Monthly Archives: December 2012

Vocab Builder: mawkish

mawkish ( môkĭsh)

adjective

1. Excessively and objectionally sentimental. 
2. Nauseating or insipid in taste.

How to use it in a sentence:

It is tough to trust whether the affection is genuine when it comes from a mawkish person.

“Honesty is the best policy” turns out to be a wise maxim rather than a mawkish platitude, but only if others follow the same principle. Social trust is a valuable community asset if – but only if – it is warranted. – Robert D Putnam

One night in college that involved too many Seagram’s & 7-UP drinks causes me to cringe when I think of the mawkish drink.

 

How can Millennials shape America’s future?

There are a lot of articles written about Millennials (also known as Gen Y).  It seems like they are either the worst generation because they are lazy, selfish, and expect too much; or, they are the best generation because they are tech-savvy, entrepreneurial and socially conscious.  What I’m really interested in is this: how can this generation productively shape the future? How can the good (and even the bad) of this generation be used to advance our society?

Since I’m right on the cusp, I can never remember whether I am X or Y so I spent a little time researching the birth years. It’s like the Internet could read my mind because I stumbled upon a quiz titled ‘How Millennial are you?’. I scored 52, which apparently means I’m an average Millennial.  Since I wasn’t tech-savvy enough to figure out what 52 means, I seriously question if I’m very Millennial at all.  I considered this week victorious because I figured out how to schedule my tweets via Hootsuite today… three years after forming my Twitter account.  Yep, I’m a little behind my peers.

Anyway, back on track.  The definition of what birth years make up each generation differs based on organization.  This is how Pew Research Center classifies each generation:

  • Silent: 1928 – 1945
  • Baby Boomer: 1946 – 1964
  • Gen X: 1965 – 1980
  • Gen Y/Millennial: 1981 +  (they list ‘+’ on their website, but it’s generally accepted that it extends through 2000)

The typical Millennial is considered tech-savvy, team-oriented and socially conscious.  According to the Ivey Business Journal, 70% say giving back and being civically engaged is one of their highest priorities. This is an area where I am strongly Millennial. I have worked at companies that were genuinely involved in their community, and I have worked for a company where my boss told me to take a vacation day if I wanted to participate in the Habitat for Humanity company event. It is important to me to work for a company, and to some extent a boss, with values that align closely to mine.

The less desirable traits associated with Millennials are: they seek instant gratification, have short attention spans, are demanding, and are too comfortable sharing (I am definitely a ‘sharer’). Their use of social media typically leads them to have two personalities – an online persona and a real-life persona. It can be easier to express themselves in writing than verbally so their online persona is typically more expressive and witty.  (So that’s why online dating profiles don’t usually match up with the person in real life!)  This reliance on technology can make it difficult to close generational gaps with coworkers because older generations, like the Baby Boomers, are typically more comfortable with face-to-face interaction.

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By 2020, Millennials will make up 40-50% of our workforce. What does this mean?  How can this generation shape our future?

Millennials can help close our technical skill gap.

The US has a labor shortage for jobs requiring technical skills. We will face a shortage of 224,000 hi-tech workers by 2018. These are the kinds of jobs we need in the US to invent or develop products that employ thousands of people to manufacture, market and support the product.

Even though Millennials have a low % of student enrolled in STEM programs, they are the most well-educated generation, they are tech-savvy, and entrepreneurial.  These three characteristics will help us continue to innovate.  I will write a post separate post at some point about the importance of students enrolling in STEM programs.  I agree there are risks associated with having low involvement in STEM programs, but I believe other characteristics of Millennials will help us mitigate some of the risks. Mark Zuckerberg is the perfect Millennial example of a tech-savvy entrepreneur who came up with an innovative new product.

Companies will need to become more socially responsible to attract top talent.

Millennials are demanding, socially-conscious, and will make up half the workforce in less than 10 years. This is the ‘everyone wins a trophy’ generation, which isn’t necessarily bad because they are a group of people who feel personally responsible for making their community a better place. There are a lot of companies that already prioritize corporate citizenship. One of my former employers allowed employees up to five days of each year to volunteer, which was in addition to the many volunteer activities offered at work during the year. Millennials will drive this to be the majority of businesses (maybe not this specific policy, but you know what I mean… hopefully).

The workplace will become more flexible.

Millennials want flexible work hours.  Obviously, this will happen within reason.  Companies will still need to ensure people are available when customers need them.  However, what this could mean is location of work becomes more flexible.  Telecommuting increased 61% in the US between 2005 and 2009 and it continues to increase.

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Each generation has probably changed the workplace significantly in their own way. The interesting situation with this generation is technology is advancing at a very fast rate. It is now easier and cheaper than ever to find ways to be your own boss. Many Millennials are underemployed or unemployed because they don’t have the experience required to get a job in their field.

We will need to overcome the short attention spans and need for instant gratification if we truly want to achieve our full potential, but overall I am optimistic about how this generation can shape our future. The combination of a creative, tech-savvy group of people who need to make a living could lead to some interesting developments over the next few years.

Your thoughts and comments about the generations are appreciated.  

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Minneapolis: the first (real) snow of the season

The Weather Channel is calling it Winter Storm Caesar.  Minnesotans just call it winter.  Whatever you want to call it, we had our first real snow of the season today.  I’m sure Western Minnesotans could put these pictures to shame, but this is the evolution of our patio between 9:30am and 5:30pm today:20121209-172359.jpg

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It doesn’t look like much of a change between the last two pictures, but I guess when you pass six inches of snow it’s tough to consider two more inches much of a change.  I really enjoy the snow when I don’t have to drive anywhere.  After our first round of shoveling, I took a walk around our neighborhood to check out the lake and creek.  This is what I found on my walk:20121209-172631.jpg

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20121209-172742.jpgI mostly wanted to see how the lake looked with our new snowfall.  I never bother to look at it until I realize it’s already frozen over.  I found some trees and branches struggling under the weight of the snow, as well as some ducks that looked very cold.  20121209-173101.jpg

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20121209-173600.jpgThe End.

Managers have bad days too.

Prior to managing people, I had strong opinions about how I would handle situations differently (so much better, of course) and what I was owed.  After four years of managing teams that have ranged in size from 2 people to 100 people, my perspective has changed.  In some cases, I would have cut my manager more slack.  In other cases, I would have demanded more.  I tried to summarize my reflection into 3 things I would tell my non-manager self.

1. Managers have bad days too.

I used to overanalyze my manager’s behavior.  ‘What did I do?  Am I getting fired?  Should I stop checking my Hotmail at work?’  It had to be about me, right?  Wrong.  We all have bad days and get snippy.  Managers are no different.  (it should be rare, but it still happens)

Some days, the political jockeying or finger-pointing is too much.  When this happens, we’re not short with you because we’ve decided you’re a bad employee; we just want to hide in our office with a bag of Cheetos and hammer through that power point that is one week overdue.  Maybe someone just yelled at us, or maybe we lost our temper and yelled at someone else.  Or, maybe we’re just in a funk.  Today, I was emotionally tapped out by noon.  My biggest victory was that I didn’t go for the Cheetos until 5:00pm.  Days like this are rare and I try to compartmentalize so I don’t take it out on my employees; but sometimes it’s tough to fake enthusiasm.

My caveat to this is that attitude is one of the most important factors of success.  Your manager shouldn’t be having a bad day every day.  This pertains to employees too.  You don’t need to be Susie Sunshine, but you do need to have an open mind.  If you’re frustrated by a process, think about what is needed to improve the process rather than just complain about it.  If you feel like other groups aren’t good at sharing information, be the first to reach out to discuss how you can work better together.   Or, if you think other groups are just plain terrible at their jobs (and maybe life in general), try to understand if it is really them or if there is something else going on.  Chances are, they are dealing with bad process, unclear roles and responsibilities, or poor morale.  Dig in and figure out how you can be part of the solution.

2. Good managers will be invested in your performance and job satisfaction, regardless of your career aspirations.

There are three kinds of employees: promotable, valued contributor, and needs development.  I’m sure I’ve been in each category at one point, but I’ve only had a few managers make it a priority to have the discussion with me regularly.  As a result, other managers were very surprised when I turned in my notice because, apparently, I was highly valued.  How was I supposed to know that if I wasn’t being told?

You and your manager should be discussing where you fit at least 1-2 times a year, including what you want to get out of your current role.  Do you want a promotion?  Are you happy in your role, but you want to take on more responsibility?  Do you want better work/life balance?  This is a two-way street, so if your manager hasn’t initiated the discussion you should set up the first meeting.  Your manager should be prepared with feedback.  If this doesn’t happen, press for it.  You deserve it.

On the flip side, your manager should be very honest if you aren’t doing well.  You should know specifics about what isn’t meeting standards, actions you need to take to fix it, and the timeline.  You deserve the chance to improve and your peers deserve to have a team full of equally contributing people.  I strongly believe addressing performance issues isn’t just for the benefit of the employee having the issues, it’s for the benefit of the entire team.  We’ve all had coworkers we think aren’t pulling their weight, and our second thought has probably been, “Why isn’t my boss doing anything about it?”.

3. We know more than you might think, and (sometimes) our decisions are based in logic that isn’t easy to see.

This applies to a lot of areas: poor performers, what our employees do on a daily basis, big changes that might be coming, etc.  I had a boss I was certain kept piling work on me because he was ‘buddies’ with my coworker.  It made me so mad that I actually took a different job within the company.  In retrospect, he was trying to stretch me to take on more responsibility because he had confidence in my abilities.  Even if his intention really was to help out his buddy, I’m the one who ultimately benefitted from being stretched.

Managers won’t know everything their employees do on a day-to-day basis.  If they do, they’re micromanaging or not focusing on the best things for their team.  However, what they should know is their empoloyee’s skills and how those might be causing frustrations in their job or how those skills can be used to benefit the team.  If someone doesn’t have a high attention to detail but they have a highly analytical job, it is the manager’s job to recognize that and help their employee work through it.   Chances are, the employee also has skills that make them successful in other aspects of their role.  They might not be great with details, but they’re good at building relationships or they bring good ideas out about how a process could be improved.

Employee issues are an area it is (or should be) easy for a manager to figure out what is really happening.  Since the team’s work is a reflection of the manager, it’s rare that a manager doesn’t see a performance issue.  Your lazy coworker?  He could be on a performance improvement plan, but that isn’t exactly something we can share for ethical reasons.  My caveat to point #2 is your manager should address performance issues, but you won’t know they are addressing it (if it isn’t you).  Try to be patient.

My non-manager self would probably have advice for me too.  I’m sure it would relate to fairness and spending time understanding my employee’s daily responsibilities.  Or maybe it would mostly be about giving big raises.