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!


The Challenges of Human Asset Unsustainability

As Executives who are focused on Enterprise Growth and Differentiated Sustainability, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How can the Enterprise replenish its leadership population if it’s Succession Plan is based upon incorrect assumptions?
  2. How can an Enterprise exploit the talents of, and secure the institutional memory from, Boomers if Human Capital programs are not tailored to balance their unique situations in the context strategic intents?
  3. How can an executive maximize their contribution if as they approach retirement they are distracted by the reality that they are bereft of a comprehensive a personal non-financial Transition plan?

The exercise is likely to promote, appropriately, significant concerns?

The two most recent editions of the Harvard Business Review are wake up calls for managers in respect to the emerging challenges in addressing the aspirations of the Baby Boomer age “cohort”.  

Several data points contained in the articles are consistent with recent Discussion Partner Collaborative research and client experience:

  • 50% of Fortune 500 Board Members are dissatisfied with the their companies Succession Planning process
  • Succession Planning is an insular process usually achieving a level of “seriousness” approximately 18 months before transition
  • 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
  • The median tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is 3.5 years some roles such as CIO’s even less reinforcing the need for disciplined Succession Planning scenario’s

 As reinforcement, DPC research conducted in the Third Quarter of 2011 encompassing  150 Global CEO’s and over 2,000 Executives over the age of 55 concluded the following:

  • Succession Plans, if they exist at all assume, without executive consultation, that all will retire at age 65!
  • The reality is that Executives have a “range” from “62 to I don’t know but later than 65”
  • Over 90% of the Executives in our study would prefer to have a gradual “phase down in time commitment” beginning at age 62 and ending at 66
  • Over 80% of the Executives indicated that the existing Human Capital practices did not allow for a “phase down”
  • Over 50% of CEO’s stated that they would embrace a phase down strategy if “I could keep a key Executive longer” while an additional 9% stated…..”not sure but should be explored”
  • Over 70% of Executives stipulated that the comprehensiveness of their Transition Planning was  predominantly if not exclusively Financial

Research Conclusions

Our research, led us to a working hypothesis focused on the integration of Enterprise and Human Asset Sustainability. We refer to as Human Asset Sustainability.

Our Conclusions are that to be achieved, Human Asset Sustainability, must embody the following Principles:

  • Succession Planning cannot be realistic unless those whom are deemed “inclusions” (executives and those in key roles) are consulted in respect to their contemplated retirement timing “without prejudice”, in other words they can change their minds
  • The principle of flexibility is a Succession Planning “must have” to maximize leverage and create the most options for the enterprise, executive, and potential replacements
  • Human Capital processes must embrace the concept of Phase Down and other manifestations of flexibility to optimize Human Asset Sustainability
  • There is a disciplined approach for Institutional Memory preservation leveraging the stated desire of Generation X and Millenials to be mentored by Boomers therefore becoming the repository of their knowledge 
  • Transition planning support is highly desired and should be provided to key executives and those in critical roles beginning at age 58…..provided the above Principles are embraced!

There is no question that those of us in the Human Capital domain, whether we are researchers, consultants, or practitioners, need to challenge our assumptions and be more innovative if we are to influence vs. be influenced by, the rapidly shifting demographics. 

We see four major assumptions that require a “re-think:”

  1. There is a “set age” when people plan to retire
  2. Organizations to be effective require full-time commitment
  3. Executives have a well-thought-out Transition plan
  4. Human Capital programs currently possess the flexibility to meet the challenges of the Baby Boomer age cohort

The truth that is self-evident is that Enterprise Sustainability will be disenfranchised if Human Asset Sustainability is not an embedded strategic priority.

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.

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.

The Contradiction Between Aging and Clueless

As the recession dissipates and the need for experienced talent resumes, there are two demographic issues that will need to be addressed.

The Need to Embrace the Contribution of the Older Worker

A recent Wall Street Journal article spoke of the challenges the legal profession has in maintaining as Partners those over a certain age.  The article spoke of a Partner who still practices at 79, who was challenging in court the position of his firm that he was “too old to fulfill the obligations of being a Partner.”

The article went on to speak about his actual productivity (among the highest billing), scholarship (a regular contributor to legal journals and opinion pieces), and reputation as a mentor (younger Partners revere him as a mentor).

So beyond age… why this dilemma?  His legacy firm stipulates that it was being prudent and needs to have a “mandatory retirement age” to make way for “younger Partners.”

So in the legal profession, as is the case in other sectors such as accounting, contribution is not a consideration……the main one is age!    Hmmm…

Vitality is not a function of years… is preparation, outlook, health, and intellectual curiosity…..

Speaking of which……

The Need to Understand the Mental Model of the Younger Worker

A recent survey at Beloit College of incoming freshman had some interesting results.   When asked for example, “Who was Michelangelo?” The response was “a computer virus.”  I thought this was obtuse until it was explained to me that in fact there was a computer virus called Michelangelo.

As a Boomer I thought it would be interesting to create my own quiz and of course answered my own questions as if I was a Freshman (I Wish!)

  1. What was The Cold War? – One fought in the Arctic
  2. What was The Long March? – The first Marathon
  3. Who was Beethoven? – A Dog who starred in a couple of movies
  4. What was the Kitchen Debate? – An argument my parents had in the Kitchen
  5. What was the Palmer Method? – The swing of an old golfer
  6. What is a Fountain Pen? – A fountain in the shape of a Pen
  7. What is a Pop Tart? – OK this one would be timeless

So which is more compelling, the answers of the incoming Freshman or the fact as a Boomer I did not know there were “2 Michelangelos”?

And more importantly is this an issue of age, intellect, or exposure?

Reconciliation of the Apparent Contradiction

As I was draftring  this blog post, I consulted others by Tammy Erickson ( and my nephew Sean, a former Army Captain currently in Grad School in Germany (

In reviewing their writings, the WSJ article, the Beloit study, and most importantly my pro Sistine Chapel response, I was thinking… maybe this “you lose it with age thing has some merit”!


There are too many aspirations all who work have in common:

  1. The desire to be respected
  2. The desire to be recognized
  3. The desire to be mentored
  4. The desire to be challenged
  5. The desire to be provided opportunity regardless of age!

The disconnects we note and laugh about to the point of cohort mutual mocking, are not a function of age….there are more accurate explanations. 

Having given this apparent contradiction some recent thought I have concluded it is an issue of understanding and tolerance. 

Moreover as we will need the energies of all who wish to work to be effective whether we speak of societies or enterprises, we had best table the ridicule and focus on more understanding and tolerance.

CEO Lessons Learned 3 – Dude: Where is my Money?

Tammy Erickson ( has written a number of books regarding the generational differentiators and in so doing has sensitized many to the difference in aspirations among the 4 cohorts in the Global workforce(Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y).

Generation Y or the Millennial group is and will be a managerial challenge for quite some time.  To those of us in the Boomer cohort effectively acting as mentors and managers of this group, it is exhausting. They ask the Question “Why?” incessantly and take unction when they are not consulted by the C-suite in respect to enterprise strategy.

At the risk of being pedestrian…. let’s follow the money….

There are emerging 3 truisms with respect to Total Rewards:

  1. Don’t hire anyone at my peer level, give them more money, and expect I won’t find out!
  2. Pay me at a level that is commensurate with my performance and self assessment of same…
  3. Forget the stock that will vest in 5 years……I won’t be here…

Einstein’s definition of insanity – “continuing to do the same things while anticipating a different result” – applies to many of the Total Rewards approaches in force globally.

 The lessons learned by many of our clients is that unless the Total Rewards strategy is sensitive to the aspirations of this cohort, and then Compensation will be de-motivational, and controversial.

CEO Lessons Learned 2 – Critical Constituencies

In our client work we often get a chance to discuss with CEOs matters that evolve into significant lessons learned for our clients and ourselves.

The Role of Critical Constituencies

As we exit the global recession it is essential that we remind ourselves of the need to clearly identify what are the most critical roles in an enterprise, and whom are the most essential incumbents in these areas.

The following derived from a recent client experience.

One of our clients is a large global insurance company.  When the CEO was asked,“what are your critical roles”, his response was “my direct reports.” When we probed a little more aggressively we determined that the most important role, or what we refer to as “Critical Constituency,”  was in fact the Actuaries.

When we met with the Actuaries we found that they felt very disenfranchised and in fact were “counting down the days”! What was even more compelling was that the average age of this group was 59! 

As we would expect Actuaries understand retirement!

This group was treated as if they starred in The Revenge of the Nerds.  They even had  their own tables in the lunchroom.

When we looked at the external marketplace we discerned that despite the recession the profession is not exactly a magnet for new recruits.  After all who wants to take exams for the rest of their professional life!

When we informed our client of their risks…. he did an outstanding job of recovering lost ground with the adage…. “Sheer panic brings clarity of thought.”