Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

In Praise of Middle-aged Employees

At Tribe, we conduct ongoing research on the new generations in the workforce and what Gen X and Y need to be successful employees in companies large and small. But I’m feeling a new fondness lately for my generation, the Boomers, many of whom are in the midst of the most fruitful and rewarding part of our careers.

New research indicates that our brains actually hit overall peak performance only after age 40. In her recent book “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain: The Surprising Talents of the Middle-Aged Mind,” science writer Barbara Strauch cites new neurological studies that indicate that it takes until middle age for the hemispheres to “suddenly begin acting in concert.” So we Boomers will manifest powerful bursts of creativity, faster understanding of complex situations, more sound judgment, and better regulation of our emotions.

Even better, Strauch references brain studies that actually map that welcome by-product of middle age: wisdom. With the brain hemispheres collaborating more seamlessly, not to mention the impossible-to-fake benefits of life experience, Boomers are living proof of those twin traits of age and wisdom.

I often tell younger people that hard things get easier with age. Not just the ability to generate ideas, plough through work and operate at a high level with greater stamina, but also the resilience to absorb life’s blows and keep going. Boomers I know and love have lost jobs, companies, marriages, breasts and beloved dogs and come through the other side intact, if changed.

I once watched two men, a son in his 20s and his father in his 50s, run the Chicago marathon together. Although the son had a much higher level of fitness, he finished far behind his father. At the time, I thought it a striking demonstration of the benefits of life experience. The father came across the finish line exhausted but composed. The son staggered to the finish almost an hour later and looked like he’d been through the wringer of emotions and not fared well in the process.

Of course, it helps to keep the brain sharp. Being engaged in our work, exposing ourselves to new situations, people and ideas, taking on the daily crossword puzzle or a waiting-room round of solitaire or Scrabble™, and maintaining that passion for living all contribute to robust intellectual powers in our later years.

But it doesn’t hurt to know that science supports the notion that we Boomers are just hitting our stride.


Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Gen Z is Even More Gen Y than Gen Y

At Tribe, we’ve recently shifted our research focus from Gen X and Y in the workplace to Gen Z, the kids 8 to 15 now who will be tomorrow’s employees. Gen Z kids are typically the offspring of Gen X parents, who entered the workforce with an expectation of work-life balance that surprised (and sometimes annoyed) their Boomer bosses.

Many researchers just lump Gen Z in with Gen Y and don’t distinguish between the two. In fact, Gen Z does share many traits with Gen Y, such as their comfort with technology, their view of the whole world as their neighborhood and their team approach to leadership. But we are seeing some differences.

One of our initial impressions of Generation Z is that they’re even more Gen Y than Gen Y. While many corporate employers complained that entry-level Gen Y employees felt they were capable of taking on the CEO role at any minute, the Gen Z kids seem to believe that if they’ve done anything once, they’re an expert at it.

Gen Z is also even more connected than Gen Y, if such a thing is possible. These kids are not only using computers, they’re wielding everything from cell phones to iPads. If they’re not old enough to be on Facebook, they’ve probably made their own website to showcase their personal identity. Gen Z not only grew up with the Internet, they have never lived in a world without it.

People often say that this younger generation will end up dealing with all the problems the adults of today are creating in the world. I’d say they’ll be well equipped to take that role on. Recently, I stopped by my 10-year-old son’s bedroom and noticed him drawing plans for some imaginary space station. I mentioned that he ought to try to figure out what to do about the oil spill instead.

Twenty minutes later, he had researched oil cleanup online and crafted a plan that involved a long tube and copious quantities of kitty litter. He also had gone to the BP website and located contact information for someone there collecting suggestions for cleaning up the oil spill and emailed them his proposal. It’s interesting to me that he not only assumed he was capable of solving a problem that was stumping many seasoned scientists, but he also took for granted that he could get in touch with someone at an international company.

When I was a kid, our expectations would have been much different. It took me until I was a young adult to realize that the people in charge of making things happen in the world were regular old human beings, just like me. If there’s an entire generation growing up with the assumption that they can handle pretty much anything, that’s probably not a bad thing. Like I told Sam the night he was working on his oil spill plan, kids his age will be in charge before we know it.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Talent Retention: Do You Promote Before or After?

When do you promote? In this Sunday’s “Corner Office” column in the New  York Times, Adam Bryant interviewed Sharon Napier of Napier + Partners, a well-known ad agency in Rochester. Napier prefers to promote people only after they’ve been doing the bigger job for a while. “We always say when we promote somebody that we hope people say ‘It’s about time,'” she says.

At Tribe, I advocate the opposite approach. If you take someone who’s smart and energized and you promote them a little sooner than they’re really ready for the next job, they will rise to the occasion. This works especially well with the newest generation of employees, our Gen Y folks, who are often accused of thinking they’re ready for the CEO position the day they start with the company. They believe they’re capable of playing a leadership position from the get-go, and if they don’t get the opportunity to experience being stretched and challenged, they’ll get disengaged fast.

We always tell people they can be as big as they want to be at Tribe. But we also tell them they have to figure out the opportunity and grab it. Several years ago, we had an account manager leave unexpectedly, and while we were floundering around trying to figure out who to hire to replace her, another employee quietly started doing the account manager’s job. After a week or so, we finally noticed that she’d taken over the role and gave her the title. It took her about five minutes to move all her stuff into the account manager’s empty office, and none of us ever looked back. She quickly became one of the best account managers I’ve ever worked with.

A huge element of success is being able to see yourself as successful. My experience is that when people are wearing that larger title, they can see themselves filling that larger role. They own the title, and then they very naturally take ownership of the job. That’s what I want: for someone to claim the job and run with it.

Of course, this strategy depends on hiring talented people who can grow quickly. If you’ve got a slacker who’s been coasting for a while, a promotion may not be the best course of action. At Tribe, we hire quickly and fire quickly, and somehow that seems to keep the star talent here longer. If someone has been at Tribe long enough to have us talking about a promotion, they’re someone we’re invested in for the long term. Our role as the management team is to clear the way for them, so they can play larger and larger roles in building a successful company.

5 Reasons Why Social Media Helps Businesses Grow

The New York Times just ran an article called, “Antisocial Networking?” in the Sunday Styles section. The cut line reads: Experts wonder if technology keeps children connected or diminishes their ability to read social cues and interact the old-fashioned way.

The idea I took away from it is that people are worrying that friendship the way we know it is a dying breed due to social networking. I think that’s probably true, but I’m not sure how important that is.

Some of the parents in the NYT article agreed, saying their introverted and shy children were finding the courage to connect online or their busy teen was using it to schedule time with friends. Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer, author of Making Friends: A guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Child’s Friendships, says: “I think it’s possible to say that the electronic media is helping kids to be in touch much more and for longer. And the kids themselves are head over heels in love with technology.”

I agree that kids are really intrigued by technology. Tribe’s own research has revealed that half of kids in Gen Z prefer a technological gift over something “unplugged.” If businesses capitalize on this idea, then that’s something they can take to the bank.

Old ways of doing things get old for a reason. 
It’s true kids text about play dates instead of knocking on doors, but letter writing used to be the main form of communication, too. And we’ve moved past that pretty well. I’m not defiling letter writing for those of you that think it’s a lost art. I agree there is an art to it, but I also like to think that each generation improves on the ideas from the last one.

This feels like a natural progression to me. And, companies that facilitate this natural progression are sure to win on many fronts regarding:

1. Innovation. Social media helps people around the world, in a different building or in the same office to share ideas in a free flow form. Thinking up great ideas is as simple as getting smart people together in a room, but now you don’t need the room. You just need smart people.
2. Engagement. Technology is how younger generations connect with each other inside and outside of work, so they’ll expect to use these tools at work. PowerPoints will become obsolete in the near future. So will long meetings, as they become more focused and productive. In fact, most of our clients are adding interactivity to their portals to facilitate that engagement.
3. Recognition. Social media is a great outlet for peer-to-peer recognition and for recognizing people who aren’t all in the same building. It’s an opportunity to say thanks and to say what you’re thanking them for, so they know what they did right.
4. Development. Social media can make development tools available in a fun, simple style that engages people. And when employees see a clear path for themselves within the company, they’re that much more likely to become engaged.
5. Community. People want to be a part of a community, and in a sense, that’s the whole reason social media has been so successful. People will continue to find new ways to connect with one another, and successful companies will provide the tools for employees to do so. Relationships are formed differently, with more and more friendships being formed between people who have never met.

Gen Y and Gen Z connect by sharing. My colleague’s child just thought up an idea to stop the oil spill in the Gulf. He wrote it up and sent it off to BP. He’s 10, but I heard his idea and thought it was pretty darn good. I bet he gets some sort of response. And, as he grows up, he’s going to continue to use the Internet as a channel for sharing ideas. Someday he could help solve world hunger or help protect the earth by solving a problem, like the oil spill of the future – whatever that is.

A true sign of success is when something “just is”. Despite all the times I just said social media, at Tribe, we don’t use the phrase “social media” much anymore. Well, at least not as much as we used to. And, trust me, we’re into it, but we’ve adjusted our language to focus more on the channel’s value and benefits than the channel itself.

We’ve found that talking about “social media” distracts people from why they should use it in the first place. It’s too new. It’s too 2009. It’s too fast. It’s too raw. It’s too time intensive. Also, people tend to immediately think “Facebook” or “Twitter” when those sites are just the tip of the iceberg.

When talking with clients, I’ve taken to using social media and online communications interchangeably. To us, social media is simply online communications, but dished up in a two-way format rather than more traditional static one-way communications. The spirit of interchange and idea sharing are what takes “online” to the next level of socialness.