Tagged: Leaders Lead

Why is Human Capital a Top Challenge in 2014? Again.

CEO’s have once again listed human capital as their top challenge for 2014. Woo hoo! Victory for HR! And what specifically are they worried about? 1. Insufficient talent coming in and 2. Insufficient leadership talent.  This all sounds great right? Focus on your people, develop your people, and you will move your business forward. We can now wash our hands of this and move onto “real business activity.” I say wait a minute…


Did CEO’s just recently find out that even an automated process had to be created by a person? Is corporate America unaware that the movie “her” is a fictitious film? Outside of the beginning of time, regardless of how you think that came to be, every product, service, or idea came from someone’s mind. This logic makes it seem necessary to declare that PEOPLE MATTER. If people didn’t exist there would be no products, services, or ideas. And voila, I give you the year 2014 and the biggest challenge in a CEO’s mind is still human capital, but why?

We as humans have this inherent uncertainty and that level of uncertainty is magnified when your name is tied to the bottom line of your business, Mr. or Mrs. CEO. There’s pressure for your people to perform. Can you trust them? You want to… but there’s just something that’s keeping you from fully committing.

We can find this inherent uncertainty when we watch historical events. One thing we cannot change is history, unless you have a Delorean of course. However, as we watch instant history replays, we know the outcome and yet we may still be unsure if that outcome will come to fruition. Don’t believe me?

Example 1: Argo

In the film, as the hostages and Ben Affleck’s character were navigating the airport in Iran, slowly making their way through security with bogus identification, I was clenching the armrest in the movie theater, probably perspiring, and unknowingly grinding my teeth, rooting for the fake film crew to make it out of Iranian airspace. Well folks, they made it! The only problem is, I already knew they would make it, everyone did. However, if you were recording a video of me watching you would have thought I was watching live events on a newscast.


Example 2: 1983 National Championship NC State Buzzer Beater

I have probably watched the clip of the three-point prayer thrown up by Dereck Whittenburg, that is then snatched out of the air by Lorenzo Charles and dunked for the win about 124 times. Yet again, here I am wondering if the prayer will fall to the ground, short of the bucket. Maybe this time Charles isn’t around? Maybe this time, Houston boxes out? Nope. NC State wins every time.

Example 3: Nik Wallenda

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, this is the guy who walked across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope in June of last year. It was a television event on the Discovery Channel garnering 8.5 million viewers. The big players in TV were reluctant to show a live account, as they were uncertain if Mr. Wallenda would fall to his death. If you can watch a replay of this event and not have your heart rate spike as he’s wobbling 1500 feet above the ground, I congratulate you and also question whether or not the FBI has trained you. It’s one of the most stressful and anxious videos to watch and you more than likely were shifting your weight back and forth on the couch as you completed the feat yourself. I know I did.

Nik Wallenda

We as human beings are unsure of events that are already written in history. Let alone relying on a company, department, or team of people who are responsible for delivering results that do not exist yet. CEO’s are concerned because they understand they need their people. But people are scary and a challenge. It’s not enough to state human capital is a challenge; the true question is what are we doing about it?

You can never be 100% sure you are acquiring, developing, and retaining the best. But, what you can do is commit time and resources to finding and using better information to increase your chances of doing so.

After all, your people matter.


Millennials: Will Work Well In Groups

Myth/Overused Stereotype #146 about Millennials: they are known for collaboration and to be fluid team players. A trait that could be mapped to the current education system consistently promoting group work; so let me get this straight, we currently have a narcissistic generation who also likes to collaborate and work with a team? That seems somewhat unhealthy. Maybe even an oxymoron or more realistically, a group that cannot and will not operate efficiently and effectively.

I’m not quite sure how many “group projects” you’ve worked on, but in my high school and college experience (2003-2011, prime formative GenY years) a group project was met with anxiety, rolled eyes, and immediate over-the-shoulder looking to evaluate if the “worst” person you could potentially work with truly isn’t “that bad,” right?

What caused this change in the education system? Why are we now completing more group projects than in the past? It’s simple mathematics, if I’m a teacher or professor… Do I want to grade 23 papers or 4 papers? Hum… I’ll take 4. And yes, I went to a private liberal arts school and it is possible to have only 23 people in a class. Disclaimer: if any of my business professors are reading this – I truly did enjoy my time and don’t judge me for wanting to get A’s on your group projects. All in a day’s work. I loved my time at Mount.

When you go to a Division III private liberal arts school, you have to take majestic photos.

When you go to a Division III private liberal arts school, you have to take majestic photos.

Now that we’ve discussed one reason why there is a shift to group work, let’s assess how these group projects truly work.

Cast: The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever, Slacker #1, Slacker #2, and Will Follow Orders

The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever reads the assignment and delegates work. Will Follow Orders completes minimal research on Wednesday and sets up a second group meeting on Thursday, the day before the assignment is due. Slacker #2 doesn’t show up to the meeting, Slacker #1 wants to makes sure they get the grade and asks, “So what part of the presentation am I doing?” And The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever has already put together the entire project to be delivered the next day.

If you’re wondering… I may or may not have played the first role of The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever sans Annoying of course.

At the end of the day a class project results in a grade.  The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever is only worried about chasing an “A” and truly does not care how he/she gets there. Does this promote great group work? You can be the judge. If you played The Annoying, Control Freak Over-Achiever in school, you despised group work. If you played any other role, you loved group work. Simple.

So when does it make sense to engage in group work at the office?

When Group Work Works for Millennials:

  • They’ve had time to ideate alonegroupthink is powerful, I’d argue too powerful to overlook with a group of 20 something’s.
  • A clear business challenge or innovative approach will be discussed – chasing a grade is easy, but finding a solution as to why company “x” is spending too much money on base compensation for their sales people has an ambiguous result – we don’t know exactly what we’re chasing and therefore, we have to stretch.
  • It comes sparingly – when working in a group it’s a chance to dig out from the “cube life.” If you do something too much it loses meaning. Very similar to praise, don’t just do it because Milennials supposedly “thrive” in that environment. But rather view it as, hey, it’s nice to every once in a while talk to other humans. Even more so when you’re getting paid to actually talk about an innovative approach or solve a problem.

If you’re in GenX or a Baby Boomer, don’t take my word for it or even one of the 808,000 Google results for (“millennials” AND “group work”), ask one of your millennial co-workers about their group projects in high school and college. That will result in some valuable water cooler talk, not to mention hopefully it’s entertaining.

Your Puppy Dog Eyes Failed: They Said “No”

With summer breaking through in the Midwest, I drive home after work with my windows down, country music flowing through the speakers, and dream of being in shorts and a T-shirt at last. Throwing my bag down on the floor, I then immediately find the right Nike Tempo shorts and T-shirt to put on. Black, white, or festive crew socks? Whatever best matches the color scheme I have put together that day. Now that I’ve assured anyone coming within 0.3 miles of me will be able to see me with my assortment of neon hues… I grab my headphones, GPS watch, iPod and head for the door.

But, before I can make it down the stairs there’s a collie following my every move. By slanting his eyebrows down and making well thought out whimpers just at the right cadence, Rex pleads, “Take me with you, take me with you. Please?” I mean really, how do I say “no” to that! I just can’t. And even though he always completely throws off my run with his half mile sprint to start, I snag his leash, take off, and prepare myself for the insane amount compliments about to take place regarding the majestic pup pulling me along. Can you blame them though?

Rex - Blog

As most of us in the workforce (I won’t say all, because being that assumptive can get you in trouble) do not have beautifully groomed locks of fur, a snout that allows us to secretly knock food off of the counter and eyes that you just can’t say “no” to – we must understand that rejection is inevitable at some point. Yes, Jesse Williams (Jackson from Grey’s Anatomy), you do have eyes that can make any gal melt – but nothing competes with man’s best friend. Trust me.

Jesse Williams

When talking about my own career I’ve often been candid in sharing that recruiting was not my first choice as a starter job, but the right choice. You learn how to deal with “no” very quickly. Along with, “You’re getting ‘no’ because you need to do ‘this, this, and this’ better.” This morning, my Twitter feed offered up an interesting blog title related to this, “On Losing Your Fear of Rejection and Embracing ‘No.’”

The blog specifically discusses rejection as it pertains to jobseekers. Resumé after resumé peddled out, e-mail after e-mail with thanks but no thanks. But I think it’s important for Millennials to understand that when you’re a new grad beaming with your college degree, you’re going to hear “no” even when you do land that job. It could come from customers or co-workers but be prepared for when it occurs. Whether it’s a rejected sale, project idea, or vacation request – it’s going to happen.

Taking rejection and criticism is a trait Millennials are not typically ready to deal with appropriately. However, I think this lesson is not solely for 18-32 year olds but can be learned at any age, it’s never too late.

To highlight this, earlier this week I attended an event where Gene Smith, Athletic Director at The Ohio State University, was a guest speaker. He mentioned Gen Y and Z having issues with discussing rejection or criticism face-to-face. As an example, his student-athletes would rather send an e-mail or text to their professor questioning why they got an “A-” instead of an “A” rather than meet in person. Regardless of generation, if you understand face-to-face communication is the best way for you to deal with rejection or criticism, this is what can separate you from the pack. If face-to-face is impossible, make the phone call.

Millennials, you’re competing with peers who are also intelligent, have internships, have degrees and in a lot of cases advanced degrees. Yet, the unemployment rate is currently hovering around 11-12% for this age group. The question I always ask myself is, what are the other 88% doing right? Understanding how to deal with “no” at the age of 22 (an age Taylor Swift made much cooler than it actually is) is a differentiator when it comes to the workforce.

You can try your best Rex impression to turn a “no” into a “yes,” but if you truly want to separate yourself – accept you will hear “no,” understand how to deal with “no,” and learn from “no.”

Anything you can do, I can do better

As a woman in the workforce it seems as though we’re still fighting the good fight. At least that’s what we’re told. It’s as if we’re sitting in the “T” of the classroom and just to one-up the smirking, wavy-haired, pencil tapping boy next to us, we sit in the middle AND front. Boom. But, hold on – not only are we sitting in the prime spot, we are waving our right hand back and forth profusely to get called on and at some points supporting this arm with the left, saying, “Ooooo me, me – pick me,” while also removing the support hand to point at ourselves from time to time. I’m sure that you’ve done this and if not, you know the name of the kid who did.

This might be a little over the top but, on the flip side, if we aren’t exhausted from raising our hand, then we sit back and ride the ride, turn 70 and wonder why the world continues to shut women out. This morning I attended a meeting on “Creating a Purposeful Career” put on by the Ohio Chapter of the Healthcare Business Women’s Association and Cardinal Health. The 2012 HBA Woman of the Year, Carolyn Buck Luce, spoke on the topic and provided some great insight into the state of women in the workplace today.

While I was listening to her speak I was thinking about my reference point for women’s rights and came to the conclusion that it’s non-existent. As a Millennial, we’ve always had them, right? Well, at least legally. Since I was 6 years old, playing T-Ball on the boy’s cub baseball team and being selected for the All-Star team, I really didn’t think it mattered if I was the only girl. If I could throw better than your son, catch better than your son, and hit better than your son – I was probably going to get picked for the All-Star team… over your son. Sorry I’m not sorry, as a famous Twitter account would say. Also, Gatorade has it’s own version of that story I just told, if you click on the image above – great advertising.

As Carolyn pointed out – the movement for equality was really about opening doors. Having the ability to be considered equal and given the same opportunities. Voting, athletics, the corporate world – whatever we didn’t have before, we have it now; however, just because the elevator door opens and we step in – doesn’t mean it’s going up. It’s up to the women of the world to press the button. When you get to the floor, will you like what you see, will they let you off? Who knows? But, you have to be the one to take the first step and press the button.

The issue facing women in the workplace today isn’t finding a job or so very graciously being allowed the opportunity to have a job. The true challenge is career advancement. My view on this is if a woman can sell better than your son, interact with clients better than your son, and motivate better than your son – she should probably get picked for the senior leadership team over your son. Sound familiar?

But, sometimes that just isn’t enough. Carolyn also mentioned the active roles mentors and sponsors play in moving women up the corporate ladder. The key here is target audience. Yes, it is never too late to start, better late than never right? But, I think a real focus should be on Millennial Women. It’s great to have a discussion on mentoring and sponsorship – but where are the young people? Whether it’s because we don’t think it’s an issue and the world is our oyster or we just aren’t in leadership roles to make those decisions, I am unsure.

Nonetheless, note to 20 something year old women – don’t wait until you’re not a 20 something to be a part of the discussion about career advancement. If we’re proactive, we won’t have to wait 50 years for the next movement. Where will the state of women in the workplace be in another 50 years? Again, I am unsure – but just by pure mathematics my guess is the Millennial Women of today will know. Just be better than the boys and get picked for the All-Star team.

Please comment with any thoughts. If you’re a Millennial and want to know how to get started tweet me @nicole_tsp. 

Where in the World is Gen X?

My favorite game when I was a kid was “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” Mainly because I was a geography nerd and more than likely still am. Carmen is akin to Gen X. Where are they? Contrary to all things Millennial, Gen X still exists. They do exist? Yes, yes they do. The Millennial epidemic has caused us to look at both extremes. On one end of the spectrum you have the 20 something’s and on the other end you have the 60 something’s. All of the talk and literature is about Gen Y and Baby Boomers. Which makes sense right? Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce and Millennials are just getting their foothold.

I sat with one of the partners at our firm, a Baby Boomer himself, discussing this topic. As we began to list the names of whom we work with (when you’re a small business you can do this, if you work at a larger company start with your team or department) and what generation they belong to, we came to find out our focus was all wrong. Do this exercise with your own company, team, or department and I think you’ll be surprised. It wasn’t about me, this free thinking, naïve, taker of all things good, entitled Millennial. But, it also wasn’t about this salt and pepper haired, tenured sweet talker, more experience than I could dream of Baby Boomer either. The Gen X list was not only longer than we thought but, also included primary decision makers. But, wait Nicole – you’re telling me we need to focus on the neglected middle child?

Focus? Not necessarily but, I do think it’s important to know that Gen X didn’t just disappear or ALL take sabbaticals to the beaches of Spain and never return. The reason I finally bring up Gen X is not because they’re the most tech savvy, obviously we are as Millennials, nor are they packing the most years of success under their belt but, rather they’re imperative when it comes to Knowledge Transfer.

Knowledge Transfer involves sharing the brain trust of those Baby Boomers about to exit the workforce. Experts and those claiming to be experts have been asking the question, how do we get our 60 something’s to talk with our 20 something’s? That question is where the failure begins. Your Baby Boomers don’t necessarily need to be transferring knowledge directly to Millennials. Eureka – I give you Gen X, more often than not in middle management or senior leadership, to whom Millennials are reporting.

The idea of Knowledge Transfer makes sense – especially in an age where the capacity of the mind is worth more than any “product” out there, if it weren’t there would be no such thing as a “service industry.” Baby Boomer knowledge transfer is filtered to Gen X who then utilizes those tools to ensure Millennials are prepared with the appropriate brain trust.

Where in the world is Gen X? Be a Gum Shoe and find them. They’re right there under your nose completing performance reviews, winning business, and directing corporate strategy. Don’t forget Gen X, make sure they’re prepared with Baby Boomer expertise and Millennials will be better for it.

Calling all HR. Everyone is not equal.

Quite the bold statement above but, I will begin with my defense. While at the Ohio SHRM conference attended by 700+ HR professionals, I heard multiple presenters discuss this theory contrary to what we’ve always been taught. Everyone is created equal. In the previous statement lies truth, we are created equal but, as we go on in life we don’t all end up in the same place.

Now, why is it important for HR to focus on this statement? Michael Couch President of his own management consulting firm discusses the “Peanut Butter Effect.” Think of yourself making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If it’s me making a PB&J there’s peanut butter on both sides with just a little bit of jelly in the middle. Spreading the peanut butter evenly is of the utmost importance in making an epic PB&J. HR uses this technique when programs reward everyone, when performance reviews reflect “above average” for low and high performers, when compensation remains the same among everyone on a team.

The high potentials, the top performers are not being recognized and they’re being put on the same playing field as those sucking the life out of the organization. How does this affect retention of your high potentials? You be the judge.

Your executive team wants to trust their HR department. To have a successful organization it’s important to know how HR can establish open communication with senior leadership. The cornerstone for this relationship is based on the treatment of high potentials. Are you rewarding top performers? Is there a distinction among those who will move up in the organization? Do you as HR have a plan for talent necessary to retain in order to keep a competitive edge?

I understand that the overall thought of treating individuals differently is taboo. But, in the case of creating a healthy relationship with the executive team as well as a profitable company, HR must understand everyone is not equal. But, why? Why shouldn’t we spread the peanut butter so that everyone has a taste for success, everyone gets the 3% merit increase. Won’t that make everyone happy? No, the most important people to your company’s success, you’re high potentials become discontent.

Tim Sackett spoke on “What Your CEO Wishes HR Would Do” and answered the burning question. Why does the executive team want HR to treat high po’s differently? Why do they want these folks to stay? Because I will bet more often than not, your executive team is a group of high po’s themselves. Show your C-Suite team there’s a commitment to fostering talent with a chance to lead.

Are you working toward a relationship with senior leadership? Are you retaining high potential talent? Or are you just spreading the peanut butter?

Committed Millennial. Oxymoron? I think not.

Commitment, what does it mean to you? It could be marrying the love of your life, helping those less fortunate than yourself, or making every one of your daughter’s gymnastics meets. I think commitment can be an ambiguous term but, broken commitments no matter how small will always lead to dissapointment if you don’t follow through.

In reading a blog by the Lead Change Group, Married to the job? – How Leaders show commitment in a fast changing world, it discusses how leaders convey commitment. A common stereotype of Millennials consists of their lack of company commitment. Let’s assume the stereotype is true. Loyalty? It’s extinct for us young kids, right? If you believe there to be an issue with the younger contingent and their commitment to your company, your leaders have to understand how to show their own commitment. In the article it mentions a young senior executive replacing a tenured executive who just retired. She explains to her “followers” that she only intends to stay for 2 years. If you’re a Millennial and you hear that your boss only plans on being there a couple of years? You’re probably not interested in hanging around too long either.

The issue here is not how the new senior executive addressed her tenure but rather it’s that she addressed it at all. The article goes on to explain how you convey your tenure by describing the job you came here to do and when those outcomes are supposed to be achieved. Which is all well and good, but if you’re a leader – the first time you introduce yourself should not involve discussing your end date. It would be like my coach recruiting me and telling me, “Well Nicole, your sophomore year I’m going to be moving to a Division I school to coach so you should probably look to transfer.”

Gain the trust of your followers before beating around the bush about your departure. Talk about how you’re going to help them and what value you’re bringing to the role. No matter the generation – we all want a leader we believe in. If you talk about all of the results your “supposed” to achieve in the role, then half way through aren’t reaching them? You might not even be there 2 years. Don’t set yourself up.

It is no longer seen as company commitment but, rather occupational commitment. We need to be passionate about our job before we can be passionate about the company. We’re committed to our careers and if that growth comes from the current employer? Great. If not, it’s not personal if we want to explore the next opportunity. To combat this, employers must understand that it all starts at the top. If your leaders aren’t living your brand, don’t be surprised if your group of 150 interns isn’t either.

Again, leaders change – they move up, they move on. But, when you’re a leader everyone is watching you. The guy who delivers your lunch to the conference room, the direct report who is begging you to come say hi to them, your executive assistant who makes you whole, the intern deciding whether or not this is the company they want to work for, and even the junior level marketer walking through the halls on their interview.

Whether or not you think Millennials have issues with commitment – evaluate your leadership. Commitment is a top down action, not bottom up. Think about it.