Mohammed Ali, the legendary boxer, authored the world’s shortest poem:
He shared it during a speech at Harvard in 1975.
I spent a good chunk of my youth thinking only about me. Who did well in school? I did. Who earned his black belt? I did. Who put himself through college? Learned how to fly? Traveled the world?
But you know the truth. None of us are silos of success. None of us actually achieve anything by ourselves. Instead, we accomplish with the help of others.
We learn independence at a young age and that’s good. Eventually we discover interdependence is even better. There are no rich hermits.
At the office, our challenge is to build strong teams and to nurture the good work from everyone. Together. And focused on stuff that matters.
The first impulse of many young entrepreneurs is to do it all themselves. This is the proverbial 17-hat syndrome. Move-out-of-the-way-I’ll-just-do-it-myself type thing.
We know that doesn’t work. At least not in the long run.
An organization based on a superstar is not worth much. If you are the sole lynchpin, the one person who makes everything happen, then your business is on vacation when you are. It sleeps when you do. And it’s out sick when you are.
You can’t sell that business easily. At least not for what you think it’s worth. And you can’t escape the work until you do.
Key is the ‘we.’ To hire, train and motivate a cohesive group of talented people who truly care. And to do it in a way that ultimately makes you obsolete.
This week I’m giving a speech to group of executives on how to integrate Millennials into the workforce. The title is ‘Generational Change: How Emerging Technologies Are Changing The Workplace And Why It Matters.’ (I will record a version of the presentation and share it with you. Let me know if you are interested: supergeeks.net/free )
To remain competitive, leaders and managers must leverage multiple generational teams. This means developing the ability to hire millennials and keep them engaged. Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve learned:
Stereotypes are entertaining.
Each generation has its share of negative stereotypes. Boomers are narcissistic and Gen Xers are slackers. With role models like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber, Millennials are even more narcissistic than Boomers. Millennials want fame and fortune but they don’t want to work for it.
But none of these stereotypes are fair. We can just as easily say Boomers value loyalty, Xers value work-life balance, and Millennials value innovation and change.
With so much debate over the true nature of any given generation, it’s probably wise to leave the stereotypes at the door.
First, try to understand.
Childhoods matter. When you and I were kids, we watched the Walter Cronkite with our families. TVs had just 3 stations back then and cartoons were available only on Saturday mornings. We hung out at malls and played outdoors. Think about it: We were the last generation to play in the streets.
Millennials, on the other hand, grew up with AOL and the internet. They were the first to get toys like the tamagotchi and they danced the macarena.
Their childhood was marked by school shootings, 9/11 terrorist attacks, AIDs, and divorce.
It’s no surprise Millennials are global thinkers. They are patriotic, they want to be the next great generation, and they want to right all the wrong they see in the world.
Be open to change.
Millennials are the most educated generation and they are extremely tech savvy. Think Mark Zuckerberg. Be prepared to upgrade your IT.
Millennials are internet-centric. They probably have a web-based way of doing what we’ve always done the ‘old school’ way. And their way is probably more frictionless and less expensive.
Use millennials to re-imagine your assumptions about efficiency and quality.
Millennials are hotly competitive. They want to shine, they want to do meaningful work, and they are at ease in teams.
Frame your corporate mission into smaller subsets. Give your teams clear expectations, demonstrate how success fits into the bigger picture, and challenge the Millennials to innovate.
Create a real sense of ownership. Keep them focused. Do this via tangible projects and highly socialized teams. Value competence over titles. Try to stay out of the way.
Millennials want to please. They look to the workplace for direction. Give it to them.
Upgrade your toolset.
There are probably an infinite number of reasons why your organization is not using newer technologies like Slack, Hangouts, and Instagram. But Millennials won’t understand why you continue to hang onto the status quo.
To retain young talent, you must have a youthful company. Less bureaucracy, flexible schedules, and decentralized operations are enticing to Millennials. Those themes also make good business sense.
Regardless, the way you are doing things is probably in need of a makeover. Make it happen.
Don’t go cheap.
The industrial revolution served us well. It taught us to simplify our processes into smaller and simpler steps so we could ‘dumb down’ the work. This led to the division of labor and the ability to make things less expensively through reduced labor costs.
The internet has changed everything. Now, anyone can make almost anything and sell it almost anywhere, anytime. At first glance, it seems like this democratization of the market is leading us to commoditization, where there’s little in the way of differentiation and where price seems to drive the sale.
But it’s the not the way to go. Instead of competing by racing to the bottom on price, we should strive to deliver superior service, exceptional quality and remarkable customer experiences so we can stand above the rest.
At the end of the day, this requires investing in people who are willing to do the hard work — who consistently bring attentiveness, creativity and enthusiasm to common interactions.
If we want excellence (and we do!), then we have to pay for it.