The Organizational Strategist

February 15, 2010

Leadership will be vital to harnessing, cultivating, and retaining Gen Y


-Introduction-

As time goes by, each generation has its time to thrive. Baby Boomers have been enjoying their career prime for awhile now and are starting retirement or already have retired. Gen Xers have strived to find their prime and have been making headway. As I noted in an earlier article, Gen Y has been trying to get a foothold but times have been tough. In the coming years, Gen Y will be at a disadvantage because of the knowledge and experience gap created by the current economic climate and Boomer’s prolonging retirement. Companies that have not been cultivating the coming generation will face a talent management crisis once Baby Boomers and Gen X can no longer do all or most of the work necessary. What this means is that those companies will need to develop their Gen Y capacity and since the most talented Gen Y individuals will be highly sought after. To both attract and retain the talented, organizational leadership, management and supervision will be crucial.

-Exceptional Cases-

There are instances of individuals and companies that are already implementing measures to mitigate the risk and challenge for younger workers that the job market and economy has been creating. These are examples in which lessons can be learned and hopefully emulated by organizations and individuals alike. Not all examples will be feasible, but they can still help.

Many Baby Boomers are working longer, which makes it harder for Gen X and Gen Y to get jobs or move up the corporate ladder. Thankfully, there are some ways of lessening this difficulty. Take Abbot Labs as an example from this Businessweek article. The company has set up an arrangement where veteran workers can opt to work less days, take more vacation, and keep the same contributions to their retirement. While their salaries are decreased, this generates more opportunities for other employees, which will help close in on the knowledge and experience gaps. 

Additionally, there are Gen Y individuals who are utilizing technology to their advantage with flexible work styles according to an article by the Whig Standard, an online Canadian news site. These individuals are taking on multiple jobs to fulfill their varied needs and wants out of their professional life, which gives them more experience, skills, and knowledge. These parallel careers are made possible by flexible hours, pay for performance, communication accessibility devices (smart phones and the like) and roles that do not require a regular full time commitment.

– The Knowledge and Experience Gap is Growing-

Despite that there are fine examples that some are undertaking, the overall difficulty that having an entire generation underemployed looms over us. This Businessinsider article states that fewer Gen Y individuals have been working in recent years. The long term challenge that this exacerbates is the widening knowledge and experience gap. With retirement stocks and funds being down, job creation not keeping up with demand and Gen Y individuals struggling to find relevant jobs, this problem won’t go away any time soon. As a result of this, the Gen Y individuals that are employed will become even more valuable in the long haul because they will have the skills and abilities an organization needs. Retention and dedication to the best of these employees will be pivotal.

Management and leadership in organizations will be the crux of harnessing and retaining Gen Y individuals. This finding came from an Appreciative Inquiry initiative in a national power company that studied its own employees, its prospective employees, and Gen Y individuals as a whole. From the 100+ Gen Y interviews done the vast majority (more than 75%) strongly emphasized seeking out and valuing good relationships with their colleagues, supervisors, and leadership. Relationships are supremely important. Knowing this, the next step would be to understand how to cultivate good relationships.

From my personal experience and the professional projects I’ve been on, I’ve found that Gen Y is not easy to please. Unlike other generational trends where a particular kind of reward would often fit anyone from a generational population, Gen Y is so diverse that each member may be motivated by different kinds of rewards. Gen Y’s wants and needs are mixed, yet their supervisors play a highly impactful role in their job satisfaction. Instead, leadership in an organization needs to pave the way to create a culture of mindfulness and awareness throughout the organization. By doing so, it can remain attentive to the needs and wants of its employees effectively and then respond accordingly. For the full paper that I wrote on how to lead Gen Y, see this link: Leading Generation Y by Whit Tice.

A conclusion the paper makes is that cultivating mindfulness, receptivity, and awareness throughout an organization will become increasingly important. This is the fundamental element that will allow management, supervisors, and leadership to understand, appreciate, and create lasting positive relationships with their Gen Y counterparts.  Without having such a basis, relationships with Gen Y will be shaky at best. That could lead to an organizational deficiency in knowledge, experience, and the ability to produce high quality work results.

-Conclusion-

The economy and difficulty Gen Y is experiencing will not go away any time soon. There will be ongoing repercussions for many years to come. To begin to overcome these repercussions, there are positive steps that can be made. A culture of mindfulness would go a long way to helping individuals, teams, and organizations overall.

-Links-

Earlier Organizational Strategist blog Gen Y article: https://whittblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/unfortunate-trends-for-gen-y-and-more/

Abbot Labs example: http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/nov2009/ca20091111_435788.htm

Gen Y parallel careers: http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2264034

Gen Y not working much: http://www.businessinsider.com/young-people-arent-working-anymore-2010-1

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January 26, 2010

The key to your introductions is a Unique Value Proposition


-Introduction-

Have you ever had a hard time understanding why a corporate project is happening? You may have wondered the following questions. What are the benefits? Why is it happening at this time? How come I have been asked to be involved? In another instance, you might be talking with someone new that you met at a party, as a part of a networking event, in an interview or even just chatting around the water cooler, and, after ten minutes of taking, you do not know what they actually do for your organization. That can be frustrating and awkward for everyone involved. Having a clear message to describe a project, goal, or even yourself can be very helpful for making a good impression, standing out, and articulating value. This is where having a unique value proposition can really help.

-About Unique Value Propositions-

Recently I was asked what I can give that no one else can give. I will admit that I was taken aback and did not respond well. Comparing myself with all of humanity’s capability and experience made me think that I did not have much to offer. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can give something that no one else can give. However, that was probably not the true intent of the inquiry. Ideally, I would have described the unique value that I do offer without stating I am somehow better than everyone else.

What I could’ve brought up would be what I feel I do particularly well. Unfortunately, I find it hard to advertise for myself. I do believe in myself and am confident in my abilities. However, I try to think through my actions, words, and choices appropriately, respectfully, and truthfully. This can create a quandary in interviews, networking and other areas where a form of competition comes about. It’s especially true when an interviewer asks you what makes you the best candidate.

Before doing an informational interview with an alumnus while doing my MBA at Weatherhead, the term of UVP was unknown to me. UVP stands for Unique Value Proposition. It is a marketing term that is also known as Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It can be used for all sorts of scenarios. Project initiatives, job interviews, networking, investment pitches, stakeholder communications and more can all benefit from having one or more simple, concise, and powerful UVPs. Having multiple UVPs can help where there are different values to articulate. For example, it would be helpful for me to articulate what my UVP is as an organizational strategist, as a Web 2.0 practitioner and consultant, and as a Gen Y researcher. These three areas are interests of mine, but often create different conversational paths due to the varied topics.

-Creating a Unique Value Proposition-

Here are some simple steps and tips to creating an individual’s UVP. To create a UVP for a product, project, initiative or other method, a very similar process can be followed.

1) List who you want to talk with: this will help determine how many UVPs you will need and the directions you can take your UVP(s)

2) List descriptions of your strengths, unique experiences, and achievements: this will provide the meat of the value portion of your UVP

3) List the stakeholders from step #1: having this list helps identify if there are special circumstances or other nuances you need to address (Need help identifying stakeholders? Check out this earlier blog article)

4) Pick the best elements of what sets you apart: this should cover the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) relating to the stakeholders you just identified

5) Combine it all into a short, pithy, and powerful sentence or phrase: this is where it all comes together in a concise, easy to understand sentence

Tips for UVPs:

– Value comes first. Make sure yours is clear. If there is no value to the proposition, it won’t matter how unique it is.

– Put your UVP into terms that your audience will understand. If it is too technical, has too many buzz words or simply does not make sense, it will not help. If you can articulate your UVP in the same way that they would, that’s marvelous.

– Practice it so that it becomes natural, adaptable, and flows into your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a scalable introduction to a person, project or initiative. The UVP can be the tag line for your elevator pitch.

– Make your UVP interesting and short. These are not speeches, nor do they give all the details. Ideally, after someone hears your UVP, they would want to hear your full elevator pitch. That should lead into a rich discussion.

– For a longer description of UVPs and more details, you can search the web. There are a lot of articles on this and similar topics. Here are a couple of articles that I found to be more informative and helpful: Infomarketerzone article and Summit Insight blog post.

Example UVP:

“The combination of cutting edge tech, business, and OD degrees with Fortune 50 experience make me uniquely positioned to strategically and effectively lead Gen Y initiatives.” 

-Closing-

There are many uses for your unique value proposition. I have found them a good fit for managerial updates and suggested talking points for their teams, website content, email tag lines, and the all important topic of What’s In It For Me(WIIFM) for each stakeholder group. A UVP should resonate with sponsors, leaders, managers, and your specialist workers. Please comment to share your own UVPs and thoughts. Good luck with your efforts!

-Links-

Article that has tips for stakeholder mapping: https://whittblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/accelerating-your-strategic-projects-thru-whole-system-involvement/

Infomarketerzone article: http://www.infomarketerszone.com/public/182.cfm

Summit Insight blog post: http://www.summitinsight.com/blogviewd.asp?id=91

October 12, 2009

Unfortunate trends for Gen Y and more


Generation Y has been an interest of mine for some time now. My interest comes from many angles, but my being on the cusp of Gen Y and Gen X is a major part of it. Another aspect that I want to keep up on is how Gen Y will impact business and how best to work with and/or lead them. During my Masters in Positive Organizational Development and Change degree, I did a leadership paper on how to lead Gen Ys. I may do another post on that in the future.

To give some background, the time period Gen Y usually starts is in the early to mid eighties. The actual range varies depending upon the studies done and how the boundaries are defined in the study, of course. Generally speaking, most Gen Yers, also known as Millennials, are entering the work force or have a handful of years of working experience by now. This places them in entry level positions, where learning is absolutely critical to prove oneself.

Unfortunately for Gen Y, many of the jobs they want and potentially need to get into are less available right now. The world wide economic downturn is certainly a huge set back for everyone. However, that makes it even tougher for a newly minted college grad. How can they get an entry level job, which ironically often require a few years of experience, when they have to compete against seasoned professionals? Why would a company hire a new grad when they can get a seasoned veteran for the same price?

That’s not the only challenge and this next one extends beyond the plight of Gen Yers. There is an even smaller ratio of available company jobs than there might have been if this recession took place several years earlier from now. Baby Boomers have an extraordinary work ethic and they are staying at their job longer than previous generations have. A recent MediaPost article states that the long time veterans are staying on for the following “psychological and social factors:

  • ‘to feel useful’
  • ‘to give myself something to do’
  • ‘to be with other people'”

While I applaud the stamina and dilligence, this trend will lead to systemic problems. If the veterans are not vacating their roles, others will not move up the corporate ladder. This will make it so others do not have as many growth and learning opportunities. Beyond that, there are simply less jobs available. That compounds to make it so that Gen Y and others have a tougher time even getting into the workforce. Gen Y will be forced to wait or take jobs that they aren’t hoping to get into, meaning not in their industry(ies) of choice, and so their initial years in the workforce won’t be building toward long term efforts.

To bring this home, companies need to take action. Companies need to take action both for their own long term sustainability and for the sake of their stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers, etc). Beyond that, Gen Yers need to have opportunities to rise up. Knowledge management has long been a hot topic, but this needs to become a proactive and not just a reactive measure. New and existing lower ranking employees will need opportunities to grow, either through their own promotion and initiative or by having avenues of growth created for them. Thinking of long term strategy, a company needs to constantly be cultivating its employees, especially those companies and industries where expertise takes a long time to create. What would happen if there was a 5-10 year gap in the corporate ladder and experience? What many companies are trying to do is to shift those who are in retiring ages and those who are important and likely to leave, for whatever reason, to more mentoring, teaching, and coaching roles. This idea seems like a great one to me. This will still keep the expertise available for the important business challenges, help ensure that the knowledge/skill is passed on, and satisfy the veteran’s desires to stay active, involved, and social.

I’ve seen knowledge management and personal development done differently in many ways. In some cases, I’ve been really impressed with a company’s efforts or forward thinking. However, I’ve also been worried for the long term business stability, strategy and sustainability of very impressive companies. Regardless, this is a topic of importance that will not soon go away.

Note that this post was edited slightly after its initial publication.

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