Why Millennials Are Luke and Leia and Gen Xers Are Han Solo

Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant just published a new book When Millennials Take Over that details the processes and culture that businesses need to adapt. The book comes at a critical time. According to the authors, successful companies are moving to embrace the new work culture of the future (or the present, depending on your perspective) and drive business.

We thought it would be great to have a conversation with them at xPotomac on August 27th and discuss. To help prepare folks, I interviewed Jamie and Maddie last week in Georgetown. The interview is quite fun and even includes a funny reference to Star Wars as you will see. Don’t miss their session on August 27th (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off).

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GL: Is GenX the lost generation?

MG: We’re not lost. I think we are purposefully the bridge. We have a foot in both places. Millennials don’t remember work before the Internet, but we do remember some of the old ways of working that still make sense. At the same time, we’re fully digital and we get that, too.

JN: Because we kind of invented all the Internet (laughs). We actually mention this at the very end of the book. It’s a little clichéd, but we’re all in this together. The millennials don’t actually take over. No one generation ever runs it all by themselves.

We use a Star Wars metaphor. Millennials are Luke and Leia. They’re the heroes.

Maddie Laughing B+W

GL: So does that make us OB1?

Both MG and JN: No, that’s the Baby Boomers.

JN: We’re Han Solo. Yes, we’re cynical, we’re independent, we’re all about taking care of ourselves, but we might save the day in the end.

GL: What is digital’s role in the millennial movement?

MG: The four key capacities that come out of our research — which is this intersection about millennials, what they like, how they operate, and awesome cultures – are digital, clear, fluid and fast.

Digital is the first one and we define digital as the digital mindset, which is about a relentless focus on the user experience. The user is the employee as well is the customer. It’s also about customization and personalization for the middle of the market as well as your top players. Then there’s continuous learning, continuous upgrades.

Millennials are used to having apps on their phone. Any kind of software that they use upgrades itself all the time. They want that in their work experience, their professional development.

GL: Have you seen Slack? Is Slack an example of that?

Maddie Close Up B+W

MG: Yes, we actually use Slack amongst the two of us. I am actually watching Slack pretty closely right now, and am fascinated by them. The reason it’s taking off is that acts in the same way that you can personalize your phones, every individual has a whole different library of apps based on what they want, need and use.

Slack acts in the same way, you connect all of your services, but at the heart of it is social, collaborative and chat, and the core of it is a chat stream. You can personalize your experience. It’s not about one ring to rule it all. It finds a middle way to connect.

JN: It’s just so pleasant to use. It follows what software designers should be doing right following an intense user experience. We argue in our book that you need that same intense user experience focus what it comes to your employees and you run your organization. Why are you not designing your organization with this radical emphasis on does this work for our employees?

The case study we use is a small nonprofit – they’ve only got 22 people – they designed the entire organization around the needs of the employee. Like most of the places we found for our case studies, employees say things like, “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” Or, “I remember what it was like for XYZ company, and I’ll never go back again.”

When they have an opening they get applicants from the best tech companies in town. Not the other way around. Usually, nonprofits lose their best talent to the private sector.

They redesigned their office space and created it with the employee needs in mind, and not senior management. They put the boss out in front in a pod with everyone else, not in an office; because they found when everyone has senior access to senior managers they got their job done more quickly and effectively. There’s open space where they walk together, there’s a yoga room, they have a little coffee area, there’s wifi on the roof even though they are in Chicago. If it works for the employee, that’s what they do.

Their job descriptions are customized every year to the individual based on their career path. You could have two people in the same job with very different job descriptions because they are on different paths in their career. That’s harder work for the organization, but it’s better for the employee. It gets [the nonprofit] this kind of engagement that everyone is searching for in organizations, and they basically get more done than any of their peer organizations.

They put all of their content that they ever created for this association – The American Society for Surgery of the Hand – and put it online. They made it searchable across all platforms in an 18-month platform. It takes most associations 18 months to decide to do anything. They are faster and they get more done even thought they are only 22 people.

MG: Seven of their staff are full-time technology people.

JN: The average spend on technology in the association world is about 4%. They’ve got a third of just their personnel. They also have tablets and laptops and a database system. So they spend a lot more than that on technology.

That was one of our points in the book. You have to at least be on the right side of the technology curve. It’s still just an entry into the game.

GL: With technology today, would you say that we are in a constant stasis of change? How do people deal with that?

Focus on Maddie B+W

MG: This is one of the things that the millennial generation is very comfortable with. They are very comfortable with switching from one piece of software to the next.

GL: What do you think their secret is?

MG: I think it’s literally just based on social media and mobile apps. You have this tool in your pocket every single day, and it changes all the time based on when apps change. They live with this, they communicate with their friends with this, they play games, they do all of these things that continuously change. So they get to the workplace and they don’t understand why they are still using Sharepoint.

JN: I think of the word disruption, and there’s sort of constant disruption. Older generations define that as a problem. I don’t think that word disruption is as problematic for the younger generation.

What the millennial generation is more capacity to deal with the short term. There may be a downside to that; are they looking at the long term enough? But they are really good at dealing with short-term disruption: “This doesn’t work? That’s fine, we’ll just move to the next app.”

In the old world, the scenario would be we spent six months learning this app. We have to use it for another 18 months otherwise there is no ROI on it. [Millennials} say no it doesn’t work anymore, even though six months ago I thought it would, so we’ll just use something new.

MG: This is where the generational difference is in the workplace. A boomer IT manager who is in charge of the budget doesn’t want to buy a new thing every six months. You have to articulate why it is actually good to be flexible in the software you buy. You have to buy it with the understanding that it might not work in six months despite the money and they training you just put everyone through.

GL: Is there one thing you would like impart on today’s Xers and Baby Boomers?

Focus on Jamie B+W

JN: Most senior leaders need to radically shift their focus to their internal culture. Millennials care much more about culture than previous generations did. They literally ask them what matters most when it comes to a job, and culture comes first. Salary comes fourth. That’s not traditionally been how we focus on an inside organization.

So if you aren’t building cultures that make sense to millennials, you are going to lose for a long time. They are going to be your customers and your employees for the next 20 years.

They are the kind of generation that says if you are not doing it for me, I am going to go do it myself. That’s what they grew up with is the ability to do that because they have the social Internet. A lot of organizations say well if I don’t hire you, you’re going to have to go home and live with Mom. And [millennials] say, OK I’ll go home and I’ll start something.

xPotomac Returns on June 12

My DC friends will be happy to know that Patrick Ashamalla, Shonali Burke and I have been very busy over the past few months. We can finally announce xPotomac 15 this June 12.

Our keynote this year is author Mark W. Schaefer, who just released The Content Code, which highlights how the marketing world has gone mad.  In his new book, Mark challenges communicators to break through information density by thinking about audiences in a new way

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This year’s xPotomac returns to the Georgetown University Campus, but will be held at the Healey Family Student Center, which includes an in-building parking garage. Special thanks to our event host and sponsor the Communications Culture and Technology programShana Glickfield, cofounder of the Beekeeper Group, will again emcee xPotomac.

The remaining three sessions and their speakers have been selected:

It’s a data driven world, but you still need creative free thinking to succeed. Senior Vice President for Social@Ogilvy Kathy Baird will discuss some lessons she learned at the Burning Man festival as they apply to digital communications.

Next up, Gannett’s Director of Social Media and Engagement Jodi Gersh and Assistant Managing Editor, Video for the Washington Business Journal Jen Nycz-Conner will discuss how digital media continues to impact the way news is developed and shared.

The first millennials are now 35 years old and taking over executive leadership positions. How does the new digital-savvy leadership impact workplace culture. DC-based authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant will discuss the concepts discussed in their new book, When Millennials Take Over.

After our lunch break, crisis communications expert and Commcore Consulting Founder Andy Gilman will join xPotomac cofounders Shonali Burke and Geoff Livingston for a digital crisis communications bootcamp.  Help resolve a digital crisis live! For those that don’t know Andy, he has counseled clients for 60 Minutes appearances, Congressional hearings, and most notably provided counsel to Johnson & Johnson during the Tylenol 1 crisis and the Government of Canada for the SARS Outbreak.

Register today for xPotomac 15 today! A version of this post also ran on the xPotomac site.

How My Master’s Degree Prepared Me

When people ask me if they should consider a post-graduate degree, I almost always say yes. In many ways, my career success can be directly attributed to my masters degree from Georgetown’s Communications, Culture and Technology (CCT) program.

It’s no coincidence that this February 28th’s xPotomac will be hosted at Georgetown University’s Copley Formal Lounge. My former program is sponsoring the event because it includes many new media and communications elements that their students are studying now.

Even though I graduated in 2000, CCT taught me several core skillsets that I use today at work. In addition to a deeper understanding of communications, I also learned quite a bit about technology and how it impacts media. Further, I learned technology diffusion theory, which is how new tools are adopted by cultures and society. In fact, my masters thesis focused on global wireless Internet adoption.

On a sociological level, we learned how technologies impact cultures and individuals alike. I remember one class where we studied dystopican science fiction literature and movies, and analyzed how they represent deep fears presentented by the technological future.

Now the program has evolved quite a bit in 14 years as has technology itself. Today’s student should benefit from these evolutions.

The CCT Program prepared me for what I write about, how I help companies and nonprofits succeed, and the career I’ve had to date. These results drive my enthusiastic response to friends and colleagues who are considering post-graduate education. If it’s a good program in someone’s field or area of interest, I don’t think they can go wrong. While the theories may seem esoteric, in my experience people will soon see how they impact their sector.

In many ways, this ability to read market dynamics provides a great differentiator. I intuitively understand why things happen, and how to approach them. It saves time, and I think more strategically.

A good professional masters program also offers a chevron for job opportunities. Before I went out on my own, Georgetown was mentioned in almost every interview I had by the potential employer. I never received that kind of attention for my Literature degree from American University.

By the way, I know these things aren’t cheap. The eraning gap between a bachelor’s degree and amaster’s degree is not that great anymore. I paid for my own graduate degree, but I think it was worth it. Just some reasons why I encourage folks to go for more schooling if they are so inclined.

What is your experience with graduate school? Did you avoid it, or do you want to go?

The featured image was taken yesterday at Georgetown University’s CCT Design Technology Studio.

Intentional Culture

Successful start-ups often feature an executive who gets credited for a brilliant product or strong service. The product/service is absolutely necessary for buyers, but the leader is celeberated for the wrong reason. Successful start-ups are made of great people. Great executives build teams and cultures that allow their concepts to come to fruition.

When I consider my past efforts to scale, one thing I want to do differently is build an intentional culture to attract the right talent. The culture will be clear in advance about benefits, lifestyle and tone.

Most start-ups create cultures in a haphazard fashion. They figure it out as they go.

The results are obvious. Lack of growth, high turnover, dysfunctional team behavior including absenteeism, poor work quality and infighting.

A founder’s job (and lead executives, too) is not to be the centerpoint of all things in the company, rather the principle enabler. The intentional culture builds a framework for employees to do their job with as little friction as possible.

The framework gives employees clear parameters to operate in and meet their goals. A leader’s job is to find great people, and then encourage them so they achieve their work and grow professionally.

How can you tell a company is a winner? It produces other winners. Successful cultures are marked by people who leave an organization as stronger more capable members of the workforce, including executives capable of leading their own group or starting their own company.

Hire Great Talent

How many times have you heard people complain about their boss? Tough, but hard, or crazy, or controls and interferes with aspects of the work. Bad management is the number one reason people quit their jobs.

Granted, some complaints are the result of managers balancing workload and nurturing people. If you have happy people and no work getting done, there is a problem. If work is getting done, but people are miserable, you have a problem.

Consistantly unhappy people is a clear signal that points to the founder and/or company executives. Founders and executives who cannot manage against their own shortcomings have a hard time succeeding. Some of it is personality, but at least 2/3 of management skills are teachable.

How can you tell if you are the problem as a founder?

Turnover ratio. Get above 20-30% in a single year, and there is a problem. If you are at 50% turnover, then you have a significant issue that needs to be addressed with either training or a change in leadershop. A 70-80% turnover rate in one year is a damning statement about the founder/executive in question.

One year turnover is bad for a company. You lose your investment of intellectual capital, people don’t grow from the experience, and the business is stymied with work in a constant state of flux. Plus customers are let down and leave, and the executive(s) becomes distracted by consistently recruiting replacements.

Everyone benefits when executives optimize the workplace for happiness. Some tips for founders/executives struggling with this:

1) Nurture people. If an executive (including me in the past) has an attitude of “tough, but fair” then they are pretty much an asshole. There is no room for that, and people do not succeed in a vacuum. This is one of my primary lessons learned. The executive should delegate, but be present to encourage and help employees as necessary. They are the ultimate coach, and in helping employees succeed, they win, too.

2) Employees are the center of the workplace universe. Executive attention is good for attracting business, but inside a company an executive competing for the most acknowledgement sucks the emotional life out of the larger team. An executive looks good when the staff performs well and are considered heroes by customers.

Don’t be the hero, make heroes. Want attention? Be a soloproneur. Want to make money? Build teams of stars.

3) Successfully getting work done while keeping people happy is a balancing act. An executive needs to nurture while getting team members to commit to getting work completed. Be random in rewards so they don’t become an expectation, but always be clear to acknowledge successes and strong efforts.

4) When it comes to feedback — a necessary component of getting work done — in person or on the phone is best. Emailed feedback is almost always a disaster (yes, experience again). Avoid giving negative feedback in writing if at all possible. Rather than expressing disapointment, offer your vision and a desire for better quality. Always show the desired outcome, and offer solutions so someone can learn how to get there.

How the Framework Helps

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Image by Chris Perardi.

Hiring great people as a start-up is a challenge because of size and risk. Once you get them on board — given an intentional framework and the right attitude of nurturing/work balance — an executive can focus on building the business. When people can’t succeed in the framework and an executive’s assistance, well, there is little you can do other than to move on.

In my mind, part of a good framework is work/life balance. The company has ethics and principles and that drives work ethos. Then there are random rewards for performance, and stated ones, e.g benefits. These create balance.

Expected benefits, which in many ways define the spirit of the company, also attract (or repel) candidates. Here are some of the things I am doing with Tenacity5:

1) Four weeks off, vacation, personal and/or sick leave. No questions asked. One month notice in writing is required for more than two consecutive days off (past lessons learned). Team members who work with the organization for more than two years will get five weeks off. Why so much time? I want to employ rested people that deliver great creative content and strategies on deadline.

2) The work must get done, but perhaps not 9-5. Flexible hours are acceptable so long as the work gets done.

3) Junior staff can telework one day a week. Executives may be hired who work from home (if they are in a different city without an office) or if there is an office they can telework two days a week.

4) Healthcare will be paid for in total by the company.

5) If the company achieves more than 20% profitability over costs in any quarter, profit sharing will occur with all team mebers.

6) No one will be staffed on more than three accounts. It is to the clients’ and the employees’ benefit that work doesn’t get diffused. Further, employees become more capable when they learn the ins and outs of a particular business sector.

7) A new MacBook Air is provided to all new employees. If an employee stays for more than 18 months, they keep the laptop as a bonus.

Generally, this is considered a very generous compensation package. It matches my concept of a framework for an intentional culture. There is a lot to be happy about, and hopefully that will attract employees who normally would go to more established businesses. Further, given the framework and the right management attitude, I believe that people will attend to their work with enhtusiasm.

What do you think?

Featured image by FDF Photo.

SciFi Nerd Dream Come True

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Since this weekend marks the unofficial beginning of summer, and I already know how my summer will end, let’s talk science fiction.

I registered for the 71st World Science Fiction Convention this coming Labor Day weekend. It will be a nerd dream come true on a few levels.

First, the prestigious Hugo Awards are given out at the event. I plan on reading the five nominees and submitting a ballot by July 31. It will be awesome to see the program, meet science fiction authors, and talk about the craft.

Then there is the costume contest. I went to the Emerald City ComicCon last year during a layover in Seattle. What a crazy event! The costumes were wild and fun, and, well, nerdy! The science fiction convention costumes may be even crazier!

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What IS the Right Culture?

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Image by kingdom of dreams

Normally, it’s hard not to read articles on workplace culture. The Yahoo! mandate to end telework and return to the workplace has sparked a tidal wave of such commentary. All of these articles invariably discuss the right culture, which of course begs the question, “What IS the right culture?”

To me, that’s an extremely open and subjective question.

It’s amusing to read the social media marketing and masthead bloggers take this topic on. They almost always leads to a mandate for an open transparent culture that’s fully interactive with everyone weighing in. “This is social business, the heart of the 21st century enterprise!”

What’s good for the social media company is not necessarily true for real world businesses.
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