Growing Up: Millennials In The Workplace



Taken as a group, I am a fan of the Millennials. Make that a BIG fan.  Their combination of optimism, high expectations, and eager participation is a breath of fresh air among the prevailing curmudgeons and worry warts.  I love it when millennials raise their hands with the tough question everyone in the group was thinking but few had the guts to express. I love the skeptical attitude toward arcane practices that really don’t work for anyone anymore.  Fearless; we need a few more of the fearless. If you don’t think you can change the world in your twenties, you’re in trouble. We’re all in trouble. So, put me down as “ Go Get ‘Em” for the Millennials.

My enthusiasm for our newest workplace generation is tempered by the size of my groan when I read Anita Hofschneider’s column “Hiring Millennials? Meet The Parents” in the September 11 edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Hofschneider describes emerging practices to involve the parents of millennials in the workplace. Here is where I draw the line. The workplace is the last chance to finally grow up and be your own person. Don’t give away this golden opportunity to be your grown up self.

I’m glad many millennials have great relationships with their parents. But every great relationship needs boundaries, and the workplace is one of them. You might ask what’s the harm in Bring Your Parents to Work Day.  Here’s the harm. Some parents get confused about whose job it is and whose workplace it is. Some employees believe the workplace has hired “Team Kelly” instead of just “Susan.” And, what about the new employee whose parents say, “It’s your career, honey. We’re here to support you, but it’s your job.” How does she explain that she’s the solo venture in an environment of career partnerships? What about the new employee whose parents are deceased or live a long distance away.  Or, consider the employee whose parents make minimum wage and can’t afford the day off to see Johnny’s cubicle? How included do they feel on “Parent’s Day” at work? It’s fine to have Mom and Dad pop in to see where their precious little one works and meet the professional significant others in their life. But a day set-aside just for Mom and Dad has unintended consequences that last far beyond a day.

Don’t even get me started on the emerging employer practices to invite parents to interviews, send home copies of job offers and performance reviews, write notes to Mom about meeting goals or (GASP!) ask the boss do home visits. No. No, Never, Don’t Even Think About It.  But don’t just listen to me. Ms. Hofschneider quotes Lauren Bailey, a millennial new to the workplace who said if she were given a letter from her employer to bring home to her parents, “I’d almost feel like I was back in high school.”  Or, if her parents participated in an interview or recruiting event: “I’d be worried that they are speaking for me.” My advice is to hire millennials like Lauren.

I’ll end where I began. As a group, I love the millennials. I welcome your enthusiasm, “sky is the limit” confidence and willingness to challenge the status quo. But you can keep all of these attributes and enter the workplace as an independent, prepared professional. And, you must be to affect the change you expect.  Others of your age have done this. The Freedom Riders were college age adults who got on buses alone to fight for Civil Rights in the American South. Martin Luther King was 26 years old when he championed the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Michelangelo created The Pieta at age 24 and painted the Sistine Chapel at age 29.  The list of lasting, adult achievements at a young age is very long.

Be our next hero. Make Mom and Dad be proud of your success – what you achieved by your own grown up self.


Interview With Best Selling Author Kevin Sheridan: Building a Magnetic Culture


“Culture” is frequently cited as either the “secret sauce” of organizational success or the cause of institutional decline. Every executive I’ve ever spoken with has an opinion about his or her organization’s culture. It’s either something to carefully nourish as an asset or a success barrier to fix. Everyone seems to agree that a great culture with highly engaged employees is an advantage worth striving for.  The “What” seems settled; “How” is the question.

Well, we are in for a treat today! I recently interviewed Kevin Sheridan, author of Building a Magnetic Culture: How to Attract and Retain Top Talent to Create an Engaged, Productive Workforce.   His book has been on six bestseller lists, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. If you want to improve your organization’s culture through employee engagement, Kevin knows how!  His years of experience in leading and advising organizations are reflected in his incisive yet practical insights. Kevin generously shared his perspective on commonly asked questions about building a great culture through employee engagement. My questions are in italics; his responses follow.

The “Yes, But…” Leader

Imagine that you are meeting with a CEO who is leading an organizational turn around within a turbulent industry. She “gets” that employee engagement is important, but is something to focus upon when the organization is on more stable ground. How would you make the case to focus on engagement as part of a turn around strategy?

One of the things I’d say to that CEO is “Employee engagement equals performance. If you knew that engagement is a vital tool to turnaround the organization and avert future turnarounds, why wouldn’t you use it?” I’d share the Wharton Business School study, which shows that organizations with best in class employee engagement (i.e. top 10%) make 3.5 times more money than organizations with average employee engagement. Would she say that it’s not the right time to make more money? (Comment: Building a Magnetic Culture is loaded with data that proves the relationship between employee engagement levels and organizational performance.)

The other thing I’d ask about is employee turnover.  If she were in a turnaround and always fighting fires, I’d wonder if the organization is hemorrhaging people. Turnover costs the U.S. economy $300 billion each year. For each person who voluntarily leaves, estimate the annual salary of the departing person to find and hire his or her replacement. So, I’d ask her to look at the number of employee departures and multiply by their annual salaries to estimate her turnover cost. Then, I’d tell her that (in the U.S.), 59% of all new employees are gone within a year and 79% are gone within 18 months. So unless engagement is addressed, including how to hire for cultural fit and engage early, the cycle just repeats.

The key to this conversation is to make the business case that a focus on improving employee engagement, in particular the numbers of highly engaged employees, is a critical component to her turnaround strategy.

The Ambivalent Majority

Much of the engagement research has a focus on actively engaged or actively disengaged employees. You emphasize the importance of attending to ambivalent employees. Why? And, how might organizations do that?

Tend to the ambivalent employee population because that’s the biggest category.  There is a huge financial reward for getting the ambivalent population re-engaged. 60% of all U.S. employees approach their job with a “time to make the donuts” mentality. They have little vigor or passion in their work. They get by, but do not expend extra effort. Ambivalent employees display lower energy levels and lackluster performance.

There are three good ways to reignite ambivalent employees.  Ambivalent employees are the most easily influenced by their coworker’s engagement levels. So, match them with actively engaged, positive employees for a project. If they don’t volunteer, have them “voluntold.”  Tell them you can’t wait to see the awesome results this team will produce. Second, assign a mentor. Actively engaged employees tend to enjoy being mentors and can set a great examples for ambivalent employees to take charge of their engagement. Finally, examine the job fit for the ambivalent employee. Many are simply in the wrong jobs. People want to do meaningful work in ways that match their skills and interests. When possible, recast ambivalent employees in better-suited jobs and watch their engagement level rise.  As Jim Collins advises: “It’s not jut getting people on the right bus, but in the right seat.”

A very common error by managers is to spend too much time with the actively disengaged. The chances of turning the “water cooler malcontent” or the “workplace terrorist” around are slim. Either coach people up or coach people out. The solution for actively disengaged employees is to transition them out. They are toxic. If you want to build a highly engaged, magnetic culture, you must bring those willing to be highly engaged in and escort harmful, actively disengaged people out.   (Comment: Kevin shares an instructive story from his own experience to support this advice in his book.)

The Two-Way Street

You make the case for “shared ownership” of engagement between leaders and employees. How does a “shared ownership” model work? What’s the responsibility of leadership? Of employees?

Among the things of which I am most proud is that my firm was the first to advocate the concept of “shared ownership” for employee engagement.  Why are we setting up this model that engagement is only the responsibility of the leadership team? Shared ownership does not absolve the organization’s leadership for owning employee engagement and caring about it. In fact, in best in class companies, CEO’s and senior teams are intimately involved with improving engagement.  With that said, the predominant model is still: Do the survey, and then point your fingers at the leadership team to fix the issues. Employee engagement without the employee is the ultimate oxymoron. When the responsibility for increasing engagement is shared, outcomes are much more favorable for both the employee and the employer.

What’s the responsibility of management? Care about what employees think. Ask them.  Quantify it. Address the real issues with employees. Those companies who don’t do employee surveys  and work on opportunities with employees manage by the “squeaky wheel” effect; always responding to the loudest voice.

What’s the responsibility of employees? Be responsible for your engagement. Reflect upon what you can do to be your best in jour job and to help co workers be at their best. Discuss obstacles with your manager and suggest solutions. If you manage others, discuss engagement  in informal occasions like “one on ones” or formal ones such as performance reviews. Only 5% of managers discuss engagement with employees . Most aren’t asking questions like: “What makes you excited about your job? How can I help you do more of it? Is there anything disengaging you in your job?” (Comment: Kevin has a list of 20 questions that managers and employees, or employees on their own, can use as the basis of an engagement discussion. If you’d like a copy, email Kevin at

A Great Investment

The hour I spent with Kevin Sheridan about employee engagement was the best hour I spent at work last week. I was excited and energized just from our conversation. My only regret is that it came a few years too late for me to make a difference from within an organization. But it may not be too late for you. If you are responsible for building a dynamic culture through employee engagement (and if you work in an organization, you are), Building a Magnetic Culture is your Bible and “How To” Guide all in one resource. There is so much more that I could not include in a blog post: Engagement Drivers, Overcoming “De-Magnetizers”, Recruiting, Diversity, Engagement Trends, etc, etc. etc. If you’d like to know more about Kevin or order a discounted and personally signed copy of his New York Times and Wall Street Journal Best Seller, please visit his website: bamc_cover_small

What Your Boss Should Know About You


Want employees to be more satisfied with their jobs? Want them to work harder and perform better? Don’t know how to make it happen?

Ask them.

Ask someone about his or her job. Talk to them long enough, and if they work for someone else, expect to hear some disappointment.  This predictable pattern is reflected in the job satisfaction trend in the United States. The Gallup Organization tracks employee reported job satisfaction monthly. It reports that while job satisfaction is still fairly high, with 9 of 10 Americans happy in their jobs, the overall trend has been mostly downward since a 2008 peak. The lowest level recorded was in the summer of 2011, with a modest climb upward climb since then.  (Note: this research is U.S. based.  If someone can suggest global or non U.S. satisfaction research, I’d love to see it for a broader view.)

Gallup uses four questions to measure job satisfaction. These are questions any employer or leader interested in retaining talent should also ask:
1. Do you use strengths in your work every day?
2. Is your supervisor more like a partner?
3. Does your supervisor create an open and trusting work environment?
4. Are you satisfied with your job?

There are many implications for these findings. If you manage someone, they should scream “Hello! Look! Over here!” If someone manages you, they should provoke thinking about what you can do to answer “yes” to each question. The good news is that there is a simple step both manager and employees can take that makes a big difference.

A Common Frustration

In my coaching experience, clients frequently express a frustration that comes from a perception that their unique strengths and experiences are not recognized. They do not use their strengths on the job, and as a result, do not perform to their fullest potential. Recent hires with college or graduate level training complain that leadership experiences gained in internships or volunteer work go underutilized.  More experienced employees complain that wisdom or skills gained through stretch assignments, e.g. ex-pat assignments, are wasted in their current roles. The implied assumption is that their manager knows all about their gifts and doesn’t care. I reframe this assumption as the manager doesn’t care about what they don’t know. And, much of what he or she doesn’t know about is about their employees.

How Can This Be?

Isn’t the critical role of a boss to learn as much as he or she can about the talent of people? It is. However, the perfect storm of rapid churn of employees and managers in assignments, the whirl of demands and the allure of “ good enough” decisions traps managers into the tyranny of the predictable. Predictability trumps development in many decisions.

Invest in The Talent Interview

Fortunately, there is a simple investment with a potential for big payoffs for both managers and employees: The Talent Interview. It is one on one, employee led discussion about the employee. It’s the gift of an hour so each employee can share personal perspectives on their skills, and suggests ways their gifts can be better used on the job. Done well, it addresses each of the questions in the Gallup survey. The employee gets to explore opportunities to use his or her strengths.  The manager gets a partnership role in their development. And, the interview itself lends to the creation of a more open and trusting environment.

How It Works

Talent Interviews are pretty easy. The manager invites each employee to an hour-long meeting to discuss his or her talent and potential contributions. Questions are provided to guide the employee’s thinking and dig into five topic areas:

1. What does the employee view as his or her strengths?
2. What experiences developed these strengths?
3. How does the employee imagine these strengths can be used in his or her job or on the team?
4. What would the employee like to do next?
5. What help can the manager provide to help the employee showcase their strengths?

Your organization may already provide a Talent Interview template. If not, a sample template is enclosed to download.

Talent Interviews

Ground Rules for Talent Interviews

Three simple ground rules maximize the benefits of Talent Interviews:
1. No gripes. It is not the occasion for the employee to complain about the job or the manager to complain about the employee’s performance.
2. This is about skills, not titles.  A Talent Interview is not an oral reading of a C.V.  Employees share what they learned and how, not a list of titles and dates.
3. No promises. The manager uses this occasion to listen, ask questions and develop a deeper understanding of what the employee wants to do.

Invest A Little, Get a Lot

The Talent Interview offers terrific payoffs for both managers and employees. As a manager, it was one of my best investments of time every year. As much as I felt I knew someone, I learned about strengths or potential contributions previously unknown to me. Talent Interviews were filled with pleasant surprises, the ideas people had to develop their strengths and do better work.

A Talent Interview, done well, will encourage understanding, support a performance partnership, and foster connection and trust. It’s worth the hour.

Want to Be Happier at Work? Build A Better Relationship With Your Boss


Want more engaging work assignments? Think about how to improve your performance?  Wish you were happier at work? Improve your relationship with your boss to make your work life much better. 

The relationship with your boss usually is the most important one related to your job. In matrix organizations, expand this concept to “dotted line bosses.”  Numerous research studies, and perhaps your personal experience, come to the same conclusion. The quality of your relationship with your boss affects the type of assignments you receive, your performance, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Given the importance of this relationship, there are three things you should know and three things you should do to make it better.

The quality of your relationship starts very early.

Research, including that conducted by Epitropaki and Martin ((2005) indicates that you and your boss form opinions of each other very early and those opinions remain stable. How early? Some research suggests that as early as five days after working together, you and your new boss already have an opinion about your ability to work with each other.  Why is this early impression resistant to change? One important factor is that both you and a boss are susceptible to confirmation bias, or the tendency to look for information that supports what you already believe and discard disconfirming information.

Your boss doesn’t have the same quality of relationship with everyone in your team/group.

Your boss forms a unique relationship with everyone who reports to him or her. Researchers label it leader- member exchange. What it means is that your manger will develop high quality relationships with some and lower quality relationship with others based upon several factors.  The differentiating aspects of each unique relationship means it’s harder to copy the style a peer uses with your boss and get the same results. Your peers find it just as hard to copy your style with your boss, too. You and your boss will form a unique, reciprocal relationship that will influence the type of assignments you receive, the amount of autonomy you enjoy, and the level of influence and support he or she extends on your behalf.

Your boss has different criteria for decisions

Often, we read into decisions made by the boss to infer hidden motivation or beliefs. For example, the fact that a boss did not lobby on someone’s behalf with her peers is interpreted that she isn’t willing to go to bat for her people.

Most people in a role of managing others try to take an expanded view of all decisions. But perhaps like you, she made the most obvious decision available at the time. Nobel laureate Herbert Simon describes the propensity for all of us to satisfice, or settle for the first acceptable solution. These solutions made sense, can be accommodated, and there did not seem to be a reason not to proceed.

Is satisficing the best way for your boss to make decisions? No. But in a world where decisions come at her like fast balls or soccer kicks several times a day, making the first “good enough” decision is rational to her. In fact, with honest reflection, there is reasonable likelihood that you can recall your own satisficing decisions.

Advice To Build a Better Relationship With Your Boss

Of course, your relationship with your boss is a two way street. Even if you got a lemon, there are things you can control. Even if you don’t think you can make the relationship better, you can make it worse. It’s too important- don’t do that.

Try these ideas to control what you can to form a better relationship with your boss.

Start Strong
The first month in your relationship with a new boss is the most important. You don’t have to like him or her, but it is far better if you can reasons to like them. At a minimum, be positive in your interactions; try out some of his or her ideas instead of dismissing them out of hand. Put your best effort into your first assignments. The lasting impression your boss has about you and your work is formed in your first month, or through your first series of interactions. Bring your “A” game.

Give Better than You Get
The relationship with your manager is an exchange. It’s reciprocal. Build equity through your best effort, attitude and work. You do not have to pretend to like someone you do not like, but you can develop a respectful, professional relationship. The relationship with your boss is one where you will get back what you put in.

Don’t Assume Intentions
The best outcomes for you and your peers are certainly among your boss’ considerations when weighing decisions. But you are not the only considerations. He or she must consider the goals and needs of the organization, business and role. Your boss must make the best, most expedient decision for all involved; even though it’s not the outcome you wanted. You do not need to like your boss’ decisions, but your relationship will be better if you appreciate their view.

You can’t control everything in the relationship with your boss. But by managing the aspects that are under your control- you may reap the benefits of richer assignments, greater autonomy and higher job satisfaction. A better relationship with your boss is worth your effort.


Epitropaki, O. and Martin, R. (2005). From Ideal to Real: A Longitudinal Study of the Role of Implicit leadership Theories on Leader- member Exchanges and Employee Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 90 pp. 659-676

Manzoni, J.F. and Barsoux, J.L. (2002).  The Set Up to Fail Syndrome: How Good Managers Cause Great People to FailBoston: Harvard Business Sch

How To Increase Employee Productivity


Do you wish your employees were more productive? Spent less time on negative gossip? Any organization can improve productivity by creating stronger positive connections. It’s free. It’s easy. It works.

I was scared. My knees were shaking. Other kids were already snickering at me. Why? It was my turn to stand and read the next paragraph out loud. Only I had a secret. The words didn’t look the same to me as they did to everyone else. I couldn’t do it.  I stood frozen in fear.

The teacher made her way over to me. What would she do? Would she tell me to sit down in shame? Would she tell me what I thought: That I was stupid? No. She put her big, soft arm around my shoulder and whispered: “We’ll read it together.” And, with great relief, we did.

There was silence in the room full of executives listening to this story. The speaker lifted the lid on one of the “undiscussable” topics among the group. Nearly every one of these accomplished, competitive, driven leaders was, at one point in their careers, like the scared little boy with a secret that held him back. And, each of them had longed for that arm around their shoulder encouraging them to make the brave next step.

The speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell, an alumnus of Harvard University and Tulane Medical School, an accomplished psychiatrist who now dedicates his career to teaching and writing.  Of all of the dozens of keynotes I’ve heard over many conferences, I will never forget Dr. Hallowell’s. Here he was addressing a group of mostly marketing leaders, offering simple facts about reaching people. Connection precedes action.  Caring precedes connection. Your message, no matter how slick, won’t be sustained without caring and connection.

What Is Connection?

As. Dr. Hallowell describes in Shine (2011), connection is the bond a person feels with a person, team or organization that stirs feelings of attachment, loyalty and inspiration. The stronger the connection; the greater one’s willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the connection. It starts with a person, or people, who understand you. Connection begins when someone cares enough to engage in a shared interest, to learn about you, to offer to help.

What Does Connection Have to Do With Productivity?

Connection creates positive energy. The greater the positive energy, the happier the employee. And the happier the employee, the better the quality of their work. As Dr. Hallowell states: Connecting with others is really good for you. And, it’s good for business. Consider some facts:

1.  Gallup finds a relationship between employee engagement and employee well being, including positive social well-being at work. An employee at the highest levels of engagement and well being is at work more, costing their employer an average of $840.00 a year in lost productivity. An employee at the bottom of both engagement and well being scores misses work to the tune of a whopping $28,000.00 a year in lost time.

2. Perhaps the cost of lost time for employees with the weakest engagement and connection at work is so great because they are more likely to get sick. Research from Europe shows a relationship between employees’ feelings of disconnection and insecurity about skills with occurrences of stress related illness, including heart attacks.  Research out of the University of Michigan shows that job insecurity was a better predictor of poor health than high blood pressure or cigarette smoking. Of course, a manager or organization can’t control employees’ feelings of insecurity, but an arm around the shoulder sure helps.

3. On the bright side, positive connection spreads positive energy. An analysis of social networks shows that a person is about 15% more likely to be happy if he or she is connected to a happy person. Gallup researchers show that connection at work can change people’s thinking. People who hear more positive things start to think more positively. The inverse is also true, that people who hear more negative things at work tend to think more negatively. So, spread positive connections to increase your chances of more positively thinking employees.

How To Create Connection at Work

This is the best part. Creating connection is free, easy, and any size organization has the resources to do it.

1.  Be positive about SOMETHING.  As a leader, you have more influence over the affective moods of your employees than any other person at work.  Your mood spreads. Positive energy attracts connection. This is not about wearing a Dilbert smiley button, but sharing something (or things) today you can be authentically happy about.

2. Create opportunities for positive socializing.  Way back when, people at work used to share lunch together without a Power Point presentation in front of them. Really, it’s true.  If lunch doesn’t work, create space in every teleconference or web meeting for a few minutes of personal sharing or inquiry. Plan a weekly standing afternoon “walk about” to a coffee house. Not everyone will participate at first, but over time, most will. 

3.  Reactions to problems build or destroy connection.  Even superstar employees have problems. How a leader responds to them can build or damage connection faster than almost any other circumstance. Dr. Hallowell’s teacher didn’t tell him he was a great reader and to keep going. She stood with him and helped. Asking an employee: How did you mess this up? damages connection. Asking: How do you think you’d do it differently? gets the same information, but communicates interest  and confidence.

Almost everyone I know can relate to the scared little boy in Dr. Hallowell’s story. No matter how smart, successful and confident we appear, each of us has that moment when we know we can’t do it alone. Positive connections at work fill that gap. Don’t wait until you need them: start getting the benefits today.


E.M. Hallowell (2011). Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Robinson, J. (2011). The Business of Good Friends. Gallup Management Journal, Dec. 2011.