Thursday, June 10, 2010

No employee is an island

In a new book titled, Chasing Stars, author Boris Groysberg studied the performance of Wall Street analysts to determine if the success of individual “star” employees was transferable to other businesses. Groysberg a professor in the organizational behavior unit at Harvard Business School studied the careers and job changes of 1,053 top analysts at 78 investment banks between 1988 and 1996. What he found was that “Star equity analysts who switched employers paid a high price for jumping ship”, according to Groysbery, “Overall, their job performance plunged sharply and continued to suffer for at least five years after moving to a new firm.”

It appears that the analysts’ skills were not as portable as they or their new organization expected they would be. Groysberg suggests that when employees leave they lose “the capabilities of the old firm and the practiced, seamless fit between their own skills and the resources of the company. . . an analyst who left a firm where he or she achieved stardom lost access to colleagues, teammates and internal networks that can take years to develop. . .new and unfamiliar ways of doing things took the place of routines and procedures and systems that over time had become second nature.”

The message of book is quite interesting and thought provoking. It made me think of a few individuals that I have known over the years that were hired because they were “super stars” at their prior organization but who failed to achieve the same level of achievement in the new organization. I remember wondering what anyone saw in these people who came with such high recommendations but turned out to be less than outstanding.

No employee is an island, no matter how unique their tacit knowledge may be, there is also the familiarity with the culture and the network within the organization that adds to an employees value. I think Groysberg’s book helps makes the case for the importance of professional networking inside and outside an organization so that should you leave your organization you will not be losing access to all of your professional network.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Intuition and Knowledge

In the 1950’s Polanyi proposed the knowledge dichotomy of explicit and tacit knowledge. Polanyi defined tacit knowledge as non-verbalizable, intuitive, and unarticulated. Tacit knowledge is highly personal and hard to formalize; it is deeply rooted in an individuals’ actions and experiences as well as in the ideals, values, or emotions that they embrace. Explicit knowledge is codified and easily transferable in systematic methods, such as rules and procedures.

Research has shown that experts often arrive at problem diagnoses and solutions rapidly and intuitively without being able to report how they attained the result. Intuition is not independent of analysis but rather the two processes are complementary. Diagnosing the problems of an organization may require much conscious deliberation. However, the leader that relies on tacit knowledge is able to consciously take considerable leaps in the process of building the bridge from premises to conclusions. A less experienced individual having to rely on explicit knowledge may arrive at the same conclusions as the more experienced leader, but the expert will be able to take “giant intuitive steps in reasoning, as compared with the tiny steps of the novice.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Different Communication Languages

There was an interesting article in the New York Times a few weeks ago, that discussed the findings of some research studies and the amount of time that young people spend using electronic devices to communicate with their friends and family. Increasingly, the use of technology is replacing face-to-face contact with other human beings.

The concern of psychologists is that individuals that primarily use electronic communication are not learning basic face-to-face human contact skills. They are unable to see facial expressions and body language and must rely wholly on the written word. Are these individuals missing out on developing empathy, listening skills and the ability to read non-verbal social cues?

Experts tell us that as much as 70% of communication is non-verbal, what happens when what individuals have primarily experienced is written communication such as abbreviated snatches of cell phone texts and instant messages. What happens when those individuals that have been immersed in electronic communication intersect in the workplace with individuals whose primary form of communication has been face-to-face?

How successful can knowledge transfer be with individuals that prefer such different communication languages?

The answer is that both sides have to give a little in their preferred communication methods. The digital natives while possessing excellent technology skills may have underdeveloped social skills.

New York Times Article - Antisocial Networking

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Engaged Employees

Engaged employees are more productive, more innovative, and more likely to stay longer with their organization. Clearly, all of these factors translate to a favorable bottom line impact. Additionally, engaged employees are happier employees, and because happiness is highly contagious, the entire workplace environment may be positively impacted.

How do leaders engage employees? Is an understanding of the trends in attitudes and behavior that define generational identities important when formulating employee engagement strategies?

Veterans are the most senior cohort in the workplace and increasingly the least visible segment of the workplace population. As our most experienced generation, it is imperative that we not count them out. Many will remain in the workplace as long as their health permits. Studies have shown that the mind does not slow down until after age 70.

This generation can be engaged by showing respect for their work ethic, utilizing their expertise and wisdom, and teaching them to coach and mentor the younger generations. Do not consider it non-productive to provide training for this generation. They still want to learn, they do not want to be put out to pasture. Give them opportunities to stay mentally agile and be challenged. Sensitivity to their learning styles and discomfort with rapid technological change should be considered.

Baby boomers are the largest cohort in the workplace and hold the majority of the leadership positions. For this cohort nothing matters more than respect. When researching optimal knowledge transfer methods for my dissertation this was a common theme among the baby boomers in my research study. Baby boomer engineers indicated that they would like to share their knowledge and experience with younger employees but were put off when not approached with what they perceived to be a respectful attitude. Some boomers are feeling the sting of having to share the spotlight with younger generations. Do not discount the wisdom and knowledge that has been accumulated by this group. In addition, may boomers have many years left to work and want to be recognized and respected for what they can still offer organizations.

Gen Xers are the most frustrated generation in the workplace. Dubbed the “Prince Charles” generation, due to their years of waiting in the wings for their chance to show what they can do in the workplace. This generation is feeling the squeeze between the much larger baby boomer and Gen Y generations. However, the greatest untapped pool of leadership talent resides in this cohort. This group is also the first true “free agent” generation. Growing up cynical and mistrusting of the establishment they continue to test the organizational waters regarding their opportunity for growth, advancement, work/life balance, compensation, flexibility, creative challenges, and recognition.

Gen Y wants opportunities to learn and to give. They were weaned on rapid change and become bored with anything that moves slowly. It is also important for this generation to work for an organization that they can be emotionally committed to. The mission, vision, and values of the organization must be in alignment with the values and beliefs of the Gen Yers. Giving frequent quality feedback is essential to keeping this generation engaged. Gen Y employees, similar to their older cohorts want to feel recognized and appreciated as valuable contributors to the organization.

Even though the generational identities vary between the generations the core values and emotional needs of each generation are the same. Respect me, recognize me, and reward me. The way in which each cohort or individual employee desires to be shown respect, recognition, and rewards must be investigated and customized for each individual. Understanding generational profiles provides leaders with a starting point, but remember the variation within the cohort is greater than the variation between cohorts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Communication styles of each generation

The differences in communication preferences is not surprising when you consider the different technology that each generation has grown up with. Technology has determined for each generation, the speed and ease with which each generation has been able to communication. The faster and easier the technology the more frequent the communication.

Traditionalists – also called the silent generation due to their preference for privacy and respect for authority. Prefer face to face or written communication. Words are powerful to this generation. This generation grew up with regular snail mail as the primary form of business correspondence. The telephone was also used to communicate with customers and fellow employees.

Baby Boomers – body language is important, speak in a clear, and direct manner. Be prepared to be asked a lot of questions and have details to backup your position. Snail mail was augmented with FexEd allowing overnight communication. Personal computers and word processors allowed baby boomers to more swiftly send and receive messages.

Gen Xers – prefer informal communication style, use email as a primary means of communication. Ask them for feedback and provide regular feedback. Keep them informed and updated on a regular basis. Have grown up with a high level of immediacy. From microwaves to ATM machines Gen Xers are not accustom to having to wait very long for anything.

Gen Y – likes action words and opportunities to take risks. Ask for their feedback and regularly provide them feedback. Don’t let them feel that you are talking down to them. Have grown up with real time information available and updated minute by minute.

In When Generations Collide, the authors describe the generational clashpoint around the preferences for feedback which further illustrates the need for varying communication strategies.

Traditionalist      “No news is good news”

Baby Boomer      “Feedback once a year, with lots of documentation”

Generation Xers   “Sorry to interrupt, but how am I doing?”

Gen Y             “Feedback whenever I want it at the push of a button”

Technology has shaped the way and speed with which generations prefer to receive information and feedback. However, the only completely safe and accurate way of finding out an individual’s preferred communication style is to ask them.

Generational Communication

In Generations at Work, Zemke, Raines & Filipczak propose that organizations that have successfully managed generational differences “overcommunicate”. The best and brightest intergenerational organizations encourage frequent and open discussions about the differences between the cohorts and the differences among members of the same generational cohort. According to the authors “generational differences are based primarily on unarticulated assumptions and unconscious criteria therefore, surfacing them takes a giant step toward resolving them”.

The authors identified similarities among cross-generational friendly organizations. They found five common themes and labeled them using the acronym ACORN.

A – Accommodate employee differences

This can take many forms including accommodating different scheduling needs, work-life balance, generational icons, language, and precepts.

C – Create workplace choices

Generation friendly workplaces are relaxed, informal, change is a part of the culture, and the workplace evolves around the work being performed, the employees, and the customer.

O – Operate from a sophisticated management style

Generationally friendly managers give employees the big picture, specific goals and measures, and then turn their people loose providing them with feedback, reward and recognition as appropriate. They utilize situational leadership and work to gain the trust of their employees.

R – Respect competence and initiative

Best practice organizations assume the best of their employees. Every employee regardless of age or experience is treated as a valuable contributor

N – Nourish retention

Generationally friendly organizations are focused on employee retention and making their workplace a magnet for excellence. They provide excellent training and coaching, and promote regular lateral movement within the organization. They also offer broadened assignments giving employees the opportunity to develop a greater range of skills.

In addition to practicing the ACORN principles, generationally friendly companies market internally. They made a conscious effort to remind employees of all the good things the company has to offer.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Generational Icebreaker Activity

In Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to manage the unprecedented convergence of the wired, the tired, and technology in the workplace, author Ira Wolfe provides an exercise designed to encourage discussion about generational differences and commonalities.

The exercise can be conducted with a group or with a larger group divided into several smaller groups.

1. Ask each participant: What’s your middle name and why did your parents give it to you?

2. Have participants form pairs, small teams, or one large circle to discuss their answers.

3. Observations:

a. Were there any similar names of the participants shared by different age groups?

b. Were there any similar reasons given by the participants from different age groups?

c. Were there any names more associated with one of the four generations than another?

4. More questions:

a. Growing up at home, what were some of your favorite TV or radio programs?

b. As a teenager, what was your favorite musician or band and why?

c. What is one lesson your parents taught you that still sticks in your mind?

d. What was your favorite game you remember playing as a child?

e. What kind of car do you drive (or would like to drive) and why?

f. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

g. What would you like to be famous for?

h. What song makes you want to get up and dance?

i. What is a movie you have seen in the last year that you really enjoyed?

j. Who are two famous people you really admire?

k. What is an historic event that had a great impact on you?

How would you describe that impact?

This activity can be used as an icebreaker for a meeting or for a session dedicated to understanding generational differences. The questions will stimulate discussions about ways in which the generations are similar and provide insight into why there may be differences.