This is the time of year that predictions are made and data is shared about what the strategic and operational goals are for the upcoming year. Although management firms spend an inordinate amount of time and money collecting this data all year long for these much-coveted reports, there is rarely anything earth-shattering about what CEO’s, business leaders or professionals have to say about where their focus will be in the new year. The usual banter will be about increasing engagement, improving candidate experience, technology, finding the best talent etc. As you can see, nothing really shocking.
However, 2017 has been illuminating. I wanted to say “different”, but that would mean that what I am about to share is new as of this year and it isn’t. In fact, what I will share is the result of something somewhere in the archives of time that started off as a snowball and is now an avalanche of end-of-the-world proportions crushing souls and careers to boot. This thing I speak of is the erosion of integrity and values in business.
2017 is the first year in my existence where just about every month there has been some company, company head or public figure who has come under scrutiny for either illegal or unethical practices. There have been so many “sorry’s” and “apologies flung around this year that it is becoming nauseating and unbelievable. The travesty in it all is that people who knew that all of this unethical and illegal behavior was the very thing that contributed to the fame, fortune and prestige always knew the things we see playing out. They were just waiting and hoping that the rest of the world would see it someday. So what has changed this year? For the first time ever and for reasons unknown to me, people were willing to believe the stories otherwise known over the years as individual gripes, “crazy talk”, imaginary happenings, urban legends and conspiracy theory this year. Suddenly, what was always in the shadows and dark got its much-deserved light via social media, blogs, livestreams, and a lot of bravery on the part of people who chose to break their silence.
In a lot of ways, this year has been one huge coming-out party and not in a good way. Whether it is our government and the corruption of the day or the growing list of sexual harassment and assault charges following the Harvey Weinstein debacle, it has not been a good year for US companies and more specifically humans as a whole. The latest debacle is set at Huffington Post. According to an article published yesterday by Gizmodo, Arianna Huffington ignored sexual harassment claims made by workers in her New York office while she was still running the company. The article goes on to state that one such former managing editor whose sexual misconduct was known to her also garnered a transfer to HuffPost India as a result of an HR investigation. How an investigation that leads to the proof that an employee of yours is engaging in sexual misconduct doesn’t result in a termination is beyond me.
Without diving too deep into this particular story, I prefer to examine the over-arching narrative of CEO’s and leaders, in general, both men and women who consistently overlook, engage in, and embrace unethical and illegal practices as a means to secure opportunities, line their pockets and the pockets of their shareholders and investors. I would be lying if I said I had never encountered leaders or employees behaving unethically who somehow managed to keep their jobs, lives, and lifestyles intact. It has disgusted me. I often spoke up about it only to be met with “Well you know it is John Bae. Yes, he is a jerk and misogynist, but he brings in a shit ton of money for the company, so we have to tread lightly”.
Frankly, I am glad 2017 raised a proverbial mirror to all of the things that make us suck at being human. Now, that we all know and finally see what we all knew was commonplace in business how do we move forward in trust? Can “building trust within my organization” really be on your scorecard when your foundation has been flooded with the truth and is now crumbling as a result? Can you genuinely accept that accolade for best company for women when you have investigations sitting on your desk overlooked and predators collecting checks on your dime? Can you really call your company culture “diverse and inclusive” if you secretly donate operating budget to the KKK or 45’s ongoing campaign? Note: “Diverse” and “inclusive” is maybe not appropriate if the latter applies.
Suddenly, no company, CEO or person is safe from the truth. Your money, prestige, and power are on a timer and the time is nearly up. The only thing leaders should be thinking about going into 2018 is integrity. I’m not sure where along the journey, so many decided that money trumped having values, meant destroying lives and doing it with a smile. Now is a time to ask your employees to blow the whistle internally before the public has its way with you and your brand. It is time, to be honest, and say sorry because you mean it. It is a good time to make amends and provide whatever you must to make it right with the people who show up daily to impact your bottom line.
Everybody needs to take one long hot shower to wash the filth of 2017 and before off and start anew in 2018 with a focus on treating employees, customers, and citizens of this world with the dignity they deserve as a matter of being a fellow human. It may cost you revenue. You may piss off your board of directors and investors, but isn’t it time for “good” to make a comeback?
Have you ever worked for someone who couldn’t understand that you don’t need to have your hand held through each of your tasks? I have encountered this many times over. I get it as a parent can be with their child or a person with a spouse or boyfriend- some leaders have a dysfunctional and almost abnormal need to feel wanted and/or needed. These are leaders who like a dependent team not an independent team. They derive their worth from micromanaging every aspect of their teams work and day.
There are some employees on your team that will appreciate the extra hand-holding or may need it. Another percentage of the bunch, will be annoyed with your constant meddling. In either scenario, you are doing your employees a disservice by operating this way. In the first scenario with the needy employee, they need you, you need them- it is the perfect situation- right? No. On one hand it is great for you to provide the individual support that one of your team members may need to be successful in their position. In contrast, you are so hands-on that this person never spreads his or her wings. They will never realize the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from working through a problem and ultimately fixing it without anyone else’s assistance. This level of problem-solving and critical thinking are the same skills that become important from a developmental standpoint and could hurt the person’s chances of moving up the proverbial ladder. With your independent players, the liability here is that they will feel like you are purposely trying to stifle them not only in their positions, but also from growing beyond their current rank.
When I went through this, I just remember thinking: “Wow! This lady is a nutjob! Can I breathe? Let me do what you hired me to do.” The beauty of leadership is rooted in remaining flexible to the needs of your team. If one person needs a little more attention, you give it. If you have a few high-performers who require simple guidance and behind-the-scenes support, move out of their way and let them get the job done. More importantly, if you are a micro-manager, you need to redefine your worth within the parameters of your job. You are not more successful as a leader when you are giving orders and trying to manage everyone else’s desk plus your own.
What your micromanaging proves is that:
1) You have no faith in your team to execute their tasks accordingly.
2) You have issues with true delegation and that should be addressed.
3) You prefer the visibility to be on you and not your team which is why you won’t allow them to do their jobs.
4) You fear the potential for failure when you are not in a position to handle a task or project.
5) You are not interested in developing your team so they can eventually move into other roles. Keeping them dependent allows you to stagnate the very skills that would propel them ahead.
No matter what the needs of your individual team members are; have faith in them. Empower them. Allow them to problem solve and critically think through issues. Create a safe-haven for failure so employees don’t fear failure, but see it as an inevitable outcome in business. Support your team so they bounce back from those inevitable failures wiser and better than before. This is what people have wanted in a leader in the past and present. Equally, this is how leaders will have to operate in the future.
Join me on The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel for more dialogue on this topic:
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There isn’t a week or month that passes where you don’t have the bad fortune of coming across a doom and gloom article about Millennials. If experts aren’t warning us of the demise of the workforce as we know it – they are busy labeling an entire generation of people as being needy, lacking work ethic, technologically savvy and many other half-truths that seem to be fodder for the usual generational conversation.
With our workforce slated to be infused with a 75% millennial workforce by 2025, it is clear that we either need jump on the millennial bandwagon or move out of their way. This generation has learned well from previous generations. They know what they want and will not settle for anything less. Call it “obnoxious” or “entitled” it doesn’t much matter. The point they drive home is that we all have a purpose- we just need to find it and execute.
If we are to believe any of the stereotypes, the millennial-led startups in IBM’s #NewWayToStartUp competition will certainly provide a different lens for this often misunderstood generation.
What is the #NewWayToStartup Competition?
It’s easy to say we support innovation but what are we actually doing about it? IBM has taken action to foster innovation by creating a startup competition of ten millennial-led companies that are focused on social good. They invited one member from each startup to SXSW in March to pitch their venture to an expert panel. Ten startups pitched their companies whereby five startups were eliminated.
The remaining five teams went on to participate in a week long accelerator that included daily challenges and granted them the a year’s access to IBM’s Watson Analytics and their newest software, IBM Verse.
The progress of the startups is documented in webisodes that have chronicled their participation since the pitch event at SXSW.
The grand-prize winner of the competition receives free entrance into TED@IBM for up to three team members.
If the prize sounds cool- you will be equally impressed with the actual companies and founders.
Putting good things back into the world
If you’re going to go to the trouble of putting in the hard work, blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice that is synonymous with entrepreneurship, why not create something that benefits everyone? This is the kind of innovation and creativity that IBM is trying to foster through the #NewWayToStartup competition. Each of the five companies have founded their companies on the premise of being helpful and putting something good back into the world. After watching all of the webisodes, I was inspired. It left me feeling like the world may have a chance – if we have founders and companies like the ones I’m about to describe.
Being under the pressure of strict deadlines and the lens of some of the greatest minds in business is nerve-wrecking. Anyone who has ever pitched their company or has been a spectator of a pitch competition would know how that feels. Bravery comes to mind when I think about how vulnerable you feel as a founder sharing your idea with the world. At a minimum, they should all be applauded for taking a chance on themselves and their companies.
If you think I’m pulling your leg about the greatness of these startups, here is a short description of what each company does. I dare you to not feel inspired by what these millennials missions.
The Lassy Project– gives parents the ability to notify an entire local community about a missing child in seconds. They use a combination of community, data, and technology to create a new global standard for personal and public safety.
Owlet Baby Care-is a wearable infant monitor that can alert parents if their child’s heart rate or oxygen levels are in a dangerous range. They are caring parents who want to usher in a future where, just like a car seat, every baby comes home with a wearable health monitor. A future where there are less infant funerals, and more empowered parents.
Sproutel– makes health and wellness a playful part of everyday life. Their first product, Jerry the Bear, is an interactive learning companion for the 18% of children with chronic illnesses that combines animated content with an electronically enabled stuffed animal.
Stretch Recipes– is an app developed to help everyone eat better and save more by building an amazing app that will help empower people who are stretched for time, energy, resources, and knowledge to enter their budget, choose their meals, and automatically get their shopping list and coupons.
Charity Charge– is a platform to help customers create positive impact each time they make a purchase. Their first tool is a credit card enabling customers to donate 1% cash-back earnings to charities and organizations of their choice.
As a parent, I was immediately moved by ‘The Lassy Project’ ‘Owlet’ and ‘Sproutel’. The worst thing in the world that can happen to a parent- is to have a child go missing. The Lassy Project makes notification simple and quick by notifying networks of loved ones and friends-with the ability to escalate to authorities-if need be.
Two years ago my youngest daughter became ill with a bout of Pneumonia and we nearly lost her. A product like ‘Owlet’ would have been extremely helpful in our initial assessment of her condition. Not to mention that this has the ability to rid us from anymore sudden infant death cases.
With regard to ‘Sproutel’, who doesn’t love a cute teddy bear? It is beyond cool that children with chronic illnesses can have a friend in Jerry The Bear- while also learning more about their disease.
Both ‘Stretch Recipes’ and ‘Charity Charge’ have great promise, as we are in a time where every penny and minute counts for so many families. They are saving people time and putting customers money to work in beneficial ways.
As I mentioned in the beginning, so much of what you hear about millennials is negative. These millennial-led companies are doing what they love while adding to the greater good. In fact, the team at Owlet has taken lower salaries just to see this venture through. This is the kind of passion and sacrifice that awakens the senses and creates engaged workforces. I will wager, that we can all learn a great deal from these founders.
Whether you work for someone or for yourself, it is a necessary practice to ask yourself – if you are:
1) Being of service to others.
2) Working with a purpose in mind.
3) Passionate about what you do?
In Webisode 3, I love the talk the Mayor of Austin, Texas has with the founders. He mentions to them that what they are doing is not an academic exercise. He emphasizes the importance of failing quickly and creating something great in the world. This kind of advice is completely contrary to the advice fed to previous generations. With several generations in the workforce at once, it is no wonder there are misunderstandings and disconnect among the generations.
How much more productive and cohesive could we be as a workforce if we became comfortable with failure? In this webisode, you come to understand that failure is not a negative, but a necessary stepping-stone towards success.
Who will win?
Social voting is going on and ends today. The winner will be chosen on July 1st at 1-2pm EST. I won’t dare make a prediction. The original 10 were great and certainly the final five are all fantastic.
Call me a nerd, but this is the sort of reality television I could get used to. These founders are tackling some of the most important problems of our time. The reach and magnitude of what they are developing has the ability to change lives and the world. IBM should be applauded for giving these innovators the spotlight to share their gifts and passion with us all. This competition has the ability to not only inspire younger children to start their own businesses, but to inspire older generations to create the business they have been putting on the backburner.
The workforce is beginning to look very different- which may scare some. I prefer to get excited about the future. There is definitely something different about millennials, but it isn’t bad. They see the world differently than most generations. At the core of who they are, they care about others and are dedicated to creating the kind of society that favors everyone. On that sentiment alone, I have a renewed sense that the future for my children is bright because millennials are on a mission to make the world better one startup at a time.
Join me in supporting these impressive men and women, by watching the entire webisode series. You can check out the pitch competition below- along with links to all of the subsequent webisodes.