Separating the dancer from the dance

Photograph by Soki

Photograph by Soki

Joshua Prager is a hemiplegic journalist. On a recent TED Talk in which he shares the story behind his accident, he revives a century-old discussion: how can we separate nature from nurture (the dancer from the dance)? And why does it matter?

Susan Cain is a former lawyer and she advocates for a better integration of introvert’s talents in our extraverted-biased society. In her work she separates and nuances another similar discussion, one that has antagonized psychologists for the past 50 years: Do personality traits exist? How can we separate the effects of the environment from our temperaments? Is there even a true self or are we just a sum of social masks we choose to wear ?

This animated debate launched by Freud and Jung gains momentum as the science of psychology evolves and as we peak into the neuron firings inside the human brain or the nucleobases that compound our genes. Underneath it all rests the unsettling question: How much free will do we really have?

“I don’t like to put people into boxes”

This is not an uncommon reaction to personality tests. In fact, what we mean when we say this is “I don’t like to be put in a box”.

We all prefer to believe in complete free will. We prefer to believe in our ability to master with the same ease as the next man any competence we set our minds to. The problem is that compelling evidence suggests just the opposite: our very personal inborn temperaments, genes, physiology, neuron wiring and current state affect our behaviours and ability to acquire new skills more than we wish to admit.

In order to respond to this complexity, we increase our efforts in studying human behaviours. We aim at discovering the perfect split between personality and environmental effects for each possible act. Just like salt is 23/58 Sodium and 35/58 Chlorine, it should also be the case for our tendency for introspection, caring or aggression, right? This knowledge would give us more insight where our efforts would yield better results. It would be the victory of pragmatism and performance!

The truth is, each one of us is neither a snow flake that is completely unpredictable nor a soulless collection of reactions to genes and external stimuli. All in all, both these extremist views are a diversion from encountering and tending to our true selves.

If any given personality test can indeed oversimplify the richness within us, combining several ones provides us with a rather insightful understanding of how we are in a large variety of situations. More important than that, it allows us to discover the other through different lens, to understand that we don’t see the same events the same way and understand the advantages and limitations of each of our life goggles.

The answer to the oversimplification of any psychometric approach is not abstinence but diversified exposure.

Intergenerational training

Intergenerational and intercultural seminars stimulate similar discussions.

“How can we simplify every individual behaviour to a birth period or to a national origin?” The answer is clearly “we can’t!” However, this does not mean that we should throw the baby with the bath water.

Serious studies on both fields provide us with a deeper understanding of cultural perspectives. The “dance” part of a person’s experience is a thug of war of several sociological and psychological influences: socio-economic conditions, family upbringing, culture of origin, environment, generation, amongst others. Generational approach is just another face of this large diamond of influences. Sometimes the light shines through that face, sometimes through another.

Another question I hear often is “Will Gen Y become like the previous generations as they age?” Again, the answer depends on another question: “In which aspect?”

Your experience (and reaction to life) is influenced by the moment in History in which you were born and grew up. Local and global events, especially during our formative years (that last up to 19 or 25 years-old), strongly affect our perception of the world: how we view and experience work, how we set priorities, how we communicate to each other and how we integrate technology to our lives. These are called generational factors.

On the other hand, since the dawn of mankind, the developmental order of the individual from infancy to maturity has been extremely constant and richly documented. Teenagers today rebel against their parents and still will do so in the years to come (the only thing that might change is the duration of each developmental stage as we live longer or the manner in which they do so). These are called age factors.

The challenge of a generational expert is to understand which behaviours are affected by generational factors, which are affected by age factors and which are affected by a mix of both. With time, generational factors tend to remain imprinted as deep-seated values, whereas age factors evolve.

The goal of diversity trainings should not be to predict future behaviour, “put people into boxes” or create dissent. The goal is to open us up to other ways of making meaning of ourselves and the world around. It gets us out of our heads and offers us the opportunity to experience other ways of thinking, feeling and expressing ourselves.

It is because we study separately the technique of the dancer and the rhythm of the dance that we’re able to marvel at the whole, without worrying so much as which gets the credit.

What are your views on intergenerational or intercultural trainings?

5 tips to shape you Corporate Social Responsibility program up

Generation Y and Corporate Social ResponsibilityIn my previous post, I’ve proposed to look at CSR programs through a more humanistic approach. Now that I (hope to) have convinced you of its importance and you’ve bust your brain designing your own unique CSR program, it’d be interesting to go through a brief-checklist to turn it into a best-in-class model.

1) Be authentic and leverage it with your assets

There are 2 major differences between corporate philanthropy and an effective CSR program. The first one is that corporate philanthropy is unfortunately rooted in a patronizing circle of win-lose: the business gives a bit to a cause, recovers a bit from the government and a cause gets to make up a bit for government’s social shortcomings, while CSR is about creating win-win growth opportunities. It’s businesses taking in their own hands the responsibility for creating shared added-value in the society. The second major difference is that CSR engages and transforms the business from within in ways that philanthropy can’t: after all, signing a check is just another task on a to-do list.

In order for CSR to be really transformative for the business, it has to be authentic and rely on its assets. By this I mean that whichever impact the company wants to create over the community, the best one certainly is the one that motivated its founder in the first place, daily engages employees and over which the business has built experience over decades. It sounds obvious, but how many CSR initiatives are designed upon opportunistic randomness rather than reflected strategy? In other words, unless you’re Betty Crocker, you have no place in a bake sale fundraiser!

A great example of an authentic and leveraged social program is Home Depot’s “Habitat for Humanity”. The business donates materials and its expertise in their core activity (building materials) while its employees actually build homes for those without one. The end result is not only a positive impact in the community and a stronger customer link, but employee expertise building beyond any training program and a renewed engagement and sense of purpose: win-win!

2) Live it through social media and apps

Every year, 40.000 CSR reports are issued from over 9.000 corporations worldwide.

Most of them are a 40-page pdf file covered with colorful pictures of exotic places and people wearing funny hats, a few testimonies and vague business jargon to please the few shareholders that bother reading them. There’s nothing really distinctive about the way they’re presented: they’re the void politician speech, full of “what I’ve done” and of “what I promise I’ll do”; the latter being more often than not an overly optimistic estimation.

The problem with these reports is that they’re miles away from the reality of the work really done: who were the people on the field, what motivated them, what were the challenges they hadn’t planned for, and how were they overcome, how did they impact the community: then, 1 month after, 2 years after…?

If you really want to create powerful brand connections with all stakeholders and attract Gen Y talent and consumers, your CSR program has to live and breathe, continuously! Or else, despite all your efforts, everyone will just see it at best as a one-off tax advantage, at worst as Hollywood-made green washing campaign.

To achieve a strong CSR recognition, create a dedicated social media space and make a reality-show out of it (Gen Y has grown up with MTV’s shows and they’re unabashed to confess their attraction to these journey-sharing shows). It doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) be a full-blown production (as the camera significantly reduces authenticity), just a simple journey diary fed by the participants (amateur on-the-field photos and description of daily minor event should suffice).

The most important is to have it under a format where stakeholders can really live the human dimension on a daily basis, wonder at the evolutions in individual spirituality crossing barriers and cultures, and anticipate on the next steps in making real impact.

If you’re really innovative and wants to connect with Generation Z as well, you’ll take it a step further and create an app just for it (especially if your CSR is in community education on your area of expertise). App culture is still a forming wave, but it will certainly have a huge impact on life for the next 20 years, so you better get on the wave before it gets crowded and you can’t freely surf anymore.

3) Crowd-source improvements to your employees

Effective CSR programs not only impact the community but also increase participants’ commitment.

By all means, have your CSR program designed by those in your company with a unique transversal, strategic view and powerful socio-economic insight. It’s naïve to think that anyone could launch a program that has a real impact in our complex world.

But once the launch phase is over and the champagne bottle has been opened, crowd-source ideas for tweaks and improvements to those who will live it. Don’t allow the excitement of the launch to fade nor limit yourself to the lucky few who will actually participate in the first installments of the program.

Every employee in your organization lives in a community and has therefore inspiring ideas on how the expertise he gains at work can make an impact in the world outside, and which of his unique talent or passion can be mobilized. If you guess for him and focus solely on job contents or the company’s formal IP, it’s very likely you’ll miss the tiny detail that will make him cross from an indifferent state towards a your most energetic ambassador.

Moreover, by allowing employees to bring in their ideas and responding to them, you’ll create a culture of ownership to the profound meaning we each give to our work. This action will most certainly liberate them from the current state of victimization we witness so often in organizations these days.

4) Develop a global talent pool

Social development programs are by far the best training program a 21st century leader could have.

University, regular L&D programs and business schools are outstanding developers of the left-brain. They teach future leaders to analyze, measure and deal with all sorts of “rational”, predictable and detailed information, but they let us hanging when it comes to treating right-brain information: contextualized, implicit, evolving and paradoxical.  As markets become more complex and interconnected, as attention becomes scattered in an informational flood and as Generation Y requests for a higher part of social and emotional elements in governance, we will increasingly need right-brain educational programs that enhance comfort with ambiguity and human irrationality, lateral thinking and improved emotional management. In a very comprehensive video, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains the differences between both sides of the brain.

By immersing employees in an environment of cultural ambiguity and perspective-taking that encourages both creative solution-finding and relationship-building (unencumbered by power struggles), social development programs develop precisely this part of the brain. Not using this platform to invest, test and follow-up on talent would be a seriously missed opportunity to engage your next generation of leaders.

5) Create social joint-ventures

Perhaps the most innovative (and obvious) CSR initiative is the concept of social joint-ventures.

In his HBR article “Why go it alone in community development”, Rio Tinto’s Andrew MacLeod makes the case for a renewed approach to what he calls the “billboard” model of CSR, in which each company supports one individual program. He proposes instead a “grand prix car” approach, in which a cause is supported by different sponsors, each contributing in his own expert way to the success of a venture.

Whereas a “billboard” model might work in communities with a certain amount of infra-structure, when companies decide to expand to developing countries, they’re quite rapidly confronted with complex and strongly intertwined community problems. In such regions, CSR programs that focus only on one aspect of the problem end up broken as soon as the mission is finished. This is the case of educational programs that fail to ignore transport issues or infra-structure/medical programs that underestimate maintenance limitations.

The good news is that in developing countries, the market landscape has a very peculiar structure: for each product or service available, one would often find either a multitude of small competitors or a monopoly. If non-competing market leaders in the same community joined forces instead of trying to go it alone, communities would be better served. If CSR leaders met frequently and combined their expertise in a structured program they would not only increase local productivity and consumption, but they would benefit from greater political influence, provide richer experiences to those participating in the programs and ensure that communities will remain stable even when a player leaves the scene.

What other Corporate Social Responsibility innovative ideas do you have?

10 forces changing our workplace (III): Society

Participation society and corporate social responsability

7.       Participation Society

Organizations can leverage significantly their competitive advantage if they focus their attention in the power of social media, as opposed (or in addition) to traditional marketing techniques. Since the YouTube revolution, consumers and employees have become extremely generous in their feedback about marketing and product development. As a matter of fact, they expect businesses to create forums for idea exchange that echo with their personalities and passions, and see it as an opportunity to obtain more value out of their favourite brands. In 2007, MSN explained this trend in one of their publicity spots.

8.       Social Learning

Tradition says that learning happens best in a top-down, ex cathedra fashion, in a classroom environment and with a very clear focus on abstraction and planning. This has been the case until the arrival of Learning 2.0 (the e-learning revolution of the 90s), when the presence of the knowledge-holder and the location of the students were challenged. Until the second half of the last decade Learning 2.0 was indeed all the buzz, but then a second evolutionary step in learning took place.

Social media, Wikipedia and gamification appealed to an entire generation (Gen Y) as a more engaging, mnemonic and empathic way to learn than the traditional ways. Social learning (or Learning 3.0) consists of resorting to social media, blog comments, gaming, real-time feedback, simulations and hands-on group work.

It appeals not only because it changes the format into which learning takes place, but also its content (from an abstract towards an experiential approach). It gains adepts not only in the student community, but also in the teacher and business community and it generates profound learning experiences across generations, because it creates a common language.

Businesses that have revised their L&D model have not been disappointed. They’ve discovered the benefits in productivity of blending learning into work and increasing its availability. They’ve used social learning occasions to brainstorm ideas, reframe problems, engage in lateral thinking, conduct research and, most importantly draw meaning out of experiences.

On the internet, one can find hundreds of social learning exercises that can be applied tomorrow in your companies. One such example is the marshmallow problem:

9.       Corporate Social Responsibility

Until Generation Y became a consumer force, multinationals’ social programs were in most cases limited to leveraging local politics through lobbying, investing in Ivy League universities for talent pool and spending massive budgets in green marketing campaigns. Thanks to the healthy scepticism of the digital natives and their anti-publicity filters, they’ve been able to detect the inconsistencies in those programs.

In one way or another, global businesses realized that corporate philanthropy is much more believable and sustainable if it’s rooted in “win-win” situations for both the communities and the businesses: it was the beginning of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Effective CSR programs are deeply rooted in strategic business goals while integrated into social, ethical and environmental agendas: IBM, Nespresso, Ernst&Young and Pfizer are just some of those examples.

In IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, 100 highly talented employees are sent each year to gain work experience in a country targeted for growth. The projects vary from helping entrepreneurs access microloans to designing learning labs and training teachers in the most effective IT tools. Throughout the six-month program, the selected employees draw their regular salaries, allowing them to participate in meaningful change without incurring into personal financial risks.

The benefits for the company are threefold:

a) Increase their social and cultural intelligence in future markets, understand complex policy environments and develop relationship with local communities.

b) Prepare and test top talent into future global leadership positions, with hands-on experience and the development of important soft-skills, such as humility, cultural openness, adaptability, assertiveness and flexibility.

c) Attract, develop and engage high-potential, especially from a Generation Y that is particularly sensitive to those programs.

 10.       Arrival of Generation Y

The reason Generation Y is at the bottom of this list of changes is the same as why I’ve chosen this trend (and not any other) as the subject of my study.

Generation Y nurtures as many debates as refusals of its existence, and attracts as much admiration as rejection because it’s not a change per se, but a mirror to ourselves as society and as human beings.

The power of Generation Y is present not so much in the qualities they bring to the table, but in the subtle or deep connections they thread with each one of the previously mentioned changes (whether we admit them to take place or not): from the brute force of their demographics to their fine dreams of a better world. They are a mirror because they reflect back to us our fears about ourselves, our parenting and our future.

If we allow ourselves to join in the discussion about the reflections we receive from them, Generation Y will eventually be able to fulfill their role (just like every generation that came before and will come afterwards): cease to be a mirror to become the lenses through which we’ll build a better and renewed future.

Which social changes are you ready to admit and adopt in your life?

10 forces changing our workplace (I): Economy

Globalization Generation Y

These days it’s not uncommon to hear “the winds are changing”. Even in this blog you’ve probably noticed that nearly in every post there are references (and evidences) to those changes.

Still, it seems that in some companies and universities, theories about a need for businesses to undergo serious internal changes are met with the same scepticism as astrology, as if a changing world had to be proven scientifically over and over again. As Ken Robinson’s subtly mentioned in his famous “Bring on the learning revolution” TED talk: “If you don’t believe in a major climate crisis, you should get out more”.

To cement the discussion, the first chapter of the very well documented “The 2020 Workplace” book by Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd introduces the 10 major forces (and challenges) changing our workplace now. Throughout the next 3 posts, we will revisit them in 3 subgroups (Economy, Technology and Society):

1.       Workforce demographics

In demographics there are four superposing trends in developed countries responsible for an accelerated increase in generational, gender and ethnical mixity, and requiring employers to learn to manage a more diverse workforce.

a) Declining fertility rates and shrinking workforce population

b) Higher portions of immigrant population, due to accentuated migration inside Europe and higher fertility rates in the last decades compared to originally local population (Latino and Islamic portions tripling in America and Europe respectively)

c) Increase in older active population (55 years-old and above will represent 1 out of 5 employees in 2020), due to increased life-expectancy and pension cuts

d) Massive arrival of Gen Y in the workplace representing in most developed countries half of the working population by 2013.

2.       Knowledge economy

There’s an increase in complexity of skills to get a job in the new developed markets. As companies streamline, automate and outsource some transactional jobs, the tacit workforce segment (positions that require problem solving, judgement, listening, data analysis, relationship building and cross-cultural collaboration) grows 2,5 times faster in developed countries as the transactional jobs. According to Forrester Research, at least some 3.3 million white-collar jobs in the US will shift to BRIC countries by 2015.

3.       Globalization

Globalizations most known forces are the opening of markets and competition in labour cost, but it certainly does not stop there. Globalization has added to business complexity in several other ways, altering forever the dogma of the “established organization”. Century-old companies have met demise and severe restructurings. In fact, whole industries have disappeared or entirely changed business model (take for example the different directions taken by Fuji and Kodak).

A clear example of the uncertainty of a company’s continuity these days comes from Fortune 500 list. If a company was on the list in 1980, there was a 56% chance it was still listed in 1994. Of the 2007 list, only 30% of them were there in 1994 (and that’s before the 2008 crisis). Moreover, between 2005 and 2009, we’ve moved from a world with a strong hegemony by US, Japan and Europe (from 77% to 68% of Fortune 500 headquarters) to a multi-polarized world in which BRIC grows from 4% to 14% of Fortune 500 headquarters.

The implications in labor relations are enormous. First it means that managers are no longer leading by proximity, clear hierarchical lines and face-to-face coaching, but now balancing complex cross-departmental relations in a matrix structure, an independent or virtual workforce and multi-location employees. Secondly, as new businesses rise and compete from different areas of the world, the old assumptions of “correct” people management are put under the microscope and seen under new light. Cultural management becomes a new and inescapable phenomenon to competitive organizations (to which generational management is only a part).

How has globalization changed the way you manage your team?

The broken “just-in-time” sourcing model

If you read newspapers and business blogs, there’s much being said about talent shortage in the midst of one of the largest unemployment crisis in the developed world (9% in US and hovering around 11% in Europe). How is this even possible? Are we living in an era of lack of talent or lack of recruiter’s flexibility?

 So what do businesses do when, in theory, skills becomes rare?

  • They work with local colleges to develop the necessary skills in their communities,
  • They put in place strong retention and development programs such as rotational traineeship
  • They multiply cheap “learning-on-the-job” solutions like cross-departmental projects
  • They focus on transgenerational mentoring programs to guarantee intellectual property is not lost and talent pipeline is filled
  • They train recruiters to hire on motivation and past achievements rather than experience,

Right? Wrong!

The pervasive “just in time” recruiting model is gaining immense popularity. According to Taleo, a talent management tool provider, 2 out of 3 vacancies in the US are now filled externally, whereas a generation ago external hires represented only 10% of vacancies. The fallacy behind this approach is that it allows businesses to find the precise workers needed, just at the time they’re needed and letting them go when needs change. It relies however in the opposite premise of recruiters’ main complaint: an unending “buyers’ market”.

In reality, this is an expensive and ineffective shortcut as external hires when compared to internal peers are paid in average 18% more, get promoted faster and take 3 years to attain the same performance levels (mostly due to the adaptation into the company’s culture). This is not taking into account the lost opportunities and sunk costs linked to months of search to find the perfect candidate.

Moreover, there are much more pervasive and damming consequences to this practice. After reading Peter Cappelli’s HBR article, I’ve summed some of the consequences of this broken model into a graph called the dramatic rose, composed of a macro-economic, an organizational and an individual “petals”.

Outside recruitment effect over Gen YFirst of all, “just-in-time” recruitment is outdated and unsustainable in a macro-economic level because it relies on previous experience rather than the potential to learn. Hiring exclusively on previous experience in a fast changing world (where new skills and roles are invented on a daily basis to fit specific business needs) is a dead-end solution. It is not by hiring people to do a job they already do (thus creating compartmentalization of business realms), nor encouraging individuals to job-hop that we’re going to solve serious economic and social crisis and nurture innovation.

A good example of the absurdity of this practice was a job interview I had a few months ago with a Belgium government agency. They were looking for a Knowledge Transfer Manager to prepare the retirement of their Boomers. With an endless list of pre-requisites filled, my recruiter was inflexible on the fact I did not have 5 years of experience in knowledge transfer. Despite my reminders that I had a 5 year-experience in cross-generational education, 4 years in project management, an understanding of Yers and above all a real passion for the challenge, she stood her ground and continued her search for the perfect candidate. I wonder how much longer she’ll look for a candidate to fill this impossible pre-requisite; given 5 years ago not a single Belgium business was facing a massive retirement wave to bother creating a knowledge transfer position.

Secondly, on an individual level this approach neglects human’s desire for change, interest in learning new things and it seriously disengages employees. Frozen by fear of being replaced or discouraged by top positions filled exclusively by external hires, employees will settle for the minimum service (especially Yers). Risks will be avoided and information will be hoarded in an attempt to obtain bargain power with the company. The organizational result is decline in innovation, loss of intellectual property as turnover increases and an even greater dependency on external hires.

At this point, the company will redirect their humble investments in learning and development to maintain an ever-growing bubble of recruitment and severance, reinforcing the tragic cycle.

Is this the fault of schools that didn’t teach well, of Yers that job-hop looking for meaning or of businesses that started to look outside of their ranks encouraged by the motto “if employers invest in their people, they will take the investment and leave”. Instead of searching for the one to blame, I encourage businesses to break the model and take a leap forward in faith (using the recommendations of the beginning of this post).

The principle of “Giver’s Gain” states that there are indeed a few takers in the world that will just leave, but those who will stay will return the investment tenfold in engagement, commitment and innovation. Are you ready to trust?

What’s your company’s main hiring practice? 

How has this practice influenced employee motivation? 

Lost in Translation (II): Why Boomers and Yers see businesses differently

You might have never heard about Carl Icahn but rest assured that he has done more to change the way businesses are seen around the globe than most people you can think of.  Carl Icahn was part of a group of people who in the early 1980s shook the foundations of traditional businesses: they were the corporate raiders.

Until their arrival, the view of the business world (that of Boomers) was quite different from the one we see in the media these days. A company was a group of individuals that shared a common vision for society offering their innovative products and services, most often than not in a family environment. Companies were quoted in the stock market to attract investors and those investors had a quite passive participation in the way businesses were run.

In the 80s, all of that changed! Since many companies were diluting their stocks in the market, corporate raiders saw a unique opportunity to take control of corporations and turn their humble profits into high margin operations.  It was the beginning of the hostile takeovers and from them on, businesses acquired a newfound respect (or fear) of their investors: the “family business” model for indexed corporations was under serious threat. Moreover, with the end of Cold War and new cheap labour found in the Southeast Asia, companies started to restructure and downsize in order to increase their bottom line.

It was precisely at this time that Yers came to the world. Every night at the dinner table they would hear their parent’s stories about restructurings and massive lay-offs. Later at the evening news such stories would be painted with images of distress and rebellion. In school, teachers with little knowledge about the business world would cement negative preconceptions. Later in late adolescence, Yers would get student jobs that would exploit their cheap labour and provide few learning opportunities. After several years of college education and despite their over qualification, a fourth of those students would struggle to find a first job, blocked in their genuine aspirations by unrealistic demands from recruiters.

If self-fulfilment and self-actualization is the main priority for Yers, it’s only understandable that after such bombardment of information they’d have a hard time conceiving that those could be found in the workplace. Much like Generation X, Yers are indeed extremely sceptical about the business world because in their eyes business does not mean a group of people following a vision or a positive contribution to society, but fulfilling financial needs of greedy investors.

The truth is every one of us does not want the workplace to be reduced to this. As humans we all have dreams and hopes and we’d expect that the 8 hours (or more) that we spend everyday at work amounts to something more meaningful. Here are some ways in which HR can change the way your Yers (or Xer) see your company towards a source of fulfilment:

  • Allow only interns for positions that can be filled with jobs with real learning opportunities. We know the temptation for cheap labor is big, but the bad press you’ll get on school campuses is not worth it. Remember that if not your future employees, they’re your future customers.
  • Prepare a solid induction program and make sure new employees have all their work tools from day one. Collect info and fix induction bugs through Astonishment Reports.
  • Encourage helicopter view and meaning through a brief rotational traineeship for newcomers. Not only it builds cohesion and increases cross-fertilization, but the fact of understanding how one’s work impacts a whole organization and the final customer is a great source of meaning.
  • Encourage recruiting from within (that includes interns) and promote horizontal jumps. To most Yers, self-fulfilment comes from trying out different positions before settling for the one they love.
  • Make sure you know everything the internet and employees are saying about your company and don’t make claims about your company culture that don’t match those views while interviewing a candidate. Yers appreciate transparency more than corporate publicity.

How can your HR change the way Yers are viewing your company?

What can Google teach companies about humour?

Google Generation Y Lucky

Google website

Every Generation Y expert studies Google!

They are a true success story of Gen Y acquisition and retention, thanks to a series of innovative management practices that shake the foundations of what “work” should be like. Some of the areas in which Google innovates in their relationship with their employees are:

  • Recruitment marketing: Job announcements that include description of work environment, facilities, perks, and even city info. Thorough DILO descriptions (“a day in a life of”) and testimonies. Leveraging of employee personal networks to fill positions (and increase retention)
  • Recruitment: Highly professionalized follow-up of candidates and recruitment based on a strict cultural fit and technical skills assessment. Clarity and openness about the company’s values and what they look for in a candidate.
  • Work-life integration: Clear and demanding expectations about results, with flexibility on the “How”. 20% for personal project and office cafeterias.
  • Learning and development: Fast, diverse and available to all, leveraging each employee’s knowledge: 90 minute-flash trainings, “Googler2Googler” trainings on any topic of interest, “Google speaker series”.
  • Office design: Offices are designed to provide comfort and flexibility in working; Design fits group needs, personal preferences and moods. Everyone carries their laptop where they go.
  • Crowdsourcing: Before launching any product, Google tests them in their alfa websites and open-sources bits of their most complex challenges. By doing this, they ensure every employee understands their contribution to the final product and makes an engagement with consumers even before release.
  • Social responsibility: Reduced use of paper and energy. Encouragement of employee solidarity and participation in community issues.

In a very particular way, Google nurtures Yers high confidence-low esteem paradox. While high confidence is rewarded with ambitious projects and great latitude, low esteem is comforted with an encouragement to risk-taking and acceptance of mistakes. Google knows Yers are young and that learning from one’s mistakes is an essential part of a great career.

Ultimately they’ve taken this idea further by creating a new holiday tradition. The same way Coke has done decades ago with Christmas, Google claimed April’s Fools Day for them. Whether those “products” were actually dead-on-arrival projects or just the silly result of a brainstorming session, Google has made a statement to the whole business world by launching every year their possible “future failures”.

Through Gmail’s gesture recognition system, Gmail Morse keyboard for mobiles or 8bit Google Maps for Nintendo adds in high production value and business jargon, they ironize Corporate America’s ability to justify the most absurd product launches. By the same token, it sends an important internal message that crazy ideas can be celebrated and that mild professional blunders can be laughed off. The lesson is that business does not have to be serious all the time!

One might be inclined to protest “They’re Google, this would never work in my company!” Those are often the same people that don’t take a stand to change their unsatisfying lives because they’re not “talented” or “special” enough. What separates Google from any other business in the world is not stockholders, clients, resources or industry; it’s simply their willingness to be different, to take calculated risks and to dare find the large intersection between happy workers and profitable business.

That’s the secret of their luck. What about you, “are you steering lucky?”

What place is there for humour in your team and company?

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)

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?