Part One of Two:
Since declaring I was going to write a book focused on helping the Millennials prepare for the leadership challenges ahead I have been reaching out to my network to get their perspectives, interviewing thought leaders and being genuinely curious about the cultures in many different organizations and agencies.
What are the organizations the Millies are attracted to?
What type of organization will likely keep them satisfied, challenged and growing?
How much have things changed since I was a twenty/thirty something making my way up the corporate ladder?
What norms of my era are now extinct or should be?
I have declared my passion for and commitment to the development of Millennial talent, and I am also committed to learning about and investing in developing young women and girls. I recently joined the US Women's Chamber of Commerce and the American Association of University Women. I want to learn more about what challenges young women face, since I have an almost 19 year old college sophomore and an almost 5 year old pre-school daughters, I want their experience to be even better than what I experienced, which was even better than what my mom experienced.
I am incredibly blessed with a large circle of very accomplished men and women in my life right now. And I recently have been meeting with some of those women and we have been reflecting on 'the good ole days.' And what we are finding is they weren't always all that good.
Sexual harassment, although we did not call it that then, was pretty prevalent. You had to 'be one of the guys' and fit in with the sexual innuendos if you wanted to be considered for the club. I admit in my early twenties I played into some of the banter, and much of it was seemingly harmless. You had to look the other way at those sales meetings when the guys would all head off to the strip joints after long days of business. A few of the guys stayed behind, but even some of them felt the pressure if the head boss was springing for cocktails and ummm, dances.
I recall my share of lower pay for equal work, being told I had to wear a dress and a suit to a meeting where my male counter parts could wear a golf shirt, that I shouldn't worry my pretty little head about all that budget nonsense.
Oh I could go on with what was commonplace. I remember being with a group of my male peers about 5:30 in the evening, and I was the senior person there. The big boss came up to the group and looked at me and asked if I could fax something for him. Me and my big mouth I said, "funny you picked me, John knows how to use the fax machine too!" I always had a pretty passionate way of expressing myself, so I had no problems telling some people what was not appropriate, especially the pinching, grabbing and touching.
I actually recall slapping one manager across the face when I was about 30 years old. I was worried I was going to lose my job, but apparently he was drunk and didn't remember. Over the years with the enforcement of anti-harassment and discrimination laws in place, it seems to have gotten better.
The women in the workforce today do NOT need to tolerate that and even when it is in "good fun" not everyone thinks it's fun. I welcome any thoughts about what is actually happening out there.
Let's get the work done, have some fun, but keep it respectful!
Part One of Two:
So I guess part of this blogging thing is getting to know the author a little bit. I am married to Todd Ermi, a former leader at Procter & Gamble where we met, and he is also a stroke survivor. We are blessed that he is with us today and he gets Father of the Year Awards in our house. He is dad to 18+ year old Alexandra or Lexie (a college sophomore and literary genius), and is a stay-at-home dad to 4 1/2 year old Kate (preschooler extraordinaire). I will blog about what we learned about the brain and recovery from Todd's 2001 episode in a future post.
Last weekend, Todd, Kate and I ventured to the damp soccer fields of our Montgomery County Maryland school district with dozens of other families to the kick off practice of the Damascus Soccer Club. It was our first foray into this phenomenon that millions of others have blazed the trails before us. Kate proudly dressed in shin guards, cleats and uniform dredged onto the field with a dozen or so other preschoolers for some soccer fun. Coach Ivan was terrific. He was fun and put the kids at ease immediately. As I looked around at the three other teams, one of the other coaches had the kids immediately starting to scrimmage, but Coach Ivan took a different approach. Now remember these kids are 3 and 4 for the most part.
- Instead of diving right into kicking the ball towards a goal, he got them warmed up.
- Stretches, running drills, run forwards, backwards, sideways.
- Little steps, big steps, run up to the lines on the field and stop before you cross it, catch the red towel, dodge the red towel, chase the Coach, block the Coach.
The kids were laughing and screaming and all along learning fundamentals of soccer, but it was more like play. Then he introduced the ball. Before they actually started kicking the ball, the kids knew the boundaries, how to maneuver their bodies in different ways, and how to pay attention to the one with the red cloth. The basics! Now, let's use the ball, let's charge the goal, let's kick a goal, let's break into teams with the red pinnys (I hadn't thought of the word 'pinny' since high school - pinafore, do they even call them that anymore?!)
So why do we promote an individual contributor who has been relatively successful into a management role and start them immediately with the ball and expect them to score goals? We assume they can figure it out on their own. I literally heard a senior leader tell me the other day as he spoke of a newly promoted 28 year old, "they are smart, they can ask questions and they'll figure it out on their own." Really? Oh my...Do we really expect to give a new manager the ball and expect them to score a goal out of the gates? There may be the rare one that can do this effectively, but let's get real people. And let's go back to the soccer field and try again. What are the boundaries of their decision making and influence? What red towels do they need to avoid? Follow? Can they run backwards and forwards and sideways and not fall down too much, and if they fall, where do they go? Who is their coach? Is the coach qualified? Let's make learning fun! And don't talk to them in a language that only DC United can understand, or Jack Welch.
Many companies understand the importance of new supervisor training and it is imbedded in their culture, however there are many others that are not investing in their growing talent, and they are missing out on an opportunity to strengthen their leadership bench and grow the talent from within. While on the surface this investment may be costly, but remember that regrettable turnover can cost 2 to 10 times the annual salary. Saving one regrettable loss due to lack of development can pay for a lot of development! Let's think about in terms of real cash. Let's say the average salary of a new supervisor is $50,000 a year. They leave because no one has invested in them. At a minimum you have lost $50,000 in now having to interview and source for new people, the delay in work, missed deadlines, morale impact on others, etc. You can provide some excellent development solutions with $50,000 and a lot less!
It more than pays for us to develop the talent we already have to prepare them for more responsibility in the future. In Jim Collins Good to Great he sites that 9 of the 11 'great' leaders were from a promote from within culture. And The Procter & Gamble Company has a century old practice of promote from within and they have remained a Fortune 10 company for as long as I can recall. Let's equip our emerging leaders with the tools to succeed. A resource out there that is quickly spreading regarding moving from peer to leader is Kevin Eikenberry and Guy Harris's From Bud to Boss book and workshops.
Like the Coach Ivan with the kids, work with them at their level, push them gradually, make it fun, and they will focus and deliver.
Someone told me today that the Millennials are the Video generation. When they are done with the game they can hit "start over" and begin a new game and forget all about the one they were playing. This mentality apparently is spilling over into the workforce because leaders are complaining about the high turnover of this group, and anyone who is in the corporate world knows that the cost of turnover is 2 to 10 times the salary of that job. I heard today about a big organization that is investing millions into their Millennial talent. They are providing a leadership coach to all their high potentials and investing in them using tools, methodologies and mediums that are meaningful to them. This organization is going out of their way to ensure that the skills and experience the coaches have are compatible with the Millies. That they have an open mind and believe that they bring something truly positive and that once you connect with them and show you respect them for what they bring, they are in your pocket. They want to exude a sense of loyalty to the talent and are optimistic about their loyalty in return. It would benefit us to understand the future leaders of our world and this writer is passionate about learning more about them and helping them prepare to take on more.
In the book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by Neil Howe and William Strauss, they site surveys that show this group is optimistic, happy, confident and positive. Socio-economics taken into consideration, they worry less about violence, sex and drugs than previous generations. Millennials are not the self-absorbed brats that some managers and supervisors claim they are, they were raised to be cooperative team players with community service and working with others and a collective power mindset. They have a passion for the environment and believe it is their generation that is being raised to make a difference. They are smart, too. They grew up with computers before they could even pronounce the word. Health, preventative care and nutrition have taken a more important role than that of the Gen X group. Their school fire drills are about preparing for attacks with events like Columbine, 9/11, Oklahoma City bombing, the DC Sniper and Virginia Tech as benchmarks. Other influencing factors were the OJ Simpson trial, Rodney King riots, Clinton impeachment, Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Princess Di's death are all events the shaped this era according to a Class of 2000 survey. Active military deployments in the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan are commonplace.
I want to encourage our current leaders to embrace this emerging audience. A bit of encouragement to nurture that optimism is not a lot to ask. How we had to scratch our way up is not how they intend to live their lives. They are here, and they do not have the propensity to be "here to stay" if the organizational culture is questionable. We need to make that effort to give them a reason to stay. Telling them "you're lucky to have a job" ain't it. Game over.
Welcome to the first edition of The Ermi Group Blog. I am new to this great media phenomenon so I will be starting out with a combination of original posts, and also asking some of my amazing friends and colleagues to be guest bloggers!
Ever get exposed to a new concept and then not be able to get enough of it? That is my new obsession of Generation Jones. Jonathan Pontell coined the term and it has been on TV and various news programs, but I apparently missed it, as have most of the “Joneses” I know. I have heard a few versions of who is included in this new sub-generation. But it makes perfect sense that the group I belong to has to have it’s own subset. For years I thought I related to being a Baby Boomer, in fact, I recall proudly categorizing myself in this group of esteemed trailblazers when I was in my late 20s and early 30s. It seemed to fit, sort of, and I always had a thing for being “the youngest” to achieve something, or receive an award, or be promoted or following in my dad’s footsteps, yet a few years earlier than he achieved milestones. Then, I was no longer in the “high potential” up and comer group. The Generation X crowd took over and they had a beat of their own. They did not seem to want to work as many hours as I was. They came in later than I did and had a life. I was a little jealous at the life, but then a little bitter that I was putting in tremendous hours and seemingly being paid the same. Then that was back in the day that the good ole boys tolerated having women because they had a quota. Wow, we really have come a long way. Women in the workforce is a given, but the data seems to support that we still are not paid equally.
I have in recent years shared with my coaching clients that while I worked ridiculous hours and climbed the ladder and won awards, there is not one person in my life that was around when I put in all those hours, ruined my first marriage, and took the verbal abuse of my senior leaders that were bigots and chauvinists. Yes, we have come a long way. My two daughters will have it easier potentially, and I had it easier than the women that blazed that trail before me. Recently my husband purchased Season One of the classic drama thirtysomething. It debuted in 1987, two years into my professional career. I remember watching it every Tuesday night at 9 pm (or 10?) Hope, Michael, Nancy, Elliot, Melissa, Gary and Ellyn were a part of our family. It was the first show that really represented who we were becoming.
While I was really twentysomething, these were our role models. The Don Draper of the late 80s. And interestingly, ad men of 90s vs the MadMen of the 60s. These two shows have really been weighing on me and my need to write and to describe the journey to ultimately help the Millennials get ready to take on their legacy. Events and culture shape our lives, and this sub-set born between 1953-1964 had some influences that may mirror the Millennials (Millies-some say Gen Y, but my 18 year old Millie likes Millennials better so that is what I will call her!). Korea, Kennedy’s, Vietnam, Man on the Moon, TV dinners, and a lot of expectations that we will attend college (if socioeconomically we were fortunate of enough to have this as an option) but once we came of age, the environment was very different. Now we live a life of abundance and excess. We are ‘Jonesing” even still. My husband makes fun of me but I am always dreaming about the future, about home improvements, about vacations, about fun, about hard work, about what’s next. While I do not think we have to keep up with Joneses because we are the Joneses, we are redefining ourselves, wanting to keep up and connect with the generation being poised to replace us.
People I train in performance management and consult with I hear complaining about how the Millennials are spoiled, they expect rewards and positive feedback all the time, and if they are not satisfied with their growth, they move on. They do not want or need to pay their dues, which the Jonesers most certainly had to. But we RAISED these people! We gave them stickers for going potty, celebrated their every move! Over-engineered their lives with soccer, basketball, pep squad, piano lessons, AP classes, and lavish birthday parties. Of course they want to be rewarded. We did it to them, and now it is hardwired. They don’t know any other way. And now we complain about it. We need to get over ourselves and embrace them, throw them a bone of praise when they deserve it and learn from them. They know technology like no one’s business. When I was in high school there was one mammoth computer for the entire school, in college there were a few in a separate classroom and we had to sign up to get time with it. There was no email, there were not even answering machines never mind voicemail and text. The Millennials have leveraged technology from the get go. In fact my 4 ½ year old downloaded How to Survive High School and Tetris on my cell phone (before it was ‘Smart”) at 9 months old and actually figured out how to find it! I didn’t even know I had it until my bill was $40 higher one month! Now she wizzes through the iPad and programs and downloads her own Netflix movies. I better learn how to use those parental controls with this one!
So what does all this mean about leadership? What did Gen Joneses learn that mainline Boomers may not have?
What do Millennials seek that will keep them happy in the workforce? What will the Feds do when the Boomers “bail out?” Will the Millennials find a career in the Feds satisfying and meaningful? What does a heart for public service mean in this day and age and era? What will the legacy be of the Millennials? What will be their unique brand of leadership?
Some of my peers and older would complain about all the texting and lack of verbal and handwritten communication of this latest generation. “They won’t even know how to interview or have a conversation.” I am not sure this is true. The Millennials I have met and coached are eager, and want to contribute. Perhaps their written communication skills look a lot different than mine did, I am not sure it really matters as long as the message comes across as intended. In my early email days, more conflict arose from the written word and our little voices/gremlins inside reading it in the wrong tone. Maybe some needless conflict would have been avoided with a LOL or J icon.
The days of the “my way or the highway” boss is dwindling. These Millies watched us take our beatings, get laid off with and without severance, and line up in the unemployment line. The job market now is not unlike that of the early 80s before those memorable Reagan years of prosperity. They are not going to take it and we need to just deal with that. “You’re lucky to have a job” does not resonate with this group. Their needs are different, they had everything growing up, they lived a life of abundance, and they really are looking for simplicity.
My next post will be more on this topic and what I have learned about leadership!