickly become synonym to discrimination against introverts (even though introversion and shyness are not the same thing). The result is organizations missing out on all the richness that these individuals can bring.

Don’t get me wrong, I support group work and brainstorming, but I also understand the benefits of introspection and individual problem solving, the importance of creating conditions for all to speak up, of leaders that capitalize on everyone’s strengths and of environments that allow for all to recharge their batteries and work as effectively as possible. My next posts will further discuss the latter.

In an enlightened and autobiographical talk, introversion expert Susan Cain shares with us her views on this bias and all the qualities that introverts can bring to the table. She ends her talk with 3 advices that can make a significant difference in today’s business world.

How do you capitalize on the talents of your team’s introverts?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Generation Y Plans VS Dreams Recently I’ve come across a very interesting HBR article about the meaning of this question and career planning. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is one of most heard questions in job interviews because it provides the interviewer with a false certainty of the applicant’s ambition level. In reality, it measures the applicant’s ability to say what’s expected of him.

To further apprehend the problem with this question, let’s take my own example:

-10 years ago, I was passionate about Math and living in Brazil. I was saving money to have my first and probably only trip to Europe. Less than a year later, I was joining an exchange program in France.

- 5 years ago, I was a high potential trainee within a global corporation. My desire was to work in production and make a quick ascending career. Less than 2 years later, I moved towards commercial projects, discovered a higher meaning in people management and moved to Belgium.

The truth is that my life has gone through a series of organic transformations. It hasn’t been linear and it never will. As a matter of fact, the long careers in a single company, the corporate ladder, the unshakeable family structure, the “offer-demand” equilibrium and the geographical stability are for a majority of us a thing of the past.

Generation Y careers are not shaped by plans, but dreams and passions

Yers have learnt that middle term plans are just guesses and that they reduce our flexibility to accept opportunities. While older generations struggle with the concept, Generation Y has fully embraced serendipity.

Moreover, they have the confidence and conviction that business is nothing like rocket science. To them, most positions can be filled by those willing to learn the ropes.

The lives of talented Yers are therefore marked by diverse and converging passions, a stronger awareness to opportunities and a drive to acquire the skills for the next step. For that reason, Yers career directions might seem illogical to the common recruiter, while holding enormous meaning for them.

Understanding Yers “life is organic” philosophy is the key to retaining them

Yers are not in search for promises of linearity and stability. Instead, they’re offering their talent, skills and original work ethics in exchange of support in their quest for purpose. Underlying the most surprising attitudes of Yers in the workplace hides this unwritten contract.

So the next time you’re in front of an applicant with a varied career path lift your judgments for a second and ask yourself which questions will best assess his chances for success. Forget about the 5-year career plan: don’t try to fit him into a broken mold!

Which question do you ask to best assess talent and potential?

Generation Z’s first signs

As I mentioned in the section “About Generation Y”, Yers have a vital role in defining the 2020 workplace. This role will be played by creating an intergenerational bridge between the old way of running our business, institutions and societies and the new way. To understand where this bridge is heading, one must understand Generation Z.

There is a very simple explanation why there isn’t much information about this generation (born as from 1996): their formative years aren’t over yet. At the rate the world changes, it is very likely that unexpected events in the next 5 years will have tangible effects on Generation Z’s traits.

On the other hand, through the analysis of the current environment and the behaviours of our children, some characteristics can be already noticed. Can you notice some of them in the videos below?

Historical environment:

-  Y: Post-cold war, with an American hegemony and a growing industry in SE Asia

Z: Multipolarized world and the rise of China

-  Population declining in primary and secondary sectors

Accelerated growth of tertiary sector, institutions and NGOs

-  Children of the Euro

Big corporations and supranational institutions rule the world

-  Market crisis of 2008 and discovery of new careers

-  Real threat of terrorism, accentuation of school bullying and shootings

-  Concern with environment and global warming

-  Internet with verifiable content and simple design (Web 2.0)

-  Explosion of mobile connectivity and social media

-  Y-led companies changing the business landscape (Apple, Google and Facebook)

-  App Culture: One small solution to a specific problem at a time

Generation Z characteristics:

-  Charismatic communicators and comfortable with public speaking

Revised educational programs stimulating teamwork and project presentation, followed by class debriefing

-  Collaborative consumers and generous sharers

Belief in redistribution, recycling and re-usage of goods, increasing their life cycle

Highly critical reviewers and avid readers of public reviews before consuming anything

-  Keen on replacing financial transactions for goods/service ones

-  Highly aware of their strengths and weaknesses

Personal passions went through public scrutiny due to sharing technology (YouTube, MySpace)

-  Creative solvers, focused on interface minimalist design and functionality

-  Less interested in local politics, more interested in the power of society and supranational institutions

-  Entrepreneurship minded and engaged in solving tangible community problems.

-  Respectful of other people’s opinions and harmony-driven

Fear of extreme retaliation and terrorism

-  Diversified and customized tastes, therefore less prone to fanhood

App Culture: a solution adapted to their present mood and personality

-  Active throughout their lives in a variety of NGOs (currently interested in environment and energy)

-  Supporters of scientific leaps while concerned with science ethics

-  Great believers of the power of gamification (as marketing and educational tools)

-  Preference for project groupwork (rather than fixed departments) solving a specific problem

-  Bored with limited job content and detractors of abstraction and standardization

What other traits have you already noticed in Generation Z?

The resilience of the high achieving Gen Y

Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson is a North-American psychologist heading the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University. In one of her famous articles “The trouble with bright kids”, she describes a psychological experiment that holds impressive similarities with the upbringing of Generation Y in the Americas.

In the study, 2 groups of equally performing 5th graders were given 3 sets of problems. The first set contained relatively easy problems and students were praised for their performance. The first group received praise emphasizing their high ability (“You must be really smart!”) while the second one received praise emphasizing their effort (“You must have worked really hard!”).

The second set was made of very difficult problems, so difficult that few student even got one answer right. They were told then they had “done a lot worse”. Finally, the students were given the third set of problems (as easy as the first set had been), so researchers could determine how the experience of failure would have affected their performance.

The study found that the first group (praised for their “smartness”) did 25% worse on the final set compared to the first. They blamed their poor performance on the second set to their lack of innate ability, enjoyed the problems of the third set less and gave up on them sooner.

The second group of students (praised for their “effort”) did 25% better on the final set compared to the first. They blamed their poor performance on the second set on not having tried hard enough, persisted longer on the final set and enjoyed the experience more.

In many ways, Generation Y was educated very much the same way as the first group. They’ve grown up in an environment where performance was invariably associated with innate and fixed skills. The high achievers in school kept on achieving throughout their academic lives: from kindergarten to PhD or MBA in their late 20s or early 30s.

The truth is that, as we speak, most of these high IQ, high EQ Yers haven’t yet had experienced true failure. They’ve been applauded for their accuracy and fast results, they’ve analyzed and dispensed strategies that made the difference and they’ve learnt to persuade and woo people in virtually any field they’ve ventured. In all senses, they are the American dream of achievement.

Sooner or later though, these Yers will face the randomness of life events, the unpredictability of changing markets and the irrational behaviour of some family members and co-workers. Those moments hold extreme danger to high-achievers because they’re occasions in which a first and brutal failure experience can take place; a failure that could be met with declining performance and a significant blow to self-esteem and motivation.

In order to help your high-achiever prepare for such moments, great leaders and mentors could apply some of the following recommendations:

- Celebrate results, but don’t forget to congratulate the effort when it’s at its peak.

- Invest in skill development and coach to reduce limiting beliefs. Debrief on the role that effort plays in competency building.

- Don’t give him a promotion too soon. Instead invest in project/rotational experiences that increase his ability to take different perspectives.

- Encourage him to lead brainstorming sessions about complex issues or “everyday crisis”, to raise his awareness to different stakes and resources.

- Encourage him to exchange in a network of high performers that could be a support through difficult times.


How do you build persistence and prepare for failure in your team?

Emotion management for dummies

In the nature VS nurture argument, more often than not the effects of nurture are underestimated. We’ve observed during the last 20 years businesses shy away from their responsibilities for providing well-being and stability to their employees. At the same time a new generation has arrived with an emotional richness that can disarm the most seasoned managers. But how does their internal world really work?

  • A highly developed emotional awareness and openness

No generation before has been capable (and encouraged by their parents) to express their emotions in such a clear and nuanced way as Generation Y. Since their nursery days, Yers have been taught to use words to explain to others their internal state. Upon arrival at the workplace, they start disclosing themselves (sometimes too much) expecting that managers and colleagues react with the same degree of empathy that parents and teachers had shown.

  • A culture of victimization

Two side-effects of the recent acceptance and interest in psychology are an obsession for diagnostics and an over dependency in medication and continual therapy. Our societies have become increasingly needy of solutions from the outside to solve life’s smallest problems.

In addition, growing under a regime of Prozac and Ritalin has caused many Yers (and Xers) to accept their helplessness when taken by assault by their emotions. Far from limited to this generation, victimization is an infectious mental disease that has become epidemic these days across organizations.

If Generation Y has a gift for detecting and expressing emotional states, a good leader should build upon this solid base: he should refuse excuses for poor performance and help them realize the role each individual has in taking ownership and finding solutions.

  • An underdeveloped emotional detection tool

One of the harshest criticisms against Yers is their alleged “selfishness”.

Accusations of “self-focus” (being the more appropriate term here) towards young generations are not uncommon. In fact, an excessive amount of self-focus and introspective analysis is necessary in formative years. On top of that, the ability to shift conscience from self to other-focus is acquired with experience; a skill so vital that older generations tend to forget their own awkwardness in their youth.

For Generation Y there are however 3 extenuating events that explain a decrease in other-focus.

1) Low general attention levels caused by overmedication

2) Unfocused attention caused by excessive multitasking and content-hopping

3) Low detection skills to verbal and non-verbal cues in communication due to a reduced exposure to face-to-face contact in comparison to other generations.

The good news is that for both self-focus and low detection skills there’s a simple and common solution: encourage your Yer to work in groups and increase social events in your team that involve face-to-face exchange.

Generation Y can be a handful with their emotions, but creating a nurturing environment that really listens to their problems, holds them accountable for results and encourages meaningful social bonds can go long ways in creating the authentic and self-fulfilled leaders of tomorrow.

Which other measures would you put in place to develop your team’s emotional intelligence?