Year-end Reflections - December 31, 2012
December is an interesting month. In business it signifies year-end for many. Closing out ‘the books’ and analyzing expenses among other things take up the time of many a finance professional. The first three weeks are often a flurry of activity preparing for the near shut-down of businesses world-wide between Christmas and New Years. Traffic increases, stores are crowded, kids are bouncing off the walls trying to stay on the nice list. Countless managers are gathering feedback for performance reviews, and checking if goals were met or exceeded. Some organizations tie pay to performance. Others provide COLAs (cost of living increases), others give holiday bonuses, or extra time-off.
I set some personal goals for myself in January, and tried to be intentional in reviewing my progress since I really do not have a manager asking me to do so. I tweaked my goals along the way to reflect changing environmental factors. My goals were focused on managing stress, and taking care of myself and family. I set business goals for The Ermi Group which included researching/writing a book, keynote speeches and workshops regarding Leading Millennials. The book is a work-in-progress and I conducted a few keynotes and several Leading Millennials workshops. It was a good year overall. And my streamlined personal goal was quality time with family, and I feel good about achieving that too.
It was an important year of discovering where my energy was most needed. If you have been reading my entries you would know that my husband is a stroke survivor. Ten years ago on July 1 he suffered a ‘freak’ stroke at age 38. He no longer works outside the home, and has been an amazing stay-at-home dad. The six year old started kindergarten and the 20 year old is a junior in college. So new routines had to be created, and if you know anything about brain injury, the short-term memory is often impacted, and hard-wiring new concepts takes a lot longer than for other people.
Very busy times for both girls and mom and dad. My biggest discovery this year was I need to be more present at home. Both physically and mentally. I spent much of the last 10 years as a workaholic in corporate roles, then starting my own consulting firm. I pretty much buzzed in and out of the family on a part-time basis. But I realize that Kate will be a 20 year old before I know it, and I was missing these precious moments of discovery. Cuddles, snuggles and laughs. And Todd needs some help in creating those routines that make things run smoothly.
So, I declared more quality time with family, and it has truly been a gift. I created additional office space on the main floor of our home in order to be more plugged-in to the day-to-day events. As a result, I am being more intentional about traveling, how long I can be gone and making sure I plan in family time before and after being away. I feel very strongly about volunteering and have a service-oriented value system. I used to do it all on my own, now I am choosing things we can do as a family when possible, like going to Hurricane Sandy survivors with donations and a heart to help.
In past years I did not think life balance was possible. I have learned much from my Millennial colleagues that assume balance should be part of the employment proposition. Of course there are some compromises in achieving balance. Having an executive salary versus your own firm, prioritizing family, it changes the landscape a bit. And it does not have to be a negative. I started clipping coupons. I saved $38 at the grocery store last week. I used to have a hard time passing by a Gymboree or Kids Gap, but Target has some great clothes for kids. And how many outfits does she actually need at age 6? Going out to lunch is one of my guilty pleasures. And if I am working from home, I can eat leftovers or soup and not starve! Setting priorities and focusing on what is really important makes lifestyle shifts a gradual process and quite doable. Those Sonoma/Napa boutique vineyards were sure fun while it lasted, wonderful memories were created. There are some very decent wines at a reasonable price point. We once belonged to a wine club that was about $100. We recently rediscovered the original Wine of the Month Club for $34! And the wines were really good!
The curse of the younger Baby Boomers, especially we Generation Jonesers who grew up wanting it all and wanting it now. I hear many of us planning our downsizing, minimizing, and prioritizing. Some have burned through 401Ks as the economy dropped, underwater real estate, college tuitions, starting our own businesses and reinventing ourselves. And it’s ok. We are going to have to work until we are 80 anyway! The fiscal cliff. What’s the diff? As if.
So it is about finding something you love. Discovering your gifts, passions, potential. We are not done yet! Not even close! We are resilient. We are flexible. And we are ready for what’s next.
In 2013 I want meaningful work and priceless time with family and friends. God will take care of the rest.
Good News About Millennials - July 30, 2012
It has been about one year since I felt inspired to learn all I can about the 78 million Millennials (or Gen Y) and try to help businesses and Millennials engage and connect. I have about a dozen books on the subject, researched 30-40 articles, interviewed about 50 people and have led workshops and keynotes all over the country. I think the hype around “The Millennials are Coming” has been overplayed, and the reality is there are just a lot of misperceptions. Probably the biggest a-ha is that they need a little hand holding at first. They are used to a lot of structure and they just need to be shown, and also a lot structure in the beginning. What was I like at the same age? I needed some direction for sure, and I think the younger Boomers/ Gen Xers were a lot more autonomous is all, and that is the rub in the workforce now. I just conducted a workshop for a 20 managers and the eyes were rolling when I reviewed what their Millennial new hires said they needed more of. Here is a sampling from about 50 Millennials on what they said would help them thrive.
- Structure – clear guidelines and expectations. Need to know exactly what to expect. (Fear of failing, and needing acceptance and pats on the back is what keep them going.)
- A Career Path – goal-oriented parents set these expectations. Also these same parents likely gave their lives to their career, so they want to see the progression, raises and promotions. When their parents got raises, their allowance went up.
- Positive Feedback – need to know they are on the right track. Heating nothing discourages and distracts them.
- A Fun Environment – stuffy workplace or drab office is a turn off.
- Updated technology, apps, programs – outdated technology is a step back in time and a turn off.
- Unique and Challenging Opportunities – many traveled extensively and exotically as a child, constant upgrades of gaming units, so get bored easily.
- Reward the Whole Team – Many do not want to be called out amongst their peers. Used to traveling in packs. A safety in numbers mentality as a carry over from 9/11 reactions.
The Millennials I have observed are not the spoiled, arrogant brats the media or old school managers have made them out to be. They are confident because of the positive messages they heard about themselves growing up (why is that horrible?). They are involved in many extra-curricular activities with non-profits and causes (explains why they don’t live to work), and they need some guidance, a little spoon feeding which very much frustrates their thirty something bosses that were left to figure it all out for themselves.
Pew Research/ Wikipedia
Remember what we have learned about neuroscience and hard wiring. We are expecting them to come into the workforce thinking like a Gen X, but they were not raised the same way. I had several Gen X managers a bit frustrated by this notion.
One of my favorite sayings in the workplace has been “Pay me now or pay me later but either way you are going to pay.” Meaning, if I don’t invest in my people up front, if I don’t go out of my way to teach them, guide and mentor them, tell them what I think is obvious, then I will be spending a lot more time after the fact, and then I will be really frustrated. So let me take the time now. Invest in them now. Hand hold them now. Then how pleasantly surprised I will be when they take it on themselves, take a few risks, try new things. Innovate, create, own it.
Ahhh, yes, then I can lean back and watch what engagement, loyalty and empowerment look like. No, I know it is not that easy. But it does not have to be that hard. We make it more complex because we don’t want to do it. I saw it in the faces. I hear it with my coaching clients. “If everyone just did their jobs….”, “If they just did what I said…”
How about “If they only heard it the way I meant it.” Or “If they were only engaged and passionate about their work.” Or, “What could I be doing better/differently as a leader?”
Bonnie and the Boomers - June 15, 2012
Last night my husband and I went to see Bonnie Raitt at Wolf Trap, a lovely outdoor venue in northern Virginia. It is one of those traditions that helps kick off summer. We are big concert fans, and each year try to see 3-4 shows. The last time I saw Bonnie was July 9, 1994. It was my birthday and I had just moved to Cincinnati, OH. She toured with Bruce Hornsby that year, and it was an incredible show. What a talented artist she is. So when the concert schedule came out and she was featured, I was thrilled to get lawn seats to the sold out show. As many of you might know, the ‘lawn’ at these outdoor venues has its own personality. As I get older, I tend to prefer seats to the lawn, and I will admit, I have been pretty spoiled in recent years with premium seats to shows like U2, Cold Play, Train, John Mayer and Maroon 5. The last time I was on the lawn was at Merriwether Post Pavillion to see Jack Johnson a couple of years ago and while it was an amazing show, I vowed to never ‘do the lawn’ again.
Wolf Trap is different. It is an intimate venue which allows you to bring coolers and adult beverages of your own! The ritual begins by arriving to secure a strategic parking spot around 5 pm. (Exiting these shows can be a nightmare.) They don’t let you in to fend for your piece of real estate until 90 minutes before show time, so you schlep up to the entrance and wait with the other fans. We arrive at the gate about 5:40 and there were probably 200 people ahead of us. I looked around in delight to see that these fans were a sea of Baby Boomers.
As most of you who follow me know, I am passionate about Millennials and have been hanging out with a lot of them lately. So obviously I am older than dirt by comparison, and my ego has been recovering from that. But not THIS crowd! I am actually a ‘cusper. A young Boomer, or an old Xer, or my new favorite subgroup I wrote about, Generation Jones. But these fans were hard core Boomers. I loved it! I even saw a friend from college from across the crowd! It made me think back to when I saw the Eagles, Heart and Little River Band at the Yale Bowl on June 14, 1980 (the last concert for that venue!). I did not know it was EXACTLY 32 years ago that I saw them until I started writing this today. So strange how that day came up so clearly last night. It was all the same people. Just 32 years later. The same familiar energy. Driven, fun, laughing, light, and fabulous. It was exhilarating.
About 7000 people attended last night. And there was a lot of white hair, no hair, and colored hair. And everyone was so comfortable in their skin. There was a confidence surrounding me that I had forgotten I have earned. As I approach 50 next year I have started to think about age more than I have in previous years. I did not know I was ‘old’ until one of my darling 30 year old protégés clued me in that I am (compared to her.) But in this crowd I was actually young! And it felt great! These are the parents of the subject I have become obsessed with – Millennials! And it is no wonder these Millennials are smart, tech savvy and want it now. I looked around preshow and everyone had their smart phones out. It was hysterical. Wine in one hand, iPhone in the other.
I hold Bonnie Raitt in high regard. Her music always spoke to me, and her energy is that of wisdom, grace and class. She is very cool in my book. And I won a few Karaoke contests singing her songs!
Mavis Staples opened for her, and she came out and played a song with her and the crowd roared. It was so nice to experience her talent with such a civilized group of people. It was a cathartic experience in many ways. I embraced that I am a Baby Boomer in many ways, and I appreciate all the generations before and after me. Today I am feeling grounded, centered and grateful.
We get to see Joe Walsh at Wolf Trap next. Now that crowd will be interesting!
Millennial Madness: May Showers of Hope - May 4, 2012
I found myself waiting at the SLC Airport surrounded by twelve high school seniors headed to DC for a graduation trip and college visits. They are well armed with their technology (as am I, so at least I fit in from that perspective). They all have a handheld device of some sort – Samsung, iPhone, Droid, all the major brands are well represented.
Five have laptops – Mac, Dell. Six have iPods plugged in their ears, while they are all multi-tasking. They are also having very vigorous conversations (which bursts the myth that they do not know how to talk to each other.) One young man is clearly obsessed with technology (the Mac guy) and he has rambled off the names of at least 30 different plug ins, apps, hardware, and takes pride in showing his female peer with the Dell all about it. Twitter feeds, Facebook profile pics, and You-Tube clips. They all talk about food too. Food is a universal language for us all, and this group of Millennials are no exception.They are also doing a fine job of keeping an eye on each other as their boarding time draws near. Genuine concern for their friends.
As I lift up my head from my Inspiron-mini I see two large groups of young Millennials arriving from their location for a Rocky Mountain retreat. A musical group maybe? Their matching shirts actually look like the Mad Men logo although I know that can’t be true. A plethora of diversity. Young men, women, and numerous cultural backgrounds. It warms this writers heart to see this as a normal condition.
I hear many of our leaders expressing concern about the Millennials ability to communicate verbally. Many eye rolls at their ability to write in anything but text-ease. But you know, I feel increasingly more confident as I am immersed in this Millennial moment that their parents raised them the best they could. Exposed them to so many opportunities, and gave them an amazing start. Just like any other generation, there will be some that thrive, and others that will not. And I think we will see this generation thriving more than not. I am happy to be a mentor to pass over the reigns. I don’t need to lead any longer. I am in the deconstruction of my career ego, and focusing more on how I can make an impact. It is sort of a relief.
I had the opportunity to train at a large Military-base. My class was filled with retired military recently hired into a civilian federal agency. Most were younger Boomers and older Gen Xers, with one lone Millennial. It was interesting to hear about those who ascended to fairly high leadership ranks prior to their retirement just wanting to get a job, keep their head low, and NOT lead. But in reality, the real leaders stand out. They couldn’t keep away, they want to be a role-model, a mentor. As much as they wanted to fight the urge, and achieve the life balance, they can’t help but fulfill a calling to make an impact. I related to them. The word wisdom came up a lot. This lone Millennial was very talented among the sage group. And they showed her respect. Wanted to hear her perspective. And she THRIVED!
I think it is that simple. To get the most out of Millennials, show them respect, that their voice matters. That your HEAR them, not just see them.