The Proper Care and Feeding of Employee X … I mean Y and Z.

Forbes Infographic

Those are some stats but.. what does it mean?

At first glance the thing that I pick up on is that close to half the work force will be filled by the people in this generation.

I think we will need to consider some things outside the normal conversation as factors.

  • This generation grew up with reality tv as part of their lives
  • Social considerations like “say anything to anyone is the new normal”
  • Emotional intelligence and progressive thinking with relation to immediate feedback from human to human or human to machine relationships should be considered.
  • Supply and demand will dramatically shift the way companies operate internally.

These factors should be considered in addition to others as we participate in the changing workforce.  The fact is that the GenXr’s are such a thin layer of workforce ( that there will be a great drop off once the baby boomers leave and the bulk of the workforce will be weighted to Y and Millennial.  For the Generation X workers that will flip their “normal” upside down.  It makes sense that industry is looking to figure out how to deal with the Y and Mils but it also makes sense to take into consideration the push and pull on the X’ generation.   Why? because these guys still may have 20 plus years in the workforce.  The other thing is that Generation X traits have characteristics and traits that represent stability and a memory of parents and grandparents that lived through histories more recent and difficult times (X traits).

I remember people that were part of the holocaust don’t click here if you can’t take it –>(horrific) and the great depression Migrant Mother 1930.  I heard their first hand stories.  When I tell my oldest son who is part of the millennial generation, he looks at me in a way that tells of confusion and disconnection.   The closest he has to seeing and experiencing these kinds of events is 9-11.   If  you think that my perspective may be a little harsh,  I will concede that it may be and further that I may be discounting some other events like the Gulf war and the long Iraq and Afgan conflicts.   Although, that being said I have been working with the military for many years and the media surrounding war seems a lot different from it did 20-30 years ago.

My generation saw change that was unending, dramatic, compelling and extreme.  We saw the Berlin wall come down and we saw genocide in many countries, we witnessed the worst of racism and the beautiful hearts and minds of those that fight it.  There are so many things that the Gen X’rs have seen and dealt with through the past 30-40 years that it is mind-boggling.  It seemed as if this generation had the greatest accounting for firsts.  First this or that.  I know that well before there were gen X’rs there were many firsts and many milestones but it seems as if the Boomers plowed the field and framed out the roadway and their parents (Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation or GI Generation) felt the great pains of a torn and weighted nation.  The burdens of our parents were always hanging in the background.  There was an echo of all these voices that were full of pain and sorrow that held a constant undertone in our lives.  There was greatness that rose up through the noise and the sorrow.  It was inspirational.   It was also the beginnings of a world that would be sheltered for some and further creating fear.  Generation X saw the birth of the data explosion and they were the generation that had to not only absorb the wave but learn how to ride it.   So this generation has been run through sociological and human condition changes that test and try an individuals mentality.


How did we respond?

We are more flexible and we are more open but we still harbor the pains of deep seeded confusion about who we are.

  • Our children were more sheltered and out of touch with the world.
  • Our children stay home and don’t wander the streets until the street lights come on.
  • Our children don’t get kicked out to play all day (for the most part).
  • Our children have a global view and are “worldly”
  • Our children are sophisticated in electronic communication.
  • Our children have no patience and demand immediate feedback.

I can go on all day with this list.  From the perspective of a business what will this mean?

As fast as things are changing now, things will move faster.  Further, explicit information and data is king and the primary means of communication.  More specifically, we will be moving further and further away from human to human interaction in person because it is simply not needed.

Maybe in the FUTURE we will hear sayings like “I wish I could content tag all my words” or “context is like my personal theme song”

We are starting to sift big data and watch trends and we are missing the spaces between the words.  If you look at music on a page and read it, will it give you the FEELING that makes you love the song?  We are starting to break the rules of effective communication and companies like Yahoo, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Best Buy are already responding by limiting the flexibility and telework that these employees are already DEMANDING.   Companies will have to either force culture change on this younger generation or this younger generation WILL change the way business operates.

Put that in your database and sift it.. are you getting it? 

In the meantime, Gen X’rs will be riding, surviving, flexing and rolling with the great changes.  They are the key to bridging the gap between the “digital divide” , that chasm that exists between where we are today and where we are heading.   There is no question we are already dealing with a divide, it started snowballing in the 1970’s and look at where we are from then to now.  It is less than a blip in the time of humanity and yet folks like Ray Kurzweil are actively talking about machine intelligence and transferring our consciousness into machines.

The question of INTENT in communication and business management has to be on the table.

Going on.. we are guessing on “HOW TO” motivate the millennial, discounting the Gen X’r and disregarding our humanity.  Here is a list of “surprising” ways to motivate millennial workers?

Forbes author Jenna Goudreau writes in Surprising Ways to Motivate Millennial Workers that employers should (could) motivate this younger generation by doing these things listed below.

1) Explain The Company Vision

“If you can explain the whole picture, it connects the meaning to the person,” says Jeremy Kingsley, leadership expert and author of Inspired People Produce Results. Millennial workers are more likely to look for meaning and impact in their work and aren’t satisfied simply punching a clock. Helping them understand their role in a larger plan gives them a clearer sense of purpose. ”It makes them feel valued, which in turn boosts productivity,” says Kingsley.

2) Prioritize Community Service

A comprehensive study by the Pew Research Center in 2010 found that millennials place a higher priority on helping people in need (21%) than having a high-paying career (15%). Dan Epstein, the CEO of business consultancy ReSource Pro who has a staff comprised of 90% millennials, says allowing employees to form committees and use company resources or time to organize their causes meets their desire for social consciousness. Whether it’s weekends with Habitat for Humanity or time off to run in charity marathons, the company’s encouragement helps them feel good about the company. “In order to tap into their creative energy,” Epstein says, “we need to be respectful of the things they care about.”

3) Develop In-Between Steps And Titles

More than their Baby Boomer parents or Gen X older siblings, millennials are especially eager to progress in their careers and less willing to wait three to five years for a promotion. “By developing in-between steps and titles, managers can meet their desire for career progression,” says Epstein. “It also provides incremental training and experience that will aid them later with larger career advancement opportunities.”

4) Give Encouragement And Regular Feedback

“This generation responds well to encouragement and immediate feedback,” says Kingsley. “People need to know they’re being noticed.” The good news? It’s free. A simple “thank you,” “congratulations” or honest, supportive feedback from a manager can make all the difference, fueling their motivation to produce results. While the millennial generation has been criticized as being needy or wanting undue rewards, Kingsley says there’s a balance to be found. Make it clear from the beginning that you reward good work, and then keep an open line of communication to let them know how they’re doing and how they can improve.

5) Offer More Flexibility

Work-life balance is one of the most significant drivers of employee retention among millennials. This tech-savvy generation is essentially able to work anytime from anywhere with an Internet connection. Thus, seemingly arbitrary work hours or having to sit at a desk all day is less appealing to them. A 2012 study of the generation by Griffith Insurance Education Foundation discovered that millennials will sacrifice pay for increased vacation time and the ability to work outside the office. Offering flexible scheduling, occasional telecommuting or even unlimited vacation time—provided performance remains consistent—can meet their desire for flexibility while also showing your trust.

6) Provide Education And Professional Development

According to a 2012 survey by staffing agency Adecco, 68% of recent graduates identified good opportunities for growth and development as one of their top professional priorities. “Most in this group are hungry and want to advance,” says Kingsley. “If you do not provide development, it’s like a slap in the face.” Assigning stretch projects, bringing in speakers or sending employees to leadership conferences will be especially helpful for those millennial workers interested in learning and growing their skills.

7 ) Give Them Time For Personal Projects

“On a regular basis, allow team members to work on whatever they want,” says Tim Elmore, the founder and president of Growing Leaders, a non-profit dedicated to youth leadership development. Progressive companies like 3Mand Google have had success offering employees time to work on a project of their choosing, helping them feel more engaged and in control and also boosting innovation within the company. “This allows young employees to take initiative, be creative and produce something on their own.”

Are we SOLVING the Wrong Problem Precisely?

How are we measuring and documenting “the space between” the intangibles?

Douglas Hubbard has written a book called “How To Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business.” The book is available here.
“Often, an important decision requires better knowledge of the alleged intangible, but when a [person] believes something to be immeasurable, attempts to measure it will not even be considered.

As a result, decisions are less informed than they could be. The chance of error increases. Resources are misallocated, good ideas are rejected, and bad ideas are accepted. Money is wasted. In some cases life and health are put in jeopardy. The belief that some things–even very important things–might be impossible to measure is sand in the gears of the entire economy.

Any important decision maker could benefit from learning that anything they really need to know is measurable.”

He goes on to explain in detail how to measure intangibles, including sections on how to clarify problems, calibrate estimates, measure risk, sample reality, and use Bayesian statistics to add to available knowledge. He also describes his Applied Information Economics (AIE) Approach that ties together several threads of his ideas:

“The AIE approach addresses four things:
1. How to model a current state of uncertainty
2. How to compute what else should be measured
3. How to measure those things in a way that is economically justified
4. How to make a decision”
Information Economics Approach

Do you know my ?

or my ?

Are we going to content tag our lives?

Will Sharepoint give us the information and tools that we need?

How are we going to recognize when we are succeeding?

Are we going to step on Generation X or step over it?

Do we look to turn change from an unending marathon to a series of sprints? –Change Fatigue?

How do we define success for our future workforce by dollars alone or by time for an individual + stability?

How do we quantify and qualify individual intent?

How do we convey intent?

How to we rationalize and manage intent?

How do we introduce emotional intelligence into the workplace?

How do we build and manage trust with our workforce of the future?

How do we escape judgement from businesses via Facebook?  (Am I my Facebook account from now on?)

How do we convey that we “feel”? How can we tell the machine that we “feel”?

How does the machine know when it provides raw explicit information back for analysis what the undertone or underlying context is?

Further examination.

While we are moving towards automation of a great many things.  We are still human today.  We still need to see, feel, hear, smell, hug, hold, embrace, and sense.  Technology should never be the driver, it should exist to enable.  The hammer does not build the house.. maybe the 3d printer will but for now, it is a human and he can identify a problem just by senses and caring.  These tacit knowledge components must convey to the next generation and as the Boomers are leaving.. it is the X’rs that will carry this torch.

Business should not forget “The proper care and feeding of employee X” ~

Forgive any misspellings and or grammatical errors. I was yelling and rolling around on my keyboard and I did this on my galaxy asdf in 140 characters or less in 2 minute spurts while walking through streets and grocery stores and stuff ignoring everyone around me like they didn’t exist and listening to music…  🙂


Decertification ~Cleansing Your Career~

Binding Labels

You are so much more than your certification.  Recently, I was consulting with a technical organization to help understand the requirements for a custom system configuration.    When I walked into the server room I was greeted by a very nice man in his late 40’s or early 50’s.   His job for the past five + years was to build, maintain, support and grow a fairly complex system to support multiple custom written applications for his client.   Unfortunately, his work is being transitioned to another organization and he faces personal uncertainty with this transition.

We stood in the server room as he described in intimate detail the web of connections between this system of systems.   Through the years he had to add different technologies and make connections to other systems as the requirements came in.   I didn’t have days to evaluate the system or his work, only hours.  As we walked the halls of the building, I noticed that we couldn’t get more than about  10 feet without someone asking him for help.

We sat down in his work area, it was full of nuts and bolts and old computer parts.  It was a familiar sight to me as I had worked with a lot of shipboard engineering technicians and this was something that these guys would practice.  The “No parts left behind” philosophy is even something I have been known to subscribe to.   I decided to ask him about his day.     Are you pretty busy all day, or is there a lull?  What is a normal day for you like?   What is your schedule?  Do they ever call you in the middle of the night to come out here?

Turns out, most of the day he is helping people with day-to-day tasks.  It could be that he is helping someone with an excel question or something about one of the custom applications they are working on.   It could be that someone needed to find the “any key”  and he had to show them where that was.   The point is that while I was there for that short window of time, he was busy helping people even through my disruptive questioning.  I had a lot of questions about the servers and services but to him those things were simply in the background of what was important to him.  I found that interesting because it was the reason I had come in the first place.

No Certification for Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge simply put is knowledge we may have that we don’t know we have or knowledge that is hard to transfer.   Tacit knowledge transfer requires extensive personal interaction and more importantly; trust.

I sat down with the management team on site and asked them a series of questions concerning their system, requirements, mission, vision, scope, objectives etc.   I asked them about the tasks associated with the custom applications and found that they had very little information themselves about the system that they owned.

If you aren’t bored yet and are wondering where I am going.. it is happening now 🙂

My job was to figure out how to replace this person running the system.  It wasn’t specifically to replace HIM but to find out what the system does so that if we are to put in someone else that operations would run consistently and there would be service continuity.  

I went back to the office with all my notes about the system.  The problem for me was that I had more notes about the person, the process of his work as he had explained and the thoughts about all those people who stopped him or grabbed him in the very short time that I was there.  The Program Manager asked for me to deliver a position description along with a short order report on the system findings.  In all the time and discussions, I never once asked what if anything this person was certified in.

I wrote up a fairly short position description that was titled IT Generalist,  I didn’t include any certifications as requirements.  I did put stuff like “Ability to work well with others.”  I submitted the document to the Program Manager which included a description of the role, daily responsibilities, some of the technologies that were involved and some of the requirements that the client had discussed with me.   The response to my description was  “This document is insufficient, where are the certifications?”

  1. Certifications never came up.
  2. How do you certify something that is custom and then create a certification or qualification for that and fill it?
  3. How do you certify whether a person is nice enough to approach to ask questions or not?
  4. How do you certify “ability to work well with others?”

I broke down the common technologies used for the operating system, any common applications, the switches and routers into categories and then came up with certifications that would line up.  I resubmitted the description with more of a technical focus and it was well received.

Certification Rehab

Hi, my name is Howie and I umm… I am A+, Network+, MCP, Cloud etc…  I have been certifying for over 15 years and now I am seeking detox .. I mean ..decertification.  This business of certification doesn’t put the “H” in business, meaning the “Human Factors.”   Are we robots? Are we supposed to be addicted to spending thousands of dollars a year on adding the letters to our name?  Aren’t we more than our certifications?  What just happened in this story is that human resources filtered out the very person who is currently doing an outstanding job where he is.   He created the job and he isn’t qualified for it anymore?

It made me wonder what certifications successful business people have.   Instead of pulling out old Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, I decided to put someone else in recent news out for consideration Sheryl Sandberg current COO for Facebook and author of a new book about women in the workplace.   I searched the internet for her certifications and you know what I found?  NOTHING.   She went to Harvard.. and umm she met her employer Mark Zuckerberg at a party a Christmas party at that!   Wow wow..

Sheryl in a recent interview on her book said that she wasn’t saying that all women are as privileged as she is or had the “CONNECTIONS” that she does but…  In other words, it is all about people.   IT IS ALL ABOUT PEOPLE.

Certification FILTER

I have an idea!  On your job application that you are posting for new hires ask

  1. Name the last five books you have read?
  2. Name the last three to five articles or documents you have read online?
  3. In three to five sentences tell me what you do now.
  4. How would you rate your ability to interact with others?
  5. How would others rate your ability to interact with them?… ask them and tell us the results.

Otherwise you are going to get exactly what the organization needs.  You are reading that correctly.  The organization needs by someone’s list of certain knowledge, skills and abilities and certification is supposed to pre-qualify people for these jobs.  The problem is that certification is a business and it doesn’t take into consideration the needs of a business other than itself. More to come on this in this perspective in the end of this blog.

Clarity on Certification

I personally read every night and study all sorts of information all the time.  I hold certifications and I enjoy the fact that I have learned the information from the courses and these studies.  That is not all that I am.   It shouldn’t be the lens or filter that tells the story of what I can do for an organization and if it is, then I want to be certified in everything or certified in nothing.   My MBA stands with my A+ next to my name, but my MBA represents a body of work that was so comprehensive that I would have tears and brain pain associated with the thought that went into my papers and my testing.  My A+ certification represents something I did over a weekend of cramming.

When I was a computer technician my primary repair guide was YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, before Google stole the show.   I was a self-taught technician and my career has been all self teaching but I am certified in XYZ.    The real and true nature of me is my connection to people and the nature and depth of those relationships. My ability to know when I need help and ask for it.  My ability to share ideas and thoughts and learn from others.  My love of people and my passion for what I do.  You don’t see that in my certifications.

Should We Certify?

My Human Resources degree tells me that we need some mechanism to filter people and find potential qualified candidates for jobs. Certification should be a weighted factor in the big picture of a position.

Francis Bacon said “If you will begin with certainties, you shall end in doubts, but if you will content to begin with doubts, you shall end in almost certainties.”

There are various tools available for decision analysis and consideration of human factors.   How much money is spent on hiring the wrong people?  We need to consider certification as part of continuing education but not the sum total of a persons qualification even as a filter by itself.

What Happened in the End?

I submitted my report with the position description to the PM and followed up with a note concerning the man I met.  In this note, I talked about how this person had a connection with the others in the office and how he may not have a technical certificate but the work performed has met the needs of his management.   I also discussed the costs associated with a transition less a “Tacit Transfer” and that his business value should be considered relative to the custom applications over the known or common factors.    My expectation based on the PM feedback is that he will get  reasonable and fair consideration relative to my commentary and additional factors.


Should you get certified?  Yes, as long as it isn’t the only objective.  Certification should be a demonstration of some K/S/A’s aka Knowledge, Skills and Abilities.   It should be a helpful indicator and potential weight for consideration of employment.  It should not be THE factor and should not be THE filter.   If that is the criteria for success then I want to be Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg or Andy Sandberg for that matter because he is funny.   I am sure that he doesn’t have the SNL certification.  If this is the case of certification then it is my desire to be just “Howie Cohen” and my certifications and other explicit knowledge factors will live in resume as a point as opposed to on my name as part of who I am.



Decertification is just the idea that we are not represented as “Person x MBA, PMP, C|EH, CISSP, EIEIO, XYZ, ABC” but simply “Person x” and those other points of education don’t define WHO we are just some of our accomplishments.