The Workforce Generations are Changing

Today I have the honor of speaking to one of my favorite audiences, a young professionals club associated with the local Chamber of Commerce. These are the Midland Young Professionals (MyPros) with the Midland Michigan Chamber and every time I speak to them or a group like them I am energized. Today’s topic? Working with Multiple Generations.

This is actually one of my more high demand topics but today is a unique presentation for me. Today is the first time that I actually lead this discussion without any attention paid to the Traditional or Silent Generation. These are the folks born roughly between 1928 and 1945. While there are still many in this age group that are in the workforce, as of the latest U.S. Census data, they represent less than one half of one percent. As a result, I have removed that group from my talk.

It was a hard decision to make in my presentation for today because it was like I was relegating our oldest workers to the “does not matter” category. Of course I realize that, while I like to think I make an impact in my writing and speeches, I probably am not going to simply make a generation disappear. And even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. The value of the Traditional Generation to the workforce will be felt for a very long time.

The oldest generation in the workforce brought us stability. They were born in an era that was struggling with the great depression and they experienced both the down times and the recovery that followed. To the organizations for which they worked, they brought process. Being very young during the great depression, they brought a point of view into the workforce that oversight, procedure and policy could not only bring stability, but also efficiency. It was the Traditional Generation that invented Management.

The other element that played a large role in business but has become less so in the past few decades was the view of values that were characteristic of this generation. The Traditional Generation, by and large, believed that there was a moral right and wrong. Regardless of religious background, there were principles that were understood to be understood. As a generation, they saw the world in a much more black or white view and held those standards steady in the workplace.

Of course like with any generation, they weren’t perfect. The hierarchies that were established to bring order also brought stifling work environments. There were many beliefs in the culture that were carried over into the workplace regarding rights, diversity and so on. But those were a function of the time and should be understood that way.

By the way, I also don’t include Generation Z quite yet because they just start entering the workforce in any notable numbers this year. They are turning 18 and graduating from high school, so they haven’t yet had the influence that they are going to have. There is one very interesting characteristic of this new generation entering the workforce by the way. They also grew up at a time of great chaos and have seen both the consequence of enormous economic downturns as well as the growth and boom that follows. Early research indicates that this group may end up being less like the Millennials and more like…you guessed it…the Traditionals. And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Mark Fields Should Make His Own Way

The transition of leadership at Ford  in July — from Alan Mulally to Mark Fields — marks an uncommon event among large corporations: the planned, transparent and smooth succession of the top leader of the organization.

Mulally, Ford Jr and CEO to be Mark Fields

Unlike at GM  a few years ago, at Apple Microsoft or any number of other companies, the upcoming change marks a process so well defined and understood by the organization, the public and the markets, that it is seen across the board as a positive move.

The one concern that some pundits have is whether or not Mark Fields can fill the shoes of Alan Mulally, a well-recognized turn-around artist that took Ford from near bankruptcy to multi-billion dollar profits in 8 years.

In my opinion, not only can Fields not fill Mulally’s shoes, he would be well advised not to try.

Fields’ task is to bring a new direction to a stabilized, but still challenged, organization. (Ford appears to be on more solid footing than recall-riddled GM.) Fields brings different strengths than Mulally. With over 25 years at Ford, Fields has the experience and know-how to lead Ford through some aggressive challenges. He has filled high-level positions in the U.S., South America and, most importantly, Asia — which positions him as an insider with a strong world view.

Fields has also made his vision clear, most recently at the 2014 Ford Trends Conference, that Ford must be a leader in automotive consumer technology. The future Ford is as a “personal mobility” company, Fields has said.

It’s easy to talk about how dealing with issues like these is almost a luxury compared to what Mulally faced in 2006. But that’s the point of planned and thoughtful succession. The leadership needs of Ford today are vastly different than those of 2006.

Fields has nothing to prove in relation to his mentor and prior boss. If he has any luxury, it is the ability to honor his predecessor — who kept the company alive — while Fields attempts to engineer a new vision.

I’m excited to watch Fields in the next few months as he takes on this task.

I first published this article 6/30/14 on TheStreet.com. It is reprinted here with permission.

CEOs Plan for 2014

It’s an interesting phenomenon that every year the media tells us that American business is suffering.

CEO ResolutionsThey tell us that our leadership is lacking and that the coming year will be worse than the one before for our business leaders and managers.  Yet my experience has been that most leaders see every year as simply a new challenge to be met that may shape their actions to some degree but will not throw them off course.

For the past five years I have validated this experience through conducting a series of interviews with CEOs from companies large and small, public and private, profit and non-profit.  These interviews have created an annual CEO New Years Resolutions report that I publish along with Northwood University and the DeVos Graduate School of Management.

Every year I have found that CEOs are realistic but excited about the possibilities of the future.

In fact, most of them will say that they don’t actually construct “New Year’s Resolutions” per se because they are constantly looking at what’s coming and making commitments for the future. And these aren’t small commitments.

Patrick Doyle, CEO of Dominos told me he is devoted to maintaining momentum. “Most importantly, I will be vigilant that we don’t become complacent with our progress and continue to build a team that is excited to drive change.” This is no small task as Dominos now sits as the second largest U.S. pizza chain and the largest in the world with over 10,000 stores in over 70 countries. He not holding back in 2014…he’s going for it bigger and better than before.

Other interviewees in this year’s report include Melanie Bergeron, CEO of the largest independent moving company in the country, Two Men and a Truck. She wants to encourage other leaders to focus on job creation. Mike Ferretti, CEO of Great Harvest Bread Company wants to create clear communication within his organization by eliminating meaningless buzz words from communication with his leadership team and employees.  Jerry Yeager of SYM Financial Advisors thinks it’s time to payback his employees for their hard work by providing for their retirement planning with the same services they provide for their high-level clients.

If you have a few minutes you should really read the report that you can find here:
http://www.northwood.edu/documents/publications/CEO-Resolutions-2014.pdf

Whenever you’re watching the commentators and pundits talk about how pathetic our corporate leaders are, ask yourself if you are hearing the truth or hearing a limited number of examples that create the tension that the news cycle needs. Great leaders focus not just on their personal success but also on the success of others. And there really are a lot of great leaders around us.

Todd Thomas, Ph.D., is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.

Political Gamesmanship: How to Lose without Really Trying

I have made it somewhat of a rule for myself to avoid writing about political leadership because there are few intellectual discussions on the topic. While in most corporate leadership situations the ongoing problem is that leaders manage only by outcomes, political leadership of late seem to rule without any obvious concern of outcomes. Having said that, and in light of today’s government shutdown, a few of my colleagues have shamed me on this topic, so I’m going to say only one short thing.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME????

If you are a student of game theory you recognize that the current state of governmental affairs is a game with conflicting objectives. To give them credit, there is no “win/win” scenario on Capitol Hill right now. In fact, a win/win solution is a losing proposition for both sides when viewed in terms of the noise that would result from what Republicans and Democrats consider their “base.” A lose/win scenario is considered a win in the current scenario if the players are defined as the politicians and the same “base” that is so noisy. Unfortunately, the outcome of a lose/win scenario for the American people is a loss.

Insanity.

a-lose-lose-d-villain-vector_34-18680

 

In case you aren’t enraged by the current state of affairs, here’s another tidbit. Congressional salaries are exempt from the shutdown. That’s right. President Obama still gets $400,000 per year and your favorite partisan representative or senator, those speaking on your behalf, will also receive their paychecks. The 27th amendment disallows Congress from changing its own pay. This means thatthey also will not be financially impacted by the shutdown. At a minimum of nearly $200,000 a pop, with 535 congressional members, some making much more, that’s a chunk of untouched change.

I have a solution that I think would work but would never happen because the very players in the current game are the ones who would have to adopt this. (This is also why I don’t write about politics) J

  • For every day of a shutdown, or sequester, or any major failure of Congress to uphold their fiscal duties, all Congress members are fined one week of salary.
  • After fifteen days, a cap is set on re-election budgets by incumbent congressional members
  • After thirty days, incumbents are declared ineligible to run for re-election for the next term

This is a fantasy of course and some of you will feel the need to point out all of the unintended consequences of such a plan. Fine. But unless there is some way to include personal consequence…the going-home-and-explaining-to-your-family kind of consequence that the rest of us face in our professions…I’m not sure the rules of the game will change.

Wait. Here’s another idea. We could all agree to no longer vote a party line but actually research, consider, and think about our voting choices before we make them. Hmmmm. That might work too.

Mayer vs Gillard—A contrast in leadership success

An interesting pairing of events has occurred recently which brings up a good question. On the one hand, the first prime minister of Australia,  Julia Gillard, lost her position in a barrage of what appear to be just poor decisions, bad timing, and bad communication. While she herself has argued that it’s more than just gender, others have decided to make it an example of how female leaders are set up to fail. Ms. Gillard stated, ” The reaction to being the first female PM does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership.”

Marissa Mayer

Mayer had a good year

Julia Gillard

Gillard not so much

At the same time, Marissa Mayer celebrated her first year as CEO of Yahoo! on July 16th. For the most part, she has been successful, even with some tough press regarding some of her more aggressive decisions (like bringing workers back into the office). Yahoo!’s stock (sorry—the brand and the apostrophe just look silly don’t they?) has risen over 70% since she has taken the helm and although Yahoo! is still not a major threat to Google, she is also only a year in. Her focus has been on culture change but she has managed to shore up earnings at the same time. That’s pretty impressive.

So, is the failure of Gillard a result of gender? Is the success of Mayer a result of gender? Is it possible to even tell?

The problem with a bully pulpit is that it always oversimplifies the situation. To imagine the Ms. Gillard failed only because the system defeats female leaders is to ignore all of the other elements that play a role in a leader’s success. To imagine that Mayer has been successful, even though she is a woman, is the same type of limited thinking. Of course these leaders have had to deal with specific constraints and battles because of their gender, but they have also battled against market and political forces that are gender neutral.

To reduce the debate to a single factor, whether it is gender, generation, ethnicity, whatever not only oversimplifies the situation but it takes away from the true leadership abilities of the person in question. Gillard may turn out to be a strong politician and moving force in Australia yet…she’s fearless and focused. Mayer may yet struggle, but she also has strong capabilities for which she deserves credit regardless of gender. We need leaders, whether women or men, and we should celebrate when we find them and learn from them regardless of their chromosomes.

What do you think?

 

The Passing of a Great Leader: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

 

Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, then you aren’t.  

 

Margaret Thatcher, 10/23/25-04/08/13

thatcherIt has always amazed me that in America we are so often “surprised” when women are chosen for high levels of leadership responsibility and we are truly challenged at the idea that a woman could just as easily be the best choice for national leadership as a man. If we were to elect a female president, there would be a certain amount of self-pride that we are so diverse and accepting as to consider that the gender of the top leader makes little difference.

Yet, one of the strongest democratic, free market leaders of all time was none other than Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The longest serving prime minister of the United Kingdom since the beginning of the 20th century, Mrs. Thatcher died today at the age of 87.

From a leadership perspective, Prime Minister Thatcher defied much of the myth of what it takes to become a great leader…especially as a woman. She was born in 1925 to very common means. Her father taught her about politics as she grew up, but not as a political relate. Mr. Roberts (her dad) was a member of the town council.

It is clear that the way Margaret Thatcher became the dominant leader that she became was by something pretty simple…she decided to do so. She entered politics in the 50s, losing her first foray but learning an enormous amount from the experience and gaining a reputation in the eyes of the public and her peers. The battle was a tough one, so much so that in 1973 she was quoted from a television appearance as saying, “I don’t think there will be a woman prime minister in my lifetime.”

Next lesson then—not only did she want to be a leader, she persevered even when she believed it was impossible. In May of 1979 she became that person that she thought would never exist when she was elected Prime Minister.

If you have any interest in leadership and you have not read her biography, you really should. Her terms were amazingly challenging for anybody but as a woman, she destroyed every myth. She was decisive in military challenges, open in taking on adversaries, and wise in knowing when to push and when to pull.  She had guts and she had compassion. After three terms as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher left the post in 1990 yet continued as an active member of the House of Lords. She went on to write several books, the only one of which I have read being Path to Power(2005) which is an amazing study of her life.

The legacy of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is one of many lessons. While I would still argue that her example makes most arguments of concern about women in leadership positions sound ridiculous, the lessons of her life are applicable to leaders of all gender and race. They are also important for new leaders and tenured ones. If you know what you stand for and are convinced that your leadership would benefit those around you, you owe it to yourself and others to claim the responsibility to make it happen.  If you do this, and you stay true to your beliefs, you can change your team or your company and perhaps, the world.