Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Millennials Need So Much Praise and Feedback

There is a very popular management style that many leaders subscribe to. It can be summed up like this: "If I withhold praise, then my employees will work even harder to get my approval and working harder is a good thing because it means increased productivity." 

While this works for some -- according to his biography, it was Steve Jobs' approach to managing Apple and rumor has it that it is Lorne Michaels' way of managing the team at Saturday Night Live -- using this method on millennials tends to not just fall flat but can hurt your company on a much larger scale than it might have in the past.

Members of Generation X value personal achievement and if they don't receive positive feedback or praise, will typically work harder to seek that approval because "up" is perceived as the best way to get things done. For Xers, success is measured by a ladder, which goes either up or down. If you want things done and you want to get where you want to go, you focus on "working your way up" or "moving up." Many believe that you can get where you want without stepping on others in the process, but upward is still the direction of choice. Ladders go up, escalators go up, elevators go up. Glass ceilings get shattered, not walls. The top is the ultimate goal and the ultimate success is getting to share the fruits of your climb with the people you love.

Millennials (born 1979-2000), on the other hand see the world as a series of interconnected networks, and feel that a victory is not as sweet if it does not involve everyone on their team. Hierarchies represented by ladders hold little value to them. Millennials are not compelled to work upward to a more important level because they grew up being told they are important simply because they exist. They do, however, feel the need to be valued and appreciated as significant and as a member of the team. They need to know that the group could not function without them. Because of this, withholding praise and positive feedback does not entice a millennial to work harder for you. Instead it produces the opposite: "If they don't value what I do, why am I here? Does my work even matter? Life is too short to do something you don't love and to do work that doesn't make a difference. I'm going to go find a job where my contributions bring value and if that job doesn't exist I'm going to create it."

Don't be too quick to scoff at those last ten words. "Owner" is the fifth most popular job title among millennials on Facebook. These are not just fanciful dreams of the young. If your company does not supply what your millennial employees need (or feel they need, which to them is the same thing) they have no problem quitting, hanging out their shingle and becoming your competition. And because millennial clients do not care about age and do care about personality, they have no problem giving a younger, less experienced entrepreneur a chance if they "click" with them.

Millennials don't just crave individual praise, they take how you treat their network into account as well. This generation is known for being loyal to people, not to corporations. However, millennials are loyal to the leaders they love only to a point and much of it has to do with how you set up their peer network of colleagues. If you reward the people who treat you poorly but take the ones who are loyal to you for granted (oh, we don't need to worry about him, he's so easy to work with and will always be there for us), the "good kid" millennials will eventually get tired and leave, even if you give them some praise as well. They may not be focused on "up", but they are definitely not into staying on a team or in a network where their good behavior appears less valued than bad behavior simply because it's easier for the leader to deal with fixing the squeaky wheel. The "I don't need to say I love you to my kids because my children know I love them" approach doesn't work on this group.

This is not about pandering. Millennials have laser-focused BS detectors. Your praise and positive feedback has to be genuine and well-intentioned (if you can't think of anything nice to say to your millennial employees or colleagues, you might want to reevaluate if you have the right ones working for or with you). It also needs to happen on a regular basis, but it will not work if it comes across as merely an item to check off on your to-do list.

This also isn't to say that you can't give non-positive feedback when it is warranted. You can, and you should. However if your management style means speaking up only when there's a problem, then you will be creating a lot more problems for yourself and your company. For millennials, no news is not good news. No news is a non-starter and one that can easily be avoided by opening the lines of communication.

Originally published July 2012

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why I Hate the Term 'Creatives'

There's no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don't . . . Creativity, which is the expression of our originality, helps us stay mindful that what we bring to the world is completely original and cannot be compared. And, without comparison, concepts like ahead or behind or best or worst lose their meaning. -- Brené Brown

Labeling someone a "creative" (which demands that the opposite — uncreative — exists) is a form of self-sabotage. We immediately limit not other people's potential, but our own, because we've closed off our minds to possibilities and collaboration with those whose solutions may surprise us the most.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Greatest Challenge In Business

The greatest challenge when it comes to business is not cash flow, marketing or customer satisfaction. The greatest challenge is not what the latest trend is and if it suits your style, or whether or not you landed that big client, or coming up with the next killer idea. The greatest challenge in business is human nature.

If we bring the sum of our experiences to the table, then we also bring our flaws. The challenge is that you can't really plan for the flaws of others because they show up at the oddest times. You don't know how your employee's ego will react when given a few minutes in the social media spotlight if they've never experienced any type of public recognition before. You don't know what new lows a competitor will stoop to in order to get ahead because they're trying to prove to their dad, wife, ex-husband, kids, former boss that they're not actually a failure. You don't know what subtle racist views will surface when someone is suddenly in an unfamiliar situation.

Most business plans focus on market research, budget projections and goals. Very few take human nature into account, but human nature can derail the best laid plans. The best solution in dealing with the unpredictability of people is to be open-minded, patient and flexible. To achieve this, though, means that we have to take a hard look at the flaws in our own lives.

Originally published December 2010

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Impact of Words

We all know the deadliest words and for the most part have scrubbed them from our vocabulary: "We've never done it that way." 

This sentiment manifests itself though in other equally deadly phrases including "you can only" statements: "You can only reach wedding guests through the bride. It's impossible to market to them without reaching her first."

Another success killer? "That's just how it is in __________" (fill in the blank with your city).

Your words carry life, if you let them.

Originally published January 2012

Friday, October 24, 2014

Speaking at @assuredandwell in Ojai, CA

I'll be speaking at the Assured + Well retreat at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa on January 18-21, 2015. Hosted by the editors of Cottage Hill Magazine, Assured + Well is a retreat designed to help wedding professionals and artists start the new year with clear focus as well as emotional, physical and mental rejuvenation.

I'll be giving two different sessions: one on neuroplasticity and the other on margin.

In the first, I'll be speaking on neuroplasticity, or — rather simply — the brain's ability to renew itself. We all know that we're supposed to love our bodies, but we often forget that the brain is in the body and that there are things we can do to intentionally live better. I want to be clear that this is not "The Secret" or "Law of Attraction" or other kumbayah fluffy theories about positive thinking and I won't be parroting any of the books available on the topic (most of which are full of dangerous misinformation). Instead I'll be sharing scientifically proven facts and in-depth psychological research about how the brain works and how you can use it to create a healthy business and life you love.

In the second session, I'll be talking about how to create margin in your life and business so that you can pursue the things you dream of. This is not a talk on "work-life balance." There's a quote by Alain de Botton that I love: "There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life." I believe this wholeheartedly, and believe that margin and balance are very different things. Margin is possible when balance is not: when you're juggling kids' or a partner's schedules, when you're taking care of an aging parent, when you're battling a life-threatening illness yourself — all on top of running a business. I'll be sharing a bit of my own story on this as well, including how turning down Oprah led to an opportunity to do the work that I am most passionate about.

You can learn more about the Assured + Well retreat and register here (registration includes accommodations and a spa treatment, among other things) and follow them on Instagram here.