Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Five Tips for a Great Performance Review

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.


The anticipation.
The flop sweat.
The fear it won’t go as well as you want it to go.

It’s the annual performance review. Those aren’t the doubts of the employee. They are the uncertainties of the manager.

Everyone’s been there at least once. We’ve had memories of performance reviews, even when they were positive, where we wished the manager worded something differently, or clarified information in their message, or provided enough time for us to express an opinion about what was said. These are the reviews that scar new managers or propel them to vow they will ‘do right’ by their employees during evaluation periods. Then the time comes and they find themselves tongue-tied, nervous and unsure how to proceed.

One of the more weighty responsibilities of any manager is providing annual reviews to his or her staff members. They are a wonderful opportunity for both manager and employee to get one-on-one time and to discuss important career milestones and objectives, achievements, and opportunities for improvement.

While managers are given standardized documents and a process for capturing information about an employee’s performance, companies leave out how to process all the feedback, consolidate the message and deliver the positive and constructive information.

Some may debate delivering a performance review is more art than science; less formula and more finesse. To be sure, managers must possess a certain level of diplomacy when they convey what is in the evaluation. But, there are steps managers can take to ensure the experience is a just and fair one for their employees.

Following five straightforward rules of engagement, managers at any level of experience can deliver great performance reviews:

  1. Be prepared before you walk into the review. In reality, there should not be any surprises to the employee if the performance review process is executed properly. There should not be any surprises to you as a manager, either. Employees expect managers to have a comprehensive, accurate picture of their performance during the year. Collect feedback from others who work with your employee, even if your company does not have a 360 review process. Do not disappoint them by consolidating the feedback without reading or understanding all of it. Go back to the contributors and ask questions if you are unsure of the information returned to you for your employee.
  2. Focus on the strengths. Traditionally, there is polarity in the delivery of performance reviews. Much wasted time is spent on opportunities for improvement or focusing on weakness. Mention them and then move on. What is it that makes employees valued assets to the company, to the team, and to you? Emphasize those qualities, and discuss ways the employees can continue to flex their muscles in these areas.
  3. When delivering tough messages, place the spotlight on behaviors and not the individual. No one likes to hear negative feedback, especially if it is a behavior they unintentionally exhibited. Assume merit and positive intentions, but address the damaging behaviors that impact individual employees, their colleagues and the company. In order to properly course-correct without retribution, you must be just and fair in the approach. Come prepared with specific examples of how the behavior, not the individual, caused issues and provide suggestions on how the behavior might be altered to create positive results in the future.
  4. Use your ears as much as your voice. Allot time for employees to express their concerns and their expectations. As much as it is a review of performance, it is also a forum for them to talk about their career outlook and aspirations.
  5. Develop a measurable and meaningful action plan. Close the chapter on the year in review, and look to the future. Explore career growth, and how their strengths may be applied in achieving both their goals and your organization’s objectives. Map out a strategy that has clear milestones and deliverables, and discuss how these will be achieved realistically. Don’t be afraid to add challenge to the plan, but make sure to tie deliverables back to the agreed-upon plan.

How about you? Do you have any managerial tricks of the trade you employ when delivering performance reviews? Share them with our reader community.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting to Win: 3 Negotiation Tactics for Better Agreements

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Mention the word “Negotiation” and watch the reactions. Some shrink in fear, others start to salivate, some run for cover, and others sport a worn, plaid sports jacket. It is a word that means many things to many people. For the majority, it is a negative term. For those who “got one over,” images of fond memories come to mind. Why is that? Why can a word have so many meanings and evoke such variety of emotions?

Know The Basics

It boils down to the fact that most people are not taught the basics of negotiation, and yet each day, they negotiate some agreement. Granted, many agreements don’t have dire circumstances like a hostage crisis or millions of dollars saved by getting a lower price by just one penny.

Most negotiations happen without people knowing they are negotiating. For example, ask someone for a pen to sign your name and you’ve just “negotiated.” Disagree about a particular method of work and come to a consensus of a better way is negotiation. Speaking with your manager about the priority of work creates a negotiation session. And so forth.

As a project management specialist and managing many projects, I’ve had the opportunity to negotiate – some pleasant situations and some not so sweet. As project managers, typically we have responsibility for certain work being accomplished but no authority to make it happen. As a result, everything we do could be considered negotiation. Those who learn tips and techniques to gain the desired outcome do much better than those who bulldog their way through life. Ignorance in this case is costly.

Negotiation: Art not War

Let’s understand negotiation is not the art of war. Depending on the situation, we might need to strategize and map a course for our negotiation. Regardless of the circumstances, we must realize the art of negotiation is really the art of cooperation. While in the middle of it, it may not appear or feel like cooperation, but if neither side cooperates, no agreement will be struck. Cooperation from both sides is critical to successful negotiation.
Negotiation Definition

Negotiation is defined as:
  1. to deal or bargain with others

  2. to manage, transact, or conduct

  3. to move through, around, or over in a satisfactory manner.
All the definitions bear on negotiations between people. Therefore, three tactics help you become a better negotiator and arrive at better agreements.

Tactic 1: Know Your Opponent

Many people approach negotiation in a defensive manner. They clinch their teeth, steel their gut, and prepare for war. They know what they want from the deal and never stop to consider the other side’s viewpoint. Good negotiators understand their opponent.

Here are the areas to know:

  • Background. What is their background – culture, economics, social status, educational level, company position, etc. Are they putting on a front or air that facts don’t support? What are their goals? How will they benefit from the deal?
  • Needs. What does the opponent need from this agreement? What are the minimal requirements for them to feel satisfied? What desires would create a very satisfied opponent? Are they important to you? What is their motivation for the agreement?
  • Win. What would they consider a “win?” Can you give it to them without compromising or jeopardizing your position? Why are they negotiating? Why now? Can they wait for a decision or do they have to gain consensus immediately? If immediately, what is pushing them to that point?
  • Style. What is their style during negotiating? Are they laid back and unassuming or are they harsh, blusterous and forceful. Do they demand or are they willing to converse?

Interesting fact here: Most people don’t prepare themselves for the negotiation. They think they know what a win looks like for them, but they don’t understand their opponent.

What if you don’t have time to prepare or you can’t seem to answer some of the questions listed above? Simple. Ask! That’s right, ask your opponent those questions. You will be able to tell from the answers if they are bluffing or not. More importantly, it builds a rapport between you and them.

Three Types of Win

There are three types of “win:”

  1. Full Load – The agreement that gives you everything you could possibly want and more. It has all the bells and whistles. It even comes with whipped cream and a cherry on top. It is the ultimate deal.
  2. “True” Win – It has all the necessary components and desires met. It doesn’t have the bells or whistles, but it is complete.
  3. Negotiated Win – you’ve compromised, given some things and removed some things but overall, a very satisfactory result.

You need to understand the three types of wins for both sides to be truly effective.

Tactic 2: Know Your Plan

To be effective, you must create and know your plan. You must identify three things about your plan to be effective:

  1. Know What You Want – make a list of the items that must be in the agreement for you to feel satisfied. Consider this your True Win state. You’ve agreed to the important parts of the deal and gained some additional aspects. It meets more than your minimum requirements. It might have a few bells and whistles, but it won’t have the whipped cream and cherry on top. That’s ok; you’re on a diet anyway.

  2. Know What You Will Give Up – always enter a negotiation with things that add value to the agreement for you, but you are willing to give up to move the negotiations along. It must be something tangible and valuable to you, but you agree to not make them a sticking point. Your opponent will see it as your willingness to come to agreement.

    By the same token, you should have a list of items you are willing to give that provide value to the opponent but don’t “cost” you much in terms of the agreement. Both gestures give the impression of willingness to reach agreement – very important for a good deal on both sides.

  3. Know When To Walk Away – taken from a Kenny Rogers’ country-western song, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and you’ve got know when to fold ‘em.” Know your “walk away” level. No matter how important the deal is, there is a point where it is no longer profitable to continue the discussion or to strike the arrangement. It is better to walk away and do without than it is to come to settlement. You’ve have to decide that point BEFORE you start to negotiate. Make the decision before it becomes necessary and than stick with the decision when the time comes. Negotiations are inherently emotionally driven. In the heat of the battle, hanging in longer than the walk-away point does no one any good.

Tactic 3: Know Several Styles and Methods

Know your style of negotiation. Here are a few:

  • Pushy/Bullying – intimidates the other party into submission. Works for a very short period of time, but the other party is coerced and will eventually ruin the agreement
  • Confidently Promoting – Someone who appears to know what they want and waits to get it. They have all the time in the world, especially when you don’t.
  • Quietly Manipulating – very subtle approach using innuendo to convince you a particular requirement you stated is immaterial or minor to the situation when it might be a very important component to you. Mimics the peer pressure approach you experienced as a teenager.
  • Carefully Suggesting – one side suggests a particular “benefit” because they are looking out for the other sides’ best interest. They can come across as best friends with sage advice.

If you know your natural style, practice the other forms. By knowing and practicing different styles, you can use them to your advantage and switch as needed to best fit the situation. In fact, you might switch styles several times during the conversation.

Don’t settle on just one style or method. Have several types you can use at any time.

In A Nutshell

Negotiation is an every day event. We do it all the time without thinking about it. It is a necessary part of life. We negotiate with our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, bosses, neighbors, store clerks, doctors, lawyers, law officers, and more. In most cases, we don’t formally call it negotiation. We just do it.

To many, negotiation is scary simply because they haven’t done so well in the past and didn’t work towards satisfying agreements. Understanding three simple tactics can accelerate better agreements and more rewarding experiences.

Take the time to understand your opponent and their needs. Look at the agreement from their angle. If you help them meet their desires, they will usually turn around and help you meet yours.

Understand your plan. Know what the ultimate decision would be, back it down to “true” win for you, and most importantly, understand your walk-away point.

Negotiating is not really that hard. In fact, it can be down right fun.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lady Tech, Be Thyself: Authenticity As An ‘IT Girl’

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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I read two interesting articles over the weekend. They could not have been from more different sources, nor could they have been more interconnected. One was from the May-June 2008 edition of Psychology Today called Dare To Be Yourself. The other was the August 2008 Wired Magazine cover story, Internet Famous: Julia Allison and the Secrets of Self-Promotion. In Dare To Be Yourself, it is noted the basic psychological needs are competence, a sense of relatedness, and acting in accordance with one’s core self or, being authentic. In the Wired Magazine article, the Machiavellian subject pictures herself as the main character of a magazine profile, establishes her story through random blog/Twitter postings and in-person appearances at various ‘important people’ functions, then builds her internet street cred with every response from fans and haters.

There’s a part of me that appreciates Ms. Allison’s moxie. She understands the game of being famous and plays it like an expert. She certainly tapped into at least two of her psychological needs – relating and competence – to be successful in accomplishing her goal of being a cult figure. I leave the authentic part up for debate; while I think she’s mastered the art of promotion, I’m not quite sure if she’s promoting herself or the persona she wants her public to know.

The two articles made me think about my career in IT. I work as an IT infrastructure consultant. The majority of my counterparts and customer sponsors are men. Don’t get me wrong: I dig working with the men folk. I’ve not only learned a great deal about the process, politics, bits and bytes of information technology, but I am now relatively up-to-speed on all things sports. (Although, Ultimate Fighting still eludes me.)

I’m happy to say I’ve had good female IT role models, too. I’ve learned a lot from them and it’s wonderful to have colleagues who understand the ups and downs of the IT sisterhood.

Geekdom Stigma

However, while overall employment rates in IT rose in 2006 from 2000, the number of women employed in IT has dropped almost eight percent. It’s a little disheartening to think the sisterhood is declining. Anecdotally speaking, there are a few reasons women are leaving or choosing other paths. Some say it’s a cultural issue. Historically, IT has not been generally known for its flexibility, which is important for working mothers. Some say it’s the image IT promotes. I know this is shocking, but there are many women who do not want to emulate the persona of guys with pocket protectors who can quote episodes of Monty Python and Dr. Who verbatim. (Although, I am a staunch Lost fan and feed the frenzy among my co-workers and customers who also watch.)

In other words, these items in the IT world conflict with women’s needs to be true to themselves.

How Do You Relate To IT As A Woman?

So, what if you are a woman who enjoys the challenge of what IT has to offer? How do you relate to the “it’s cool to be a nerd” environment? How do you remain true to yourself in a culture that doesn’t necessarily scream female-friendly?

It’s not a question of competence – because you know you can do the job. It’s a matter of having that sense of community and of being happy as a woman in a male environment without giving up what it is to be you.

Wondering how to do that? Here are a few guidelines:

• Learn the game. Know the rules of engagement before you act – or react. IT shops can be frustrating if you don’t understand the players, the work practices or the politics. Reduce that frustration with observation, understanding the way you learn and work, asking questions and your role as it relates to the company’s objectives and the department’s needs.

• Embrace the IT Sisterhood – and Brotherhood. If you are feeling like you are stuck or in a rut, remember there are other women – and men - who have been there, done that and still wear the battle scars. Consequently, become part of the experiential and knowledge collective and share what you know with other colleagues. It makes for a great support system.

• Find your bliss. Don’t try to be something you are not. When you know IT is for you, don’t be discouraged if the IT shop you are in originally doesn’t match up to whom you are and who you want to be. IT is a beautiful thing in that you can go everywhere and anywhere with the profession.

I wasn’t sure IT was the right gig for me when it first found me. After a few years in the industry, I discovered the joy and beauty of process in IT services. Process development feeds my need to have daily work challenges and to be creative. For other women who I know, there’s nothing sexier than database development and administration, or building applications, or creating new web spaces, or developing web portals, or providing ITIL best practices training. It’s all about finding what’s right for you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be what people in non-IT fields define as an IT career.

• Feed the passion. Once you’ve found your bliss, don’t stop there. Read industry white papers, magazine articles and books. Register for classes. Find an IT networking group, whether it’s a formal organization or one you’ve established with your work colleagues.


It’s not about gender but about who you are that matters. Find your passion and pursue it. Whether you build applications, develop process, or work directly in the data center, do what you love. It’s true in any field but even truer in IT – if you stop growing, it becomes mundane and the little things begin to bug you. Embrace the bliss, reach out to others in your field, and make IT work for you.

What Do You Think

Let me know how you feel or what you think. Let me see your opinion. If you’re a woman or a man and this resonates with you – or if you disagree - voice an opinion. Hit the comment button below.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Classroom Training vs. e-Learning Training

Ron Przywara

Ron Przywara
ITIL Certified Consultant
IT Service Management
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Classroom training vs. e-learning training: In the never-ending drive to get ahead of the curve, which road gets you to where you want to be?

If the decision is made using numbers on a balance sheet the obvious choice would seem to be “e-learning”. The direct cost of distance learning is generally lower than a classroom instructor-led course (average 40%-60% less) and there’s no travel expenses (mileage, hotel, etc.). The choice though is not as simple as the expense. Like any business decision, the cost is an influence, but there are other components in the equation that require consideration. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the components, both positives and challenges, of e-learning and classroom instructor-led training and present you with the information to help you make an informed business decision.

Why training in the first place? Define your goal. What do you want to accomplish with your newly acquired education? Is success measured by a certification, the physical proof of your knowledge? Or is achievement demonstrated by your application of a newly acquired perspective or capability? Perhaps it is a blend of both. The answer to the first question will in part drive the training method you choose.

Objections to Classroom:

Aren’t there books I can read?

There is a great deal of published information available on almost every topic. What is appropriate for your current stage of understanding? What is appropriate for your end-goal? Individuals retain material at different rates, but in general adults follow these retention guidelines:

o Adults retain approximately 20% of what they read
o They retain approximately 50% of what they read and hear
o The retention moves to almost 90% when adults read, hear and actively participate in the material

I’ve had prior experiences with a lousy instructor.

A past experience can have an influence in your decision, but don’t let a single poor instructor be your last memory of the classroom training experience. There are a great deal more instructors who show true passion for their students, the classroom experience and the material.

I can’t be away three (four, five) days away from work.

This is a challenge. The best way to overcome this barrier harkens back to the first question again “What do you expect to get out of training?” If your answer involves any of the following:

o Career advancement
o Improved job performance
o Development of new opportunities

The time away from work is required and involves commitment on your part and probably your company’s commitment. Instructor- led classroom education is a business decision and not a vacation planning event. You and your company have made a commitment to improvement, increased efficiency, greater effectiveness, insert training goal here________.

Objections to e-learning:

I can’t find the time to complete the course.

Sitting in front of a PC regardless of location and reading material can be mentally taxing. The time away from the day-to-day focus of work is real when attempting distance learning. Distance learning requires a level of dedication to complete the material. The course window available to satisfy the time course can usually be stretched over multiple weeks.

It’s boring sitting in front of a PC for hours.

Again, we’re back at the commitment factor. Usually a distance learning course is designed to be completed in a number of shorter, palatable pieces just for this reason. There is generally an approach to the course materials that provides greater activity, visual stimulation or action designed to keep the attention of the student.

Aren’t there books I can read?

There is a great deal of published information available on almost every topic. What is appropriate for your current stage of understanding? What is appropriate for your end-goal? Individuals retain material at different rates, but in general adults follow these retention guidelines:

o Adults retain approximately 20% of what they read
o They retain approximately 50% of what they read and hear
o The retention moves to almost 90% when adults read, hear and actively participate in the material

Every person responds differently to the various communication vehicles used to deliver information. Additionally the use of graphics enhances the written word by stimulating multiple parts of the brain.

A few examples are:
o PowerPoint slide decks (visual)
o Books (visual & tactile)
o Workbooks (visual, tactile feedback)
o Instructor dialog (auditory)
o Electronic quizzes (visual, tactile feedback).

Both classroom instruction and e-learning training utilize a blend of communication delivery mechanisms to capture and maintain the attention of the adult student, ultimately improving long-term content retention.

Classroom instruction offers the ability in real-time to modify the blend of interaction, instruction and stimulation. The scenarios being vocalized by the instructor and the students often enhance the experience and aid in the retention of the material. These dialogues can stimulate practical discussions of the various ways the new knowledge can be applied by the students in daily practice.

There are challenges to the discussion forum. Oblique tangents of discussion or the distraction of non-aligned topics can derail the time management of the course. Experienced instructors manage both the time and direction of the class discussion to the benefit of the attendees in a professional manner.

E-learning courses on the other hand are designed to maintain a focus on the material in a very structured manner. This format requires a controlled educational environment managed by the student. By establishing a dedicated, usually scheduled, time and location, the student provides the appropriate level of isolation to minimize distraction and satisfies their educational needs.

Numerous academic studies show both options can be effective learning experiences with long-term retention of the materials. Now that we’ve reviewed the basic concepts, consider the following questions when making your decision:

o What is your desired goal? What is your plan once you acquire this new skill/knowledge?
o What is the material? Technical? Theoretical? Does it require discussion or is it primarily facts you need to know?
o What past experiences do you have with each delivery method? What about the delivery organization (training company)?
o Where do you feel more comfortable?
o Where do you feel more focused?

Take the time to answer these questions before you make your choice. Whatever way you decide, classroom or e-learning, the most important decision is already made: you want to learn.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

You and Your Team: How Well Do You Meet Goals?

Deborah Moses

Deborah Moses
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Given Veris Associates’ specialization in corporate training and development, we are often asked the question, "What does training and development mean?" by clients.

Veris offers, in a non-traditional manner, corporate and business training that may be called "traditional." The training topics are typical and atypical, and include leadership, managerial skills, and IT process training. Some are customized for the client organization. The training delivery is atypical because we don't deliver it in a lecture format, but in an interactive, engaging style that gets all participants "bought in" and allows them to take more of what they learn back to the office with them.

On the development side of things, I get even more questions. What type of development? Is it technical skills training? Who is it for?

Development, to us, means identifying the areas you, or your team, need to develop in order to reach your goals. Goals, in a business environment, usually take the form of increasing productivity, decreasing cost, increasing skill levels in some area, or developing and keeping new business.

In our very first newsletter, back in the fall of 2003, we discussed the cost of training, and the cost of not providing educational opportunities to your staff. The cost of having a "stagnant" staff far exceeds the cost of training or development, both directly and indirectly. A recent Gallup poll indicated that more than 70% of U.S. employees can't wait to go home from their jobs each day, and consider themselves "clock-watchers." How productive can these people really be? Do any of them work for you?

Evolving Management Styles, Valued Staff for Business Success

Management styles used in most businesses are out-dated. They are hierarchical, monarchy-type systems in which communication is one-way. Down the chain. If you trend-watch, you will realize that successful new businesses, and the established businesses that are thriving are innovative, two-way communication systems. They encourage idea generation and build teams that interact on trust, not fear and intimidation. This seems a HUGE cultural shift for some companies, but not such a stretch when you think about it in terms of one simple question.

"What would make you feel really good about going to work every day?" Most often, the answers to this question are things like:

"I need to feel like I make a difference." "Knowing I am valued and what I do is appreciated." "Being challenged by my role." And, of course, there's the obligatory, "Getting a humongous raise and promotion." We'll leave that one up to you for now...

Steve Farber, in his book The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership, says "Leaders must go beyond the established norms to change the world." I submit to you that you don't have to change the world, but you probably need to change your department or your company, if you want to make a difference. So, how do you "go beyond the established norms"?

One thing you can do is think about your goals in relation to a staff development plan. Many companies don't even address staff development. Ask yourself things like: "What can we do differently in the future to cause different (better) results than we've had in the past?" "What behaviors do I need to encourage or build into the team? What skills do they need to obtain the results we need as a team? Do they have them today, or can we teach them?"

Improving Team Communications

Here's a suggestion. Most teams do not communicate well. This can open a can of worms, but I'm going to stick to one type of communication on which you can focus. Jon Katzenbach and Marshall Goldsmith, authors of The Wisdom of Teams, coined the word "feedforward." Even without formal learning goals, you can begin to use feedforward to enable teams and help each individual be a leader. Feedforward is, effectively, the opposite of feedback. It's a positive, forward-looking suggestion enabler, in which you think about how an individual or team can do something differently going forward to obtain a positive result. It does not include the rehashing of the history; or, translated-it does not mean completely reliving in vivid detail what someone did wrong. Leave that part out. We all know, all too intimately, the things we have done less than exceptionally well! Feedforward is simply a suggestion for change for positive improvement or results for the future.

Then create a development plan for your staff, enabling them to participate in decisions about their future. Discuss the plan as it relates to the goals, which helps them understand their individual role and its contribution to the "bigger picture." This also shows them that developing their skills, whether hard or soft skills, is as important to you as to them.

Get Beyond Same Old Habits for Better Results

Executives, when asked, will generally tell you that they want managers working for them who are independent, forward thinkers. The want to know that the people running their teams are going to seek creative ways to motivate their teams and get impressive results to the goals set forth. They don't want "yes-people" or puppets that simply do what they are told, no more and no less. Today, managers have to be motivators, teachers, challengers and leaders and so do the people on their teams. Are you a follower or a leader?

Wasn't it Einstein who told us that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? As managers, are we all insane? Or are we going to "go beyond the established norms" to create new and better results?

Our Digital Creation: Generation Y’s Monstrous Leap into the Workplace

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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“…my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open…”[1]

With all of the recent news around the Millennials – Generation Y -- and their impact on the workplace, you would think they were creatures from another universe. Who are these kids, with their iPods and their Social Networks and their – gasp! – flip-flops? Why do they think everything can be solved with the click of a mouse? They think they’re heroes because they showed up and mentioned something about working ‘green?’

When I think of how seasoned professionals will ‘deal’ with Generation Y’s own theories of how work will be done and their contributions, I think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The story is about the construction of a creature from borrowed parts, and the subsequent events when it becomes part of the Doctor’s world -- whether he wants it to or not. Ultimately, the novel resonates with philosophical and moral ramifications: themes of nurture versus nature…and ambition versus social responsibility dominate readers' attention and provoke thoughtful consideration of the most sensitive issues of our time.[2]

Imagine that – all that influence from a book authored by a nineteen year old.

Generation Y, similar to Frankenstein’s monster, is our generation’s creation; and the generation before us; and the generation before them. They are the product of years of revolution and evolution. We have a choice – and a responsibility – on how we integrate our creation into the workforce. We can either fear and loathe them as they enter the workforce, or we can harness their strengths and help them through their weaknesses. In the end, the Millennials will add value to our workplace, and teach us things we didn’t know we needed to learn.

Borrowed Parts: The Genesis of Generation Y

“Every thing must have a beginning ... and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.”[3]

From Baby Boomers to Generation Y, while our music, dress and political tastes may be different, we share a lot in common. Like each passing generation, Generation Y’s genesis is embedded in the social, political and environmental elements of previous generations.

For people of the Depression Era, it was very simple: If you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. Many turned to manufacturing and government relief work programs, as jobs in farming and mining were devastated by the collapse of the economy. People, young and old, had to make due with what they had, and children grew up quickly in order to survive. There were no computers to automate any of the work done at jobs or in homes.

While the Stock Market crash of 1929 defined the Depression-era workforce, World War II defined the Baby Boomer generation. A sense of patriotism and necessity drove ingenuity, resourcefulness and mass production…in many respects. The Baby Boomers are roughly 80 million strong; with a work ethic set firmly in the belief that if you work hard now, you can do the things you really want to do when you retire. While the Baby Boomers did just fine without the use of computers, one technological advancement shaped their world: Television. Just in time for this wealthy generation came a magic box that showed them exactly what they could buy, where they could travel, and what dreams they could accomplish, all in a wholesome package that cheerfully emitted the benefits of the good life.

Life wasn’t perceived to be as ‘perfect’ for Generation Jones, otherwise known as the Shadow Boomers, who were influenced by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Rock music did for the Generation Jones era what television did for the Baby Boomers: it defined and shaped their way of thinking. For them, distrust and anti-establishment eclipsed patriotism and loyalty. Entrepreneurs were borne from the skills, independence and latitude that came from higher education as it became more commonplace. Instead of being the workers, they became the higher-educated, the shapers, and the process developers. We started to see the early usage of computers and the internet.

In a March 5, 2000 article[4], CNN’s Ian Christopher McCaleb talked with Jonathan Pontell, who coined the ‘Generation Jones’ phrase, about the generation’s concerns:

"We're concerned about things like school violence. These are our kids that are in the schools everyday facing potential danger."

"Yet, we've got people blaming us for the violence. You hear things like, 'Where are the parents?'"

"The parents," he continues, "are working. Americans are working harder than ever before, despite the economic boom. We work eight weeks more per year than many Western nations."

"We want to be with our kids," he insists, unlike Boomers, who practiced "non-participatory parenting" while seeking social and financial indulgence in the '70s and '80s.

"We're interested in things like flex time, and overwhelming number of Jonesers want a more family-friendly society."

Generation X had higher education, computers, the internet, and music television that put visuals to the music that fed their souls. There were more working moms, higher divorce rates, the dot-com rise and fall, and the end of the Cold War. Generation X continued to move away from structured 9-to-5 work environments to work-life balance and wearing – gasp! – jeans into work.

The Generation Y Creature

If we look at the borrowed parts – the best parts – of previous generations, we see the true beauty (and the horror) of the Generation Y creature. Generation Y has lived with computers and the internet all of their lives. Mobile technologies bring information to their fingertips in an instant. They are connected using these technologies and social networks, making them very much globally in-tune and peer-focused. However, with information at their fingertips, they are instant gratification junkies.

Their ability to be flexible and quickly adapt to any situation gives them an advantage in ever-changing work environments. They may get something done differently and in half the time. As a result, they value their free time – and aren’t shy about telling you.

Work-life balance is not a catch-phrase to them. It’s reality.

Matt Spitko, our resident Generation Y-er and Account Manager, provides additional perspective on this point: “My generation has watched its parents work too hard their whole lives, with what reward? Sure they might have ‘decent’ retirements lined up, but what about those 30 or so years where they sacrificed much of their waking lives to work? We understand where it comes from, but are determined to not be consumed by our work the same way our parents were. The present trend of corporate cost-cutting is bound to clash with the values of Generation Y, who will end up costing corporate America more in turnover if it does not take action to keep Generation Y-ers loyal. Generation Y will gravitate toward companies with comprehensive corporate cultures with quality-of-life perks, benefits and the lot.”

While education is important, the digital age and its associated technologies have also stemmed a new language where LOL, TTYL and POS (translation: laughing out loud, talk to you later, and parents over shoulder) are all acceptable ‘English.’ You Tube and viral marketing replaces television. Despite some seemingly immature behavior, Generation Y is financially knowledgeable. Many know what 401Ks and Roth IRAs are, how to use an ATM, and how to conduct banking on-line before they reach college.

“No human being could have passed a happier childhood than myself. My parents were possessed by the very spirit of kindness and indulgence. We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed.”[5]

Generation Y children have been placed in the forefront. Parents are strongly influenced by their children’s spending preferences. In turn, parents are making a concerted effort to be involved with their children’s lives, and to protect them. Generation Y and their parents have been witness to the Columbine and September 11, 2001 tragedies. So, parents are heavily involved in items that previous generations would have viewed as independent activities: college interviews, job interviews, and sometimes even contacting employers about perceived ‘less than satisfactory’ performance reviews.

Perhaps one of the more compelling revelations in Frankenstein was that the Doctor was more monstrous than his creation. Was the Doctor ambitious? Yes. Did the Doctor have a God-complex? Perhaps. But, his intentions were to do something that had not been done before.

Arguably, there’s a bit of the Doctor in all of us.

That’s why Generation Y’s story parallels nicely with Frankenstein. While parents certainly aren’t trying to play God, they are trying to create an Eden for their children. But, as with anything, nothing is perfect or idyllic, and for whatever reason, it comes as a shock when children rebel, or are impatient, or don’t want to respect others.

Taking the Monstrous Leap with Generation Y (It’s Not That Bad…Really!)

As tradition dictates, this newest generation is rattling the nerves of their predecessors. They are impatient; want the same respect they get from their parents, and respect social networks and peer response more than the traditional boss’s “because I said so” response.

So, how do we ensure we - as ‘doctors’ and predecessors - and they - our Generation Y creatures - survive each another in the workplace? We’ll make use of some thoughts from Mary Shelley:

1. Accept the Borrowed Parts – Old and New

“…the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.”[6]

We were assembled differently; we were influenced by different elements. Like our predecessors, we may struggle with this generation’s elemental building blocks, because they are not the ones from our childhood. Be afraid, as you may be finding yourself saying, “Well, in my day, we used to…” Like it or not, we were them once. We were the curious new younglings emerging from school into ‘real world’ employment, and wreaking havoc on the previous generation’s way of thinking and doing things.

Just as we need to see ourselves, we need to take the leap and see who the Generation Y worker is. Deloitte provides the following profile of Generation Y[7] in the workforce:

  • Work well with friends and on teams

  • Collaborative, resourceful, innovative thinkers

  • Love a challenge

  • Seek to make a difference

  • Want to produce something worthwhile

  • Desire to be a hero

  • Impatient

  • Comfortable with speed and change

  • Thrive on flexibility and space to explore

  • Partner well with mentors

  • Value guidance

  • Expect respect

We need to embrace the ‘borrowed parts.’ Examine their potential, and imagine the possibilities.

2. Value Their Enthusiasm and Off-the-Wall Ideas

“Nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose--a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”[8]

While we know they are impatient, we also know Generation Y workers can be focused if given a purpose. See what they’re made of and give them a challenge. Give them a single point of focus. Provide the rules, and the goal you need them to accomplish, and let them go to work – in their own way. Encourage them to work with teams.

With experience comes wisdom, knowledge and a temperance that minimizes our return to bad work habits. But that sometimes prohibits us from moving forward as ‘we already tried it before and it didn’t work.’ Leverage your experience and the Generation Y’s vigor. Maybe this time, because of a slightly different bent or newer technology, it will work.

3. Don’t Treat Them As Children, Even Though You Are Old Enough To Be Their Parents

What may not be expected in a country of eternal light?”[9]

Believe it or not, the Generation Y creatures you hired are adults. You hired them because they filled your work needs. You don’t need to be a POS, but you can provide them with a mentor to make sure they have a model for how to dress, how to respond to customers, and how to employ the processes in place. At the same time, you can encourage them to move from student to teacher when they accomplish goals set for them.

Eventually, what you will find is that you have a happy, productive employee who understands your environment and the customers you serve, and you have someone who is encouraging you to embrace change in the way you work. So, put down the pitchforks and the torches. The Generation Y creature isn’t as fearsome as you might have originally thought.


[1] Literary-Quotations. "Quotes from Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus By Mary Shelley." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[2] "Frankenstein: Introduction." Novels for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 12 May 2008.
[3] Notable Quotes. "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Quotes." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[4] CNN. "Overshadowed generation prepares to steer political agenda, author claims." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[5] Literary-Quotations. "Quotes from Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus By Mary Shelley." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[6] Litquotes. "Frankenstein Quotes." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[7] Deloitte. "Who are the Millennials? a.k.a. Generation Y." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[8] Literary-Quotations. "Quotes from Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus By Mary Shelley." [Online] 12 May 2008.
[9] SparkNotes. "Frankenstein: Important Quotations Explained." [Online] 13 May 2008.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Value of Training: An Investment, Not A Cost

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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What is the value of employee training?

For most companies, training is seen as an expense and one of the first items to be chopped during the budgeting process. Yet, training, whether in technical skills or critical business people skills, has one of the highest paybacks of any investment.

Pat Muccigrosso, Project Management Officer at NetPlus Marketing, Inc. put it this way, “Training isn’t bodies in chairs being lectured; it is an investment in each person’s life and in the livelihood of the business that pays the bill.”

Sharpen The Saw

Stephen Covey, well-known author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, uses a phrase “sharpening the saw.” We need to take time to sharpen our saws – our skills – to meet the demands of today’s competition.

We would never dream of sending our teenagers out to drive a car without training. We wouldn’t dare go to a doctor to treat our critical ailment unless the doctor was trained in the latest information for that condition. The cost of going to a doctor not trained certainly costs us more in the long run and could cost us our life.

So intrinsically, we know the value of training.

Yet we continually require our employees to work with outdated skills because of cost-cutting measures.

Let’s run some simple numbers to see training as an investment.

We know the costs of training. There are the direct expenses of the seminar and the travel costs. Of course, we fold in the cost of the employee while being trained. The hourly rate of an employee making $50,000 per year is $25 per hour. For the purpose of this exercise, we won’t consider the overhead (benefits, etc.).

The cost of a two day, $995 seminar plus $200 traveling expenses (hotel, food, mileage) and the employee’s wages equals $1595.

From that training, the employee learns a better method of working saving five hours per week in labor equaling $125 per week or $6250 for a 50-week calendar year.

If we compare the cost of training ($1595) versus the return ($6250), we increased our investment value by almost 400%. If this efficiency saves as little as 1.3 hours per week, we recoup our total investment.

Key Factors Toward Gaining the Most Value From Training

What key determining factors exist in getting the most value from employee training?

After years of training thousands of people and seeing the effect it has in their daily work lives, I’ve come to the same two conclusions that others have found and documented: management support for training and empowerment to use the newly-learned knowledge.

The number one key factor is management commitment to training. Without active management support, the value of training diminishes. Those who attend a session are constantly interrupted, distracted by emails, phone calls and other “emergencies.” Rather than focusing on sharpening their saw, they continue cutting down trees with dull blades. When asked to prove the value of training, it amounts to a few wasted days.

Employees empowered to use the newly-found knowledge is the second key factor to valuable training. The purpose of training is to improve work methods, not continuing with the old. If we persist with the outdated methods, learning a better way only frustrates people.

Sergio Radossi, an Engineering Manager stated it this way, “In our case, training was a key component of a strategy to integrate project management into the department's culture and to implement project management tools across the facility.” Note: Training was a strategy for improvement.


Training is an investment in the future of your company. No company stands still in today’s market. Employees’ skills cannot remain static. The fastest and cheapest method to sharpen skills with the greatest return is management-supported, implementable training.