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Put-in Peggy.

Put-in Peggy

Put-in Peggy

When a group of people set off on a river raft expedition, the initial launch site is called the “put in.”   Recently, my husband brought together a group of 16 people, a year’s worth of planning, hundreds of travel miles and countless logistics to begin an epic raft trip through the Grand Canyon.   At the put-in, he was met by the assigned park ranger named Peggy.   Our friend Peggy carried a clipboard and an overzealous want of authority.   Peggy’s mantra was: “No…   What is the question?”

Park Ranger Peggy was doing her job.   She needed to check all of the boxes on the sheets on her clip board to make sure this group of people met the requirements of setting off through the national Grand Canyon treasure.    Peggy knew she had authority to make or break this trip, and made sure the group knew that too. She held the investment of money, time and coordination of 16 people in her hands.

How often in the workplace, or in life, have you encountered a Peggy?   I’ve experienced this many times with vendors, at the DMV and with the cable companies.   The scenario is this:   I need to get something done and the person (gatekeeper) can only operate according to script, follow every rule to the “t”, cannot see the forest through the trees and is not the least bit interested in solving any hiccups…and a little drunk with authority.     For me, this scenario is maddening.   Instantly I can feel my blood pressure rise and find it easy to move to a defensive posture.   And I consider myself a professional that deals with people and behaviors regularly.   Imagine how difficult this can be for our kids at home that do not yet have the tools to successfully manage situations with “box checkers” in authority?

Thinking about the experience with Put-in Peggy gives an opportunity to cover some tips when a situation arises with someone who holds authority over the situation, refuses to communicate logically and cannot see beyond the boxes they need to check.   It is critical to future success to have these tools to guide through such situations.   They are inevitable.

  • Breathe: Take a deep breath and even tune out a little if you have to.   Sometimes the opening statements given by the person are required and the person saying the words just needs to get them out.   Listen patiently and tell yourself that you can take on this challenge and win by winning-over.
  • Read the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”: This is the handbook to dealing with people in the workplace and in life. I think it should be required reading in high school. People can be the best part of a job…and the worst.   Arm yourself with education.   This human interaction blueprint is timeless; first published in 1936.
    • Lessons:
      • You can only get someone to do something if they want to do it.
      • You can’t win an argument.
      • And how to get cooperation.
  • Ask questions: By engaging the person to offer their own expertise, the conversation can switch from a dictative one to an interactive one.   A better outcome will result.
  • Admit fault: Be willing to throw yourself under the bus a little.   This can ease any power struggles and allow the person continued authority but without any threat.

Learning to handle these situations calmly and smoothly can be a challenge but the long-term payoff is worth the extra efforts.   Ultimately the winner is you.

keep_calm_and_listen_to_a_park_ranger_mousepad

Wait your turn.

Wait your turn.

Wait your turn.

Vacation means standing in line.   Lines form at the airport, car rental, hotel check in, the ice cream stand and the water slide at the pool.   Everywhere we travel, we stand in line and wait our turn.   Fortunately kids have this societal norm down pat.   From a very young age they  learn to stand in line and not unfairly jump ahead of those that are waiting before them. In fact, when someone does try to jump ahead, those in line feel slighted and carefully watch for the reasons of the shortcut.   The group dynamic taking place is powerful and no one wants to feel they have had to wait longer than rightfully so.

Think about this in terms of the workplace and waiting in line for a promotion, more responsibility or different title.   Repeatedly I read that the next generation of workers doesn’t put the weight into a title or promotion that the Gen Xers or Boomers have historically.    Yet, the next generation also seems to not want to wait in line for their turn.   Many Millennials that are college grads feel entitled to start their careers in a management role.   No conceptualization for those that have worked for years and have experience and institutional knowledge.   What will the Gen Zs that are still at home expect when they get to the workplace?     This dichotomy is interesting because the very children that were raised to understand how to consistently wait their turn, have no desire to do so when they get to the workplace.

Millennials were raised with a lot of attention and praise and feel they have an abundance of value on day one on the job.    With that dynamic, what can parents and professionals that are in the middle of our careers say to them to guide a more realistic path that educates on the realities of a new career, instead of unrealistic expectations?   A few thoughts:

  • Your boss will not be like a parent:   Yes, parents tell their kids how great they are.   And, have we gone too far by rewarding them for every-single-thing they do?   Real life means some level of failure and/or disappointment.   Talk to kids about how a boss would view their actions.   That may help level-set their expectations of the workplace.
  • Access:   Technology means that kids can short cut the answer to any question.   All they have to do is look it up online.   What does a CEO make?   Google it.   What are the best jobs?   Google the answer.   Other generations didn’t know this until they ventured out on their own and learned the answers.   Now the “answers” are instantly accessible; and not all that realistic.   Be another powerful voice to your kids and talk about how the workplace works and don’t let their only resource be online searches.
  • Experience:   Impatience is a trait in an age of instant gratification.   There are ways to combat this at home by not supplying every need, instantly.   A new game or new toy might mean working for it with some chores and earning it over time.   The more easily things are given, the less they are appreciated. Communicate your own experiences of times when the years you have worked have paid off in a situation that you would not have handled well when you were in your 20s.   I have many examples of instances when experience got me through a contentious meeting, not education.
  • Connectivity:   I do love that I can text or contact my kids at most any moment throughout the day.   And, the same is true that they can reach me.   This is how it works now and I don’t see it changing.   At the same time, is this creating an unrealistic type of communication?   If an employee contacts me with every small question and expects an answer almost immediately, I find myself completely frustrated.   They are not considering that I cannot always respond right away or that I would expect them to research an answer before they simply ask.   It would be great for my kids to learn to “think” about how to find an answer and wait an appropriate amount of time for a response. When possible and appropriate,  have your kids figure out things on their own.

Millennials and Gen Z have many wonderful qualities that they are bringing, and will bring to the workplace.   Education from home that speaks to the values of waiting in line for their turn will help mitigate the sting of unrealistic expectations of them walking into a first job as the CEO.   Education on the values of gaining all levels of experience and honoring each step will serve them well.

Easier work.

easyFrequently I ask myself what I can do to make other people’s job easier.   If it is my boss, it might be getting the general direction and then taking a project from his plate.   If it is direct reports, it might be finding a new software or giving other resources to help them.   By working unselfishly and offering efforts without an expectation in return, everyone rises to a pleasant and productive state.   This type of environment fosters reciprocity and soon others do that for me too.   My job becomes easier.

The children I am raising don’t seem to get this at all.   At this time in their lives it is more about keeping score and the concept of offering help to make a siblings life easier is completely foreign. Kids tend to be the center of their own little universe and teaching them how to be grateful and not entitled is difficult. In order to start to teach gratitude and helpfulness, some of the following topics will have to be discussed; repeatedly:

  • The “we”:   Using the word “we” instead of “you” is powerful in any environment.   “We will work on project X” sounds much better than “you need to work on project X.”  We need to eat dinner and we need to all clean up.   Learning the idea of working together in a group or team on any task is going to bode well for them in the future.
  • Gratitude:   Regularly talk about what you are grateful for.   Bring to conscious all of the things that could quickly go away, and give thanks.   These little conversations will develop a broader thought process that is more inclusive of others and fosters thoughts about how others function in their daily lives.   It is all about recognizing other paths in life.
  • Help:   Have kids help.   The more you do for them, the less appreciative they will be.   Yes it takes longer.   Yes it can be frustrating.   Think of it as a long-term strategy.
  • Generosity:   Be a generous person yourself.   Do your children see you helping others?   Do they see you trying to recognize moments of another’s need?   Show them these times and how you can quickly and quietly spring to action.   Not for the purpose of recognition but for true compassion or caring.
  • Say no:   Always saying yes is not reality.   And, it isn’t going to teach thankfulness for what kids already have.   It is ok to say “no.”   Entitlement is not an attractive quality in life.
  • Time:   This is the hardest one – time.   These lessons have to be repeated over, and over and over.   Sadly, I think the true value resonates with kids after they leave home.   It’s frustrating because a parent doesn’t get to witness firsthand the true payoff of their labors.

These ideas can help develop a more prepared next-generation workforce to make their boss and coworkers have it a bit easier.   The result will be an easier environment for themselves.

Tools in the yard.

N9pRwacr1l1UWyLzThis week I have my kids at my childhood farm in Iowa. For the most part my kids are “city kids” and when we get the farm there are some new rules.   When the kids play in the garage at home, putting tools away is required but the ramifications of leaving them out is not much more than getting lectured by the parents. However, when the kids are at the farm and leave a tool in the yard, the ramifications are costly.   One hammer left out can completely ruin a very expensive riding lawn mower.  And, when the yard is several acres, it is hard to check the grass ahead of time.   The kids don’t have the wherewithal to see the ramifications of their actions; until they learn the hard way or are told.

This scenario makes me think of a similar phenomenon in the workplace.   Business needs people who are willing to venture out into the “yard” with their tools to drive GP and grow.   However, often the business development people leave their tools in the yard for the fulfillment side of the business to pick up.   Common behavior…and annoying behavior.

To teach these next generation workers to think beyond their own actions, consider having some of these discussions:

  • Thinking: Are you doing the thinking for your kids?   Each time there is an action that has an effect on someone else, are you handling the situation for them?   Or asking them what the potential outcome might be?   When the hammer was left in the yard, should we have picked it up and put it away?   Or was there a better option?   Managers at work are guilty too.   Solving all problems with no explanation to the actions does not benefit the organization.   If a sales manager over promises, a fulfillment manager might under deliver.   No one wins in that situation.   Rather, if the sales manager spent some time looking at and thinking about fulfillment or fulfillment took the time to communicate their process, they would both be less likely to sell a potential mess.
  • Logic: Ask kids to explain the next steps in any situation.   When traveling, ask them (age appropriate) questions about how to find out if the plane is on time, the next gate or where to find ground transportation. Don’t lead automatically and let them blindly follow you. Logical thinking leads to better behaviors in the workplace and when kids are taught at home it will be inherent.
  • Relevancy: When I asked about the hammer in the yard, I get all the reasons why they needed the hammer.   I don’t care. That is not relevant. They didn’t put it away.   That is relevant.    How often at work do you pose a question to get the answer to a different question?
  • Accuracy: “Yes.   What is the question?”   Often kids jump into something and then figure out if it is a good idea later.   At work, the goal is to drive business and saying “yes” to everything is pretty easy.   It is better to find out if something is actually possible and communicate an honest “no” than to try to please upfront.   Teach kids to look at the facts and make accurate decisions.

Sound decision-making is arguably the biggest part of getting a promotion in the workplace.   Teaching this at home can offer kids a huge advantage when they start their own career.   Parenting with this in mind takes more time and sometimes more pain, but teaching why they can’t leave their tools behind is the right thing to do.

 

Triangles.

triangles_20pernrose_20borromee_1_Have you ever felt like you were pulled into the role of a third-party to a conflict you had no intention of joining?   The phenomenon is called triangulation and happens regularly in most of our lives.   Triangulation can take a couple of different forms.   One person could be designated as the messenger between two others or designated as the communicator between the other two (the go-between). Or, a form of “splitting” takes place, with one person (person A) playing the third person (person C) against the family member or coworker (person B) that they are upset with.   This is playing two people against each other and the person doing the “splitting” usually assassinates both characters in the process.

Triangulation in the workplace is an unproductive behavior that chips away at the culture.   It can be indirect and subtle, therefore, difficult to manage.   And, if you are the triangulator, it’s worse, because you are largely unaware.    If you were raised or work without awareness in such an environment you may not know any differently and continue perpetuating unintentionally.

The best place to combat this behavior is at home.   By recognizing, not tolerating and ultimately educating on such behaviors, we can send better prepared workers to recognize occurrences of triangulation and combat them at the root.

Here are some signs it is happening in your household:

  • Two stories: Kids regularly tell mom one thing and dad another, and reactions are based solely on the child communication without checking with the other parent.   The child quickly learns they control the environment and raises the levels as their cognitive abilities grow.
  • Two styles: If one parent is strict and the other is lenient, the lenient parent might over compensate for the behavior of the stricter parent.   The child gravitates to the easier parent and creates the image of the “bad guy”.
  • Conflict or divorce:   These are situations ripe with triangulation possibilities.   If there is conflict under one roof, the child feels the strain to pick sides.   Worse, parents start to communicate their partner frustrations and splitting occurs. In divorce household, these problems can be magnified.
  • Blended families:   Now introduce even more parents (people) into the mix and the complexity grows.

From all the scenarios above, imagine them in the workplace.   It isn’t too hard to do.   Ideas to avoid or reset triangulatory behaviors are:

  • Explain:   Some degree of conflict is normal and expected.   Explain this and teach how to address the upsetting situation or words directly with the person in conflict.   Using a third-party is not an option.
  • Don’t interject:   If it is between siblings, let some of the little conflicts get resolved by themselves.   Teach that tattling and complaining does not fix the problem and don’t reinforce that by listening to endless chatter about another child.   Tell the child to explain the problem, offer solutions to resolve and move on.
  • Bite your tongue:   Easier said than done. If a manager talks to employees about other employees, triangulation will be seen as acceptable and part of the culture. The same is true at home.   Don’t let yourself get pulled into the triangle and rise to the occasion.   The occasions will be presented and you will be tested.
  • Don’t be a third corner (of the triangle):  The best way to cut off the behavior is to not participate in the behavior.   Don’t feed the problem.   As hard as it is to not engage, don’t.

 

Baby steps.

Photo credit:  Celeste Johnson

Photo credit: Celeste Johnson

I snapped this photo with my iPhone when I was in Bratislava, Slovakia.   The little boy is standing on what was formerly a military bunker in the Iron Curtain zone along the Danube River, across from Austria. What I assume is grandpa, is a person that remembers a much different time.   A worse time.   The little boy has no idea what came before him and finds the old, bullet ridden bunker a fun piece of playground equipment.   I don’t know these people and this picture hangs in my office as a profound reminder to me that the world can and does get better.

 

I believe the workplace gets better too and generation Z will find some fantastic opportunities there.

Here are some human resource changes and laws that are improving the workplace for the next generation of workers:

  • Diversity and equality protections:   There are laws such as Title VII that make it illegal for employers to discriminate and most companies have recognized and embraced the value of diversity in the workplace.   Our grandparents faced this challenges, our kids will find it less so.
  • Ability to work from anywhere: Technology has changed the working landscape.   Many jobs are now capably of being accomplished from anywhere.   A web designer can log in from the lodge at the ski resort and an accountant can audit and file tax returns from their own living room.   Not every job will move in this direction but if a person wishes to seek out a remote career, the possibilities are there.
  • Rewards that align with values: This Harvard Business Review article talks about how companies are understanding how to convey their value and be rewarding to the workers, not just the shareholders.   This can be accomplished through open communication, recognizing strengths and allowing for individual ownership in jobs.   These types of employers exist today and are becoming more prevalent.
  • The entrepreneurial spirit:   According to this article from Forbes only 13% of Millennials want to climb the corporate ladder, whereas 67% want to start their own business.   This is exciting!
  • Green technologies: Caring for the environment is not new, but doing so through company policy is.   The next generation workforce will not only seek out green policies, they will expect it.
  • Wage and hour laws: Wage and hour laws are strict and nearly all employers comply.   The days of misclassification and avoidance of overtime are diminishing.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility:  Companies are learning that doing work outside of the walls and into the community continues the cycle of good workers.   The Millennials are driving more of this and it will be part of business for Generation Z.
  • Self-Expression: Within the last 5 years I have seen more and more companies loosen their standard business professional dress policies.   There is wider acceptance to tattoos, piercings and hair colors.   These types of self-expression are no longer contained to niche industries but found in legal, medical and educational services as well.
  • Communication and information access: This drives all of the bullet points. Like no other time in history, communication is accessible and unlimited.   Our incoming workforce has grown up with technology and lives on information platforms online.   Companies can’t hide and will lose if they have ulterior motives or hidden agendas.   Instead, companies are embracing new transparencies and acting in everyone’s best interest and using that as their competitive strategy.
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