Monday, July 26, 2010

Leading Millennials: Inspire & Be Inspired (Part II)

[...continued] This post started as a response to Travis Robertson's blog post The Millennial Revolution: An Experiment. What evolved lies below. Please continue the discussion here or on Travis' blog.

A collaborative, diverse, interesting and fun culture play into some aspects of the Millennial Generation, but there is a need for so much more. In the slew of conversations I have with peers and direct reports each week, I hear resoundingly that the "job" at hand is a stepping stone to a greater passion. That is not to say that these individuals are disengaged from the work at hand, in fact rarely is that so. Remember, these workers were raised with high expectations for performance in the classroom, on the ball field, and at home. While privileged, many come with perfectionistic tendencies.

The challenge every organization faces today is to engage each individual according to their skills (to benefit the company) AND their passions (to benefit the individual AND the company). One without the other leaves both parties wanting, and the relationship is short-lived (but you might get a twitter marketing campaign out of it).

This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for organizations. Those that get this balance right will have a far more loyal workforce, will attract employee referrals, project a positive corporate image in social media, and have opportunities to couple company culture with world-changing opportunities and organizations. The hard work consists of building genuine relationships with EVERY employee, not just the perceived top talent, and not just because it is a checklist item, but because it creates a bond that a pension no longer makes. This relationship building takes a lot of listening, it takes asking meaningful questions, and pressing in to find the passion that each "millennial" clings to. It can't be faked, or you erect a relational curtain (Read more). Relationships take time.

In fact, I suspect that EVERY person has these passions, these dreams to save the world, and it is up to us, the business leaders, CEOs, and Executives, to listen, encourage, inspire, and lead. We lead now on two fronts, each requiring equal thought and action; 1) Our responsibility to our organization and driving business, and 2) Our responsibility to our people locally, and our people globally.

This does not put business leaders in the backseat just along for the ride. This is not an either or choice, it is a both and. The relationship goes both ways. We have an incredibly challenging and rewarding course ahead. Not only to listen, encourage, inspire, and lead, but to do all this while teaching through our own (and others) stories how devotion, commitment, and loyalty have led to great successes through the course of our own lives.

(Hope this helps Travis!)

I don't have it all figured out, but neither does PWC. It sounds as though they are still muddling through the details of managing millennials as well. Read more here.

Additional Resources:
The M-factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace

Leading Millennials: Inspire & Be Inspired (Part I)

This post started as a response to Travis Robertson's blog post The Millennial Revolution: An Experiment. What evolved lies below. Please continue the discussion here or on Travis' blog.

I find myself in an interesting position with a unique opportunity as both a manager and a "millennial," working from the "inside" to help my organization both recruit, train, develop, inspire, and retain the X,Y, Zs. I have been blessed to work primarily with two companies that may be a bit more forward thinking when it comes to this relationship due to their corporate cultures, but still have opportunities none-the-less. Both Starbucks and "a technology company" are known for their leadership, training & development, innovation, customer service, products, etc. as well as their culture-oriented environments. And both attract an onslaught of "millennials," as customers and employees alike.

Over the course of the last 6 years I have had the privilege of welcoming many college age workers into the workforce, as both of these companies provide incredible work opportunities for college students. In fact, that is how I found myself slinging lattes for 5 years (my first job out of undergrad). There were multiple times I fought the urge to leave for a "better opportunity," and those were pivotal times for my own growth and development, and also allowed me to better connect with and understand the challenges of my staff. It also provided deeply personal anecdotes about my struggles that I share in daily interactions with my team.

Since I am "one of them" I have embraced my role as an agent helping shape a portion of the newly rising workforce, and have worked hard to understand the needs and contributions of both sides (the company, and the individual). This discussion, in my opinion, hinges on fostering honest conversations between both sides, recognizing the needs of both equally, and working together to grow profits, encourage passions, and impact the global community.

First, let's begin with the socio-economic culture shifts that have happened since the generation of baby-boomers. With parents mired from the want of the Great Depression, many of our parents were reared with the expectation that a good job with a pension was the stability and "success" that was desired. That payed off delightfully for corporations (mostly), and allowed us to be raised without a need to save aluminum foil and Ziploc® bags. The expectation of higher education (and funds to attend) became more and more prevalent. Thus the generation of degree holding millennials has emerged more educated and anxious to save the world than ever (or so it feels). And without a fear of want.

Add to this, that pensions are fading faster than a black shirt without Cheer ColorGuard, the ubiquity of an information/communication revolution called the internet, and a slew of "world problems." The idea of walking lock-step with a single company for a decade is seemingly unpragmatic. It seems limiting.

There is no longer a cultural need to hunker down, get safe, and grind out 30 years with one organization to protect against depression-era fears. The greater fears now are the perils facing our world; AIDS, poverty, environmental preservation, clean water, curing diseases, etc. Coupled with the ease of promoting causes and rallying support, it is now not unfathomable to think that the idea of one person funded with only a few dollars and an incredible amount of passion and devotion can have an impact on a grand scale ( InvisibleChildren, Kito International, Charity Water, the list goes on). The perceived "need" to be a company man is fading. The millenials may be on to something...

[continued...Part II]

How does the millennial generation fit into the workplace? How do we engage them in the important work of serving our customers?
Additional Resources:
The M-factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is this Unreasonable?

Two weeks ago I met Nikhil Dandavati (an incredible social entrepreneur!) at the Denver Linchpin Meetup. Here, he told me about a project he was working on called the Unreasonable Institute . I haven't stopped thinking about it since that night, and am addicted to the Unreasonable TV episodes. So, I am compelled to pass this along.

Twenty-two Social Entrepreneurs from around the globe are gathered in the start-up rich valley of Boulder, CO for 10 weeks this summer to be mentored, stretched, encouraged, and to collaborate on ideas that will impact the world in the coming years. This social venture incubator has attracted mentors and guides from a variety of organizations including Gregory Miller, former Managing Director at, Coca-Cola, Foundry Group , and a slew of other venture capital firms.

This Unreasonable Institute is the culmination of the hard work put in by 6 recent CU Grads who have not been deterred by the faltering economy. They are an inspiration to all of us who have dreams of changing the world. In a short 12 months they have put together an incredible pool of individuals, both innovative social entrepreneurs AND folks who can provide the direction and capital to ensure success.

My favorite venture is Kito International which, in the words of Kito's founder Maria Springer of L.A.,

"partners with street youth to harness their entrepreneurial spirit, providing the training and tools they need to launch their own microenterprise, become self-sufficient and move off the streets forever."

Thank you to the six founders of the Unreasonable Institute for your work to inspire and encourage not only the 22 social entrepreneurs that are a part of the inaugural Unreasonable Global Summit, but myself and the many others who dream to impact the world in these ways.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to his environment.
The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt his environment to himself.
Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man [and woman]."

- George Bernard Shaw

***Updates*** Other articles or blogs written about Unreasonable Institute
WhatGives365 (365 days of giving supports UI this month)
inc. Magazine What Happens When 25 Unreasonable Fellows Get Together?
Entrepreneur The Unreasonable Institute

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Poker & Raves Change the World by Delivering Happiness -- Zappos

Poker winnings and late night raves led Tony Hsieh to head a $928 million tribe (by the time he joined forces with Amazon in 2009).

His book (released today) Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose is the continuation of the movement Tony started more than 10 years ago with Zappos . It is now about far more than shoes – it is about changing the world.

This is not your typical run-of-the mill internet start-up story. Instead, Tony's fledgling shoe company started a revolution. It was (and is) a movement away from the normalcy of corporate governance, the mystery of management curtains , and the leverage of corporate power plays.

In describing his company he said,

“I…[made] sure I never lost sight of the value of a tribe where people truly felt connected, and cared about the well-being of one another.”

Tony employed business practices that many in his position would have been terrified to do. His transparency with employees and customers, the local paper and the world-wide-web (in a public company blog) was "risky," but in perfect alignment with the values of his tribe.

This approach alone challenged the status quo of corporate communications, and fit perfectly into the tribe he was creating; a company and tribal culture where people cared about more than just company profits, they cared about the happiness of each other and recognized the humanity of every person.

Tony isn’t a “shoe guy,” rather he is a people guy, a culture guy, a tribal leader. The culture of Tony’s tribe now extends far beyond Zappos “employees” to include its vendors, applicants, customers, unexpected tourists (yes tourists!), other company’s CEOs, Amazon execs, and even me!

Tony is more than a CEO, he’s more than a tribal leader; Tony is an ordinary person just like you and me – he challenged the status quo, committed to a tribe, and started a movement. A movement of which even Seth Godin, author of the bestseller Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, would be proud.

Tribes are what change the world. What tribe will you lead?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Inner "Why"

Even before our beers arrived, Abe launched in to his frustrations with Brett, who is leading his inventory team. “Two consecutive yearly inventory counts have yielded poor results, and it is not due to a lack of effort,” he said. Brett approached last year’s underwhelming results by hiring a second inventory employee to double check the daily inventory counts. This approach provided nominal improvement on this year’s inventory, but results were still not in line.

"Following this logic", Abe went on to tell me, "Brett has employed a third member of his staff to triple check the daily counts of the two current warehouse employees who were already counting each item in the warehouse." He had implemented this new process in preparation for next year’s count, expecting a more accurate count.

Brett’s mantra, “more eyes means more accuracy.”

My only response was a line of questions.
As it turned out, it only took three to make progress:

1) Do you have the “right” person for the job (meaning, does Brett have the competencies necessary to be successful)?

Abe said, yes.

2) Does he have the right (and adequate) tools/training for the job?

Abe, again, said yes.

3) Does he have the right motivation and inspiration to do the job?

With a puzzled look on his face, Abe said, “I think so.”

I had seen this puzzled once before, I knew it meant we were making progress.

“Would you say Brett wants to have perfect inventory counts,” I asked?

“Yes, ” Abe said again, still puzzled.

“Is Brett motivated by a fear of not having accurate counts, or by an internal desire to achieve excellent results? Do you know why Brett works for you?”

Abe looked pensive. I continued,

“What if Brett was motivated to ensure there was never an item missed in an inventory count, not because he feared getting a ‘talking to’ (or worse, getting fired), but rather because he cared about accurate inventory and was motivated by his own desire for excellence? Would he still need to spend payroll on three employees to count the same items 3Xs?”

Abe finally took a sip of his beer , and his face relaxed. “I have some work ahead of me digging to the bottom of Brett’s ‘why’ don’t I,” he said with a sigh. I nodded and said, “and when you do, you may find Brett is in fact not the ‘right’ person.”

More often than not, it is a motivation issue rather than a skill issue. It is the internal “why” that puts us off course when it is either misaligned or missing altogether.

More on the inner “why” in this
TED talk by Simon Sinek

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The “man (or woman) behind the curtain”

While sitting with Jon at El Camino (on Cinco de Mayo) last week, a question arose about the role of a manager. Jon is the manager (and emerging leader) of a Fortune 50 Company with plenty of manager titles to go around. But Jon wanted more, he wanted to make a difference. In an attempt to influence his peers and direct reports, Jon found himself searching for the best approach. So we discussed—

The first approach (nearly every person new to management goes through at least a season of this approach) is most like the Wizard in the iconic classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Wizard is a mystical person who controls various components of his team and business unit with a complex orchestration of buttons, levers, cords, and a voice-enhancing microphone. We’ve all worked with one of these managers at some point. His office door may be open, but there is clearly a curtain. It may not keep you from entering the office, but most definitely keeps you from seeing the real person behind the Manager title.

This manager believes he has achieved some enlightenment (or knows he hasn’t and is compelled to fake it) and must protect it at all cost. This manager seems very important, and is always extremely busy—too busy to truly engage you, and too busy to reveal any aspect of himself (especially his faults). That, my friends, is the curtain.

Success can be gotten this way, for a time. However, this approach neglects the true role of a leader—to develop people, people who can lead themselves, the future of the organization, and the future of our society. Not to mention it obliterates any chance for creativity and innovation.

The second approach is more like that of Dorothy; a likable girl who understands she is on a journey (not unlike everyone else). She leads out of the authenticity of her own experience, adds to it humility, perseverance, insight, and inspiration—all in pursuit of a bigger vision (to get to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard). While journeying with her friends she stirs the Scarecrow to recognize his heart, the Lion to realize his courage, and the Tin Man to discover his brain.

Each of her friends had these gifts all along, but Dorothy led them each to their own discovery of their greatest talents by motivating and inspiring them throughout their journey. She championed authentic conversations, persevered challenges, and called her followers to discover their own greatness.

Dorothy's leadership caused each of her friends to truly come alive, to reveal their innate talents. (Despite the disappointing end to their journey—discovering the truth about the wizard, a hopelessly insecure “leader” behind the curtain.)

True Leadership isn’t about erecting a mystical and secretive curtain.
True Leadership is a relentless pursuit to inspire others to discover and develop their own unique talents, and use them in ways they never dreamed possible.

A debate about the need for a leadership "mask" or “curtain” continues in the comments of a Harvard blog post from late 2009.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


”Take every opportunity to lead, every opportunity to positively influence others.”

I found myself enjoying one of the best-run government agencies last week when this thought on leadership hit me. You know, the place with stark white walls lit beautifully by flickering overhead fluorescents, row after row of folks slouching in the uncomfortable plastic chairs – each staring blankly at a different spot on the speckled tile floor. Where, when your number is finally called, you slowly saunter to the counter carrying a few documents in one hand and an all but defeated spirit in the other.

I felt this very same spirit of defeat creeping in while sitting in the BMV last week watching the numbers tick by every so slowly, waiting for my turn to approach the counter for slaughter.

So much time wasted. So much human creativity unrealized. So much of each and every person left untouched, left wanting.

Then I realized, the BMV is a microcosm for so much of humanity; sitting, waiting, waiting for someone else to do something, waiting for their turn, waiting to be told they need more information, more documentation. Each allowing his/her spirit to be slowly eroded.

As I waited, I realized, I too felt my spirit cringing, curling up, withering a little.
Then it hit me. It wasn’t an epiphany; nor a revelation, nothing monumental — just a simple action. Something that would say, “I won’t let this hour of my life be utterly wasted. I’m going to inspire these folks!”

My number B176 flashed in red on the board. With this idea for action fresh in mind, the energy of it welling up inside me, I jumped up and yelled “BINGO!” like I had won the Bingo World Championship !

My only hope is for this small act to have inspired others to do something similar. To be themselves.

And one day I hope to be sitting at the BMV when a slew of folks transform the stale environment by shouting BINGO! or Yahtzee! when their number flashes on the screen.

”Take every opportunity to lead, every opportunity to positively influence others.”