Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Proactive Approach

We as human beings have a highly limited attention span varying between what engages and intrigues us. Take the average attention span in a work environment and cut it down a little bit more to accommodate Generation Y. In no way is this a statistic or truth. I truly don't have any data to back this up beyond my personal experience and opinion. I have found in my experiences managing generation Y that multi facets of a job mentally bog down my employees especially when I relay the urgency of all the priorities.

Generation Y tend to have the ability to multi task and do a tremendous amount of small tasks at the same time. They usually look for instant gratification or quick fixes and many small successes. It's very common for Gen Y to connote frenetic movement with success and accomplishment. It's interesting though when you look at the bigger picture and see the long term growth and end result of such activities. They usually burn out or end up dropping a lot of priorities and becoming more reactive problem solvers than proactive stable workers. Not to say you don't need the rockstar employees that can do everything all at once and magically be at all places at once. Especially when they make you scratch your head wondering if they have 2 brains and 6 arms and more so when you do truly need to react with the utmost urgency. At the end of the day you need to capitalize on those extraordinary individuals and hone in on their ability to teach and condition others how to be like themselves while you show them how to do less but get more done.

In any job, in any industry you will have a mission and an objective and to stay in line with those goals there will be multiple priorities with varying levels of urgency. In many instances the resolution or tactic to the end goal will have contradicting messages as well as multiple priorities that are deemed as equally high priorities. Navigating through the desires of your organization's fundamental mission, your employees development and buy in, and your customer's satisfaction is what causes so many Generation Yers to quickly become wrapped up in the reaction vs the long term vision and movement. I've heard it called by my mentor as the "shiny object syndrome" where we get bogged down by changes and direction and start reacting to every new "shiny object" that comes are way because as humans we are mentally wired that way.

The key to bringing your team out of this funk of always having to "fix" problems is to stay true and stable to your long term vision. Balancing between reacting and pro-acting towards your long term vision. There will always be reactions that need to happen especially when managing people. People will get sick, forget to request off to study for a final, have a random and urgent family function come up. . . . etc.

You learn to deal and react and find your highly capable and reliable people and lean on them but you start to find solutions as you do so, so that the problem never happens again. I always choose to over staff my store and/or bank numbers of employees that can work or cover shifts from other stores.
This is by far the most basic but fundamental tactic that I use to ensure high productivity and growth in revenue. It's how I stay proactive vs reactive and control my store, and try my best to never let my store control me.

Over staffing will reduce hours on average across the board throughout your employees. So you communicate very clearly what the parameters of earning hours are. Another blog post will go over "clear and concise message" but you basically leverage what qualities you want out of your team by giving the most hours to performers who exceed your expectations and are dependable. Over staffing also allows for people to request days off with the ability of having many willing people to come in to cover their shift. Anyone that doesn't perform will get little or no hours or at the very least will always know exactly where they stand with you, and know exactly what to be like by role modeling after the higher "hours" earning employees. This is by no means a Starbucks tactic, its just something that I do because I refuse to be immobilized by "shiny objects". When you don't have to worry about your employees being able to cause disruptions in your vision and also at the same time giving them resources to readily pull upon in needs of crisis; you naturally eliminate the problem causing employees and develop responsible employees.

I befall reacting often as my time and energy is pulled every which way by my company, employees, friends, family and everything else I entertain in my life but I continually try and plan ahead and stay true to my vision for every aspect of my life so that I can be pro active vs reactive and in essence do more with less. To foster Generation Y to have this mentality you need to create systems to condition the way they think in a structured way so that in the end of the journey your store will rarely have any situation deter it from it's smooth operations.

As a manager your store is a representation of your leadership. You are only as good as your weakest person.

Soft Push

I'm not sure if this is a topic or strategy to better lead generation Y but as I work at Starbucks and predominantly manage Gen Y'ers I wanted to write about a process that I call Soft Push.

I've had the fortunate opportunity to be transferred more times than I have fingers. I'm writing today about my strategy and tactics that I employ when I get transferred to a new store. In most cases being transferred or taking over a store does not mean that its a positive move and entails many opportunities that need to be changed in the store.

Soft Push starts off with coming into the store with the mindset of doing exactly as the strategy's name. Softly Pushing. Its coming with the idea that you need build a certain level of rapport if you want to change any process, culture, or systems the store already has in place. Its the balance between building trust and relationship while moving the needle and creating the foundational changes that need to be made to turn a business.

I start off by immediately trying my hardest to get to know every single employee and customer that I can for the first few weeks. And when I mean getting to know them, I truly mean getting to know them, even in their personal hobbies and interests as well as with their perspective on work. That interest in people serves two purposes: 1. it creates interest back and immediate fondness and rapport. 2. it also tells you a lot about the culture, personality and limits of your people.

People always ask me how I "change" stores so successfully so quickly? What systems do I use? what strategies do I have? but it has nothing to do with my systems or process. A system and process is only another tactic; its the people that run the systems and processes that create the end result. You can get from point A to B in a million different ways; its the manager that gets to Point B the fastest and creates sustainability that is successful. In order to be that manager you need to learn to balance between pushing your team to change while making sure you work on the relationship so that they don't despise you. If you remember the movie the "Bronx Tale" when Sonny say's "be strong enough so they respect you, but love them enough so they don't hate you". Although I hate relating successful management to organized crime the philosophy and skills of leadership are the same no matter what your industry. So when people ask me what my strategy is I try and explain Soft Push because the strategy is not tactical its building relationships and indirectly building your team and constantly adapting and fine tuning to ensure that your pushing but softly.

During this rapport building your looking for ways to optimize the work flow. Work the way they work, and try and understand why they do things the way they do it. People at the bottom always have more knowledge about what they do than what we give them credit for and the best ideas come from the people actually doing the job. And then you softly push them to the desired change needed. You find the key people that you know will speak up and have built a good rapport with. Start asking them questions, ie "so . . . why do we have these here and do this? isn't there a better way to do this?" "it really bugs me when I have to go back and forth twice to do the same job, do you know what I mean?" and always finish it off with a "what do you think we can do?" and even if the idea they propose is illogical or worse you support it and foster it. The actual end result is not as important at this phase as the soft push in culture is. Its creating ownership from your team, empowering them to think about efficiency and the bigger picture. These small steps, although slow and sometimes arduous will in actuality lead to a faster and more sustainable turnaround of profits, work environment, and ultimately customer experience in the bigger picture or 6 month view of the business. So when that bad idea from an employee is executed to failure, you make sure to laugh it off and assure the employee the problem can easily be fixed and encourage them to try a different tactic until they land on something better.

Once you have the team agile and accepting of change you can start weeding the bad players out and truly creating the systems and vision for your business. Working on optimizing the layout for work flow efficiency, focusing on sales building, people development you name it.

The tricky part in Soft Pushing is to never get stressed out, when utilizing this strategy especially with Generation Y'ers because the first couple of weeks will be text message mania! with successes and failures, he said she said, this and that. Always stay calm and positive and encourage thought and build rapport while analyzing your people's threshold for ambiguity, patience, intellect, social skills, and creativity. Most people don't care how much you know but how much you care. You can learn more about how to lead your people when you let them tell you what they need to work on. Encourage it and gather as much information because once you have your core team soft push becomes power play (which I'll go over next time).

I will say that this soft push strategy has worked for me and I've fine tuned it to a pretty confident skill level, is it the best way? I don't know. I've seen managers come in and fire and replace the entire staff, I've seen managers try and gain "buy in" and change the store manually, and I've see everything in between. Over the years I've found my method to be the most optimal in saving labor costs, morale, and turning the business around the quickest and effectively. Who knows? Its my blog so I'll say what I want. :) And with my audience being Generation Y workers I utilize their mediums of communication and culture to help them relate to my end goal. Learn your balance. People say you can't be all things to all people, but with proper planning and diligence you can get fairly close and fairly close is all you need for a short amount of time for Generation Y to want to follow your leadership.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bridging the Gap

I remember when pagers were the trendy item to have. I also fondly remember the numeric code language used to communicate with one another via pager just like text messaging without the ability to respond instantly and wherever you were.

434-40111-8-11 = hey how are you
11143123-8-11 = where are you

Don't ask how it makes sense but I do remember that I was extraordinarily apt in communicating in pager text talk. When cell phones became smaller and more cost effective it practically eliminated the pager industry and completely buried the language of numeric pager text talk.

Fast forward many years later to today with SMS and now MMS as mainstream mediums of communication.

To be quite honest I truly loathed texting and was a late adopter of it. I was brought up to have concise phone conversations with proper phone etiquette of introducing yourself and requesting who you were looking to speak to. I will even add that I still mail a handwritten letter or card to thank people for large gifts or events. Albeit I don't do it quite as often as I used to and I think its because I'm progressively switching to the Gen Y's preferred method of communication - text messaging.

Informal, quick, responsive and fairly culturally accepted to "text" even in the company of other people. The main reason I started to adopt text messaging with its very specific communication restraints and effectiveness was because as a manager of Gen Y'ers I found them to be my main customers and focus; like I expected them to focus on our customers I found that I had to focus on them to get to my customer. Although I still find it hard to effectively communicate via text messaging and I find that sometimes it takes longer to deliver a message, it has it's advantages.

Quick, informal, responsive, specific, multi task

Depth, miscommunication, emotion, passive aggressive in the sense of being intrusive to your day to day

Although there are many strengths and weaknesses that I have not thought of, my ultimate decision to not only adopt but accept and flourish in the text messaging culture to give my "customers" what they want allows me to more effectively lead them to get the desired result.

Its common knowledge and a simple but fundamental business philosophy:

Listen and understand what your customers want and give it to them.

I find that many managers struggling with managing Gen Y'ers have a huge disconnect between the generations' cultural differences. More often than not Gen Y'ers don't like to be managed and prefer to be lead, and in order to lead you need to see your employees as your customer and listen and understand what they want and . . . . . give it to them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Social Networking

Its not that it's bad or good, it's simply a change in the way we communicate and socialize. A very over efficient way to keep in touch with friends and family, present, past, and even possibly future.

I remember many years back when websites like Xanga and Friendster ruled the social networking sites. Then came along hi5 then a multitude of other sites finally falling on myspace and now facebook. I'm sure there will be more as we progress but the truth is that social networking is going to be around for quite a while. Its to easy to stay connected and up to date with . . . well everyone and anyone.

Its also an important fact to note "how" Generation Y uses social networking in difference than any other generation. There is the very obvious and immediate reason of having the ability to re connect with long lost relationships and stay in tune with a multitude of people with little or no work. And there are many layers to why Gen Y'ers prefer a multitude of facebook friends vs. allowing the natural progression of losing some of your friends as you grow or at least the ones that were really never even "friends".

Its also interesting to see how new technologies are aggressively embracing social networking and staying "connected". For example I have Loopt that not only lets you give your network of friends; status updates it also gives them your exact location on a map. I also have loopt set up so that it notifies facebook of my status update, location with a map, as well as my twitter account. Is it necessary? I truly don't know but as much as I digress from it when I notice that I'm losing the "Real life" interactions that aid me in influencing and leading my team at work I always come back around to Facebook. The convenience and instant gratification of the whole system creates a quick fix for our natural need for socialization.

I also want to note that businesses are now gearing towards finding ways to create revenue through the masses through social networking with failures and marginal success. Its an inevitable process for something that draws this many people to a central place will also draw a way to make revenue. I'm fascinated with the failures of Facebook to post online purchases of their users to their public space for visibility to their networks, and the successes that companies have creating brand loyalty through twitter and other social networking sites. I can gaurantee that as social networking develops along with our technology someone will figure out a novel and ingenious way to make sales off the numbers of consumers gathered.

And then you have Linkedin which is another topic in itself.

You can also create blogs to write in more detail what your doing or how your doing and you can choose to follow or subscribe to RSS feeds and updates. You can twitter status updates and locations and again follow and subscribe. There are just so many ways that we communicate and socialize with so many layers that fulfill so many needs and functions. The end result is to at least check it out and play around with some of the mediums that our Generation Y so embraces because its understanding or rapport that will be the foundation to leading Gen Y.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bigger Purpose

I've found that in my years of managing many Generation Y'ers that there are very simple and profound ways to effectively lead them. Today I'm writing about a specific method that I've personally found effective for me that covers some of the simple tactics that add to the more complex strategy.

I have found that its imperative to fully explain how the small details in your operations lead to a greater purpose. For example an employee might question "why we place our products before the register instead of spreading it through out the store?" It's been my recommendation to always take the time to think about the question and take a moment to answer. If you know the answer and can explain how "its important to streamline all the sale items before the customer gets to the register" it will explain to them why we don't utilize the space in the rest of the store as well make it easier to explain to them the importance of presentation and organization of the limited retail space before customers get to the register.

You have just created a more knowledgeable employee as well as someone who understands the importance of the processes. There are times where these questions lead to more questions. And it is for this reason its always good to understand the bigger picture. Generation Y will try and understand how their simple task adds to the bigger picture at the end of the process, and questioning old processes helps streamline and create efficiency above the status quo. Don't be afraid to say you don't know the answer and to inevitably question the process to fully understand the bigger purpose yourself so that you can not only be knowledgeable but be able to explain it to your employees. And after investigation, it doesn't make sense, don't be afraid to question it yourself - and try and fix it.

I've also found that having a bigger purpose in community involvement has helped create more buy in, rapport, and ownership - and if nothing else simple loyalty. Loyalty is something that Gen Y'ers are not known for.

Give them something to work for. "We are working so hard and we need to achieve these goals because if we can work a little harder the extra will go to helping "XYZ" out."

It's really hard to explain the mindset of this community involvement and willingness to give back, or to have an opinion and "cause" but the best example that I have to further explain would have to be Project (Red).

Project Red works towards saving lives by supplying medical supplies to 3rd world countries, educating people about AIDs and preventative measures etc. Many companies work with Project Red, where they will label an item they have as Project Red and portion of the proceed goes to Project Red and their cause. I believe Generation Y leads this change in cultural adaptation to making money and being socially responsible. People will continue to buy merchandise such as clothes, computer, coffee but if you can buy what you need and help someone live better at the same time and the company makes money with no cost difference to you the consumer . . . what would you do?

Gen Y'ers will live their independent lives feeding their instant gratification needs but wanting what they do at work and purchase as consumers to be socially responsible and for it to have a bigger cause and purpose.

Financial success, stability, social status and social popularity are still inherent in all generations but as Generation Y comes into full stride in our workforce and as they become the dominant purchasing and spending demographic in our nation its important to understand that they also care about the community and social impact of their purchases.

So to draw from the upcoming workforce: give them a reason to work hard and foster their ingenuity . . . give them a purpose and goal. Make it real and genuine and ensure that your support is 100% wether your the point person or not.