Author: admin

There has been a bit of a battle brewing between the baby boomers (individualistic, judgmental, established) and the millennials (over-achieving, innovative, and self-possessed). I am a proud member of the frequently-overlooked Gen X, forever sandwiched between these misunderstood head-butters. Given that by 2025, millennials will be roughly 75% of our workforce, the bulk of this article will focus on advice for the millennials about how to effectively work within the constraints of the modern workplace. The boomers, and all other non-millennial groups, should pay attention to the advice and the expectations millennials have accordingly.

Google “millennials at work” and you’ll find an array of articles about how to manage them, how to get them to step up, how to react when they don’t take ownership of their work. You’ll find studies, such as this popular meta-analysis, demonstrating how increasingly, young Americans “believe their lives are controlled by outside forces rather than their own efforts.” This growing external locus of control (lack of taking ownership) corresponds to similar reports of increases in cynicism, individualism, and self-serving biases. It seems the general consensus by the rest of the workforce is that millennials struggle to fully take responsibility for their work.

Science, however, shows that intrinsic motivation is a problem not just for millennials, but for everyone. Dan Pink, in a brilliant talk on the puzzle of motivation, demonstrates that there is a profound mismatch between “what science knows and what business does” when it comes to incentivizing performance. Through an extensive series of experiments offering anywhere from $0 to $600 of compensation, requiring anything from basic motor movements to more critical cognitive skill, and conducted from rural India to MIT, researchers found that how we traditionally motivate people does not work, and even dulls creativity and blocks thinking.

Researchers reported, “As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as they would be expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance… But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.” Money motivates well for single-minded work because it narrows our focus. However, most workers need to be able to think outside the box, and the traditional carrot-and-stick tactic isn’t helping. The secret to high performance is intrinsic drive. Dan Pink identifies these motivators as autonomy (directing our own lives), mastery (getting better at something that matters), and purpose (working toward something larger than ourselves).

There are 53 million millennials in the US workforce (or 1 in 3 workers). If we can collectively learn to harness the power that millennials bring to the business world, it will have huge implications on the overall business landscape. Below are a few pieces of advice that I give to millennials and/or to those managing millennials:

1. Get some grit.
Tenacity, persistence – call it what you will, but it’s a powerful thing. Research by a psychologist who left a high stress management consulting job to teach 7th graders math in NYC public schools (cue applause here) found that IQ was not the most prominent difference between the best and worst students. Success depended on grit: passion and perseverance for long term goals. Even when controlled for other factors (e.g. family income, IQ, safety at school), the most successful students were not necessarily the smartest, but the ones who stuck with it. In fact, she found that grit was usually unrelated or even inversely related to inherent talent. In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell goes so far as to suggest that many of the most successful people have succeeded precisely because of their disadvantages and disabilities, which forced them to develop skills and take risks they otherwise would not have considered.

2. Develop a growth mindset.
Similarly, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck advocates for the power of believing you can improve. Too often we approach learning with a fixed mindset: our intelligence is up to the test and we either pass or fail. But failure and ability to learn are not fixed. Every time you struggle to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in your brain form stronger connections and, over time, you get better. In one year with this type of growth mindset-based classroom, a previously far behind 4th grade class in the South Bronx earned the #1 scores in the state of New York on state math tests. When you are faced with an obstacle, it does not mean you are dumb, it means you’re in the process of getting smarter.

3. Practice humility.
Humility is also known as “being a team player” and “not blaming your circumstances.” In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins characterizes top-notch leaders as being the first to accept blame for problems and the first to share credit for a job well done. This one should come easily for millennials, who grew up working on group projects and playing team sports and group chat video games. You thrive on cooperation and collaborative working environments. So own it – think like a team. If the team succeeds, attribute the success to everyone. If it fails, look inward and do something about it. Don’t blame the investors, the product, or the boss.

4. Embrace the near win.
Sarah Lewis delivers an inspiring talk on the power of the unfinished path. Mastery, she says, is in the reaching, not the arriving. The experts have been saying it all along. “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know” (Einstein). Coming close to what you thought you wanted helps you attain what you never dreamed you could. We are at our best when we are not yet finished. Believing you have already arrived will squelch future growth. (The opposite cognitive bias is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, or “We Are All Confident Idiots” and is often showcased on Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News. I think I’ll stick with the sages.)

All companies and individuals must work to keep intrinsic motivators strong. Millennials, who already care more about things like social responsibility, employee health, environmental impact, content excellence, treating customers and partners as people, innovation, and technology, are well-equipped to make an impact if they take ownership of their success. To millennials – find that autonomy, mastery, and purpose for yourselves. Be gritty, believe you can improve, be humble, and let the near wins propel you forward.

Twenty years ago, Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) asked people to put their documents online. His suggestion completely revolutionized how we interact with the world around us. Last year, he reflected upon that transformation: “I said, ‘Could you put your documents on this web thing?’ And you did. Thanks. It’s been a blast, hasn’t it?”

Now, Lee is calling people to put their data on the internet. He had an audience chant, “raw data now!” after lecturing on how he believes that the more pieces of data we connect, the more powerful it becomes. Considering his history of incredible foresight, I daresay he’s onto something.

We’re finally taking informational data and placing it within holistic data schemes. On a global scale, people are using data to address mass challenges like feeding people, supplying medical care, providing energy, and averting climate change – and if data can do all that, it can certainly help us keep top talent engaged in our organizations. In business, this data reflects things like culture, engagement, loyalty, and leadership – areas HR professionals care a lot about.

So how can you leverage your data to improve HR decision making? Here are a few tips.

When you frame issues:

– Ask the right questions. Generally, the problem isn’t embracing the concept of analytics, but knowing how to focus them. Asking “how are we celebrating birthdays?” or “how many people signed up for our volunteer day?” won’t create lasting impact. Instead, ask “how is top talent being engaged?” and “what if everyone were able to reach his or her full potential?” Measuring too many things (or too many of the wrong things) leads to watered down results. According to a 2015 survey, one of the least-measured HR metrics is “quality of hire,” which is only being measured by 28.5% of organizations. Of those, more than half ask only one question: how satisfied is the hiring manager with the new recruit. Actionable? Not so much. Data is only as good as the questions it answers.

– Address the big picture. Instead of asking each department to provide three measurements to add to the scorecard, focus on the whole—the why, the root cause—and let those strategies cascade through everything else. Imagine a hierarchy: strategic impact on top, effective processes in the middle, and transactional efficiencies on the bottom. Draw an organizational map to see how the concepts and outcomes relate. Those ground-level tactics may be similar across different businesses, but the top level is unique to yours organization.

– Think forward. The beauty of analytics is that it helps us chart our future course, not just record the past. One of the most popular HR metrics is voluntary and involuntary turnover, measured by 78% of organizations. But if you’re not recognizing valuable talent until it’s walking out the door, you’re missing the power of data. McKinsey tells of an organization that used predictive behavioral analytics to learn that most employees were leaving because of inadequate recognition and limited training. Unknowingly, management had been giving expensive retention bonuses that were “an ineffective and costly Band-Aid.” The company redesigned training and recognition, and consequently reduced its retention bonuses by $20 million and employee attrition by half. Be predictive, not reactive.

– Make it personal. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for data management. Walmart, Goldman Sachs, and Zappos might all measure turnover, but they’re using results to address different questions. One reason Google’s intensive people operations team has been immensely successful is because their strategy and tactics are so specific to Googlers. They’ve learned that time off and exposure to senior leaders are more motivating rewards than cash or prizes. A study revealed that their people value even-keeled managers who make time for one-on-one check-ins and help their people solve problems. Using that information, they helped 75% of their least effective managers improve. Rather than try to replicate another company or adopt best practices, measure and understand what works for your organization.

When you whip out your calculators:

– Bring in the right minds. You need business people who address the right problems, statisticians who ensure there’s rigor in the methods, and technologists who make solutions scalable and transparent. Some data collections and analyzations are huge undertakings: statisticians often gather thousands of observations across hundreds of variables. They may need to code non-numerical information (feedback, interview notes) in order to synthesize results and look for patterns. There may be random correlations that look significant but are actually just noise. There may be correlations that shouldn’t be confused with causations. Make sure you have the right people on your team.

– Complement humans, but don’t replace them. In the euphoria of new analytics tools, it’s easy to think a few simple clicks will transform your business. But assumptions can be built into the metrics that are biased and discriminatory, or they could be measuring irrelevant or excessive information. We’re still at the outset of the big data revolution and are learning how to handle it best. These processes require strategy, critical thought, and creativity.

When you get the results:

– Make them visual. As data visionary Hans Rosling said, “Let the dataset change your mindset.” One of the best ways to do so is by visualizing the information. Design it so it makes more sense, tells a story, and lets patterns and connections emerge. Sight is the fastest of our senses, with the same bandwidth as a computer network. But of all the daily visuals and patterns pouring in, we’re only consciously aware of about 0.7% of what we see. Rosling created a free software, Gapminder World, that can animate statistics. Google, ever the early adopter, started using this software in 2007.

– Make them actionable. Without some link to a future course of action, data overload is overwhelming and counterproductive. It’s tempting to throw around best practices and measure everything we can get our hands on. But, we can’t realistically embrace 20 improved practices at once without ranking them by importance. Google figured out they could improve their on boarding process by 25% (a full month faster) by sending a simple reminder email to the hiring manager the Sunday before the new hire starts. The email highlights five quick bullets: have a role and responsibilities discussion, match your new hire with a peer buddy, help your new hire build a social network, set up onboarding check-ins, and encourage open dialogue. That’s it. Their data shows that employees work best under the assumption that they are smart and can figure things out, so the company empowers managers to take care of the rest.

Kenneth Cukier, Data Editor of The Economist, says, “Data doesn’t just let us see more of the same thing we were looking at. More data allows us to see new. It allows us to see better. It allows us to see different.” Some call it “the new oil,” others “the new soil,” but whatever it is, it’s all around us, and it’s a fertile, creative medium. Take these steps to properly refine your data and use it to your advantage.

Also published in FirstPerson.

How do you measure whether you have an energizing culture? We instinctively know that a positive culture enhances employee engagement. The question is how are companies supposed to gauge their cultures? What are the best practices for measuring culture success/shortcomings?

We generally know two things about culture: 1) a positive culture leads to an engaged workforce, and 2) most organizations have no idea how to measure the positive and negative aspects of their cultures.

Check out these disconcerting employee engagement statistics:

– 64% do not feel they have a strong workplace culture.
– 49% are not satisfied with their direct supervisors.
– 66% see no opportunities for professional growth.
– 25% feel they do not have the tools to be successful in their jobs.
– Only 21% feel strongly valued at work, generally due to lack of appreciation/recognition.
– Only 42% know their organization’s vision, mission, and values.

People are starting to pay attention to culture – so much so that “culture” was Merriam-Webster’s #1 word last year. But, what we really need to do is find a way to successfully measure it.

94% of business leaders worldwide believe that culture matters, but only 5% currently measure it. We painstakingly measure everything in our businesses, including sales performance, SEO, margins, expenses, etc. Why not spend as much time and energy on measuring culture? After all, you are what you measure – if a firm measures A and B, but not X and Y, people will naturally focus on A and B. Those areas will continue to be emphasized and strengthened, and X and Y will fall by the wayside. Such is the case with culture.

There are ways to roughly gauge culture with the naked eye – are your employees referring others to work for your company; are people quitting for perceived greener pastures; is the parking lot empty at 5:01PM. Yet, in the same way that you wouldn’t blindly trust a gut feeling or water cooler chatter, those observations won’t cut it in the long run when assessing culture or engagement.

Of the minority of companies that do measure their cultures, most do so via surveys once a year (or once a quarter). By the time responses are collected, reviewed, and analyzed, there’s usually been a shift in leadership, an updated product, or a shift in technology or market opportunity, which makes the data outdated and ultimately unhelpful. Companies are dynamic. Industries evolve. Technology moves at a rapid-fire pace. To stay on top of our game, we must reinvent employee engagement for the digital age. We must better gather, evaluate, and analyze big data, and this must be done through something more than an occasional employee survey.

Tips to successfully measure culture:
– Seek frequent feedback. Continuously gather data. If you wait until the end of a year to survey employees, you’ll probably get feedback on the previous month. It’s important to gauge in real-time, not in annual retrospect.
– Cater to the ADD generation. If you ask more than 1-5 questions, people start to lose interest and/or stop responding authentically.
– Communicate with employees how they want to be communicated with. Whatever’s most convenient and useful for your employees, talk to them that way (e.g. email, text, app).
– Assemble a data-driven dashboard and analytics. Get meaningful measurements with easy-to-understand variables.
– Use open-ended inquiries to spark robust responses. Empower employees to solve problems, express what they need, and act upon what they tell you.

Pro tip: 5 top engagement tools on the market today:
1. Bluebridge. Bluebridge engagement apps stand out by also driving recognition, productivity, strategy, and centralized communication alongside employee surveys.
2. TINYpulse. The famous trailblazer of the micro-survey industry, TINYpulse is a simple way to keep your finger on the pulse of employee engagement.
3. Culture IQ. Launched in October of 2014 by Greg Besner, entrepreneur and professor at NYU Stern, Culture IQ proves “great culture can be inspired anywhere, even in an elevator.”
4. GLINT. The first primarily iOS-based of these tools, Glint offers survey pulses that take less than a minute and operate live, so you can keep tabs on your organization in real time.
5. 15five. Neither anonymous nor general, 15five helps team members and managers engage in stimulating, constructive e-conversations.

Culture is crucial to your bottom line and deserves to be monitored, measured, and maximized!

As business people, we’ve been taught to manage what we can measure. Money, time, customer and employee counts—the ‘tangibles.’ We’ve gotten so used to talking about the numbers—about what we do—that we forget to address how or why we do it.

Yet, the ‘why’ driving employee behaviors is directly correlated with their motivation and performance in the workplace.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely conducted several studies on motivation in the workplace. In one experiment, he gave subjects a piece of paper with a simple written task to complete. Ariely then reacted in three different fashions when the participants completed the task. In some cases, he took the completed paper, looked at it, gave a satisfied “uh-huh,” and put it on a stack of other papers. In other cases, he took merely glanced at the paper before putting it on the pile. In other cases, he didn’t even look at the paper. He put it directly in a shredder.

Participants were offered money to complete the tasks, and the amount decreased with each repetition. This continued until subjects declined to complete another task.

The people whose work was acknowledged (“uh-huh”) continued working until the payout dropped to 15 cents per page. Those whose work was ignored and placed on the pile continued until the payout dropped to 27 cents. Finally, subjects whose work was shredded stopped when the payout reached 30 cents per page.

Ignoring people’s performance was essentially the same as shredding their work in front of their eyes. The simple act of acknowledging a person’s output dramatically improves employee engagement.

Money isn’t the only motivation driver. In fact, it’s often not even the biggest driver for employees. Many people value meaning, progress, advancement, creativity, challenge, ownership, and pride even more.

If we only took action in return for payment, no one would climb mountains, start companies, or take risks. Human beings are naturally drawn to challenge themselves in hopes of achieving a sense of progress, accomplishment, and self-worth.

To understand these motivations in the workplace, let’s flashback to Psychology 101 and Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. First published in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in the Psychological Review, Maslow’s five-tier pyramid showed a series of needs that could be met only when the one below was satisfied.
Consider the bottom-most level—physiological needs like water, air, food, and shelter. Moving up, we can address safety needs like personal security, financial security, health, and well-being. Social needs are interpersonal, like intimacy and belonging with friends and family. Esteem is the need to feel respected, accepted, and valued by others, including both self-esteem and self-respect, established through a sense of contribution and value. Self-actualization is the realization of your full potential, or ‘be all that you can be.’

No matter our role in the workplace, we all have these human needs. Companies should strive to develop cultures that act as catalysts for high levels of transformation and transcendence. A job must be more than just a paycheck.

A paycheck and benefits are expected. But rewarding interactions with people, meaningful work, and a sense of accomplishment are the things that really matter to employees. And according to Ariely’s experiment, they matter a lot—so much so that people would work for half as much money if their motivation was stronger.

So, how can we manage the higher-level intangibles? Especially when they’re difficult to measure?

Google developed a leadership program called “Search Inside Yourself” that promotes self-actualization and transcendence at work. Google realized that self-actualized people tend to exude characteristics such as innovation, mindfulness, humor, compassion, and creativity—all of which are highly profitable for business.

Google’s proving that you don’t have to choose between inspired employees and financial success. Inspired employees lead to financial success.

As Start with Why author Simon Sinek explains in his inspiring TED talk, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. . . The goal is not to do business with people who need what you have, but with people who believe what you believe.”

Sinek notes how most organizations start with what they do, then how they do it, and end with why (if they get there at all). The most influential organizations, on the other hand, reverse that thought process.

Apple is known for the statement: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo, in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed and simple to use. We just happen to make great computers, want to buy one?”

What you do simply serves as the proof of what you believe. And what you believe, the intangible why you do what you do, is what can motivate employees, engage loyal customers, earn the faith of investors, and inspire true transformation.

Also published in FirstPerson.

Comedian Woody Allen famously stated that “showing up is 80% of life.” And showing up is essential to success. But, when it comes to workplace success, showing up is only half of it. Wanting to be there is what drives true success and results.

Anyone who has ever worked in a crummy job will tell you that working for a paycheck is far less desirable than actually wanting to work. Building and maintaining an environment people want to return to day after day is the key to employee engagement. When employees are excited about and engaged in their work, it results in greater company impact and stronger culture, customer relationships, and bottom lines.

According to the 2012 Gallup study “The State of the Global Workplace,” only 30% of employees in the United States reported they were “engaged” at work (psychologically committed and making positive contributions). Even more troubling, 52% indicated they were “not engaged” (lack motivation and are less likely to invest effort in organizational goals/outcomes), and 18% were “actively disengaged” (unhappy, unproductive, and liable to spread negativity to coworkers). Clearly, just showing up isn’t enough anymore.

Gallup estimates that “actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. These individuals are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss work, and drive customers away.” Ouch.

Furthermore, research from the Hay Group found that companies with highly engaged people consistently outperform those with the most disengaged employees—to the tune of 54% more employee retention, 89% more customer satisfaction, and four times the revenue growth.

How can you help employees want to work, versus just show up? Here are a few ideas:

1. Hang out with your coworkers. Studies show that peers, not money, are the #1 influence for employees to go the extra mile. When you like people, you want to help them. Many companies are realizing the importance of knowing your coworkers informally and are finding ways to promote these ‘beyond-work relationships.’ Some leaders throw TGIF parties every Friday at 4 PM. And their employees still get just as much work done on Fridays because they’re motivated to finish and don a party hat, eat some cake, and do the hula with their friends.

2. Let people be themselves. Let a little of that ‘inner quirk’ come out from time to time. It makes room for creativity and shows your employees are human. Zappos is a great example. One of its core values is “Create fun and a little weirdness.” Check out this real excerpt (taken from Delivering Happiness) of a live chat on by a customer who seemed to want to put this particular core value to the test:

Jonathan: Hello Timmy. How can I help you?
Timmy: Do you know how wide the G-Shock Atomic Solar AWG101 SKU #7403774 is?
Timmy: I mean, how big a wrist it would fit?
Timmy: Timmy has a big fat wrist
Timmy: Timmy need watch grande
Jonathan: I’ll see what I can find out for Timmy.
Timmy: Awesome. And can we please continue to talk about Timmy in the 3rd person? Timmy likes to boost Timmy’s ego by talking about Timmy that way
Jonathan: Jonathan would be happy to neglect the use of pronouns for the duration of this conversation.
Timmy: Jonathan and Timmy shall get along just fine

The conversation continued (entirely in the third person) and ended with Jonathan upgrading Timmy’s account for free and Timmy becoming a committed, lifelong customer.

3. Invest in your people and their interests. Put time and energy in growing your employees. Google is famed for their “20% rule.” If you work at Google, you can spend 20% of your time doing whatever you think is the best thing to do. This creative autonomy has birthed projects from Google News (a researcher who became more interested in how we read the news after 9/11) to the construction of a hospital in rural India (from three software engineers). The policy is grounded in the simple truth that people like to work on things they think are important—not just the things their boss thinks are important. Knowing how to channel employee motivation is essential to maintaining an innovative and engaging culture.

4. Create shared meaning and experiences. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves that we believe in. Gallup found that “only 41% of employees felt that they know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from its competitors’ brands.” People want to work for companies they are proud of. If you give them a reason, they will be some of your best brand evangelists.

Showing up is important, but Woody overestimated how much. As leaders, we don’t just want warm bodies showing up to the office and slugging through the day. We want people who are fully engaged and want to be there. Strive to make your workplace one where employees want to do far more than just show up!