Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Great Divide: Our Inter-Generational Workplace


I remember watching the Superbowl one year with my daughter Annie. At the time she was 7-years-old, and after a few minutes she said to me, "They are just playing for fun, right?" and I said, "No, they are playing for real. They want to win." And she said, "But it's just a game so it doesn't matter who wins, right?" She was a soccer player on our town's recreational team, her team didn't keep score and everyone received a trophy at the end of the season; thus she thought all games were played that way.

This is a common mindset that we see in the generation who will be replacing the Baby Boomers. They are called Gen Y, Millenials or Trophy Kids.  The “everyone wins” philosophy poses some challenges in terms of how to best integrate younger talent with colleagues of other generations who see things very differently. 
Managing an Inter-Generational Workforce

We live during a unique time in workplace history. Walk into any business, and you might find three - sometimes four - generations working side by side: Millenials (born 1980-2000, also called Gen Y), Generation X (1965-1979), Baby Boomers (1943-1964), and Veterans or Silent Generation(pre-1942).

Research indicates that the generation in which an individual grew up influences his or her behaviors, motivators, expectations, and mindset about work. Consider the following vastly different factors.


And between generations, the outcome of those influences on an individual's work may be very different!

So how do you handle these differences in the workplace?

  • Focus on different benefits and aspects of the company in recruiting. When recruiting Boomers, focus on the company benefits and career paths. For Gen Xers focus on short term perks like gym memberships, flex time, monthly or quarterly bonuses, and cash incentives. Millenials care about the organization's commitment to being green, social networks available, community service opportunities, and the various places in the company in which they can work and learn.
  • Use a slightly different coaching approach for each generation. Offer formal training programs (including topics like flexibility, technology, and interpersonal skills) for Boomers. When coaching Gen Xers, discuss development ideas as peers, and then give them independence and empowerment to try new things. When coaching Millenials, allow them to work in teams, and give them specific and timely feedback on their performance.
  • Understand that different generations are motivated by different rewards. When possible, tailor your rewards to the individual who will receive it. For example, a Baby Boomer may prefer a small bonus or gift card, while a Millenial prefers an email thank you with a new, challenging assignment.
Remember that all employees, despite their generation, want to be treated fairly, managed with respect, and given an opportunity to grow.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Thanks for Being a Star. Now I Will Ignore You.



Thank goodness for our "A" players, the ones we count on and those who have stepped up in these lean times to go above and beyond. They are the "easy" ones because they are low maintenance (unlike those pesky low performers that are always setting fires that need to be extinguished). We don't need to babysit them, we don't need to micro-manage them. They know what they need to do and they do it so we can just leave them alone. Right?

Not so fast. In fact, a study done by LeadershipIQ revealed that 47% of high performers were actively looking for another job. Guess how many low performers were actively looking for another job? 17%!

What leadership behaviors unintentionally drive our high performers away? Check this list:

High performers are rewarded by being left alone.

It's a sign of praise and respect to leave someone alone, isn't it?  To tell someone, "I never have to worry about you" is a compliment, right?  Yes, but overused it turns into neglect and everyone, even high performers, want to know that their efforts are being seen and appreciated. Too often we bias our performance dialogue and coaching time to the low performers. Work to touch base with your superstars on a weekly basis.

High performers are given the toughest projects.

We throw the most difficult challenges to our top talent on a continuous basis, often without commensurate reward or recognition. In the worst cases, we ask them to clean up or finish work that the underperformers do not complete, which can lead to resentment. Avoid using your high performers as a constant source of catching up for those not pulling their weight.
We have unrealistic expectations of our high performers.

They are not allowed to have a bad day, complain, miss a deadline or make a mistake. 

We put a tremendous amount of pressure on them that is unrealistic and unfair. Give your "A" players room to not always be perfect and appreciate them for the effort.

They work the longest hours with the highest stress.

Left alone, your high performers are intrinsically driven to achieve and often put in long hours to meet your and their expectations. Unchecked, this can lead to serious burnout and health issues from stress. Tune into them and note when irritability or fatigue is taking a toll. Encourage time off, vacation days or mental health breaks.

They suffer from a lack of coaching and targeted development.

It's easy to assume that since they are a high performer, what more coaching or development can they need? Plenty. Most high performers want to continually improve, learn new things and hate to get bored. Consider ways to expand their scope of responsibilities, use them as mentors, involve them in cross-training, or onboarding of new employees.


Make a conscious effort to not ignore those that make you look good every day, even though they quietly work behind the scenes.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Month in a Minute

Speaking for a new organization and client, Keynote at NASBA, Seattle skyline from the Space Needle, 
While in Boston we had the pleasure of seeing our buddy, Jim Kimberly
September included travel to Boston, Seattle, Indianapolis and Columbus for several events. In Indianapolis, I was a keynote at the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. It was a great audience made up of learning and development professionals that support the accounting field and we discussed the best ways to engage learners by using emotional intelligence. The conference was held at The Conrad and you know how much we travel and how many hotels we visit: I can tell you that this property was a stand-out. The location was great, and the rooms were amazing but that isn’t what made the experience there so memorable. It was the staff and their level of engagement across the board. We arrived late in the evening and wanted to see the ballroom and was greeted by a friendly and welcoming employee who was setting up the foyer. He shared with us many details about the hotel, said he had worked there for over a decade and loved his job. It happened again the next day when we chatted with a bellman who also provided some interesting information with us and again shared how much he enjoyed his job. From the concierge to the front desk staff, employee engagement was evident. We will definitely return to The Conrad on any future visits to the area and highly recommend it to others. The management there definitely has it figured out – impressed!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The 5 Best Interview Questions Ever


Our firm specializes in an intensive and advanced methodology for interviewing and hiring employee's with Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and we are often asked if we could only ask five interview questions, what would they be? We like to do a solid assessment of technical skills and experience first, then focus one or two interviews just on their EQ. There are several areas to choose from, including Self-Awareness, Self-Control, Empathy, Flexibility, and Optimism. No one question will reveal all these competencies, but often one question will reveal the presence or absence of several of these skills. And one more reminder: we always recommend that organizations use the behavior-based technique when phrasing questions.  Simply....instead of hypothetical "What if" or "How would you handle" questions....ask for concrete past realities..."Tell me about a time when..." or "How have you handled in the past when...."

Okay, here we go:

1. "Describe a time when you were unfairly criticized and tell me what the details were."  This question is designed to uncover two things: the candidate's Self-Awareness and their definition of criticism. Be sure to get a specific example from them. The word "unfairly" is important to include as you will be assessing how justified the feedback they received was against their actions. Would a reasonable person think it was fair or unfair criticism? You also want to understand how sensitive they are to receiving negative performance information. Does the example they share represent criticism or feedback? What does your company culture provide most often - criticism or feedback? 

2.  "Think of a time when you had to work with a headstrong co-worker and tell me how you handled it."
Many candidates are concerned about sharing a weakness or failure. Interpersonal communication and proper conflict management skills are vital for team members and interviewers must do an effective job of validating skill levels in these areas. The power of this question is that it asks about someone else, giving the candidate permission to share struggles due to other personalities. It also gives you a chance to glimpse their empathy/understanding of others...do they offer an indication of trying to understand better or help the person or just a superficial judgment based on self-centered reactions? I love to ask this question after a candidate tells me they have "great people skills."  

3. "Share with me the last time you went above and beyond the call of duty.   Tell me about the details and why you did it."
This question is designed to provide an understanding of what the candidate defines as extra effort. Is the example they share something you consider to be of substantial heroics or actions you would expect on a routine basis?  Knowing how recently it occurred will also reveal their level of engagement in the recent or distant past. Lastly, it will be critical to know what motivates this employee to work at peak performance. The hiring manager must ensure that the motivation drivers are present in the current workplace in order to match with the candidate, and not only that but it also reveals what will retain them in your company and whether they would be a fit for your leadership style (a biggy). See our blog - "Motivation Matching" for more on this. 

4. "When was the last time you had to act when there was no policy or formal procedure to do so?  Tell me what you did."
We always recommend that small companies ask this question, most of whom have little in the way of formalized policy and procedure manuals. This question helps you assess the candidate's comfort in "thinking on their feet" when they have come from a large organization or will be working in an environment with little direction or daily support.  Their response may indicate how much they will seek out and need direction from others versus working independently. In highly regulated or high-risk environments, the "right" answer may be a candidate who avoids working outside formal standards of conduct. 

5. "We have all had times when we unintentionally insulted or offended someone at work. Tell me about a time when this happened to you."
This is an excellent roll-up question because is reveals several EQ skills. Do they have the Self-Awareness to know when their behavior has a negative impact on someone else? Do they have the Empathy to see things from someone else's point of view? Do they have the Social Skill to work through conflict and maintain effective relationships? This question requires interviewer confidence and the tenacity to tough it out through uncomfortable silence or a candidate who tries to sidestep answering, but the benefit in doing so shows what you are made of and proves to the candidate who is really in control. 

This intensive interviewing approach is very different from most other interview classes you may have been to. Many of our participants have said that they always thought they knew how to interview but realize that they could be so much more effective for the first time.


Asking the right questions and a strategic approach can make hiring fun and no longer a nuisance to be avoided. We tend to enjoy what we're good at. Hiring is a skill that must be learned, so get out there and get what you need to do your very best and enjoy it along the way. If you are interested in more, we have a formal training workshop available on Strategic Interviewing for Emotional Intelligence, and a new webinar series with one entire session devoted to interviewing for emotional intelligence. Click here for more information on how to register for the webinars.

To learn more about Penumbra's interviewing and selection services, please visit our website at www.penumbra.com.