Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Fan of Generation X

If you're a follower of this blog and haven't seen the post on Harvard Business Blogs by Tammy Erickson about "Why Generation X Has the Leaders We Need Now," you really should. Unlike Bob Filipczak over at "Managing the Generations," Erickson feels GenX is uniquely poised to confront the leadership challenges facing our businesses and our society today. It's funny how for each "negative" charactistic Filipczak ascribes to GenX, Erickson has a positive counterbalance.

Filipczak says you're Nomads. Erickson says, "Your distrust of institutions grew as you witnessed the lay-offs of the '80s and has prompted you to value self-reliance. You have developed strong survival skills and the ability to handle whatever comes your way with resilience. X'ers instinctively maintain a well-nurtured portfolio of options and networks."

Filipczak says you're Rule Avoiders. Erickson says, "Your preference for 'alternative' and early experience in making your own way left you inclined to innovate. You tend to look for a different way forward. Your strongest arena of financial success as a generation has been your entrepreneurial achievements."

Filipczak says you're Pragmatic, too pragmatic to be visionary leaders. Erickson says, "Your pragmatism has given you practical and value-oriented sensibilities that, I believe, will help you serve as effective stewards of both today's organizations and tomorrow's world."

If you're an Xer trying to move into a leadership position, Erickson's post will warm your heart, and it warmed mine. But at the same time (being such a pragmatic Xer), I have to ask—if Erickson is right in quoting Strauss and Howe:

William Strauss and Neil Howe, coauthors of Generations, posit that each generation makes a unique bequest to those that follow and generally seeks to correct the excesses of the previous generation. They argue that the Boomer excess is ideology and that the Generation X reaction to that excess involves an emphasis on pragmatism and effectiveness.

then, isn't GenX naturally suited for leadership now the way every generation is naturally suited for leadership at the time the older generation is moving on? If each generation seeks to correct the excesses of the one preceding it, doesn't that create a natural evolution of leadership from one generation to the next? What's all the fuss about?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Generations Ebook is now free

In case you missed it on my other blog, I'm giving away my Generations Ebook for free now. Download the ebook from this page.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Millennials Are Unstoppable

More on the new narrative front for generations in the workplace. I predicted in a previous post that we'd start seeing more stories about how GenX better get out of the way of those Millennials when it comes to the leadership positions being slowly vacated by Boomers.

Here's another, from the blog, entitled innocently enough, "Are Gen Y Workers Good for Business?" It's a mini review of a new book by Michael S. Malone. After reading the first three paragraphs, you might think the answer is, no, Gen Y workers are not good for business. But wait. Let's take another look at those youngsters:

The caveat, though, in Malone's mind, is that Gen Y's fierce independence will accelerate the nation's evolution from a corporate economy of worker bees to an entrepreneurial one of innovative thinkers and rapid change, one where a majority of the Gen Y workforce is self-employed or even part of an ever-widening proprietary class.

"This cohort, many with parents who have always worked at home, has little interest in ever taking an office job, or working for a business that doesn't change," he writes. The Gen Y group will be fiercely start-up oriented, and "by 2013, perhaps two-thirds of all adult Americans will be classified as entrepreneurial."

Get out of the way GenX. Those Millennials have some serious destiny to fulfill. By 2013—four years from now—they are going to comprise a new entrepreneurial class that is twice as large as all the other adults in the country.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Succession Planning

Thanks, Eric, for pointing me to Bob Filipczak's horrendous post about the crappy leaders that all of us Gen Xers are turning out to be(!). That one sets me off. It's interesting, too, because the book that Filipczak wrote (with Raines and Zemke), Generations At Work, is one that I like. I'll have to go back and see if what they wrote about Generation X fits with what he's saying now, because I find his generalizations to be a bit off (and in the Blog post, he doesn't particularly cite data or sources for his conclusions). And while I can tell I have a full-fledged rant coming together inside me about that post, I'm going to hold off and write about just one of the topics he mentioned: succession planning.

He said it's the hot topic right now, citing a conversation he had with a senior military official who is dealing with a major shortage of middle manager level personnel. We knew this was coming--Generation X is a small generation, much smaller than the Boomers. So if we try to fill all of those mid-level manager slots that Boomers filled with Xers, we'll fall short.

Filipczak's advice? Suck it up. Stay in your job longer than two years, embrace office politics even though it sucks, and work on our people skills (apparently we're bad at that and we don't have networks).

I tend to disagree with his generalizations about Xers, but even if he has data to back them up, I'm most upset with his conclusion about what to do next. He's still telling us how to be more like Baby Boomers. That WE have to change in order to make the current structure work. He says that we have a crisis because we have all these middle management positions to fill and not enough people. Isn't that backwards? We have tons and tons of people. Has it occurred to Filipczak that the answer might be MORE in restructuring the way the work gets done, as opposed to making Xers change the way they do things to fit the structure the Boomers created?

It's easier to think of succession planning as filling slots, and as long as the population is growing, that works. But when things shift, so must our thinking. Succession planning is really just ongoing leadership adaptation. How do we need to change the capacity within our systems to shape the future, given the demographic make up of our system? The demographic and generational shifts that are happening right now are real, and they pose a serious challenge to leadership and to management, but I think we'll do better by actually innovating management (see Gary Hamel), rather than sending all the Xers back to charm school so they can be "proper" middle managers like their Boomer predecessors.

Okay, I guess that was a bit of a rant.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Generation X Unfit for Management?

I think I found a new narrative out there in the "Generations in the Workplace" wilderness. For some time I've been saying that when it comes to generations in the workplace, all the stories I ever seem to find are on one of two topics:

1. Are those crazy Boomers ever going to let go and retire?
2. How are we going to manage those crazy Millennials coming into the workforce?

The Hourglass Blog got started because we wanted to start a new conversation. We recognize that Gen X is and will continue to move into leadership positions in our organizations and in society, and we wanted to explore what their new generational perspective will do to the way organizations are managed and the collective goals they may be directed towards.

Well, thanks to Dave Sohigan and his "The Gen X Files" blog for pointing me to this blog post from the "Managing the Generations" blog about how awful life is going to be under Gen X's leadership.

It's a pretty scathing indictment of GenX's inability to lead—written by Xer Bob Filipczak. He takes a look at Gen X's "core characteristics" and shows how none of them translate into effective management techniques. And guess what one of his predictions is.

At an executive leadership level, most “silo-thinking” Xers will be hard-pressed to succeed when managing large departments or even teams of more than a dozen people. Only those who can look beyond their own inclinations will rise through the ranks, especially in large companies. And because Millennials are so good at big teams, you could see the younger generation leapfrogging into executive leadership positions with tribes of Generation X managers reporting to them.

Yep. That's the new narrative. When will those GenXers get out of the way so those team-player Millennials can run the show?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Which Generation is the Most Authentic?

My fellow Hourglass blogger Jamie Notter had this great post on his Get Me Jamie Notter blog about a month ago. (Okay, yeah, I know. I've been busy). It's about the risks associated with authenticity and about how social media is forcing some of us to tear down the barriers between the different roles we play.

It got me thinking about the generations and their ways of dealing with the issue. It seems to me that the problem may be uniquely GenX.

Millennials live online (or so we've been told). They are who they are, online or off, and their response to people who may question them (like parents or employers) is, "What's the big deal? This is who I am. Get used to it."

Boomers who use social media are by and large late adopters. They are more established in their careers (or retired) by the time they find social media. They see no point in not being your true self online. Those who have something horrible to hide are probably not using social media. Those who don't want the online world to see them for who they are. They say, "Look at me and all I've done. Isn't that great?"

Xers, on the other hand, are caught in the middle. We were raised in the pre-social media days, so I think we're naturally skeptical of all this new technology. We see the advanatges, but we also see the risks. We're also old enough that we find ourselves needing to manage more disparate roles that our younger and older colleagues. Jamie refers to the balancing act that goes with being a co-worker, boss, friend, parent, and child all at the same time. We're stuggling with what that means in the real world, and have managed by adopting different roles to deal with different relationships. When we try to bring those separate personas into the world of social media, we get nervous about the natural connectivity tearing down all those carefully constructed walls. We haven't put our whole selves out there, so we fear the thought of someone judging us by only a portion of who we are—and, depending on the eyeballs that are viewing us, we may feel that it is the "wrong" portion to be judging us by.

Am I nuts? If you're a Millennial or a Boomer, go and read Jamie's post and let me know if you can relate. I suspect you can't. Not the way the GenXers can.