Tuesday, May 27, 2008

60 Minutes piece

This past Sunday night 60 Minutes did a piece on the generational issue called "The Millennials are Coming." (part two in a series that was started late last year.)

The story was pretty well done but there was one theme I had a hard time with, and I will start with providing a few of the quotes from the story that will help set up the issue:

1.) Marian Salzman, an ad agency executive featured in the story, said:

"You do have to speak to them a little bit like a therapist on television might speak to a patient," Salzman says, laughing. "You can't be harsh. You cannot tell them you're disappointed in them. You can't really ask them to live and breathe the company. Because they're living and breathing themselves and that keeps them very busy."

2.) Mary Crane, a consultant, also fatured in the story, said:

"The boomers do need to hear the message, that they're gonna have to start focusing more on coaching rather than bossing. If this generation in particular, you just tell them, 'You got to do this. You got to do this. You got to do this.' They truly will walk. And every major law firm, every major company knows, this is the future."

So, if I interpret their messages in a strict way, I may conclude two things about dealing with the Millennials: First I can never tell them I am disappointed with them, and second I cannot tell them what to do. I know, my interpretations of these themes from the story are harsh and maybe unfair, but I wanted to bring them up to make a point:

First off, there is no doubt these younger generations do see more out there. They do not view a hard separate line between work and life. They see it all together as a series of opportuntities for them. They also don't just like to be told what to do unless they understand where you are comng from and how that involves them. They will not, like some of the past generations, simply put their head in the sand in do whatever is told of them from the beginning....based on an organization chart, company policies, or an instant sense of authority.

So, it's not that we cannot "boss them" at times. It's that we cannot boss them right away. First you must develop that one-on-one realtionship. And I know that can be difficult when you have 40 people you might be managing in any one year. But, you have to do it. You have to learn about them as a person, both inside and outside the office walls. You have to know how their life interconnects. If they have an important family function or simply a soccer game on Tuesday at 5 pm, you'll need to consider that. The coaching point is a good one. But by coaching, you'll actually get to boss sometimes also. It's the order that is vital. See, they are not accustomned to that treatment in the coporate world, but they were at home. So, they will rebel unless you can do it right. And if you do it right, you'll know them and you will know when they are not up living up to WHAT THEY CAN BE, which is slightly different than what you think a standard off-the-shelf worker at their level should be. Once you know them, you aren't being harsh, you are telling them they can do more, based on what YOU KNOW OF THEM.

I have seen many millennials do things that were asked of them with no questions and no problems. But that only comes from a person where they have grown a lot of trust and a fostering relationship. They WILL NOT do that for anyone else. They are not accustomed to doing it and that would be against what has brought them to where they are today.

YOU CAN BE HARSH (in the right way as discussed) AND YOU CAN BOSS THEM. You can only do that, though, if you have first developed a strong, trusting, give-and-take realtionship. Oh and that must continue throughout the relationship.

Link to the story:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Customized Development and Delegation?

I was talking to a partner at a local firm today at lunch about one of her staff. Her eyes were gleaming. She was talking about how this particular professional was taking on more responsiblity in new areas like marketing, sales, and client communications.

I could tell the partner had systematically looked for areas to delegate to this person, whom she referred to as a "star." She delegated work that she thought the person could excel at, and was challenging. Also, most mportantly, she formally sought instant feedback from that person.

"Stars" don't grow on trees, and there have been many professionals who have been pegged as future leaders only to see them lose interest. They must be developed. They must be challenged. They must be provided a forum where their input matters. The partner's eyes were gleaming because she was really excited about this person. I also know she understood her important role in the development.

Oh and by the way, some people might not like this but all this development must be done one on one. It needs to be customized to the individual. If you do not have the time to do this yourself, you will need to create leaders under you who will and they'll need to do it one on one to others. Don't have time? What is the alternative?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Aging Profession

You may have heard the statistics. The accounting profession is aging and aging quickly. The AICPA reported that in 2006 74% of their membership was over 40 compared to 47% in 1993.

So, obviously this brings up a lot of issues like leadership and succession planning and training. That can be done if the right resources are utilized. What can't be done is instantly create new people who are in the industry and are willing and desiring to take on leadership and "buy" a lot of firms that will be up for sale/succession over the next 5-10 years.

The challenge - Are there enough in the workforce to succeed today's current leaders, and do those people want to succeed today's leaders?

Younger generations are rejecting the old traditional corporate ladder career. They may not want to make a "through the end-of-career" commitment. They are more used to being mobile and they also don't put work ahead of everything else in their life. In fact they are more willing to put their career on hold for personal matters, unlike those generations they will be succeeding. The problem is many firm's structures are set up based on the old traditional norms. That is where problems and conflicts will arise. People do not want to succeed today's leaders, but that is based on their perception of what today's leaders went through to get there. That can be challenged, and can lead to breakthroughs in the way your firm runs all aspects of your business.

One important point that must be considered when meeting this challenge - Make your talent be the base of your business, and your access to talent. The number of professionals working past 65 is increasing. They need more flexibility. Gen Y and Gen X workers increasingly need more options because they highly value "life-work" balance. They need flexibility too. The word "flexibility" needs to be de-emphasized, even though I have used it a lot here. Firms need to be structured to have access to mobile talent in all age brackets. The structure needs to be as nimble as the talent base it serves. Flexibility needs to be the norm, not the exception.

So, you are probably asking what does this have to do with the true leaders of my firm? They can't have that flexibility and still lead our firm? The answer: You are right, under the old norms!

Friday, May 9, 2008

"Dots" Continued

First off, should we challenge the notion that a professional leaving is always negative? It might not be what the firm wants, but if the firm realizes their company is just no the best fit for the professional at the time, there are two options: Fight and claw to try and keep them and let it end on a disappointing note, or listen to the employee and support and assist their transition.

This is going to happen. It is inevitable. The mobile skilled workforce is always looking for a better job, more money, and more attainable skills. Retaining your people is a subject for a another post.

In the developing virtual economy companies are going to realize that adjustments need to be made to the traditional "recruiting and retaining" approach. It is more about having accessible "talent relationships." This is why many firms, including the big 4, are stepping up their investments in alumni programs. They know they'll need access to their alumni in the future, or they'll welcome referrals.

I have heard some great stories of firms that "get it" in this area.

A Bethesda, MD based firm, for example, gave a professional who left, ahead of receiving their bonus, the money anyway. Their reasoning: he earned it, so why does it matter that he left?

He will remember that.

A southern California based firm that had one of it's star seniors leave for a client was provided access to their intranet after she left, so she could have technical resources her new company did not have.

She will remember that.

KPMG actually has a program for people "on the outs" where they help them to find a good fit at an outside company.

Do you know anybody who has worked at the same accounting firm more than once? Do you see a future where there will be more of a project based "ad-hoc" accumulation of the right skills to get a certain job done? Can you see a scenario where you will need to call on alumni for assistance in different ways?

The time may come when you both might need each other. You might be surprised to find them later with different skills developed outside your organization that you can leverage.

Do whatever you can to keep that door open. Do whatever you can to support them no matter their future aspirations. Leave a lasting impression. Let them know they are not really leaving your firm, they are simply deciding to connect some dots outside of it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

How many "Dots" can your professionals connect?

Steve Jobs spoke at a Stanford graduation back in 2005. If you have not already seen it, it is pretty interesting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtbJM9ksxo8 In part of his address; he talks about his professional journey. He uses the term "connecting his dots" where in retrospect there was a series of decisions and learning opportunities that he took advantage of that provided him a unique set of skills .... a set of skills that allowed him to create Apple Computer and lead the company to where it is today. One interesting point is that he was fired from Apple, connected a few "dots" outside the company, and then was later back.

I have heard accounting partners tell me that they sometimes fear getting a staff real well trained and experienced in a specialty area for fear of losing them. For example, assisting a financial auditor to obtain more IT skills could be risky because then they might become too valuable and leave. I have heard this type of story more than once.


So let me get this straight, your staff becomes much more valuable, much more able to service your clients in new ways, and you are afraid about even pushing that idea? It's a legitimate concern at many companies and accounting firms. The question is why?

This fear is really about not having the resources and opportunities to allow your professional to "connect later dots" at your company. You provide them a first dot, maybe an expensive dot, and then they go elsewhere and others benefit.

The workforce today is very mobile. Pensions are gone. Headhunters run rampant for the best talent. The internet allows people to find jobs quicker and to create new jobs themselves. The accounting and IT industries are facing future 5 and 10 year shortages in skilled labor supply, whether the economy expands or stagnates. This issue is not going away.

Your talent, especially your best talent, wants to connect their dots, even if they don’t know what they are, and they are willing to change jobs if that means connecting more. The question is, what do you do about this dot problem?

To be continued….