Solomon Bruce Consulting Blog

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Are You My Boss? Are You My Friend? Confusion Portends Conflict. Get Clarity.

            In today’s world, many new employees under age 30 default to thinking that the new boss is a new friend. The casual workplace reinforces the situation. And millennials’ personalities add to the challenges.  Studies suggest that millennials have  issues with a superior’s tone of voice in which, with the need for constant feedback and for positive reinforcement. This generation expects extra compensation for any extra effort and gets frustrated easily. The net result is misunderstanding and foggy demarcation between work relationships and relationships with friends.

            It is not uncommon for a new employee to want to fit in, to be liked and to be respected in his/her new position.  That’s universal. But  there is a difference between associations in social settings and interactions between you and the boss.

            No matter what kind of an environment one works in, the boss is the person  to whom we are accountable.  In a start-up that has a flat hierarchy, the boss may be the individual who has funded the enterprise.  Or bosses may be a set of partners who run the company.  In a long established firm, the boss may be the manager, director, or vice president. We all  report to someone, even if we are self-employed. For sole proprietors, the boss is the customer, the individual who buys your product that pays your salary, however grand or meager that might be.

            But with new technological methods of communication -- think Slack,  Googlechat, Campfire, SnapChat, Flowdoc, Facebook, and LinkedIn —there is a propensity for channels to cross over workplace and homelife constantly.  Thus, new employees believe that the way they communicate in social media is acceptable when interacting at work and talking to one’s superior.  This is wrong!  The way in which to address this issue is upfront, upon day of hire. 

            Managers and leaders must  make expected communication style and preferred channels very clear to each new employee.  And different bosses will have difference preferences. Some folks like email. Some want a phone call. Others prefer  in-person conversations.  Older bosses (and workers) are more formal and may expect communication to be similarly formal.  I am very comfortable with just about any channel: email, Facebook, the phone or dropping in. Nevertheless, most new, young employees are not. So managers must tell new team members exactly what the culture is, what expectations are around communication and then re-enforce each and every day.   The boss sets the tone, the style and the preferred channel for interaction and needs to remind his or her team as frequently as possible.

           In summary, our friends will take us the way we are.  Our bosses need us to be the way they expect us to be within their cultures, in their businesses. And for new employees to fulfill those expectations, leaders have to spell it out.  The boss and the employee can have a friendly relationship, but that’s different than being friends.  

Does Your Cellphone Have an Invitation to My Meeting?

             Mobile devices are ubiquitous and invaluable. Folks think they cannot get along without them,  even taking a phone along to  the restroom.  Some employees seem to have a constant need to be checking screen, whether having a conversation  with you, joining you in a meeting, or even during dinner/lunch with a client. They are all-the-time sidekicks.

            Workers who are parents with small children often stress that, “…but it might be the babysitter or day care calling about my child.”  Yes, it could be, but we’ll be done in a couple of minutes, THEN you can check to see who called! Or you might think your attention at a meeting is not critical, so you’ll just spend some time cleaning up your email box.

            Here’s an example of what can happen. A corporate vice president was in a meeting with his team of professionals to develop a strategy to present to a new client.  One of the newer employees, a recent college graduate from a prestigious Ivy League school, continually checked his phone, even as the VP was explaining the role that each team member would play during the upcoming pitch.  The VP minced no words. He stopped in mid-sentence and firmly but clearly said to the newbie, “If you do that ever again in one of my meetings, or in front of a client, you are toast! Got it?”  The guilty employee got it, was embarrassed in front his colleagues, and immediately learned to leave his phone in his briefcase when he attended a meeting.

            In our company, we don’t take cellphones to client meetings.  Why not?  We believe the client/consultant personal interaction most be the primary, important function. Everything else will wait.  We teach our executive coaching clients to silence their cellphones when attending any function or meeting.  Once this habit becomes routine, you won’t miss it. And your client we know that he/she is more important, as they should be, than your phone.

            Why not try it? Leave your uninvited guest in your briefcase or your car the next time you have a meeting with a boss, colleague or client.  Odds are you won’t miss a thing while you are in the meeting.  If you do, it won’t be for long --- just the length of the meeting where you owe your attention to the other human being attending.

But I Like My Rotary Phone! I Know How It Works!

         Now that technology advances are exponential and upgrades or new programs and devices seem to be released every hourly, one needs to keep up with what’s new.  Of course, there are many ways which  to do this. But we’ve got a two-pronged approach that works really well—read the literature and exploit your millennial employees.
            Our youngest team members are digital natives. They  know more about tablets, smart phones,  apps, laptops and social media than their more mature employees.  So capitalize on that knowledge! And the requests create a good way to learn about working together.  We do this —all the time!

            Here’s an example. One young woman works at a big organization at her university during the school year but serves as an intern during the summer. Her internship position is at  a firm that has a mature leader.  She commented to us that her boss was entirely  paper-based—everything has to have a piece of paper with it. At her school, it’s all digital.
“I tried to tell my boss about the advantages of digital, but she is just  more comfortable with her old ways!” 

            T his willing millennial employee could and would teach her boss something about the newest advances in our digital world—if only her leader would consider the opportunity!