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5 Leadership Toys For The Multigenerational Workplace Sandbox

Meghan M. Biro

The multigenerational workforce — you’ve heard about it. There are about six generations that live in America today; three to five of which are in the workplace, with another set to enter within ten years. You’ve probably heard most about Generation X (30-50 years of age) and Generation Y (millennials, 11-29), with the occasional reference to baby boomers (51-68), the group arguably hit hardest by the recent Great Recession.

Please note that these age brackets vary from resource to resource but this gives you the general gist. Thanks to a global economy that stubbornly refuses to improve in any meaningful way for many anxious holders of 401ks, we’re unlikely to see baby boomers retiring at rates previously expected.

The short story is this: At least three generations can be found in most workplaces, which not only is a potential source of workplace friction, but also a real puzzle for leaders, HR, brand marketers, and talent management pros looking to humanize brands.

It’s really not something we can afford to ignore.

This shift in the meaning of brand is seismic, as they say. Where my parents bought a car for the brand’s reputation, and I wouldn’t buy a car for any one reason, my niece might buy a car if its infotainment system is seamlessly synchronized with her Bluetooth and iPhone (or Android).

For millennials, brands must have social capability and social identity, or allow the individual to use the brand’s product in a social context. For Gen X, the brand must be multinational. And for boomers, well, snob appeal still works – one measure of brand reputation. Note: I’m a Gen-Xer and I sometimes want each of these offerings above so it can be misleading to go on statistics alone. Honestly, I often think stereotyping generations can be very limiting in this way, but it’s useful to gain a macro-perspective on just how much the world of work is transforming now.

In workplace brands, as with multigenerational teams, a lot of adaptation and flexibility is called for if success is the goal. As I wrote last week, brand humanization is of increasing importance. This holds for workplace brands as a well. If you’re a CEO, HR person, or a hiring manager for new and retained talent, you’re probably wondering how to keep the wheels on the bus with three, potentially five, age groups on staff.

Here are five suggestions to keep your workplace and leadership brand aligned with the needs of three or four very different groups of workers:

  1. Relevance: For all groups of workers, work must be relevant. This matters for someone who’s 60 as much as it does for a 23-year-old, although the meaning of “relevant” might be different for each. Leaders always need to communicate a task’s relevance. If a task is relevant, it will make the brand relevant too.
  1. Accountability: Some people are accountable by nature. They’re performers. Lots of other people have to be made accountable. A lot has been written about the lack of accountability in Millennials, but I think it’s more a question of communications again: leaders must be very clear about what it means to be accountable in the workplace. A 45-year-old may see his or her work as contributing to the bottom line, a 25-year-old may see it as a task and miss the big picture, and a 60-year-old may see a task as a dead end. Leaders have to show everyone why everything they do in the workplace counts and helps build a good brand. Mind, employees have a responsibility to look beyond themselves too, but that’s a topic for another day.
  1. Motivation: First cousin of accountability and relevance, motivation can be a mystery for a leader. A conventional boss may see a paycheck as sufficient motivation, while a strategic leader will see motivation as the key to a productive workplace. Taking the time to understand what motivates workers is a huge investment, but it’s absolutely necessary. Unmotivated workers won’t care about the brand, and that’s the first step down the path to brand destruction.
  1. Trust: As the work world becomes increasingly driven by social media and social technologies, trust becomes more important. Old-school companies and leaders may think trust is embodied in a paycheck, but it’s not. Trust is earned, like respect. Workers who trust management will also trust the brand.
  1. Emotional connection: I’m a big proponent of the workplace value of Emotional Intelligence. The leader with emotional intelligence understands the need for an emotional connection with everyone in the workplace. No, you don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to be sensitive and aware to the emotional tenor of the workplace. Ignore emotional connection and no one will care about your brand, or your workplace.

Can we all just be happy in the multigenerational workplace? Not all the time, certainly, but it will be much more achievable if you’ve taken the time to humanize your brand. Your workforce will be a community, just like in real life, where the players are all at different stages but are working to stay more or less in sync with one another. The alternative? Look around you at the dead or dying brands, the legions of un- or underemployed and the dispossessed.

Attracting and retaining talent takes a lot of work and persistent effort to be better. So please get to it and start thinking about being a human leader.

Want more strategies to effectively manage a multigenerational workplace? See Managing A Multigenerational Business.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 3/23/2014

The post 5 Leadership Toys For The Multigenerational Workplace Sandbox appeared first on TalentCulture.

Photo Credit: Knoll Inc via Compfight cc

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

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Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur.

How Much Will Digital Cannibalization Eat into Your Business?

Fawn Fitter

Former Cisco CEO John Chambers predicts that 40% of companies will crumble when they fail to complete a successful digital transformation.

These legacy companies may be trying to keep up with insurgent companies that are introducing disruptive technologies, but they’re being held back by the ease of doing business the way they always have – or by how vehemently their customers object to change.

Most organizations today know that they have to embrace innovation. The question is whether they can put a digital business model in place without damaging their existing business so badly that they don’t survive the transition. We gathered a panel of experts to discuss the fine line between disruption and destruction.

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qa_qIn 2011, when Netflix hiked prices and tried to split its streaming and DVD-bymail services, it lost 3.25% of its customer base and 75% of its market capitalization.²︐³ What can we learn from that?

Scott Anthony: That debacle shows that sometimes you can get ahead of your customers. The key is to manage things at the pace of the market, not at your internal speed. You need to know what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to tolerate. Sometimes companies forget what their customers want and care about, and they try to push things on them before they’re ready.

R. “Ray” Wang: You need to be able to split your traditional business and your growth business so that you can focus on big shifts instead of moving the needle 2%. Netflix was responding to its customers – by deciding not to define its brand too narrowly.

qa_qDoes disruption always involve cannibalizing your own business?

Wang: You can’t design new experiences in existing systems. But you have to make sure you manage the revenue stream on the way down in the old business model while managing the growth of the new one.

Merijn Helle: Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are putting a lot of capital into digital initiatives that aren’t paying enough back yet in the form of online sales, and they’re cannibalizing their profits so they can deliver a single authentic experience. Customers don’t see channels, they see brands; and they want to interact with brands seamlessly in real time, regardless of channel or format.

Lars Bastian: In manufacturing, new technologies aren’t about disrupting your business model as much as they are about expanding it. Think about predictive maintenance, the ability to warn customers when the product they’ve purchased will need service. You’re not going to lose customers by introducing new processes. You have to add these digitized services to remain competitive.

qa_qIs cannibalizing your own business better or worse than losing market share to a more innovative competitor?

Michael Liebhold: You have to create that digital business and mandate it to grow. If you cannibalize the existing business, that’s just the price you have to pay.

Wang: Companies that cannibalize their own businesses are the ones that survive. If you don’t do it, someone else will. What we’re really talking about is “Why do you exist? Why does anyone want to buy from you?”

Anthony: I’m not sure that’s the right question. The fundamental question is what you’re using disruption to do. How do you use it to strengthen what you’re doing today, and what new things does it enable? I think you can get so consumed with all the changes that reconfigure what you’re doing today that you do only that. And if you do only that, your business becomes smaller, less significant, and less interesting.

qa_qSo how should companies think about smart disruption?

Anthony: Leaders have to reconfigure today and imagine tomorrow at the same time. It’s not either/or. Every disruptive threat has an equal, if not greater, opportunity. When disruption strikes, it’s a mistake only to feel the threat to your legacy business. It’s an opportunity to expand into a different marke.

SAP_Disruption_QA_images2400x1600_4Liebhold: It starts at the top. You can’t ask a CEO for an eight-figure budget to upgrade a cloud analytics system if the C-suite doesn’t understand the power of integrating data from across all the legacy systems. So the first task is to educate the senior team so it can approve the budgets.

Scott Underwood: Some of the most interesting questions are internal organizational questions, keeping people from feeling that their livelihoods are in danger or introducing ways to keep them engaged.

Leon Segal: Absolutely. If you want to enter a new market or introduce a new product, there’s a whole chain of stakeholders – including your own employees and the distribution chain. Their experiences are also new. Once you start looking for things that affect their experience, you can’t help doing it. You walk around the office and say, “That doesn’t look right, they don’t look happy. Maybe we should change that around.”

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. 

To learn more about how to disrupt your business without destroying it, read the in-depth report Digital Disruption: When to Cook the Golden Goose.

Download the PDF (1.2MB)

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Automation And The Future of Work: Are Management, Creative, And Administrative Jobs At Risk?

Michael Rander

An astounding 47% of jobs in the United States alone are at high risk of being automated over the coming 20 years. A combination of new business models, technology, workforce automation, and globalization is changing the way that companies do business – and the workforce is at the crux of it all. New job categories will replace many of these automated jobs. But the real question is: What happens to the people rendered redundant, and how likely will companies help ensure their success?

Traditionally, robots and automation are associated with the displacement of more manual labor. However, the stark reality is that jobs across the workforce are at risk. Factory and construction workers may be robotized, taxi drivers could be replaced by self-driving cars, and bookkeepers have the potential to be displaced by pieces of software.

But could managerial roles, creative jobs, and administrative functions be affected as well?

R2-D2 in the corner office

With just under half of the workforce at risk of being automated, the impact will indeed be felt across a broad range of jobs. A Deloitte study suggested that as many as 56% of finance functions in the United Kingdom could be automated over the coming years. This trend will likely spread beyond the finance area into administrative and analytical jobs that are heavily centered on organizational procedures, strict business rules, and defined outputs. And this change will be felt throughout the hierarchy as well.

Your next manager may not be a shiny R2-D2 robot sitting in the corner office, but managers are certainly feeling the pressure of automation and subsequent risk to their job security. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automated information analysis, in many cases, already enable better staffing and resource allocation decisions than what humans can do on their own. Decisions can be made based on real-time changes in the environment – affecting everything from delivery truck traffic routing to coordinating global crisis management responses and making informed investment decisions on new machinery based on financial conditions, external economic factors, and expected ROI. Ultimately, it is about business optimization and efficiency as it takes human error, politics, and emotions out of the equation.

Creativity is at the fingertips of the beholder

When it comes to creative jobs, most will argue that machines can’t compete with humans precisely because of our inherent human traits such as emotions, intuition, and sensibility. Yes, you can find computers making music and robots making paintings and artificial intelligence writing code. But, it is unlikely that they can inject that special something that makes the work stand out among the masters of the arts who define our humanity.

The leap, however, may not be as big as you might think. AI can now reduce massive amounts of machine data into readable information. In fact, experimental initiatives are combining existing literature into new novels, and considering the potential for machine-generated news stories based on available data, sensors, and cameras. It might not be worthy of Hemingway and Faulkner, but writers, nonetheless, could conceivably be affected. For example, a service could provide on-demand, personalized novels based on specific literary preferences. Or automation could bypass onsite journalists by reporting news the moment it occurs, not just after the data arrives and the article is written.

The potential of automation: Workforce transformation

The jobs that are safe from this robot revolution are the ones that involve the generation of original ideas, innovation, negotiation, and a high level of social intelligence. Additionally, jobs that require human interaction – such as healthcare, physical assistance, sales, and teaching – will largely remain important parts of the workforce.

The big change to come in the digital economy will be the rise of the digital worker, which will create a whole host of new, critical roles focused on running a Live Business and reacts in the moment based on real-time changes in both the internal and external environment.

To learn more about the rise of the digital worker and how those roles will affect the Future of Work and your workforce, read the executive research white paper “Live Business: The Rise of the Digital Workforce.”

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur.