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Defining the Orwellian Generation Gap

September 28, 2010

Filed under: observations,Tech — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 7:02 am

I was recently in New York City to meet with a new client and unexpectedly got some new insights into the generation gap.

I was having lunch at a small SoHo restaurant where the tables are so close you can’t help but hear the discussion next to you. I listened for almost 20 minutes while 4, 30-something managers talked about marketing, social networking demographics, and user information to keep in touch with young customers and create an online community. I knew the terms but this was the first time I heard them used in polite conversation.

This was my first clue that there was a generation gap between our tables.

Finally I couldn’t help it, I excused myself for listening but asked if the group was at all concerned about privacy, noting the recent Verizon television ad which shows everyday objects morphing into antennas for the ‘always connected’ generation. I told them I found it creepy and didn’t ever want to be that ‘in touch.’

Their unanimous response – privacy is always part of the conversation but the younger generation thinks always being connected is the way things should be. They want everyone to know where they are and what they are doing all the  time. As one young woman said, “our generation doesn’t want that, but the young people do.”

I thought I was talking to young people, but they were describing their generation gap.

I was worrying about George Orwell’s predictions and they were worried their company would be left behind because it wasn’t Orwellian enough.

I’m not sure what all this means. I thought i was pretty up to date with my Twitter  account (eariess), blog, LinkedIn page, and text messaging but I guess the faster I go the further behind I get.

I do take some solace from the text messages I get from my 90-year-old father. I hope if I make it to his age I’ll at least be  in touch with whatever the current generation is doing.

In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about you can find details at this Wall Street Journal Article.

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Gardening as Coaching

September 27, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Gardening — admin @ 7:13 am

My neighbor planted a new rhododendron in his front yard recently. It’s probably not a big deal to most of you but to a gardener like me I couldn’t help but notice that it was exactly the wrong type of plant for the location.

Without going all green on you I would just note that a rhododendron has shallow roots that don’t like to dry out. So if you’re looking for  a maintenance free garden, planting one in the bright sun where it will need to be watered almost daily during the summer,  is just a recipe for disaster.

It’s a lot like coaching, every client is different and requires a different coaching method. In a similar vein most coaches have their favorite tool just like gardeners, but you have to know when it doesn’t fit the task at hand.

For plants you have to know how much sun , water and what kind of soil is appropriate. For coaching clients you have to know how your client communicates, how they want to be treated and what they expect from the coach.

Some clients have to talk through issues while others need to write a journal and others just want to listen to alternatives. Finding what communication method is right and what filters affect their view of the world might be the toughest job a coach has.

Unfortunately, unlike gardening, you can’t just look up your client in a gardening book and find out how they need to be handled. But if you are patient and listen you have a pretty good chance of opening up the lines of communication and helping your client thrive. Just like your plans.

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Picking a Favorite Flower

September 26, 2010

Filed under: Gardening — admin @ 8:15 pm

Gardeners, like parents, are not supposed to have favorites. After all, I don’t want to offend all the other plants – they might stop growing.

OK, maybe they wouldn’t stop, but I just know something bad would happen. My garden happens to have a section for perennials (those that bloom every year) a section for my 100 rose plants and a shade garden for rhododendrons and, later in the year, tuberous begonias.

Alpine Sunset

The rhododendrons bloom first in the spring – starting in January in California. Around Mothers’ Day the roses kick in, exploding like fireworks on the Fourth of July and then the perennials begin to bloom, each leisurely taking center stage when their turn comes.

The last act is always the begonias because they need warmth, which in this part of northern California we don’t get until later in the season. Just about when the folks in the northeast are watching the leaves turn.

In its season each plant is my favorite. When all 100 roses bloom together, it’s impossible to pick a favorite, every day another one is a its peak. This year the begonias had a tough time since it never got warm enough to get them off to a good start. But the roses began with their usual flourish and have continued. This week my favorites (don’t tell them) are Alpine Sunset and Sonia.

There are only a few blooms on each but they are just perfect examples of their species. I can’t wait to see who’s next.

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‘Choosing’ Your Career Path

September 25, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,observations — admin @ 3:50 pm

“I thought I wanted a career; turns out I just wanted paychecks.”- anonymous

My newest client is a recent college grad looking for her first job. She’s been out of school for a year and is realistic about the job market but wanted some help with her first real resume.

Like a lot of young people I work with she’s worried about choosing the right career path. My first assignment to her was to interview her older friends and family members to find out how they ‘chose’ their career.

A few weeks later we talked again and she admitted that her conversations had been a bit of a revelation. “Most of them didn’t choose anything,” she said, “and some had to really think about how they got where they are.”

That’s the point, careers are made up of a thousand small decisions that seem unimportant at the time, but when you look back at them, add up to a career. The fact that many of her interviewees were in jobs unrelated to their major was another revelation.

She talked to one person with a teaching credential who wound up selling insurance and an engineer who wound up as an accountant.

She even asked me how I got from a degree in political science to Journalism and then coaching. I’ll leave those details for another post but the point is most people will have numerous jobs. Hopefully they make choices along the way to positions they think they will enjoy and stay in the ones that gives them the most satisfaction.

The point , I explained, was to get a job and get some experience so that when you look for you next job you have a track record that future employers can see. Hopefully it will be in an area that interests you but if not, at least you’ve ruled out something and gained some valuable experience.

When you are young most employers know they will teach you how they want the job done. They want to know that you have the soft skills – communication, ability to work with others, showing up on time, taking responsibility and perhaps some degree of emotional intelligence. Those are skills that you can’t teach, or at least they can take a lot longer to instill.

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Coaching Should Start at the Top

September 22, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management — admin @ 6:56 am

A participant in an International Coaching forum I follow was recently looking for advice on a problem a colleague encountered.

It seems a coach in South Africa was asked to  coach various mid-level executives to sort out a contentious atmosphere that had developed after a recent merger. The CEO noted that he wanted specific detailed individual reports about each of the participants and when the coach declined, and offered to provide only a global overview, the contract was canceled.

Solutions suggested by forum members, included providing the global overview and letting individual manager provide the details they were comfortable revealing.

But in reality I don’t think the CEO had a full grasp of what coaching is or how it could benefit the company. The coach could have used some of the examples cited  as a way to bridge the gap – i.e.having the managers reveal their plans for change – but given the CEO’s attitude –  I think coaching in this environment had little chance of success.

The contentious atmosphere sounds like it may be a bi-product of the CEO’s management style. Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to have the self awareness to realize where the problem is.

This is not a unique problem. CEO’s may be no different than any other employee. They fail to see reality and decline to accept any responsibility for a problem. It’s an aspect of emotional intelligence that takes considerable soul-searching to remedy.

It’s like the well known cartoon which starts with a boss berating an employee and ends with a child mistreating the family dog. It all starts at the top.

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Visiting the ‘Googleplex’

September 20, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Tech — admin @ 1:56 pm

I was recently  invited to Google. I’m helping to coordinate a career event they are hosting this January for my Alma Mater, Bucknell University.

Like a lot of companies Google requires a non-disclosure agreement, so I can’t go into a long post about everything I saw, but I have to say it is a very unique place. You can’t help be impressed with the atmosphere.

And yes, lunch was free. I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be a good place for experiments in whether people really do it more just because it’s available. I didn’t notice too many overweight employees. Must be the volleyball court, soccer filed , endless pools or workout rooms. Or possibly the Google bikes people use to ride between buildings.

After all, the Google campus is bigger than my college campus at least when I attended school.

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How To Make a Change

September 19, 2010

Filed under: Book Review,Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — admin @ 9:44 am

Change is never easy. Organizational development specialists have made careers out of teaching companies how to successfully adapt to it. Not surprising, numerous books have been written on the the topic.

“Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath is just the latest to win public attention and climb up the list of business best sellers. It is well written, entertaining and filled with the usual list of everyday examples which ‘prove’ the authors’ contention.

Maybe I’ve just read too many books which claim to hold the key to effective change management, or maybe the authors just make it seem too easy, or perhaps I spent too many hours trying to motivate people or organizations, but it’s just not that easy.

The Heath’s use an Elephant and Rider metaphor to illustrate their theory. It’s just a more concrete way of explaining the rational vs emotional brain dichotomy. They admit the metaphor is not their own but they have adopted it to illustrate the need for a three-way change process.

In a nutshell, the Heath’s note, people need a rational fact-based reason to change, but they also need an emotional reason to make a move and they need to have a clear path. Their theory makes perfect sense, and they have numerous examples of how managers used their reasoning to make changes.

From Brazilian railways to the Woman’s Cancer Center at UC San Francisco there are numerous examples of how managers  created both  a rational and emotional reason for change and then put people on a path and direction they wanted. I’m not sure the managers they cite were consciously following the logic because they read the book or because it just seemed like the right thing to do, but it worked.

I think you learn more from mistakes than success and I would have liked to have seen more examples of change management that went awry when they attempted to use the theories in the book but maybe that’s too much to expect.

Still, I think the book is worthwhile and provides some valuable insights into some successful changes and can provide the underpinning for an organization or an individual trying to make a change.

It’s certainly another example of a technique any coach can use to work with client’s who say they want to change but can’t seem to get moving.

As I noted in an earlier post this was my first electronic book. I downloaded it from Amazon and read it on my iPad. Emotionally I just wanted an iPad, rationally I could carry this and many other books wherever I wanted and Steve Jobs certainly made the path pretty easy to follow.

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E-Book Reading

September 15, 2010

Filed under: Book Review,observations,Tech,Uncategorized — admin @ 7:01 am

I completed reading my first electronic book recently. (Review to come shortly)  The only thing I can say is that reading a book on an iPad (or any other device) is, well, different.

Little things I’m used to doing, such as thumbing ahead to see how many pages are left in the chapter, are more difficult.

Highlighting text is easier, once you understand what the device or application wants. Reviewing all the highlighted material, to help write a review or for research, is certainly much easier.

I was worried that my eyes would get tired quicker but that proved not to be the case. Downloading the books has been easy although, not every service has every book, so it sometimes takes a bit of searching. Browsing the online bookstores is certainly not as pleasurable as strolling through my local bookshop. You have to know what you want electronically speaking, before you go start.

Using the iPad was easy enough although it can’t be used in every situation and I doubt I would take it to the beach. But I was able to take several books on a recent trip with little or no extra weight.

It will be a while before electronic books replace the printed word. There is still something more satisfying about holding a book in your hand, but I have already downloaded a few more and I’m sure, in time,  iPad reading will become my regular habit.

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It’s the Economy, Stupid

September 7, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Tech — admin @ 6:41 am

Been traveling over the last few weeks and while I continue to read stories about high unemployment and how it will give Republicans an edge in the Fall  elections, I have to say, I just don’t see it.

The New York Times  had a recent front page story claiming that even the hi-tech industry wasn’t hiring.

Maybe it’s my own version of cognitive dissonance – refusing to believe facts counter to you own beliefs – but I hear  a different theme.

Every major firm in Silicon Valley has openings. Google’s stock has recently taken a hit, in part because they have added more people – too many according analysts. Yahoo, Intel, Apple and others are all looking for talented employees.

The problem seems to be they can’t find enough with the right skills so they are all trying to hiring the same folks. That’s not an employment problem it’s a skills/training issue.

I know a man who was unemployed in Silicon Valley for 18 months and recently found a job and has since had two other opportunities. That’s a far cry from what he’s been through.

Or take my friends in Hawaii, who don’t claim the economy has recovered, but say, it’s certainly better than last year.

Or take the woman in Boston who I ran into. She just started working after a 9-month forced vacation. She says the hotel in Cambridge that hired her has been booked solid since she started working in April.

Or take the man in New York who I met, who works three part time jobs and just lost one of them when a financial services firm closed. He’s able to collect unemployment so he’s counted in statistics but he’s not exactly desperate.

My unscientific survey of  ‘Help Wanted’ signs in store windows shows a marked increase over last year. I’ve seen them in New York City, Boston, and San Francisco.

I’m not sure what all this proves except that, as I tell my clients, if you believe things are bad that will come through in your interviews and enthusiasm. But if you believe things are headed in the right direction despite the political rhetoric, you’ll have a much easier time finding something.

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Performance Baloney

September 3, 2010

Filed under: Coaching,Management — admin @ 3:02 pm

Recently , a UCLA professor called for the end of performance reviews. In an NPR interview he called them ‘total baloney.’

It’s not that performance reviews should be eliminated, it’s the way they are
done and the implicit agreement they create. I.e. If you improve in these
areas you will receive this reward. Most discussions like these are not honest
and are always awkward. Most employees are not good judges of how they are
doing and managers very rarely have accurate note on how their employees have
been doing. Of course there are often metrics for measurement, but do these
really measure the ‘soft skills’ there are more important.

Rather than a once a year review of what’s good and bad the review should be
part of an on-going give and take so that employees always know how they are
doing. Likewise, any raise or benefit is not tied to the review.

I always encourage my clients to speak with manager without waiting until a
formal review is planned. The 360 can be more beneficial but few organizations
have the time or resources to do 360’s for every employee.

I’ve worked for companies which use performance reviews and as an employee and manager the process was always disappointing. But I’ve also worked for businesses with managers who were not shy about crticizing or prasing my work in a timely fashion.

I always knew where I stood and found the work much more satisfying.

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