The New Year “New” Resolution for 2012

As we all recover from a holiday weekend and bemoan the excesses of extreme socialization, the thoughts of many now are focusing on the “New Year.”  

A tradition many executives have is to make their “resolution list.”  The promises they make to themselves to be adhered to “absolutely.”

I was with a CEO recently who was showing me his list.  I noted that it was dated 1999 and with multiple write over…when the obvious question was asked, the response was “still haven’t finished.”

As the intensity of the global recession recedes, and a collective cautious breath is taken in the hopes that the worst may be over, DPC thought it would be helpful to do a quick “Pulse Survey” of CEO’s regarding their commercial resolutions for 2012.

We had over 20 responses and there are emerging trends the top 5 of which are herein listed.

  1. Understand Social Media – Many CEO’s acknowledge they do not understand nor appreciate this phenomenon.  This lack of awareness prompted expressions ranging from, “it makes me feel out of touch” to “old.” 
  2. Increase External Awareness – Many CEO’s have felt that during the recession they were “too heads down,” and “unaware of what’s new.”  One CEO stated regarding external trends  “unless it was on CNBC I missed it.”  The desire to end the information hibernation was expressed.
  3. Global Mindset – The refrain communicated most was “It is hard to keep track of the dynamics.”  There were specific references to the Euro crisis by domestic CEO’s and the “political crisis” in the US by rest of world executives.  The objective of those sampled was to “understand better” to be “less reactive.”
  4. Accountability – CEOs indicated that “shared accountability” has suffered during the recession due to “competitiveness” and “paranoia.” One CEO stated the desire “I want to put a stop to the mentality of ‘for someone to win, someone has to lose.’”
  5. Pace – This observation was DPC’s biggest surprise.   The focus on pace of life and work, and the desire for more balance were credited to the “new worker.”  “They have the right idea1”  A number of CEOs communicated that the need for enterprise flexibility in dealing with Succession and Continuity Planning is “high on the list.”

Our expectation is that the 2012 list will not be the 2022 list!

The above list is symptomatic of the reflection we have seen in our clients during the year promoting the mentality of “not only do I need to do things well, I need to think about life beyond my office” as well as “a different way of working inside.”

On behalf of Discussion Partner Collaborative and our Affiliates, our best wishes for a prosperous 2012!


Board or Bored?

As Baby Boomers contemplate retirement there is the inevitable question being contemplated: “What do I do next?”

A recent CNBC segment referred to 2012 retirement planning as the “no huddle offense.” Essentially there is a need to accelerate not only the economic preparation for retirement: but also the determinants as to how one would spend their time.

Tammy Erickson’s books on Shifting Demographics forcefully remind us that traditional perspectives regarding retirement are outmoded.  In point of fact Boomers are likely to remain active by engaging in multiple activities.

A recent Pulse Survey of over 2000 executives conducted by Discussion Partner Collaborative  posed 2 questions. “How far evolved are your retirement plans” and  “how will you spend your retirement time?”

 The overall answer on preparation was of concern as it indicated that while there had been some time spent “thinking” there was an absence of “planning.”

 The top 4 answers on “time commitment” were as follows:

  1. Generate income through part time employment
  2. Spend time with the family
  3. Focus on physical well-being primarily by playing golf
  4. Seek Board opportunities

The focus while clear was not supported by disciplined thinking regarding the “how” other than playing sufficient “golf” in the pursuit of lowering ones handicap.

This was particularly true regarding affiliation as a Board member.  The survey participants while clear on what they could offer as a Board member were less clear as to how to go about securing positions.

The good news is that Boards are valuing the talents of Boomers as an example the October 2011 edition of HBR suggests the rules are being broken in respect to the age of Board Members whereas in 1987 only 3% were age 60, now 30% are 64 or above indicative of both the shifting demographics and enterprise desire for the preservation of institutional memory.

However, for those whom have never been a Board member, it is not analogous to a Field of Dreams “if they know I am available they will come”!

Based upon our experience we would recommend for both NGO and/or Commercial Board opportunities the following steps:

  • Proactive networking with all in your “Rolodex”
  • Establishment of relationships with entities which match Board needs with aspirants capabilities
  • Explore Social Networking sites on NGO’s with the “assumption” that a need exists for advisory support
  • Play a lot of Golf while you are securing the opportunityJ!

Avoid the “It Could Be Me” Feeling

One pundit stated recently that blogs are “drivel with punctuation.”

As many blogs are written by consultants it is often our sector that struggles with making salient points in a compelling way.

The rule of thumb is to make your points as if they were “sound bytes”. 

In the recent past there has been an intersection of Discussion Partner research with a phenomenon that lends itself to these iterations.

During a recent survey of over 2000 senior executives regarding level of non-financial planning in advance of retirement:

Over 70% of the executives indicated they have some overall ideas: but lack a concrete plan.

When DPC research indicates an interesting finding we test it with selected clients.

Suffice it to say that the findings were supported by the input from clients replete with anecdotes:

  • “One executive did not realize he was retired…he kept coming to work to socialize”
  • “An executive told me that the implementation of his plans only took him to 10:30 AM every day”
  • “One executive became a serial board member to the point he forgot which meeting he was attending”
  • “The concentration on lowering his golf handicap led him to AA”
  • “His wife got so sick of feeding him she boycotted the kitchen”
  • “Her husband was pleasantly surprised to realize how in shape she could be in post retirement and joined a gym himself”
  • “The female executive became much more aware of her husbands fascination with Big Screen TV’s”

When we met with executives whom were still working we identified three escalating levels of sentiment when dealing with retired colleagues:

  • Poor Guy-I hope he finds something meaningful
  • I don’t have time-seeing the guy repeatedly is now a distraction
  • Self-Awareness-uttering the words “it could be me”

 Now that I have your attention another sound byte from the research-82% stipulated that if they neared retirement without a disciplined plan, their engagement level would go down and their distraction level would go up.

Punctuation aside, the intent of this blog is straightforward, whether you are the executive or enterprise you should assiduously avoid the mantra “it could be X”!

You Can Assess Competency by Starting at the Backs of an Audience’s Heads

I recently attended a seminar sponsored by a potential alliance partner for our firm.  The objective was to hear their   “thought leader” present their enterprise point of view on “The Implications of the Aging Workforce on Employee Engagement”.

As is the wont of air travel these days I arrived at the session late and to avoid being rude or conspicuous I slipped into the back of the room.

The presenter although polished in style, and aggressive in expressing “my point of view”, was bereft of any recent data to support their conclusions.

In point of fact their data would have been more aligned with the times if their attire had been a lime green leisure suit.

As I was settling in thinking, “well this was a brilliant idea” and wondering “can I get an earlier return flight”, I had an epiphany.

I realized many in the audience were entranced with the “facts” being put forward…..they were lacking in context and how no clue that the data was no longer even useful in the context of a) a global workforce, b) engagement levels that were declining even before the recession, c) the challenges of managing a workforce with four cohorts all of which desire different levels of support from an employer, and d) the emerging complexities of managing the digital tribes promoted by the emergence of social media.

How did I know, psychic that I am not, it was the “tell” from watching people nodding their level of interest and agreement.  MANY of the HR professionals in this particular audience were learning of the aforementioned human capital challenges for what appeared to be the first time(look for the nodding of yes and neck leaning forward)

Be reassured that there were those like me who had the glaze of boredom and were also unobtrusively looking at their watches (look for the head dropping straight down or to the left to look at the wrist).

The torture ended eventually and insincere as I am I was gracious in my thanks and compliments…..yet I was struck by a line from Michael Douglas in the American President (don’t go there), “serious problems require serious people to create serious solutions”.

Like a lot of Consultants I have been on the platform and candidly live in dread fear that my audience is in possession of more relevant or timely data than I therefore making my effort pedestrian.  It is the intellectual curiosity of the audience I rely upon to keep me honest.

My conclusion from this unscientific polling technique is that those of us in leadership positions, particularly in Human Resources have to have higher standards for what constitutes “thought leadership”.   The alternative is we will be treated to a steady stream of presentations by those who really have nothing to contribute in pushing us to address some very serious issues.

Contingent by Choice: Understanding and Leveraging the New Workforce

Organizations will need to broaden their thinking and apply innovative strategies to attract the talent they need.  One of the talent pools organizations will need to learn how to tap more effectively is the growing pool of virtual talent labeled “contingent.” A 2009 Manpower, Inc. survey on the “Role of Contingent Workers” found that 34% of the 41,000 employers in 35 countries surveyed viewed contingent workers to be a key to the execution of their organizational strategy.  Not only is it strategically important, but the size of the contingent workforce is expected to grow.  Adecco in their 2010 white paper on the “Lessons of the Great Recession” highlighted that the contingent workforce is expected to grow three to four times the rate of traditional workforces, and is expected to eventually make up about 25% of the global workforce.  And according to a recent report from the BLS, contingents are expected to make up 40% of the U.S. workforce by 2019.

 As Daniel Pink pointed out in Free Agent Nation, contingent work has evolved into a deliberately chosen non-traditional employment arrangement.  Contingents may want to acquire new skills, experience different types of work environments, or build resumes using a broad spectrum of assignments.  They may want balance in their work and professional lives. Experienced workers may want positions that have a specific endpoint because they prefer to work only part or the year or a limited number of years in a particular project based assignment.  Younger workers may be using contingency to build a skill portfolio or pursue a personal passion.  The new reality is that contingent work has become a free-form career strategy that stems from an individual’s desire for flexibility, autonomy, and freedom.  Supported by new advances in technology knowledge workers, in particular, see contingency as “Plan A” NOT “Plan B.”     

 To take full advantage of this emerging cadre of workers, employers will need to change the common perception of contingent workers as being less important, less skilled, or less committed than “permanent” employees.  More importantly, they must abandon the idea that contingent workers are simply an economic play to handle temporary swings in employment. Contingent workers bring unique experiences, fresh thinking, and new approaches to problem-solving. Furthermore, research shows that contingents tend to be more satisfied and engaged with the work they do than full-time employees.  Independents recognize that completing the project on time in a successful manner is the key to gaining future assignments. 

 Indeed, organizations will need to change their fundamental mindset about talent to be successful in the future.  As John Boudreau points out in Retooling HR, “the idea that employment is the primary way organizations and their contributions interact is so instinctive that it many blind organizations to an alternative form of engagement.”  The role of contingency in organizations is still being defined and their importance being assessed, but as the numbers grow, employers stand to benefit if they include contingent workers as a permanent part of their overall talent strategy.

Social Media-The Wired In Coexisting with the Clueless

Let me tell you about my niece Kate, she is 13, beautiful and a softball pitcher of local renown!  Recently her team won their championship with her pitching 3 winning games in 2 days!  As the oldest brother to her father, # 6 in line, I wanted to offer my congratulations on her achievement, when I contacted my brother for her e-mail I was told “she only uses Facebook, she sees e-mail as old technology”.

Shortly before this reminder of my dotage, I had visited my daughter and her family inclusive of 9 and 7 year old granddaughters.   When I inquired about how they were enjoying a notebook I had given them for the holidays was working, they referred to it as “too slow”.

I realized the “old and slow” references were more insightful than I deemed, despite prompting my desire to just drive straight to Happy Valley to check myself in

Those of us in our late 50’s, 60’s and older weathered a revolution that candidly we underappreciated.  Communication as we practiced it as people and workers no longer exists. 

The above would have remained intellectual musings absent a venture currently underway at Discussion Partner Collaborative, where we just completed a global survey of 150 CEO’s on their near term Human Capital aspirations.  This is the second year of our survey and the “constructive use of Social Media” rose from #7 to #3. 

When this first surfaced as a finding in 2010 we were surprised.  As we look at the factors of the success of the “Facebook Movie”, the potential IPO value of same, performance of the recent Social Media IPO’s, and the given that global communication is now instantaneous, we are no longer surprised: moreover we are encouraged.

The 2010 survey indicated that CEO’s were concerned about “misuse and abuse” of Social Media to the detriment of their enterprises.  This year, 2011,  their sentiments are focused on constructive endeavors, “communication, research, and collaboration”.

The most recent edition of the Harvard Business Review was principally devoted to Social Media and its power.

It appears that the CSuite is starting to get caught up with Kate and her younger cousins Ada Zane and Zohy Dakota.

IT Infrastructure Projects and the “Net Gener” Resource

By Michael J. Casey, PMP

Staffing IT infrastructure projects is getting more and more problematic. Demands between system support and specialized technical undertakings have increased, while the pool of talent itself evolves before our eyes. “Infrastructure” efforts – a new data center, upgraded network, installation of servers, and desktops, e-mail and voice systems – require trained staff, pulled between providing ongoing service and episodic – though critical – input to technology efforts. This situation will be more complicated as the talent pool changes and the younger technology savvy worker emerges. Writers in recent years have suggested that – in the digital age – the talent geared to work on these technical projects is maturing in a manner not conducive to effective project planning and tracking.

Development roles generally operate within an adopted System Development Lifecycle – Agile, Waterfall, etc. – for a new software product or release. Companies invest heavily in metrics that are continually refined, in part, to protect investment in talent. This practice reinforces the importance of the software engineer in product development. The infrastructure resource, however, roams in the realm of support (ITIL or company custom version) and is periodically assigned to program management (PMO or variation). Specific skills are required for a short time, with tight interdependencies.  For example, the upgrade to web or database servers is often on the critical path of many enterprise wide initiatives, corporate or commercial.  Product an program managers cast a nervous eye at the Dev or QA “environment” build schedule– an amalgam of expensive network switches, racks, storage devices, and servers that have to be nestled,  IP’d and ready to go to meet a strategic schedule.

But, senior stakeholders, the project manager (PM) and the shared resource, the IT infrastructure engineer, are too often reminded that “production is king” and a key milestone may pass if an engineer is delayed in completing a task in order to address a problem affecting services. Most companies – even in good times – do not devote IT staff specifically to capital projects, observing the adage to “not build a church for Easter Sunday.”

The network engineer or system administrator, consequently, is perceived to be “on loan” for specific tasks on a “best effort” basis. The project is just another form of short term work authorization. The engineer may never even look at the plan; the PM is left to gauge the impact of a build or configuration, if missed, with little or no mitigating options. Many have emphasized the multi-tasking – gaming, internet mastering– capabilities of the Net Gen resource. This adaptability could work to the benefit – or the detriment – of the IT infrastructure project.  With a generally short horizon to realizing the product or service, the resource could embrace the repetitive service based tasks… or reject them entirely.

In managing technical project resources in the coming years, we can make some qualified observations to see if they become trends, with the maturity of Net Gen (aka, Gen Y) talent:

–          The Net Gen resource of “Growing Up Digital” (Tapscot) may embrace the episodic nature of IT project work – multiple projects with different stakeholders – but not the repetitive service oriented tasks themselves. (e.g., Build Server, Test circuit.)

 –  Value expressed through core Systems Assurance and Service Delivery disciplines will likely shift as Net Gen staff rises to prominence in IT and resists traditional adherence to standards.

 –  This value shift – and the need to incorporate Net Gen tendencies in the formulation of IT project tasks and the service catalogue may tax companies, led by traditionalists and boomers, in the coming years.

In “Growing Up Digital,” Daniel Tapscott focused on “bathed in bits” children – those between 2 and 22 in 2000. He favorably characterized them as “tolerant of diversity, self-confident, curious, assertive, self-reliant, contrarian and flexible”. These traits, he points out, are a result of this generation’s exposure to the Net, the fluid interchange of information and interactive modes of communication. In cyberspace, he says, there are no hierarchies and the readily available access to information has created in its young “netizens” the quest to search for and be critical of information.

This portrait, no doubt, is a celebration of emerging individuality, the profile of an engaging, sophisticated generation. However, it does not suggest the discipline and sublimation of self needed to build, for example, a required set of 20 Windows 2008 servers in a three day period. Such work is specialized, repetitive and often tedious. It does not allow for diversity, curiosity and a contrarian spirit.

In his follow-up book, “Grown Up Digital,” Tapscott dedicates a chapter to the “The Net Generation Brain.” Exploring “multi-tasking,” he cites an Oxford Future of the Mind Institute study. Net Geners, 18 -21 years of age performed 10% better than a group aged 35 – 39 (a range which includes many current IT engineers.)  Factoring in interruptions from communication based messages (phone call, call text message, or IM), Net Geners lost their competitive advantage. “The thirtysomethings caught up in speed and accuracy.” Despite thinking quicker (spurred by games and internet paging), the Net Geners are “less effective at recovering from disruption when faced with a complex cognitive task.” This is but one study but the author doesn’t really attempt to refute it expect with references of Net Geners’ focus with games and electronic matters that interest them. Attention deficit traits are not a concern but a choice.

In “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30),” Mark Baurlein presents s different picture. While IQ scores have gone up consistently – 3 points a decade since WWII – he contends that Net Geners are “culturally ignorant” while being “mentally agile.” He feels that they don’t read the great works of literature. The digital age, he feels, is fostering ignorance.

Whether or not one agrees with Tapscott or Baurlien, the underlying concern here is the need to evaluate how the talent in this emerging generation may behave differently in an already underemphasized sphere of work, the IT Infrastructure. The nature of the work, while technical in nature, may not appeal to the curious Net Gener described by Tapscott.

Infrastructure generally isn’t sexy; it’s, at best, reliable. It’s not that infrastructure isn’t noticed – if we were to walk into a room, flip a switch and see that a bulb is out, we might consider Edison. We just don’t consider that his invention is now successfully indivisible, that “light,” is easy enough to engineer and provide, regardless of the function of the room it sheds on.  

Infrastructure staff enjoys a flexible though often secondary role in the business hierarchy. They are often tempered professionals who, after years of repetition and observation, are likely to shake their heads in deference… after completing the task. They would agree, of course, that emphasis should remain with the products and commercial services the company presents.  Studies in recent years suggest that a PM’s ability to effectively manage less compelling or product oriented projects with the “Net Gen” resources may replace rumblings with indifference. 

International organizations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) have taken devoted bodies of knowledge to the fieldof Resource Management.  This orientation includes discussions on functional vs. cross-functional resource allocation; resource management is a key element to activity resource estimating and project human resource management. These components of a comprehensive project plan are recognized and practiced by PMs worldwide. The PMI has promoted “resource leveling,” a technique aimed at smoothing available resources, reducing excesses and shortages. With a goal of 100% utilization, the underlying principle is to invest in resources as stored capabilities, and then unleash the capabilities as demanded.

To the qualified observations, expressed earlier, and whether or not they may lead to trends, one could conclude that the future “stored capability” known as the Net Gener, poised at the technology gate, may not easily lend it to “leveling” or other techniques that promote standardization and uniformity. The IT Project Manager will need to appreciate that the diversity of the stakeholders and interests served may entice interest while the repetitive nature of the tasks may dispel the future worker described by Tapscott.

To maintain the gains in quality and service oriented disciplines of recent decades, senior managers will need to invest effort and skill in evaluating program management options with respect to diversity – and age – of talent in project resource management. The values and inclinations of the Net Gener may not favorably cast them for IT Infrastructure projects.