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Emma Alvarez Gibson is here today, as a Gen Xer, to get the multi-generational workforce on the same program. Well, maybe as a first step, to get the Baby Boomers and Millennials to understand there are options for them (beyond whining to the Gen Xers) to upgrade their own performance and make more sense to each other. Because the Gen Xers have their own work to get done, and translating for all of you is making it tough for them.

Short story, it’s a powder keg out there in the multi-generational workforce, so here is to making it a little safer!

Field Notes: A Gen Xer Speaks to the Multi-generational Workforce from Emma Alvarez Gibson

Hello, colleagues.

We have a pretty decent working relationship, don’t we? We are gracious and professional, we exchange pleasantries even when we don’t have to, and we weather the ups and downs of corporate life together, or anyway near one another. Things are fine! I think we probably all agree on that.

You may not be aware of it, but as the lifeblood of our organization, as a Gen Xer, I’m holding together two disparate worlds in the multi-generational workforce. Having one foot in Baby Boomer Biosphere and the other in Millennialandia, I translate all day long, you to me to them and back again. I tell the youngs what the olds want, and I tell the olds what the youngs mean. I switch gears so that the inhabitants of both worlds will understand that I know what I’m about and that I’m trustworthy. (It’s tiring, yes, and I imagine this is the sort of situation that led Atlas to shrug, but that way lies a discussion about Ayn Rand, which, frankly, I’m too worn out to consider at the moment.)

It is in the spirit of our mutual respect and collaboration, then, that I implore you to consider a simple upgrade to your modus operandus. Herein I shall recommend one upgrade for the Baby Boomers, and another for the Millennials. In both cases the goal is the same: greater productivity within our multi-generational workforce.

via Shutterstock

Millennials, I’m going to start with you.

You are much maligned, it’s true; but all of us could benefit from some improvement. (And hey, Gen Xers know from being maligned. Everything was our fault until you guys were in grade school, at which point everything magically became your fault.)

Here is the one weird trick to improving your reputation around the office: have good manners. That entails, for instance, making eye contact. It means that when someone greets you in the hallway, you say hello back, even if you don’t know the person who’s just spoken to you. (The odds of your needing to ask that person for permission in order to carry out various parts of your job repeatedly over the course of an average week will be high. Trust.) Don’t just waltz into someone’s office and say, “I’m supposed to get a folder from you?” Knock, even if the door is open, and introduce yourself. Say please. Say thank you. Respect the pecking order, or make the effort to appear as though you do. You’re probably way faster at what you do than the majority of the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers you work with. But we’ve got years on you, which translates into breadth, depth, context, and relationships. Relationships are everything. Remember that.

Baby Boomers, you’re up now.

You have that aforementioned breadth, depth, and context. You have the relationships. We rely on you for structure and order, for insight and reason. So please, please, please: learn how to use technology, already.

Stop spending so much time talking about the ways you used to be able to do your job without it. Stop finding clever ways to avoid doing tech-related things because you don’t want people to think you’re too old. Spoiler alert: it’s heartbreakingly obvious to us when you’re avoiding it. We can tell from the language you use whether or not you’re scared of technology. Avoid the mental calisthenics: admit what you don’t know, and then learn what you should know. Stop pretending you can be as good as you once were without it. Change is inconvenient for everyone. It’s just that your generation is the only one still in the workforce that’s ever had the luxury of stability. We understand the impulse to ignore this pesky quicksand atop which we all stand. But we know it’s futile at best and self-destructive at worst.

Manners, meet technology. Technology, say hello to manners.

And yea verily will the skies part and the hallelujah chorus sound. Well, anyway, things will get better for our multi-generational workforce: we will grease the wheels of both form and function, and the Gen Xers will get a little breathing room, which in turn will make us a whole lot less resentful and irritatingly prone to dramatic statements about what martyrs we are.

So, now it’s your turn. Because fair’s fair. What are Gen Xers doing to drive you nuts? How can we contribute to the good of the group? Let us know on the Brainzooming Facebook page. (Yes, Millennials, we know it’s for old people. Yes, Boomers, we know you don’t want your life all over the internet. But everyone else is using it, so…c’mon. Do it for the team.)

Change is not only possible; it’s inescapable. So let us go willingly. The only thing we stand to lose is a bad stereotype.

– Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

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Connect your plan to your business with Brainzooming.com.

These are just a few of the ways your strategic planning process can produce a plan that is disconnected from your organization. When that happens, you wind up with a strategic plan that sits on the shelves of your employees, as they go back to doing what they were doing before you interrupted their daily fire fighting with a strategic planning process.

Your strategic planning process does not have to fall into this trap. It’s avoidable if you do the right types of planning for planning and then eagerly, actively, and honestly engage all the appropriate parts of your organization in contributing to the strategies you develop.

If you are concerned about your organization’s strategy being disconnected from important aspects of your organization, contact us, and let’s talk about how to make strategic planning productive and integral to running your company in the year’s ahead.

In the interim, here are multiple articles to start going deeper into creating a well-connected strategic plan:

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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas keeping executives focused on strategic priorities during strategic planning meetings. If your team wanders away from the important strategic topic, here’s a strategy to address it:

3 Ways to Keep Strategic Priorities Front and Center with Executives via Inside the Executive Suite

An executive reported a real-time challenge: keeping the senior team at her company focused on strategic priorities. Depending on the number of executives, or the positions of those prone to overly-detailed discussions, making sure a senior team does not get caught in the weeds during strategy meetings can be a touchy proposition.

We suspect it’s an issue familiar to many organizations. We find it typical that at least one or two individuals in any senior group are comfortable sticking to more detail than you would expect them to embrace. These may be individuals who are responsible for specific areas (and perhaps have been so throughout their careers) and/or ones with personalities oriented toward greater-than-average detail.

Keeping Strategic Priorities Front and Center

Do you struggle keeping senior-level strategy discussions at the appropriate level? If so, try these techniques we’ve employed over the years to focus meetings on strategic priorities that legitimately deserve executive suite attention.

1. Identify Where Everyone Stands Up Front

We are major proponents for meeting with executives before important strategy discussions. Whether through in-person interviews or some type of online input, it is helpful to know which executives are thinking what, and what issues resonate most strongly with them. Pre-meetings provide a sense of areas in which individuals may take the group into unnecessary detail. Questions to explore up front include:

  • What are the most important issues to address?
  • Where do you suspect strategy discussions could potentially derail?
  • What factors are important for determining the right strategy?
  • What topics do you feel most strongly about addressing in the meeting?

Based on participants’ answers, you will develop an early indication of the areas in which a meeting could go into the weeds. You will also have a sense of the major strategic themes to use in anchoring meeting conversations. Also, look for the senior leaders most likely to keep things out of the weeds. Talk with them beforehand, asking for their assistance to voice concerns if a particular leader or discussion becomes stuck in tactical matters.

2. Implement a Structure that Emphasizes Discussions on Strategic Priorities

Using what you identify during pre-meeting conversations, design a meeting format and structure to help the team focus on strategic issues. As you evaluate what is strategic, we recommend ignoring whether issues are long- or short-term. The timeline associated with acting on an opportunity or challenge doesn’t determine its strategic importance. Rather, think of strategic issues as those that will create a material impact on any of the following areas for your organization:

  • Its brands
  • Key audiences
  • Customers and prospects
  • Structure and alignment
  • Financial prospects
  • Vision and values
  • Resources and raw materials

Sharing and adopting a comparable framework for what is strategic helps keep a discussion focused on matters that will legitimately move the needle in any of these areas.

We also use several other approaches to steer strategic conversations:

  • List the major strategic themes you identify before the meeting. Allow the senior group to individually and collectively assign each item to a category: strategic, tactical, or (project) task issues.
  • Assign time limits to various agenda topics, allowing more time for strategic matters—disproportionately so.
  • As tactical or extraneous items are mentioned and commanding attention, stop and ask for clarification around the strategic issue to which they relate. If they can’t be tied back to strategy, table them.
  • Tackle non-strategic topics with questions that reveal them for what they are. Ask: How does this contribute to accomplishing our major objectives? How will this create a meaningful impact for customers (or other audiences)? If we don’t address this at a senior level, what major downsides will it create?

You can use these techniques individually or in combination to help manage discussions toward a strategic level.

3. Actively Listening for Strategic Information

From our experience, it’s rare that senior leaders (or anyone else for that matter) will articulate clear strategy statements and strategic issues right away. Instead, strategy emerges from snippets of conversation. That places heavy responsibility on the meeting facilitator to listen for strategic inputs amid conversation that may largely seem tactical.

Beyond monitoring for the strategic areas we mentioned earlier, listen for any conversation that touches on:

  • Organizational aspirations
  • Expectations tied to strategic initiatives and outcomes
  • Numbers that help size the impact of a strategic initiative
  • Significant strengths and weaknesses
  • Factors impacting organizational success, either positively or negatively
  • Descriptions of metrics and objectives
  • Beliefs central to the ways in which an organization conducts business
  • Elements that will contribute to decision making

By identifying the types of information you need to develop and refine strategy, you can better recognize relevant elements that surface throughout a strategic discussion. When details emerge, record and organize them in a way that both highlights their strategic nature and provides a visual aid to align the group. We’ve used this technique to allow a leadership team the flexibility to talk in an open format, while capturing their strategic insights and organizing them in a way they can productively use. Another advantage to actively and distinctly posting strategic decisions and issues as you go through a meeting is that it creates a visual aid to manage the conversation. If people get in the weeds when trying to revisit previously-made decisions, you can point them to the decision list to demonstrate it has already been addressed.

Additionally, if several senior participants are struggling to stay on a strategic plane, divide the larger group into smaller sub-groups. Put tactical thinkers together, freeing those ready to stay focused on strategic topics and make progress.

Keep Trying

We’ve suggested various ideas for keeping strategic priorities a focus for executives . We’ve used them all successfully. Yet they won’t all work in every situation. Try them, adapt where you need to do so, and develop your own variations that work most successfully with your group of senior leaders.  – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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We turn to extreme creativity questions to help clients imagine big ideas. It is all part of not ASKING for big ideas; we use big questions that enhance peoples’ natural creative thinking skills. They start filling the extra space big questions create with ideas of ALL sizes. Based on our experience using extreme creativity questions, they DO tend to yield bigger ideas.

5 Quick Tips on Extreme Creativity and Creative Thinking Skills

What other tips have we learned about how extreme creativity questions boost creative thinking skills? Here are five of them:

1. Plan the series of extreme creativity questions you are going to use.

Try to use different types of questions so you aren’t only looking at your opportunity from one perspective. That means not every question should be about doing ridiculous amounts of something or doing completely without something. Mix it up!

2. Don’t think an awkward experience isn’t working.

It is okay if feels uncomfortable and it doesn’t seem as if an extreme creativity question makes sense for your organization. That means it is stretching your thinking. Don’t move away to a different question that seems a better fit until you’ve made a healthy effort to exploit a more difficult one.

3. Try introducing extreme creativity roles for participants.

Imagine an outlandish creativity-oriented title that perfectly fits each participant’s creative thinking skills. Do a few exercises without disclosing the roles, then hand each person his or her extreme creativity role. You can have them reveal the roles OR keep them secret. They assume the extreme creativity roles (Master of Mashups, for instance) for an exercise. Afterward, have each person pass their role to someone who the extreme creativity role will stretch during the next exercise.

4. What seems like funny business can be incredible business.

Look for laughter as a strong cue that a group working with extreme creativity questions is onto something. Laughter is a natural response when an idea is outrageous. It is more likely to signal an idea has promise than it doesn’t.

5. There are multiple ways to work with outlandish ideas.

If you are coming up with ideas that seem to have promise, but seem as if they won’t work, don’t just leave them in that state. Have a way to extract usable versions of the ideas, even if you continue pursuing the impossible side of them.

Boosting Your Team’s Creative Thinking Skills

If you are looking to boost the impact and innovative nature of ideas in your organization, we recommend employing extreme creativity questions.

Alternatively, you can employ The Brainzooming Group, and we’ll develop the exercises and facilitate all the extreme creativity thinking for you! Contact us, and let’s get started, why don’t you? – Mike Brown

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We still come across many companies, especially in B2B, that do not incorporate a content marketing strategy to effectively reach potential customers.

The reasons they give for lagging in this area?

A content marketing strategy is not a priority for them. They doubt whether social-first content strategy will work for their companies, because they are different or have customer bases that do not care. They do not know where to start or how to sustain creating great content. Maybe they are wedded to how they have always done things, with business development people, brochures, and frequent pleading to generate referrals.

7 Signs to Invest in a Social-First Content Strategy for Your Brand

We assure them that a social-first content strategy works, even in B2B. We also offer these types of signs that it is time to invest in a content marketing strategy.

Do any of these issues sound familiar in your organization?

  • You are not generating enough leads, at least in part, because not enough people are coming to your website.
  • The don’t offer information relevant to your targets, business, and industry that match with how and what your potential customers want to discover.
  • Your organization has great stories about your people and what you do but only share these great stories inside your organization.
  • Onboarding new customers is a challenge because they lack current information about what getting started with you entails.
  • You are not continuing to learn about potential customers each time they interact with your brand online.
  • Potential customers see your competitors as doing a better job educating the market you serve.
  • You only use traditional marketing channels and media.

Let us ask again: how many of these issues apply to your organization right now?
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If several of them are all too familiar, you owe it to your top and bottom lines to explore introducing a social-first content strategy as a high-impact way to build your brand. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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It’s the time of year when it’s easy to look backward and forward at multiple dimensions of your implementation plan.

You have enough time to gain a sense of what’s working. You can look at your first steps and see whether your subsequent steps have been as effective. There is also enough time to still address gaps in your implementation plan to improve results before the year ends.
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What are those forward and backward looks telling you about the success of your implementation plan?

  • Are your people rallied around strategic priorities versus daily distractions?
  • Have you engaged key audiences to move forward aggressively?
  • Are you successfully executing innovation initiatives beyond the first big splash earlier in the year?
  • When things haven’t gone as expected, is your organization agile enough to change the direction?

If your implementation plan results are lacking by this point in the year, we have just the thing for you! It’s not too late!

Download our FREE eBook: Fast Forward – Successfully Implementing Your Plan.
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Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

No, I’m not asking whether your employees are movie stars, singers, or newly-celebrated personalities that tweet, buy, or glom their way into celebrity status.

I’m asking about whether you feature your employees within your branding strategy in ways that allow them to attract attention and accolades for how great it is to have them as part of your brand?

Employer Branding Strategy Stars

Talking with a B2B company about a day-long customer program, I suggested they invite employees to fill various roles at the event. These duties would give customers exposure to smart, strategic, and dynamic team members they might never typically know. It would create the opportunity to celebrate the great people at the brand. Incorporating these interactions in its branding strategy could strengthen relationships, open doors to new business possibilities, and reinforce customer perceptions that they have chosen the best service provider.

Want to guess the response to the idea?

“Great idea, but everybody is really busy. We can’t pull them away from their regular jobs for even a few hours.”

I understand that EVERYBODY is CRAZY busy. Busy is about doing what the company does. Busy is at the heart of selling and producing revenue and profit growth.

Yet brand building (via creating stronger relationships and perceptions) is integral to the company being able to sell more, do more, and make more money. And opportunities to foster customer relationships in ways that strengthen the brand outside of the day-to-day of doing business are typically rare. While it appears to be a great business decision to ensure everybody is in place to perform their daily tasks, this represents a poor branding strategy decision.

If the company thought about its employees as business celebrities, its priorities would likely differ. They would probably not hesitate to put their important customers in direct contact with their employee celebrities to get to know them better and bask in their glow.

Against that backdrop, let me ask the question again: Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

And if you answer, no, COULD and SHOULD they be?  – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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