Five goal-setting tips for 2018

goals-2691265_1920I love December, but not for the reasons you’d think.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays and spending time with friends and family. I look forward to time out of the office to rest and recharge. But my favorite thing is reflecting on the year that has been and looking forward to what’s to come, both personally and professionally.

I am a goal setter, but I haven’t always been. Early in my career, I had operational goals that were largely assigned to me by my organization and I had little emotional attachment to them. As I moved into mid-level management, I had some say in the creation of my goals and had better perspective of how my goals relate to an overall organizational plan, but they were still something that I tracked for primarily  performance evaluation purposes. It wasn’t until last year, when I took a broad view of my future and what I hoped to achieve—in life, not just in work—that I realized what a powerful exercise goal setting can be. Now I live my whole life in 90-day increments.

As 2017 draws to a close, it’s the perfect time to start developing your goals for 2018. Here are five steps you can take to reap the full benefit of setting goals.

Step One: Look back

A good way to know where you’re headed is to figure out where you’ve been. Take time to review progress on the goals you set for yourself last year and see if you can spot patterns. Are you crushing your professional goals? Awesome, but make sure you aren’t setting the bar too low. Struggling with personal goals such as rest, fitness, nutrition, and family time? Figure out what some of the obstacles have been and decide if you can anticipate them popping up again in the upcoming year. If so, figure out how you can address them.

Step Two: Setting goals

There are hundreds of goal setting techniques to choose from. Whether your goals are SMART, HARD, reverse, or agile, if they’re getting you to where you want to go then they’re the right ones for you. Each technique has pros and cons. Personally, I use SMART goals. The SMART technique (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-based) aligns nicely with my 90-day approach, and the framework makes the goal crystal clear.

Step Three: Integrate your goals

In an earlier post on TheGenXManager, I wrote about the myth of work/life balance. Our work life and home/personal lives are so intertwined that keeping them separate is nearly impossible. Here is an area where you can make that work for you. Seek opportunities for your work goals to feed into some larger aspirations you may have for yourself. Or, conversely, examine if some of your personal goals can drive your professional goals. Not only do you get more payoff for the effort, but having a goal that meets a dual purpose is another way to embrace healthy work/life integration.

Step Four: Don’t tell anybody

You read that right. Scientific research has determined that the positive feedback you get from sharing your intention to achieve a goal creates a “social reality” that mimics the feeling of having actually achieved the goal. In other words, you get the credit for the achievement without doing the work, which can make it harder to do the work.

An exception to this rule: sharing a goal for accountability purposes. Being held accountable by someone, or even receiving help from that person, increases the likelihood of achieving your goal.

Step Five: Enjoy the boost

The wave of good feeling that you experience by achieving a goal is an actual biological response. That surge of “happiness hormones” can feel like its own reward, but there is an added benefit. One of those hormones, dopamine, fuels motivation. The more you make progress toward your goal, the more you want to make progress toward your goal. That’s one of the reasons why experts recommend breaking large goals down into smaller ones.

Goals, constructed correctly, can be as powerful as they are practical. They can keep you focused and on track, guiding your actions and helping you make quick decisions. Most of all, they mark forward progress on aspirations that may have, at one point in time, seemed impossible.

Readers, what goal-setting techniques have worked for you? Post your tips in the comments below.

Musings of a Riot Grrrl grown up: Feminism and the women of Generation X

In an earlier post on TheGenXManager.com, I wrote about the impact that GenX women have had on society and the workplace. I was born in 1973, at the tail end of feminism’s Second Wave. As a young girl, I was raised to believe that men and women were equal, and that being female wouldn’t hold me back in any way from achieving my goals.

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Credit courtesy of Fales Library, NYU

My own personal experience bore that out. I came of age with female superheroes, the Riot Grrrl movement, Lilith Fair and Girl Power. Today I’m a working mother who was never mommy tracked. I’m a breadwinner wife in an egalitarian relationship with fair division of labor. The men of my generation were raised by the same strong women who raised their daughters to believe that gender wouldn’t hold them back from any goal they had in life.

Signs of progress were all around me. The gender pay gap narrowed from 68 percent in the late 1970s to 82 percent in the early 2000s. Nearly 40 percent of women are their family’s primary breadwinner, and 32 percent of those are wives who are outearning their husbands.

I would tell anyone who listened that sexism was aging out and would not be a thing by the time my teenage daughter enters the adult working world. I’d explain that any sexism or harassment perpetrated or experienced by members of my generation was due to us getting absorbed into arcane corporate systems constructed by older generations to reinforce the patriarchy.

Then Susan Fowler blew the lid off the tech industry. In a February 2017 blog post, she outlined her experience as an engineer at Uber where she was sexually propositioned by a manager, blocked from switching teams and projects by male colleagues and then was warned that she could be fired for reporting incidents to HR. The post ignited a media firestorm.

Like dominoes, down went Uber, Google, Amazon along with a host of tech startup and tech-focused venture capital firms. A June 2017 New York Times article about sexism in Silicon Valley exposed a culture of systematic harassment, discrimination, and toxic bro-culture. I was confused. These were young women and men in young companies in a young industry. My convenient excuse for why sexism still exists evaporated. I was a disillusioned GenX-er once again.

2017 could go down in history as the year of the Sexual Harassment Bombshell. As allegations continue to be levied at prominent men across government, entertainment, media, and industry and dominate the news cycle, many wonder about the timing of the victims coming forward along with the sheer volume of complaints. “Is this a witch hunt?” people ask.

My inner Riot Grrrl answers: it’s a reckoning.

The women of Generation X remember other times when sexual harassment made front-page news. In 1991, George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas for a seat on the Supreme Court. During the confirmation hearing, a former employee of Thomas’s, Anita Hill, came forward with allegations of sexual harassment from when she worked for him at the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission. Her testimony brought the subject of workplace sexual harassment into the collective consciousness, perhaps for the first time. The event was a reality TV goldmine as the nation watched, divided on whom to believe. Thomas was confirmed.

Later in the decade, scandal rocked the highest office in the land as President Bill Clinton was found to have had an inappropriate relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. (This was after Clinton had multiple women come forward previously with allegations of sexual harassment while he was governor of Arkansas.) Clinton was impeached but later acquitted of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice and served out the rest of his term as President; Lewinsky became the poster child for scandal and shame.

During this time (perhaps in response to the cultural temperature of the time) third wave feminism had taken hold. This GenX brand of feminism challenged female stereotypes, how media/entertainment portrayed women and the language used to define women. It was assertive, empowering and sex-positive. Pop culture, in the form of music (e.g., the Riot Grrrl movement), “zines” (short for magazine or fanzine, a small-circulation self-published periodical) and movies/television (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena, etc.) was the both medium and the message.

But all that was almost a quarter-century ago. So back to the question, why is this happening now?

 From my vantage point, it seems like today there exists accountability that many found lacking in the Clinton and Thomas situations. “Why did she wait so long to come forward?” Maybe because now, in 2017, she feels like she’s got a fighting chance at justice.

There is a broader network of communication and support. Feminism’s current fourth wave is more inclusive and sheds the misandry that third wave feminism was often criticized for. It is digitally driven, making use of technology platforms capable of creating community that can extend beyond hashtag activism and encourage real-life action.

What I’ve heard from many women my age over the course of the last few weeks: this sucks. Spoken like true GenX-ers. But I will break from that stereotype to say that I see a positive opportunity in this: the opportunity to reconstruct systems that facilitated this type of behavior. That will take a long time and the efforts of many.

So in the words of Riot Grrrl queen Kathleen Hanna, “Girls to the front.” Let’s get going.

A GenX Thanksgiving

Generation X, what are you thankful for? That was the question I posed to Generation X followers of the GenX Manager’s blog, Facebook page, and Twitter.

generation-xWe came of age in a time of great uncertainty, but it molded and shaped us into a generation of authentic, pragmatic and accepting people. We’re not the negative slackers anymore (and perhaps we never were). Our upbringing continues to influence us even today. Check what these GenX-ers are thankful for:

“Thankful to have been born during a time of independence. We weren’t hovered over. We took care of ourselves out of necessity. That made us problem solvers. We have the best innovators. We have real musicians that actually play music not computers. Our bands didn’t start out on the Disney Channel. We know how to pull our own weight and rely on no one else. Lastly, we are the kings of not giving a crap what anybody thinks of us either.” –Stacy S.

“80’s thrash metal!! \m/” –Lester W.

“I’m thankful there was not social media when I was a teen!!! But seriously, I think the timing of our upbringing made us a very creative and self-starting generation.” –David M. 

“I’m thankful for our communication skills. Not to sound like an old fart, but meaningful communication has gone down the toilet.” –Jim W.

“I’m thankful for the sense of independence I developed while growing up. It helped me tackle challenges and take initiative.”—Janet R.

“I’m thankful for my sense of adventure! My kids would rather stay home than be out. That also ties in with my independence. I’m also thankful for my ability to concentrate on things for a very long time. Is ADD an epidemic, or is it a condition of the brain being wired to respond to so many distractions? I worry about this.” –Sabra C.

“That I’m not a helicopter parent. We had to figure a lot out on our own growing up and I think we’re better for it. I am trying to raise my kids to have that same independence and problem-solving ability.” –Jennifer T.

“I’m thankful that social media wasn’t around when we were growing up!” –Tom H. (but a sentiment echoed by multiple respondents) 

“Growing up GenX made me aware of what’s really happening in the world. I don’t always accept what’s being told to us in the media and I try to verify reports that seem questionable. Maybe it’s a lack of trust, but our generation has been burned before.”–Brian B.

“I think Generation X doesn’t care as much what people think. People described us as negative, but I think it’s really just that we’re comfortable being ourselves and are less accepting of bullshit.” –Heather B.

“We have the best music.” –Joe R.

“I am thankful that growing up Generation X made us ‘doers’. We know how to get things done and aren’t afraid to take risks. I wish more people were like that, especially at work.” –Wendy D.

“That our kids are more like us than like Millennials. Yes, they might be addicted to technology but they’re also incredibly informed and tuned in to what’s happening in the world—more so that we were at their age. I think they’re going to be even more kick-ass than we were. “ –Debbie H.

“That we’re still badass. It’s just badass for a different life stage.” –Rob M.

It was so great to go through these and see how much that people of our generation appreciate how our coming-of-age positively influenced us. For me, I am thankful that there are so many people for whom the spirit of TheGenXManager.com is resonating. That being said, I am also thankful that –like Rob says—we’re still badass, that Depeche Mode is still together and touring, and that motorcycle jackets and chokers are back in style (although—true confession—never stopped wearing them).

Care to add to the list? When it comes to being a part of your generation, what are you most thankful for? Leave your comments below. Baby Boomers and Millennials, we want to hear from you too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selling College to Generation Z

pexels-photo-267885Greetings from the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education in beautiful Atlanta. Thirteen hundred higher ed marketing and communications professionals have gathered to learn and share best practices for recruiting students to their institutions of higher learning. That’s a lot of people whose job it is to tell other people that they should go to college.

It was at this conference in 2012 that Donald Heller, who was Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University at the time and our luncheon keynote speaker, had this to say:

“For the first time in your industry, you, as marketers, are being asked to do something you never had to do before—justify the value of a college education.”

Up to that point, it was widely accepted that a college degree—in anything—was a good investment that would pay out over time. But in 2012, with college costs out of control, a student loan debt crisis and an economy in a slow recovery with a very soft job market, he was right. It wasn’t enough to sell our own institutions. We had to sell college as a good idea.

Five years later, it hasn’t gotten easier. In response to the issue of the value of a college education, educational alternatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and skills-based education (micro credentials and badging) have become increasingly popular. These disrupters, along with a renewed focus on the trades as viable paths to lucrative careers, have changed the conversation about what post-secondary pathways look like.

We also have a generation of high school students that are far more skeptical of the value of college than perhaps any generation that came before. Generation Z watched their Millennial counterparts graduate college and “boomerang” right back to Mom and Dad’s house with poor job prospects and a big student loan bill. They watch their Generation X parents—the most indebted generation–write their own student loan payment checks while trying to save for their children’s education.

As college became more accessible in the second half of the 20th century, each generation has been more educated than the one that came before. That trend could break with GenZ. They’re true digital natives who grew up with any information they wished to access literally at their fingertips, mostly for free. To them, the prospect of four years (or more) in a classroom seems unnecessary. The numbers bear it out: 75 percent of Generation Z believes there are other ways of getting a good education besides going to college.

It certainly presents a challenge for the people whose job it is to sell college, but it’s one we can rise to. As higher education responds to the needs, expectations, and demands of this generation (and it is responding, albeit at the speed of academia), there are messages that can resonate with Generation Z in the short term:

Affordability: GenZ is a pretty financially savvy generation. They’ve already started to save for retirement. They are price sensitive and have high expectations of price to value. Prospective GenZ students are heading straight to the net price calculator on college websites and cost is a major factor in their decision-making.

According to a 2017 study produced by the Center for Generational Kinetics, 24 percent of GenZ students plan to pay for college through personal savings in an effort to reduce their reliance on student loans. Additionally—nearly 40 percent of GenZ students intend to work while they go to college.

For higher ed marketers, this means emphasizing a value message. Highlighting flat or discounted tuition rates, scholarship information and on-campus employment hold sway with this generation.

Practical skills: Members of Generation Z are as pragmatic as their Generation X parents. They want to know that their college experience is going to be meaningful to their post-college life. According to a 2014 study by Northeastern University, 63 percent believe it’s important for colleges to teach entrepreneurship and 85 percent believe they should learn about financial literacy in college. There is also a high expectation of access to experiential learning opportunities as early as their first year of college.

Many institutions are responding to this demand and building these types of learning opportunities into the curriculum. For those that are, highlighting these elements can bring a competitive advantage in the recruitment of Generation Z.

The intangibles: I am not just a higher ed marketer, I am also the GenX parent of a GenZ high school junior who knows that the linear path of four-years-of-college-after-high-school-graduation didn’t work out so well for her old mom. As she herself questions the value of college, she’ll remind me that after I flamed out my third semester, I stopped out and worked part-time and full-time jobs for several years before I realized that a college degree was something that I wanted to attain. Then I’ll tell her about the things I learned in college that had nothing to do with classroom content: time management, navigating complex institutions and dealing with others who have perspectives and experiences different than my own. These are things I wished I learned much earlier than I did in the working world where the stakes were higher.

If that were a college course, it would be “Adulting 101”. For Generation Z students, college is a place to acquire these practical skills in an environment where it is okay to learn some lessons the hard way. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “learning outside the classroom”, a phrase that higher ed marketers are particularly fond of.

As a higher ed marketer for a community college (full disclosure) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well-positioned community colleges are to respond to these needs. Shorter times-to-completion, an emphasis on applied learning and lower tuition costs tick many of GenZ’s boxes.

In discussing such issues with colleagues from around the country from colleges and universities large and small, it was widely acknowledged that reaching students of this generation cannot depend on messaging alone. As an industry, higher education has an opportunity to reexamine if the model that has been in place for decades—centuries in some cases—is the one that can be sustained in an era of rapidly changing technology, globalization and increasingly specialized industry needs. The best viewbook in the world can’t be an effective substitute for a relevant offering—and Generation Z is savvy enough to understand that.

 

But Millennials want different things, right?

I love Jeopardy. Growing up, I would play along with my parents, always relishing the few times I was able to beat Mom or Dad. These days I still try to catch it whenever possible, and I—like so many others– was utterly charmed by recent champion Austin Rogers.

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Millennials want what other generations want. It’s their response to not getting it that’s different.

The New York City bartender who wears secondhand clothes, doesn’t own a television and bikes to work embodied Millennial ethos as he proceeded to wipe the floor with his competition for 12 days to the tune of $411,000, bringing down lawyers, software engineers, journalists and project managers in his wake.

 

That’s how you do it, I thought as I watched. Tend bar. Host trivia nights. Play Jeopardy. That’s working to live, not living to work.

Over the weekend I came across “Adulting So far: Why I Quit My Software Engineering Job” by Jamelle Watson-Daniels. Expecting yet another Millennial quit-lit piece, I found it to be an astute examination of how organizations are failing at meeting the expectations of young, smart people. Watson-Daniels makes that point crystal clear:

“On some level, the outdated company cultures rely on people expecting the job to be a method of survival. But as we expand what it means to have a meaningful life and work to offer that same life standard to all people, this expectation is becoming null and void. I would rather get three roommates, not have children, and offer freelance tutoring than to be in this type of huge company culture.”

As a woman in her 40s with a family and a mortgage, I find it hard to relate to the last line—though I certainly understand it. But the part about having a meaningful life? That hits home for me, and probably does for many people.

We (GenX-ers and Boomers) love to talk about how different Millennials are from the older generations. But studies show that all three generations desire the same outcome: a sense of purpose, to feel that their work matters and that they are contributing to the greater good. A 2015 report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value showed that in a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from companies across 12 countries and six industries, about the same percentage of Millennials (25%) want to make a positive impact on their organization as GenXers (21%) and Baby Boomers (23%).

Turns out we all want the same thing. It’s just the response to not getting it that is different. Boomers will actively disengage. Active disengagement means that not only are these folks unhappy at work, but they go out of their way to express that unhappiness through words, attitudes and actions.

GenXers will grind it out unhappily, doing what they can to bring about organizational culture shifts. Or, they’ll start a business. Generation X is the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.

But Millennials will leave and not look back. They’ll tend bar and play Jeopardy. They’ll work side hustles to make ends meet.

For organizations, this has been a wake-up call. As more of the Boomer workforce continues to retire, they need to attract the next generation of workers, and quickly. And so the workplace is changing, with many organizations focusing on initiatives that foster greater work/life integration, flexibility and autonomy. While the expectations of Millennials generally get credit for the shift, all generations stand to benefit.

Policy changes are a good start, but it’s important for organizations to spend time connecting the dots to show employees how the work they do every day directly impacts the health and success of their workplace. If employees want purpose and meaning, build a compelling case as to how your organization—and their work—are contributing to the greater good.

 

 

 

 

Change Management: Tips for GenX Managers

Depositphotos_21382617_s-2015In the modern workplace, there isn’t much that doesn’t fall under the heading of “change.” When organizations have to respond quickly to shifting market conditions, changing regulations and rapid advances in technology, employees can feel like they’re in a constant state of flux. Organizations need to continually adapt and adjust in order to succeed.

For Generation X, whose coming of age was laced with uncertainty, change isn’t necessarily a negative. If an organizational change will solve a known problem or lead to an improved future state, pragmatic GenXers are likely to get on board. Perhaps even more importantly, they’re able to share the vision, get buy-in and support fellow employees through the change. Many GenX managers find themselves initiating change or implementing change, depending on the type of change and where they might fall on the org chart.

When the vision is yours: initiating change

Whether you’re a CEO developing a new strategic plan for your organization, a department head looking to improve productivity or a team leader who wants to modify a process, the steps are similar.

  • Build a compelling case: Resistance to change often comes from two places: 1) uncertainty of the impact of the change, or the employee’s role in it, and 2) prior changes have failed to deliver the intended results. This means that as a leader and an initiator of change, you’ll have to do a fair amount of convincing. It’s worth the effort. Tap into that GenX pragmatism and help your people understand why the change is needed and highlight the benefits of the change. Get them to envision a future state where the problem is solved.
  • Seek feedback and input: Good leaders are self-aware enough to know “they don’t know what they don’t know.” Bringing stakeholders to the table to weigh in can uncover potential blind spots and improve upon existing ideas. Additionally, seeing their input considered and even implemented will help stakeholders buy into the vision and become your champions of change.
  • Develop your communication strategy: Organizational communication is a tough issue on its own. Tying it to a change initiative raises the stakes even higher. Err on the side of overcommunication, using specific examples on how this change will allow the organization, department or team to better deliver on its mission. GenX managers—resist the urge to use email as your primary communication channel. Talking to people in person allows them to ask questions and feel heard, and may be an efficient way to work through some issues before they arise.

Being a change agent: implementing change

Okay, so it’s not your vision, but you are expected to provide leadership on implementing a change. This is a very common role in change management and is not without some potential complications. Some things to remember:

  • Visibly support the change: That natural GenX skepticism is good for anticipating future problems, but can be a barrier to getting the necessary buy-in from others. Visibly supporting a change doesn’t mean ignoring potential pitfalls. Those can be acknowledged—perhaps even solved–while still getting people to focus on the goal of an improved future state.
  • Realize the importance of your role as a leader. Strong leadership at all levels is one of the most important factors in change management. According to a recent survey by Eagle Hill Consulting, 94% of employees who were happier after a change said that their manager was a role model during the change. What you say and what you do matters.

Leading people through change can be a daunting task. Even seemingly small changes can have an impact on how people perform their day-to-day work. But done carefully and thoughtfully, change management can ease people through the necessary transitions that will allow an organization to improve.

 

Stranger Things: A Love Letter to Generation X

In honor of Season Two of Stranger Things, premiering on Netflix today. Post contains spoilers from Season One.

shutterstock_465673976In case you haven’t noticed, 80s movies are having a moment. It seems the only stories coming out of Hollywood lately, aside from superhero movies (not complaining), are reboots, remakes, sequels and prequels.

I started watching Stranger Things about this time last year, a few months after it premiered on Netflix. By the end of the second episode, my face hurt from smiling. This was no ordinary television show. Equal parts Stephen (King) and Steven (Spielberg), it was a love letter to Generation X.

From the publicity surrounding the show, I knew it took place in the 80s, but I wasn’t expecting it to feel like an 80s movie. From its totally retro title sequence to the excruciating details of the fashion, décor and music of the time, it was clear. This show was for us.

Generation X.

True, every generation has an attachment to its own pop culture. We’ll all insist that the movies, music, television, etc. of our time was the best. But pop culture has a very special place in Generation X’s heart. The advent of cable television and MTV gave us an unprecedented level of exposure to television, movies and music that, though it seems downright quaint today, left an indelible mark on Generation X.

So what a lovely surprise it was for Millennial Stranger Things creators Matt and Ross Duffer to blow a giant kiss to some of GenX’s favorite movies. Just a few of the not-so-subtle inspirations are listed here, since you can make a case that there are at least 20 more.

Theme: Kids on bikes hiding and protecting an otherworldly being from big bad government dudes.  Movie: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

I was nine years old when I saw E.T., and I remember it being one of the first movies I saw with my parents where they liked it every bit as much as I did. When the Stranger Things kids hid Eleven in the house, disguised her in a blond wig, placated her with sweets and went on to outsmart the bad guys, it was apparent that the Duffer brothers were fans of E.T. as well.

Theme: Exuberant youths on a quest.  Movie: The Goonies, Stand by Me

The tween years are a tough time. Adults will dismiss out-of-hand the idea of following a treasure map or that your friend has been kidnapped by an evil creature and is trapped in an alternate dimension. Thankfully, it’s also the time of life where you can convince your other tween friends to follow you on an adventure that will either save the day or bond you for life. Personally, the Goonies vibe for me was a little stronger than Stand By Me, though I see the connection. Maybe it was because Barb’s glasses looked just like Martha Plimpton’s. Poor Barb.

Theme: Pretty but smart/quirky/unpopular girl catches jerky popular boy’s eye while sensitive male friend who is much better suited to her suffers in silence.  Movie: Pretty In Pink, but pretty much any 80s John Hughes movie besides the Home Alones.

Perhaps I’m still smarting 30 years later from the fact that Andie ended up with Blaine and not Duckie, so I was rooting hard for Nancy to end up with the shy, sensitive boy with the great taste in music. Oh well. There’s always Season Two. Even as an adult, I did appreciate the cautionary tale in this storyline about what can happen when you abandon your friends for a boy. Poor Barb.

Theme: A portal to hell is totally in your house, and your kid is going to find it.  Movie: Poltergeist

I still can’t forget Carol Ann’s voice emanating from the television “Mmmmommmy…”. So creepy. But just like Diane in Poltergeist, Joyce is able to figure out by Episode Three that her child is trapped in some kind of evil dimension and she is damn well going to bring him back. Never underestimate the power of a mother’s love. We will pull you from the gates of hell.

Theme: Obsession that reads as crazy and drives away almost everyone you care about.  Movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

After Roy Neary’s encounter with a UFO, he becomes so obsessed with proving the existence of aliens that he loses his wife and kids over it. Joyce’s singular focus on proving her son is alive but in an alternate universe alienates nearly everyone around her. In both cases, however, they find someone who believes them and is in a position to help: Jillian in Close Encounters and Jim in Stranger Things.

Casting Notes

I loved that we had some 80s teen movie icons pop up for this show. Seeing Matthew Modine on screen was a reminder Vision Quest was a long time ago. And how fitting is it that GenX queen Winona Ryder is the star of the show? Whether she was playing awkward young girl Rina in Lucas, angsty tween Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice, cool girl Veronica in Heathers or struggling twenty-something Lelaina in Generation X’s touchstone movie Reality Bites, she was always our Manic Pixie Dream Girl (before that was a thing).

I enjoyed Season One, but if the show were stripped of its awesome GenX-iness, I would find the plot itself kind of rudimentary. I also wonder, now that the Duffer brothers have the whole 80s thing pretty well covered, if the second season will hold less charm but more substance.

I’ll let you know later tonight.

The Side Hustle: Not Just for Millennials

Say hello to the side hustle.

Not to be confused with “a second job”, the side hustle is more than just a way to make some extra cash. It’s also a way for people to pursue a passion, stretch creative muscles or build new skills. Thanks to platforms like Freelancer, TaskRabbit, Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, the gig economy is here and thriving.

Depositphotos_69202269_s-2015Over 44 million Americans have some form of income to supplement their day-to-day earnings. Twenty-eight percent of people with side hustles are Millennials and for good reason. Millennials entered the workforce burdened by crushing student loan debt during a period of slow economic recovery and full-time employment was hard to come by. Another reason, perhaps even a stronger one, is that the modern American workplace was not meeting their expectations as a flexible, collaborative, purposeful environment in which Millennials could see the direct impact of their work, so they decided to take matters into their own hands.

This is catching the attention of older generations who have been in the workplace longer and who might feel like a cog in a corporate machine. With their heightened expertise and experience, GenX and even Baby Boomers are redirecting their well-honed skills towards enterprises that they themselves can control.

Certainly, the Millennial-as-entrepreneur narrative is a powerful one. The Zuckerbergs, Spiegels and Cheskys of the world make it seem like every 20-something whiz kid is building a global empire. The truth is that the number of people under 30 who own a business has fallen by 65 percent since the 1980s and is now at a 25 year low. According to the Kauffman Foundation, a think tank focused on education and entrepreneurship, the average age for a successful startup-founder is about 40 years old, and the 55-65 age group shows the largest increase in entrepreneurial activity in the last 20 years.

Why the shift? Increased entrepreneurism and the rise of companies built on the gig economy offer something that may be more important than money and that nearly all generations of workers seek: autonomy.

Whether it’s control over schedule, project prioritization or simply how the work gets done, higher levels of autonomy tend to result in improved job satisfaction.  When employees have greater responsibility for their work, it leads to increases in the quality of work, motivation and happiness, along with decreases in employee turnover.

Uber’s recent driver recruitment campaign capitalizes on that desire to have more control over our time and our lives. In the ‘Side Hustle: Earning’ spot, the driver moves effortlessly from her day job (working) to driving for Uber (earning) to a variety of leisure activities (chilling). The repetition of “work-earn-chill” shows a life lived on the driver’s own terms.

That’s a concept that transcends generations, and the growing number of entrepreneurs and those participating in the gig economy bear it out. Thirty percent of American workers were self-employed in 2014. In 2016, 34 percent of the American workforce were freelancers, and that number is projected to be 43 percent in 2020.

In my day job, I have worked with many freelancers and entrepreneurs, many of whom transitioned to their current roles from established corporate enterprises. They’ve been candid about the fact that the workload is much heavier—not only do they provide their specialized skills to the marketplace, but they also must spend time (and money) marketing, booking business, record-keeping and doing other work that takes them out of their area of expertise. But they’ve also shared that the freedom to work when they want, where they want and with whom is worth the extra time and effort.

That’s how important autonomy is to people, and that’s a lesson that Corporate America can learn in order to better attract and retain great people. Most organizations cannot offer complete autonomy to its employees, but even control over work schedule and location, or creating an environment that supports innovative ideas at all levels of the organizations—these are things that start to get at the heart of what’s missing for many workers these days, and why they’ll work harder and longer to find it.

Readers: do you have a side hustle, or have you thought about starting one? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

GenX Management In Action: Staying Motivated

MotivationI recently attended a leadership development session about leading high performing teams. During the session, the facilitator put up a slide with a wide variety of famous people known for being the best in their areas of expertise. The photos ranged from Michael Jordan to Mother Theresa to Brené Brown to Johnny Cash. His point was that great teams are a combination of people who each bring their unique strengths to the team. Pointing to the slide again, the facilitator asked, “And what do our employees expect from us?”

In one of those moments where the words that pop into your head are simultaneously spoken aloud, I said, “They expect us to be all of these.” The facilitator nodded in agreement.

In the moment, I understood how that kind of expectation is unfair and unrealistic, yet totally true. When we strive to do our very best and set an unattainable goal of perfection, it’s as disappointing for us as it is for our team. For GenX managers who might be in mid-level positions who are feeling this pressure from below in addition to the daily pressures from above, it can be difficult to stay motivated. However, there are simple actions that tap into those GenX superpowers that can keep Generation X managers’ heads (and hearts) in the game:

  • Control what you can control. We former latchkey kids were raised to be pretty self-sufficient, and as a generation we continue to value autonomy. Many workplace frustrations stem from the fact that there are many organizational decisions, policies and practices that are simply out of our control. Instead of dwelling on what can’t be controlled, spend time on what can be. Is there a new initiative that your team can take from start to finish? Can a process be improved? Enjoy autonomy where you have it.
  • Challenge yourself. That same GenX self-motivation has allowed us to build new skills throughout our careers, as we’ve had to keep pace with new technology, evolving industries and shifting market forces. Feeling stuck? Challenge yourself to learn something new or improve an existing skill. Rising to your own challenge—whether it’s directly work-related or not—is energizing. That energy has the potential to re-inspire you at work.
  • Remember your mission. When there are so many demands on your team’s time, skills and resources, it can be easy to lose sight of your original mission. Take a minute to get back to that. Pragmatic GenX managers can assess which of those competing demands help them deliver on their mission and which of those deviate. For the demands that digress, is there a way to get them to align?
  • Appreciate your team. Often, things move so quickly at work that there is little time to acknowledge team successes and appreciate the skills and attributes of individual team members. Don’t overlook this important step. Appreciation is a fundamental psychological need, and it’s been shown that employees who feel appreciated by their supervisor perform at a higher level. Give your people their props, and have gratitude for the unique strengths they bring to the table.
  • Get inspired. GenX as a generation has very strong internal motivation, but a little external motivation now and again only helps. Find out what inspires you. Go for a walk outside. Watch a TED talk. For me, listening to music is my favorite form of inspiration. The right music can power me through a workout, allow me to focus on detail-oriented work or simply improve my mood.

I acknowledge here that these are short-term solutions that might allow you to hit the ‘reset’ button on your actions and attitude—both things that give energy to your team members’ actions and attitudes. Staying motivated long term takes some deeper soul-searching as to what drives you and sustains you. Is it a sense of purpose? Making an impact? Rewards and recognition? Is there proof that you are getting those things in your current role?

Motivation ebbs and flows. Just as it’s unreasonable to embody every type of leadership style that your team expects, it’s impossible to stay 100 percent motivated 100 percent of the time. But for GenX managers in need of a motivation boost, these might rev the engine.

Readers: What do you do to stay motivated, short-term and long-term? Leave your answers in the comments below.

The Management in Action series covers a variety of practical management topics that can help GenX managers strengthen their leadership skills. Got a topic you’d like to see explored? Leave a suggestion in the comments. 

 

Looking to improve corporate culture? Get GenX involved.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

This oft-repeated pithy quote from business guru Peter Drucker might cause you to roll your eyes if it weren’t so damn true. Newsflash: in addition to strategy for breakfast, culture eats management for lunch, policy for dinner and tactics as a midnight snack. In other words, there is no stronger performance driver for an organization than its culture.

Corporate leaders know this. It’s why they spend money on surveys, consultants, courses and retreats trying to find ways to improve culture. In his book The Culture Cycle, James Haskett estimates that an effective culture can account for upwards of 30% of the differential in corporate performance compared to organizations that have culture issues.

You can find many differing definitions of corporate culture, but at its core, it’s the values and actions of employees that create an organization’s environment and define its practices. For organizations struggling with corporate culture issues, it’s often because those values and actions are not aligned. People aren’t walking the talk. The culture is not authentic.

Depositphotos_156857050_s-2015For leaders looking to improve organizational culture, I would encourage them to seek a perhaps yet untapped resource: your Generation X employees.

One of the most important aspects of a solid corporate culture is authenticity, and a hallmark characteristic of GenX-ers is how they value authenticity. They’ll be the first ones to point out when actions don’t align with values, or if certain initiatives feel forced or false. That’s a fine first step, but allow them to go deeper and they can help their organizations identify strengths that can drive values that employees can align behind and deliver on.

Pragmatism is another characteristic that is part of the GenX brand. It’s easy to mistake good old-fashioned GenX pragmatism for negativism in the workplace, especially when they are sandwiched in between two generations known for their idealism. Pragmatists focus on how to get things done. They can see the big picture but also potential barriers that could get in the way of success, and they tend to want to spend energy overcoming the roadblocks. Engaging GenX employees in culture improvement discussions and initiatives can lead to some “quick wins” as they can see possibilities within existing frameworks.

But what if your existing framework is what needs improvement? Generation X is an asset here too. Their influence on the modern workplace in regards to improved work/life integration, women at work and the use of technology was a paradigm shift. Pragmatic as they may be, a desire for change and improvement is as strong with X-ers as it is with other generations, including Millennials.

As an added bonus, involving Generation X employees in culture-shaping engages a generation of workers who—at this point in their career—have a significant amount of institutional and industry knowledge and experience yet may be stalled in their current roles. With Baby Boomer leaders staying in the workforce longer and Millennials quickly climbing corporate ladders, it can feel like GenX is the forgotten middle child of the workplace. Using GenX expertise for the purposes of improving workplace culture recognizes these employees as future organizational leaders who can successfully navigate an increasingly complex business environment.