Gap Analysis

I’m all over the place these days – literally and figuratively.

Take this blog for example.

One minute I’m sharing how I feel like I’ve lost my creative mojo, then I’m comparing your work team to onions, and then the next I’m building a pedestal for the best candidate experience that I’ve had.  That makes sense, right?

Well, this post is following the same unpredictable trajectory.  Today I’m talking about Millennials.  Why? Because no one talks about Millennials.

I’ve put it out there here and here that labeling, especially regarding generations in the workforce, seems like a big ole cop out to me.  Want to bitch about the people younger than you…want to complain about the people older than you…want to justify why you and your friends are getting a raw deal.  Must be a generational thing.

Oh I know there is some truth in them there words, but like all over-generalizations, there is so much that is lost.

So all that aside, I recently went to a seminar that was talking about Millenials, but not from the perspective of recruiting, or managing, or retaining (entertaining) them.  This presentation spoke to the reality that we are so past that part – now we need to talk about this age group moving into leadership roles.

I read once that a blog is much more respected if it provides stats.

  • At the moment, Millennials make up 29% of the Canadian workforce.
  • By 2025, a mere 10 years away, they will be hovering around the 75%.

If those numbers don’t scare the crap out of you, well…then you are likely a Millennial.  For the rest of us, yikes.  Let me clarify though, what scares me about this number is that I worry that we are not giving them the development and opportunities to succeed in leadership roles.

It’s that catch-22 of needing experience, but not being able to get it…because you don’t have experience.

I went into this seminar armed with a secret weapon.  A Millennial.  I needed some sort of validation that what I was hearing was reflective of how some 20-somethings might be feeling and that it wasn’t just a bunch of bitter Gen-X-ers and Boomers ragging on the new kids.  I often get that impression and find myself becoming defensive.

After all, when you list out what Millennials are supposedly looking for, well they are what I’m looking for, and likely what those older than me are looking for; however, how we define these values and what they look like to each us is where things get blurry.

Flexibility, feedback, collaboration, transparency, work-life balance

These are not new buzz words that were created to accommodate a new generation…but what they mean and how they are asked for (or expected) is different.

Let’s take “flexibility”.  When I talk about flexibility in the workplace – I mean that I want to have the option to work from home when I feel I need or want to. I don’t want to feel that someone is glancing at their watch if I leave 30 minutes early. And really, if I can do my work in four days instead of five – isn’t that a good thing?

But if you talk to my senior management about flexibility – they would agree that we should allow employees to work from home…on an exceptional basis, and with pre-approval.  And flexibility means letting employees choose whether they start at 7:30am or come in at 8:00am…as long as they work 8 hours and stick to a consistent time.

And finally, if you were to poll our intern – she might say that flexibility to her means something similar to what I want, but magnified.  It might mean working when and where she wants – being able to leave mid-day and flexibility, well it means so much more than work schedules to her.

Generation gap? I say so.

Organizations need to go beyond the cool social media blitzes and hip employee handbooks to recognize that saying you offer flexibility may be interpreted differently by many.  In fact, using buzz words without any thought of how these will be applied to employees of varying ages is useless.

So back to my fear for the future leaders. The speed of delivery has increased, the speed of access to information, the speed of communication…they have all ramped up significantly.  And yet, many organizations still feel that career progression needs to take the tortoise route.

Considering that most employees, particularly Millenials, are not going to stay with one organization for 10-15 years, how can you expect their career development to take that long?

I’m not talking about fast-tracking people from entry-level to Director-level in 12 easy steps, but we really need to get past the “pay their dues / earn their keep / do the time” mentality.  Side note: I had a Director that constantly told me that she had more “battle scars” than I did.  This irritated the crap out of me – it was the business equivalent of saying “you don’t know what the hell you are talking about”.

Let’s sit back a minute and consider that whether we like it or not, whether we think they are ready or not, these young come-uppers are going to transition into leadership positions really, really soon.  You can fight it or you can get on-board, understand the gaps, what needs to happen, and then help make it happen.

And that is what I would consider being flexible.

Layers: Onions, ogres and your team

Okay.  Here is where I am at.

I’ve been percolating blog posts in my head for weeks.  At one point I think I had about five partially formulated posts and I wanted to write them out.  I truly did. But I didn’t and now I’m down to one idea.  Sigh.

I wanted to write, but

  • My bed was too cozy
  • There were movies to watch
  • Work is busy
  • We are doing renovations
  • I had chores to do, food to eat and books to read…

I’m thinking that the book I thought I might write someday, well it’s not happening anytime soon.  Oh the pressure of being a little-known blogger.

Seriously though, I would like to talk about layers.

Here in the great white north, layering is a must for two reasons: 1) it keeps you warm and 2) it hides the weight you gain in preparation for hibernation.  (BTW – that second reason may or may not be applicable only to me).  It’s true – layers have a purpose, but they can also hide a multitude of sins.

Every work group, team and department is composed of layers of people.  One quick glance at an organizational chart will confirm this.  There are layers defined by titles and responsibilities.  There are layers established by technical experience and years of service.  And then there are hidden layers that are created by a pecking order and ability to fly under the radar.

Ask a manager to tag his or her employees in terms of whatever ranking you see fit (A-players/ B-players; 1st line/ 4th line; Stars / Space debris) and they can do it.  They know who is the “one to watch” and who is dead weight. Or at least they think they do.

I find in interesting when employees leave (or are asked to leave) and the assumptions that were made about this person suddenly fall apart.  The golden boy…you know the one, the one you HAD to keep because of the amount of corporate knowledge he had…the one that would cause absolute chaos for the rest of the team if he wasn’t there….the one that when you started going through his files and work you realized that there were some serious issues…issues that are now going to bite you in the ass not only because they exist, but you didn’t even know about them.  That’s how good that golden boy was.

And there’s the opposite.  When you finally manage to rid your team of that toxic person, the slacker, the negative Nellie…there is a collective sigh of relief among your employees (led by yourself). That is until the next in line – the second most toxic slacker emerges.  The one that you didn’t know about because the departed employee was taking up your time, allowing others to stay off your radar.

What’s my point? My point is that you don’t know your team as well as you think you do.  My point is that your team is composed of defined and subtle layers and that until you remove or peel back these layers – you likely will never know what’s really in there.

Layers have a purpose, but they can also hide a lot of things.

The unicorn candidate

A quick glance through my blogs posts will reveal that I have a tendency to focus on and write about the things that irritate me. Do I think it’s my purpose in life to point out the failings of others? Do I have to be as judgmental as I am? Do I think the world would be a better place if everyone else were more like me?

Of course not.

But be honest with yourself. If you are a regular reader of my blog – do you come for the unicorns, rainbows and cupcakes? Are you looking for quotes that are worthy of a motivational poster?

Of course not.

There is a mutual understanding that you are here to read my take on things and I’m going to deliver that.

I try to go as far as Sarcasm, but not all the way to Snark. Snark is just mean and petty. Sarcasm for me is like two glasses of wine…both make me feel like I’m a pretty damn witty person.

However, even I am capable of seeing good and I am more than willing to share. Especially when it comes to recruitment, which is my regular whipping post for all things evil.

It’s true.

Most aspects of recruitment make me feel like I’m being subjected to some social experiment designed to test my sanity and patience. And this is generally the result of candidates who blatantly disregard the process/system because they read some terrible HR-blogger advice that you should break all the rules.

However, there are some gems out there and this post is about one of them.

I had the good fortune of screening and interviewing a candidate who was good and really keen, but not the right person for the job at the time. And when I told him this, he asked if he could keep in touch with me because he really wanted to work with us. I said yes, but thought…great, more phone calls to avoid.

He did keep in touch with me on a regular, but respectful basis. His updates included news about what he was up to personally and career wise. He asked good questions about what kind of training or reading might be useful, should another position come available. He found a great balance between staying on my radar and not being completely annoying. His emails were never pushy and I never resented having to answer them.

When an opening became available – he was the first person I contacted.

He now works for us and I am told he is showing incredible potential and commitment in the role. This is really not a surprise to me because he showed incredible potential and commitment in his approach to his job search. I mean, he should be writing a blog advising candidates on what to do.

It’s not very often that I am without a snappy comment about a situation.

It’s about as rare as unicorns eating rainbow-coloured cupcakes. Or the candidate that does it right.

How asking for feedback saved this blog

If Golom had only asked Bilbo this riddle, maybe he could have kept his damn Precious.

I am always asked for, but never really wanted?
I am often avoided when needed and ignored when warranted?
Both my presence and absence hold the power to determine fate.
What am I?

All you HR people out there, stop waving your hands in the air, I’m not going to pick you. Geesh, no wonder they won’t let you sit at the table.

The answer is feedback.

Ah yes, the elusive feedback. We want it, but aren’t always happy with what we get, whether it’s because it’s not enough or not what we expected.

Managers avoid giving it when there’s a problem and don’t think it’s necessary when things are going well. Similarly, employees don’t feel that they need to provide feedback – they assume their managers can read their mind.

Feedback has the power to influence whether someone improves, fails, stays, leaves, smiles, cries, or writes a blog post.

Is it really that big a deal? Shouldn’t our employees be big boys and girls and learn how to self-soothe? Why do they need their manager to pat them on the bag or kick the in them arse all the time?

Why indeed.

Let me tell you something about the power of feedback, in a non-work context.

Over the past year or so I have been struggling with finding my place in the universe. I know, that sounds grandiose, but I don’t mean it in some existential way, I just mean asking the questions about what I want, what I want to do, what I’m willing to do. This included my work, my interests, and even this blog.

In fact, all this introspection started because I heard an advertisement for a lottery and the tagline was something like “what would you do with millions”. I listened to the different dreams and then wondered what would I do if I had carte-blanche.

You know what? Beyond the mundane pay off my mortgage, go on a trip, buy some clothes…I came up blank.

I had, as Anne Shirley would say, “no scope of imagination”. Basically, I could not come up with a dream, a passion to pursue, a hobby to explore….I was creativity-less. I started to panic when I realized that I might just be living in black and white.

So I read, I wrote lists, I did some soul-searching, but I really felt like I had developed a filter so thick and effective that I was no longer able to see my true self. I needed help.

I put it out there to a few people close to me, whose opinions I value and honesty I could count on, and asked them…what do you think are my strengths, what do you see me potentially doing (either as a career or a hobby). I was worried that they would come back with the same results as me: “I don’t know” or worse, tell me that who I was today was exactly who they saw me as.

Their answers were overwhelmingly supportive, somewhat surprising, and very encouraging.

And maybe because I put this out there, I received unsolicited feedback that was actually on par with what my supporters gave me. Or maybe I was just more open to hearing it.

The common thing I was told was that my “writing” was my strength, my interest, and my potential.

Oddly enough this is not something that I came up with on my own. I like to write, mostly because it’s a socially acceptable way of enjoying the sound of my own voice, but also because it helps me understand and make links among the various parts of my life.

To hear that others think I’m good at this is unexpected, but welcome feedback. I know that sounds like false modesty, but it’s not. I have a terrible habit of under-estimating myself so this was motivating and encouraging. It hasn’t given me delusions of grandeur or unrealistic expectations – it’s reassured me that maybe others like the sound of my voice too.

I desperately need a creative outlet in my life and writing is one possible way of achieving this.

So if you find yourself wondering whether providing feedback is worth it, consider that this post, and possibly the blog, would not have existed without it. And to me that is truly precious.

Playing the Fool

There are days when I watch what is going on around me and, truthfully, pay too much attention to what others are or are not doing.  This can leave me anywhere from sad to seething.

Oh I know that I should just focus on my work and those things that I can control, but it’s really hard to ignore situations and behaviours that are contrary to my work ethic.

I also know that I shouldn’t judge other people.  But I do. In my head. (Because I work in HR and in HR, we don’t judge…*snicker*)

I get irritated when people complain about the amount of work they do, but then continuously and purposely waste their time.  I get irritated when people complain about decisions that have no impact on them. Or play mind games. Or just flake out.

And most of all I really, really get irritated…when all of those things seem to work in their favour.

Yes, the crux of my resentment is that fact that I can show up and follow my understanding of the “right things” – and yet, and the end of the day we are all standing at the same line.  And I wonder, wait a minute…how did you get here too?!

Some nights when I return home and the reality of the day’s events have been fully absorbed, I wonder, “who really is the fool in this scenario?”

And often the answer is “me”.

I would like to say I believe in karma, but the problem is that it takes so damn long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be careful for what you wish for

I grew up with a relatively equal amount of male friends and female friends. This started in grade school and stretched well into university and beyond. In fact, during high school, I would say that the majority of my friends were guys or at least it seemed that way.

At the time I felt this was the better option. Conversations with guys were less complicated – they were straightforward and not loaded with potentially misinterpreted emotional outbursts. They were calm, relaxed and it was no big deal if you just sat there and watched the TV show. I appreciated how direct they were with each other – no clouding what you really thought. Maybe someone got pissed off, but by the end of the day…it was over. They laughed at each other, swore, and didn’t talk about what they were wearing the next day.

And so, I hung out with them when I could because life seemed so much easier with them.  Had you asked, I would have told you that I would have more issues raising a girl than boy – I mean, how could I relate? Could I deal with all the drama?

Funny how time and perspective can change your opinion on things.

Like being the parent of a teenage boy.

Suddenly all those characteristics that I found appealing as a teen are completely irritating as a mother.

That calm relaxed demeanor without emotional outbursts seems more like living with an extra from The Walking Dead.

The direct, no BS way of talking…yeah well, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, ” it’s not what you just said – it’s the tone you used”, I could buy an island and escape the oppressing fog of disdain that I live under.

I thought my friendships from adolescence would have prepared me for raising a teenage boy. I believed that my teenage daughter would have been my nemesis – given that I actively avoided dealing with them when I was one. What I have discovered is that the only things that these experiences gave me were false expectations and bad assumptions.

This is not unlike the manager or VP who is determined to fill their team with high-energy, career-driven, status-challenging people.

Why? Because that it is who they were in their early career – they pushed boundaries, crossed lines and rocked boats. And look at what they achieved!

But being one of these A-players is not the same as managing an A-player.

They can be a pain in the ass. They can be high maintenance. They can be insubordinate, disruptive, and plain ole irritating. I mean, why can’t they just follow the plan and stop questioning everything?

Why?

Because you got what you wished for.

The problem is that you didn’t really stop to consider what you were wishing for.

My Six Million Dollar Life makeover: Better, stronger, faster

When I was 19, I realized that my family, as I knew it, was coming to an end.  Oh there had always been warning signs, but they just seemed like a constant presence of smoke, with no flames.  However, there was a day when I knew there was more than just smoke – things were burning down.

All this may sound a tad melodramatic. After all, separation and divorce were not that unusual at that time and it’s not as if were the Waltons, despite how fervently my mom wanted us to be.  But it was still a very sad and unsettling feeling.

I was at an age that I was still young and self-absorbed enough to only really worry about myself, but old enough to head out on my own.  And that I did – determined to establish my own place and own family.

Now, fast-forward some 20+ years and I’m faced with the same sadness and anxiety that I felt at 19 when I faced the reality of what was out of my control.  My daughter is heading off (under much better and supportive circumstances), my son is distancing himself from both his parents (as is his god-given right and obligation as a 14-year old boy), and my husband and I struggle (together) to make sense of our careers, our future and what we want to do with it now that the focus is changing.

I truly feel as though I am on the cusp of my family unit, as I have come to know it, ending.  We all still need each other and will be there, but not the same way.  It will never be the same way.  I am really lucky to have the great kids that I do and the amazing husband that I have…not matter what I might gripe about some times…but it does scare me to think about the free fall that will happen immediately after we take this big leap of faith.

I understand that to make something stronger, sometimes you have to break it apart and reconfigure it in a way that is more effective and resistance.  I get this, but what we can’t overlook is that generally speaking, the breaking process hurts.

[Like the six millionaire dollar man, "...we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was. Better, stronger, faster." ]

In the past few months, I have focused so much on the planning and execution of what’s to come, that I really didn’t put too much thought into what to do and how to handle the aftermath.  How to focus on that rebuilding and reconfiguring. And it’s become apparent that without this part, there is a potential for all the parts to just drift away.

I know this from experience.

And when it’s happening, I don’t need to hear any of the following:

  • Don’t worry you’ll get over it soon
  • Be grateful you can afford to send your kid away / have a job
  • It happens to everyone
  • At least you have your health
  • You need to embrace change

The last thing I would expect or want is a pity party, but some recognition that going through change is more than simply rearranging furniture or getting used to a new role – it has an emotional component that can leave people feeling vulnerable, and lost.

I may be a stronger person because of these changes that I have gone through, but I also recall how it felt to go through them and gratitude for the pain was not top of the list.