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February 19, 2011 / W. Stanton Smith

People go to work to make a difference…but what if we don’t let them?

Humans are goal seeking. Most of us need tangible goals to motivate our selves to get out of bed and go through the guantlet of communiting to the workplace much less do our jobs. In my experience the vast majority of people want to make a difference in a positive way and that’s the motivation that keeps them going.

Knowing the above as  fact, why do we in management roles get in the way so often. What do I mean? Let’s take the disconnect between how we raised the newest to the workforce (gen y) and how we treat them once  they’re in the workforce.

Prior to entering the work world we have said to young people:

–         speak your mind,  but once in the workplace  they  are told to be quiet and get to work

–         use technology to the fullest, but their suggestions too often fall on deaf ears and they are told to put away the technology toys.

–        collaborate with others , but their work teams operate in silos

–         seek equilibrium among your life among academic demands, extracurricular activities and just chilling out, but, once employed,  there is great pressure to put work as first priority all the time. These young people rightly perceive lip service being given to career/life fit. In fact  many are under the impression that seeking too much flexibility can be a career-limiting move.

All this cognitive dissonance (disparity between what managers say and what they do) gets in the way of productivity, aka creativity, of not only gen y, but knowledge workers of all generations. And creativity is why employers hire knowledge workers. Many in management roles are highly critical of workers today and perhaps some of the criticism is warranted. However, before we go too far on this path of self-righteousness, I suggest we examine how we get in our own way as managers of people and too often thwart the very human goal of making a difference every day.



January 24, 2011 / W. Stanton Smith

People are our most important asset…kinda…sorta

It’s that time again. The economy appears to be in recovery  at least from a profitabiity view point. Not much of a dent has been made in unemployment but hiring will pick up as will the speeches about people being our most important asset. Which brings me to the old court room climactic moment when the prosecuting attorney intones to a witness who has given conflicting testimony, “So Colonel Mustard, which time were you telling the truth?”

This is the uncomfortable place where business leaders find themselves today. “Mr./Ms. CEO, when were you telling the truth? When you treated employees like commodities by cutting support staffs , not filling open positions, pouring on the workload and minimizing salary adjustments to please the marketplace…or when you said that people were you most important assets and you did very little to back that up?

Meantime the CEO has been advised that transparency is what employees want especially  the younger ones (gen y). So he talks about the turn around in business and increased profitability. His intentions are to let people know that the company is going to be around. Yet the employees won’t be partaking in this largess except at the very highest levels and there are no guarantees that the employees will have jobs even if they do a superior job. So the transparency just leaves them dissatisfied if not annoyed.

Is this just a description of life from now on? It doesn’t have to be. Those of us in leadership positions have to do some soul searching because our employees are suffering from “cognitive dissonance”. This social science term means that the words and music don’t match; there is a gap between what we say and what we do. Our empleoyees feel like they are being treated as commodities while we in leadership say they are assets to be invested in.

I don’t have any solutions to present today. This is just the beginning of a series of postings about how we can change some fundamental ways we think about people…how we can eliminate “cognitive dissonance” and still make plenty of money as a business.


December 16, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Say no to coddling gen y. Great , what are we saying yes to?

It’s one thing to just say no to coddling gen y and it’s quite another to answer the question what kind of management behavior are we saying “yes” to.

What if most of this tough talk about making business a “no coddling zone” is not what it appears to be…all clear eyed,sober realty? What if much of it is really a rationalization for lack of empathy for others and a self-centered focus which we would rather others didn’t realize about us? In short is no coddling  just a  socially acceptable excusing for our reluctance to adopt behaviors which are proven to enhance retention and development of talent…which don’t fit the definition of coddling at all?

A more complete discussion of this topic may be found in Chapter 8 of my newest book Decoding Generational Differences: Changing your mindset…Without losing your mind. To give you a taste of this discussion here is an example. The rationalization is followed by a decoding of what’s really behind our apparent “toughness”, at least given my experience.

Rationalization: If I devote all this effort to managing an employee and he/she still doesn’t get it, we both look foolish and we’ve wasted  time.

Decoded rationalization: I ‘m not very good at giving instructions and I really don’t care to spend the time improving. So I choose to believe that my subordinates are always wrong. Conveniently that makes me the righteously aggrieved party who is busy with the highest of callings, i.e., client/customer service. I can’t help it if the recruiters can’t hire mind readers who are the only people who can succeed working for me.

Does this seem harsh and overdone or just about right? We’ll continue to seek the answer to the statement, Say no to coddling gen y. Great, what are we saying yes to?

December 13, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Let’s stop coddling gen y!

Gen Y expects to be coddled; so say 40% of the 50 or so HR executives in a poll taken during a recent webinar I conducted on behalf of the Boston College Center for Work & Family.  The poll asked participants to choose one of five irritating qualities of gen y. The choices and responses were: ask too many questions (0%); don’t act appropriately in business (20%); unwilling to pay their dues (20%); don’t understand the need for process (20%) and expect to be coddled in the workplace (40%).

I’m sure if we were to ask small business owners and coporate executives, the result would be well north of 50%. One executive praised my newest book, Decoding Generational Differences: Changing your mindset…Without losing your mind...but really believed that it was the job of young people in the workplace to adapt to whatever and however the employer served up the workplace.  Any behavior by managers other than this take no hostages approach  was considered coddling. No further discussion required.

Say no to coddling! OK, but what are we saying yes to?

With this unbending attitude fresh on my mind, I thought I’d look up the definition of  “coddling”. Most dictionaries would agree that a reasonable definition of coddling is to treat with extreme or excessive care and attention There is a connotation of spoiling and indulging, of losing perspective.

Of course nobody wants to “coddle” if this is what it means. But is it coddling to teach someone how to act appropriately in business? or to show them the value of paying dues or the need for process and following it? Further, is allowing an inexperienced employee to stumble around in the dark and calling it OJT, really an intellignet business approach? Is ignoring ways in which the workforce has fundamentally changed really smart business?

We’ll explore these and related questions in subsequent posts. In the meantime ponder this saying attributed to the economist John Maynard Keynes, “I change my mind if the facts change. What do you do?

November 26, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

What Talent Crunch?

In a recent article  (November 8, 2010) on Dr. Peter Cappelli argues that “there is less than meets the eye when it comes to generational differences and that we are obsessing about non-existent differences in the interest between young people while ignoring the interests of the huge and growing older workforce”.

As a principal at Deloitte LLP (prior to my retirement last year), I served as leader of one of the pioneering  initiatives on generational differences, and often heard the arguments Dr. Cappelli presents in his article. Based on nearly a decade of leading research in this area, I arrived at four major conclusions regarding generational differences:  1) All generations have much in common; we all share what I call the 3 R”s and 3 C’s;  we want to be respected, recognized, remembered, coached, consulted and connected.  2) There are seven irreversible realities that affect all in the workplace (gen y more than others…at least they are the most vocal), and virtually ensure that the “good old days” can’t come back; these include changes in family structure that lead to need for flexibility, distrust of business,  and the flat world of globalization; 3)  the perception by many that the impact of these realities creates generational differences provides a “hall pass” to talk about workplace issues all of us face such as the impact of technology on how humans work/learn, and how to most effectively develop/retain talent; and 4) given the first three conclusions, all of us regardless of generation need a changed mindset. (More about this in a future post).

And this brings me to the point on which I strongly support Dr. Cappelli. We don’t really have the degree of a talent crunch that we think we have. How so? because we have a huge untapped resource  of proven talent and experience sitting before us that knows how to work, namely older workers.  We generally refuse to imaginatively utilize this resource . We seem more willing to complain about gen y, study differences (real and apparent)  and fret about what they don’t know .

enough for now …more to come on these issues.

November 8, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

China, India – the reality is not optional

On November 2, 2010 a Tom Friedman piece appeared in the New York Times entitled “Do Believe the Hype.” He wonders: “what if for all the hype about China, India and globalization-they’re actually underhyped”? Friedman speaks with the benefit of extensive travel to these two nations.  Having not traveled to China or India, I can speak with some expertise based on research conducted by the Institute for the Future that compares Chinese, Indian and USA youth (ages 14-24). The research project which I had responsibility for  covered expectations of employers, career aspirations, use of technology and views on the attractiveness of various career alternatives. Extensive discussion of the results are found in my soon-to-be-released book, “Decoding Generational Differences: Changing your mindset…Without losing your mind.” This blog posting will touch on a little known fact that will affect USA competitiveness for years to come.

Chinese and Indian youth favor business careers much more than USA youth do

Business careers such as business administration, banking/finance, consulting, accounting, are considered very\somewhat exciting professions in a range from 37% to78%. by Chinese and Indian youth. In comparison the same range is 16% to 31% for USA youth…not much passion for business here.

Further, the top 3 careers considered very\somewhat exciting are the same in both China and India: business administration, IT and banking/finance. In comparison for the USA  the top three are: medicine/health care,teaching and law. Business adminitration is a distant fifth  and banking/finance is  a very distant seventh. Interestingly we were advised not to have Law as career choice in India and China as “these careers are not that well known or appealing”.

So what?

There is a decline in both interest and passion for business in USA young people at a time when peers in two huge competitor nations have surging interest and passion for business. We as a nation need to focus attention of why this gap exisits and what can be done about it.  It boggles my mind that 64% of youth surveyed in China find banking/finance to be very\somewhat interesting versus only 22% of  USA youth surveyed. Here we have youth in a nominally communist nation with nearly three times the level of interest in a  career critical to a capitalist economic system such as in the USA.

What do you think?

November 2, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Ushering in the Re-generation (born 1995 to date)

In the September 2010 edition of Diverisity Inc magazine you’ ll find an article by me on the subject of the newest generation: the re-generation-those born around 1995 to date. These young people have had already had differing experiences from their older brothers and sisters (gen y born 1981 to 1994). They’ve known nothing but the Internet and ubiquitous technology. They’ve also known terror alerts and economic instability at an early age. They see themselves as having to re-think, re-evaluate, re-new and re-vamp just about everything.

What’s to be done

We must start paying attention to what these young people think about business and the capability of changing how we do business. Let’ s reach out to these young people, and provide the role models they seek in how to cope with uncertainties and remain optimistic about the future. Re-gen wants to be mentored and wants instruction from adults. (They’ve said so in survey results, as difficult as that may be to believe sometimes.) However, they won’ t engage if they feel patronized or somehow diminished by bosses and older people.

October 6, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Who are the last men/women standing in the workplace?

My friend Leah Reynolds has recently started a blog and she asks a provocative question in her posting entitled “Who is left at work?” Leah’s first sentence says it all. “Bullies, brown-nosers and broken spirits…Is that all that remains in our workplaces?” I urge each of you to read this post and engage in a discussion: Is her premise an unfair generalization? Is it fair but little can be done about manager’s attitudes since they are being mistreated too? Is this all just whining about reality anyway?

Of dogs in mangers …

Her premise is largely correct from my observation. As our economic crisis has built up, I have witnessed an increase in “dog in the manger” (see wikipedia definition here) attitudes and actions on the part of managers. Examples are attitudes such as, “If I can’t be happy, neither can you”…”I don’t have ulcers, I give them”. Harsh, perhaps but these are eyewitness reports.

… and say/do gaps

We suffer in our business society from an epic say/do discrepancy. We “say” that we favor certain values but we act in a contradictory manner all too often. As examples, we talk about wanting innovation but it has to be “my” innovation. We want to employees to be engaged but on “our” terms not theirs.

What is happening here?

As a boomer myself, I can say with some certainty that we boomers have succeeded in, at worst, chasing out of the workplace or marginalizing, at the least, the traditional values which acted as a restraint on human greed and other objectionable behaviors. So we’ve achieved a world in which “greed is good”, and competition is Darwinian, i.e., driven at an unforgiving pace, with sharp elbows and in your face ruthlessness. Now the reality we’ve created is in our face and we’re thinking: “I didn’t expect this outcome. It must be someone else’s fault, right? We couldn’t have done this, right?” I realize that we may be overgeneralizing here and that there are ethical businesses but are they not in the minority now? I could go on but this should be enough to stir up a good discussion or two. Thoughts?

October 6, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Gen y and schadenfreude

The German language has a very apt word for one of the least attractive traits we humans exhibit; that sense of joy that sweeps over us when we hear that someone(s) we do not like experience(s) hardship.

Why the unrequested German lesson?

Because the word captures the essence of this trait very economically-in fact in 11 letters. Schaden (damage) and freude (joy) becomes joy at the damage someone else suffers. I believe that if we reflect even for a moment on the concept of schadenfeude, we would be less likely to indulge in it.

What’s the problem with schadenfreude?

Isn’t it a typical emotion? Whether or not it is, this attitude is destructive in particular when it comes to an older generation taking glee at the problems of another (usually younger) generation.

To the extent business people are identified with statements that appear to take joy in gen y “being taken down a notch” by the difficult economy is the extent to which already the well documented suspicions of business people and the businesses they run are further reinforced. We in the USA are confronted with at least two major competitors in India and China where their young people are more interested in business careers than our young people.

Decoding generational differences

I expand a great deal on this challenge for USA business in my upcoming book, “Decoding Generational Differences: changing your mindset without losing your mind.” Watch this blog for details on how to order the book. Our target is early November, 2010.

September 25, 2010 / W. Stanton Smith

Willing to follow a better way

How did they learn this dirty dancing?

The faculty was in an uproar after the Friday night dance at the middle school. How could the kids dance so lewdly? And so it went.

The eighth grader who was president of the student body was summoned to hear the faculty’s displeasure and generally explain himself and his peers. The president was barely 5 feet tall and spoke in an appropriately squeaky voice. He listened to the complaints and made a simple statement: “We’re sorry if we offended anyone but this is the only way we know how to dance; it’s what we’ve seen older teens do.

“If you want something different, teach it to us.”

The faculty was disarmed by this statement and agreed that the solution was to teach the kids a replacement dance style to that of “grinding”.

My point: if we adults want credibility with younger people it is best to understand where they are coming from. But that understanding needs to be gained in a non-judgmental manner. Remember you as a 30, 40, 50, 60 something could be expected to have a more mature take on the world.

Expecting young people to have the same views as you is not reasonable.

There is lots of research and experience to support the view that young people want adult guidance and mentoring; however they don’t want to be patronized. Before we adults utter the words, “how could you have done (fill in the blank)”? or “that was (fill in your favorite putdown)”, ask yourself the question: “why am I about to engage in behavior that is known not only to annoy kids but to also build up barriers to listening to you and other authority figures?”

These kids are willing to follow a better way. Just show it to them and you’ll be miles ahead in building trust and goodwill…and they might even be open to doing it your way.

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