Monday, August 29, 2016

Millennial Management in a Baby Boomer world.

This is the second in a series on management styles as they pertain to Millennials.

“Change agent” and “work-life blend” have become nomenclature de rigeur regarding a generation of current employees percolating up through the bases of organizational structures in public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Their hallmarks: overabundant utilization of new technologies, a desire for purpose driven work, and breaking down the entrenched hierarchies of business culture.

If you read that opening statement and considered this not the first time you’ve heard a generation fantasize about reforming their work environment to find a higher purpose, improving office protocols and efficiency through space-aged technology, congratulations! These are modalities inherited from their parents. The flower children and Volkswagen van touring generation birthed a new generation just the same. There is even a movement of 20 - 30 somethings to travel in tricked out, wifi enabled late model vans living the digital nomad lifestyle. The new American Dream includes a life of liberty on the open road according to a new Vice article by David Jagneaux.

However, where the whole of writing on the topic has gone completely awry is in the estimation of Generation Y’s taste for hierarchical work structures. Millennials are quite comfortable and entirely amenable to working inside of these sorts of structures - as long as they were the ones who imputed the structure. Such is the idea behind so much of the post-classroom work in which TFA is involved, as well as NLC, StudentsFirstNY, and a variety of other parallel organizations whose prime objectives are fundraising, and pipe-lining their alumni into key positions in the current political and business structures.

This is the hidden curriculum of the next generation 'leadership training' forums presently in vogue. The ideals behind flattening existing organizational structures and eliminating traditional pathways to leadership positions is to leapfrog trained, experienced, well-rounded - and, admittedly, a bit more seasoned, - individuals already in the leadership pipeline, displacing them entirely. But we have seen this insidiousness in prior versions of both world history, and popular fiction: Joffrey Baratheon, Jiao Long; in myths and legends - Phaeton, Patroclus, and in current business arenas.

Augmented reality. Photo courtesy of Design Boom
With the advent of the all-seeing, all-knowing interweb, IoT, Augmented Reality, and literally the power of the universe in the palm of their hands, now more than ever the generation needs guidance on why it is that they are performing the mechanical operations they’ve learned for their junior roles via YouTube channels.

Upending hierarchies
Photo by @dorania_luo
Fast-tracking untrained, inexperienced individuals into leadership positions is not a successful, long term sustainability plan for any of the three sectors. Thoughtful, reflective, purposeful leadership requires experience, learning, training, certification and degrees. It requires having had mentors so that as a leader they can in turn mentor the next generation. It requires a philosophical basis upon which the leader's daily actions and interactions are founded, and not one that is regurgitated in sound bites that make excellent five second Vines or catchy t-shirts devoid of historical context. We have seen this movie before and it always has a bad ending, always requiring the appropriately trained, highly experienced, and usually, a previously selected leadership figure to arrive and rid the kingdom of its ills (Game of Thrones has not yet arrived at this juncture.)

To quote Ryan and Robert Quinn from Harvard Business Review: Change Management and Leadership Development have to Mesh. This is a crucial concept for, as the saying goes amongst Navy SEALS: "Under don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That's why we train so hard." Millennials, in order to be effective, will have to get the very thing that they lack - experience. Here I should echo the sentiments of a recent Forbes article: “Trying To Manage Millennials? Give Up And Lead Them Instead.” They will need leadership in terms of purpose, leadership in terms of habits of mind, leadership in terms of succession planning, and leadership in terms of critical thought. America will have to come to terms with the idea that the mentoring, instruction, and planning will have to be done by a generation older and more trained than the Millenials. The alternative is that while inexperienced, untrained 'leaders' are busy sinking to their level of training, the whole of the organizations around them will sink as well.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Critical Millennial Thinking

This will be the first in a series of articles on leadership, the Millennial generation, and how it relates to business.

I have been spending quite a bit of time recently reading HR articles. Not that I ever haven't, ever since before participating in the National Urban Fellows program, and especially after successfully obtaining the PMP, I read across the curriculum so to speak in order to get a taste of how potential opportunities might view my particular batch of skills. I read a recent one from The Ladders President Marc Cendella about ageism and the American business community, a few things struck me. To begin, Cendella's article stressed strategies to prove the viability of the more seasoned,
more senior employee's mindset in the face of a fanaticism for hiring youth. To quote "it’s important for you to realize that youth is the symptom, not the cause, of age discrimination."

This is faulty in my view for a variety of reasons. While it is true that the business community hires youth more frequently in the current paradigm than seasoned professionals, it is not solely representative of an underlying, hidden mentality in the plans for an increased profit margin of each organization that employs an age gap in it hiring practices. It is inherently flawed because it has been the experience of more seasoned workers that youth carries with it the entitlement of pre-eminence in the office. Indeed, the generation presents a belief that Snapchats inserted into Prezis, the Uberization of everything, and happiness engineering will answer previously unaswered questions. Additionally, there is a steadfast credence in the idea that they will solve problems better simply because it is the new technology.

This too is faulty because for all of the technological literacy that the Millennial generation carries at its fingertips in the latest and greatest Samsung Edge 7 or iPhone 7 or pick your favorite model...none of that literacy represents actual creativity, but rather the current year's reiteration of processes that already existed. Creative optimization of business processes, innovation of future engineering methodologies, and even communication methodologies or pathways are concepts that have to be trained and experienced before they can be evolved. Moreover, in order to properly create some sort of advanced evolution of the process or pathway, a defined period of critical thinking has to be undertaken. The critical thinking deficiency has been the most salient complaint of employers, post-secondary educators, and large swaths of society coming into direct contact with Millennials far and wide, as evidenced by the quotes below:

"A 2012 report on the metro St. Louis workforce cited a Boeing official as saying, "New hires and younger workers certainly have a positive work ethic; however they often have an immature or impatient approach toward career development/progression. They have an expectation that their career development will somehow be on the fast track, without a full understanding of the commitment it takes beyond the 9-to-5 world. At times they seem to lack an understanding that you need to work until the work is done.""(1)

But the fallacy of being able to create a wholesale correction of the entirety of an organization's problems simply by throwing new technology at it was born out in evidence and scientific measurement presented in Jim Collins' seminal work From Good to Great. Those very same sentiments are echoed in a late 2015 'Entrepeneur' article:

" a digital-first world, where millennials obtain all their answers to problems at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger, the reliance on technology to solve every question confuses people's perception of their own knowledge and intelligence. And that reliance may well lead to overconfidence and poor decision-making."(2)

Effectively, if your answer to social, procedural, human resources, time management, document control, or loss prevention issues (to name a few) is the introduction of technology to which the organization is largely unaccustomed and untrained without the root cause analysis of why the problems exist in the first place, the problems will persist, they will just persist in the digital space. This is not a problem resolution methodology. It is also not creativity. Creative solutions to problems happen because creativity has to be taught. Raw talent only accounts for so much until verifiable, accountable technique is required.

Technology, especially technology employed by a generation untrained and inexperienced in critical thinking exercises is not a poultice, or a cure all, or a silver bullet (there are no silver bullets.) It is, to use a forward thinking, visioning exercise, benefits mindset analysis - a strategy guaranteeing business non-continuity. American business has to begin understanding the value of paying for training and/or trained individuals. In a head-to-head matchup, the more highly trained, analytical, experienced problem solver [those with the initials PMP or MPA after their name, for example] is the one who will inevitably carry the strategy and benefit of each and every organization farther forward towards greater results or profitability (while figuring out where to most effectively deploy tech-savvy newcomers.) All three sectors are focused implicitly on benefits realization, and recognizing and monetizing opportunity. These are not intrinsic, genetically inherited traits, they are studied and learned capabilities that are the result of hard won knowledge skills.

In the end, Cendella's claim: " appears to me that age discrimination is mindset discrimination first
and foremost..." is indeed true. But if what the American business community seeks is an Agile mindest, there is training, dare I say - a certification for that.

1.) What millennials don't know about the job market, Kelley Holland, 2 May 2014,

2.) Why Technology Is Affecting Critical Thought in the Workplace and How to Fix It, Rony Zarom, September 21, 2015