Seeking Greener Pastures

Who remembers the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff? It was one of my favorites growing up and if you’ve never heard it before it goes something like this: Three billy goats (one small, one medium, and one large) run out of grass on the hill where they live and decide they must move to the next hill where there is plenty of green, delicious grass growing. However, in order to get there the three billy goats must first cross a bridge, guarded by a hideous and hungry troll. One after the other the billy goats trick the troll into letting them pass, until the largest billy goat finally defeats the troll for good and all three of the billy goats live happily ever after in their new, greener pasture.

It’s a simple story, but it’s one that has created one of the more commonplace expressions we often hear,  “the grass is always greener.” And, ironically, even though the Billy Goats defeat their challenge and are successful in their pursuit of moving to greener grass, the lesson that has come out of this story over generations is to be thankful with what you have and where you are. Today, the grass is always greener means that while you may think that someone else has it easier or better than you, you don’t really know what their life, job, relationship etc. is really like, and so you should be happy with what you have.

And while some parts of that lesson still hold true, in the business world more employees are seeking greener pastures than ever before and a far greater number of them are willing to cross their bridges. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American will have held three to four jobs by the time they are 32 and our reasons for changing jobs are a little different than you might expect.

According to a survey conducted by Korn Ferry in January, 2017, 73% of employees actively seeking new jobs were not motivated by the promise of more money, better benefits, or nicer bosses, but by the hope of finding a more challenging position at another company. In fact, the same survey found that in many cases, people were actually willing to take an initial pay-cut if it meant working in a more stimulating role.

That’s a pretty staggering statistic when you stop to think about it. 73% of active job seekers (a majority of whom are young professional) are willing to work for less if their new job is more interesting than their current one. And the same survey also found that 76% of job-seekers were looking at new roles within their current career field, in their same city, and with similar job descriptions. So if people are seeking jobs similar to their own in the same field, and are willing to work for less, are most of them just…bored with their current job?

Possibly. Boredom is an increasing problem in corporate America. According to Udemy’s recent report Battling Boredom Blues, 43% of U.S. employees are bored at work and more than half of those who claimed to be bored said that they were bored for more than half of their work-week. And while it would be easy to discount boredom as either laziness or a poor, disgruntled attitude among your employees, boredom can often times be one of the first contributing factors towards a talent drain.

Boredom is inherently a lack of drive, which in a business setting can directly correlate to how employees view their future at a company. Simply put, if there’s no where to go up the ladder, or work on the best projects, or travel, or earn bonuses, then why should I even bother? And the short answer is, I won’t. Today, instead of just sitting in their cubicles and waiting until the end of the day, bored employees leave. Just like the Three Billy Goats, if they’re not getting the nourishment they need on their current hill, your employees will simply move to another one.

And while this higher mobility can seem depressing to recruiters and HR leaders, I would argue that it actually offers an interesting opportunity. If boredom is pushing folks out, then that means that intrigue is pulling them in. Instead of staring idly at a computer screen, most employees are hungry for continued development and challenging opportunities. And acknowledging this can provide a keen retention advantage for companies, particularly in regard to young professionals.

Just like being an innovative company doesn’t require beanbag office chairs and free beer in the lobby, offering challenging and complex opportunities to young professionals doesn’t mean suddenly turning over the keys to the company. Supervised-involvement in top-priority projects, inclusion or observation in high-level meetings, and investment in professional development opportunities go a long ways towards improving employee morale. And beyond just expanding visibility moments within a company, the most successful managers will be the ones who can find the balance between assigning necessary, daily tasks and establishing more accelerated development goals for their employees.

Despite our commonplace expressions, just like the Three Billy Goats today’s workforce is going to wander to where the grass is the greenest. So in order to keep the best goats on your hill, you better make sure that you invest in keeping your hill fresh and green.

What do you think about your company’s development offerings? Would you consider changing jobs for a pay-cut if you knew you’d get to work on more challenging projects? Let us know! Head back to Base Camp to join the conversation!


Everybody Loves a Good Story

One of the questions we hear at the midpoint of one of our programs or coaching engagements is: “How do you know so much about our business?” There are some special companies that we know pretty well, but what we tell many groups is it feels like we know you because we’ve shifted your storyline to what your listeners value about you. We may not know you in and out, but we know the listeners sitting in your audience.

And, our response to skeptical clients is the same. When someone wants help building a compelling storyline, we sometimes hear, “You don’t know our business well enough.” And, my response is always: “It’s your job to know your business. It’s my job to know your listener.”

As we’ve dug deeper into storylines and storytelling, we’ve quantified the perspective of the listener to better understand their interest and appetite for stories. The quantitative results aren’t pretty; most listeners are frequently frustrated and bored by dry content. And, I think we probably all knew that. But, the level of frustration is something that every communicator should sit up and take note of.

We wear listeners out. There is a dichotomy in our lives as listeners.  On the one hand, there has never been so much creativity in how people grab our attention in our personal lives. From videos to songs, Facebook to Instagram, we get expression and we love it! We have shortened our attention span to capture thoughts in a single caption or a two-minute YouTube clip.

Then we go to work. We’re asked to sit in meetings, presentations and conference calls. Most people do this at least twice a day; some do this all day.  It isn’t short, it isn’t expressive and we are exhausted by it.

Our research shows that 60% of listeners go to presentations and meetings where they are unsure of what they will be asked to do with content and what they should have done to participate in the discussion. In fact, 30% go further and say they don’t know why they were invited, what the topic is and who the presenter will be.

At a time when businesses are so focused on their customer’s voice and personalizing every aspect of marketing, how can we be so bland in most of our presentations?

Listeners say that presentations are hit or miss.  Half of the time, presentations are rarely memorable, they are frequently too long, they are rarely entertaining or enjoyable and can be a waste of time at least half of the time. Yikes!

And while our attention spans are short, as listeners we’d prefer a presenter who is a great storyteller and who takes time to develop a storyline on a topic than someone who is too brief, even if knowledgeable and factual. That’s surprising since the feedback that many presenters get is, “you need to get to the point; you’re too long winded.”

That’s real feedback. We’ve worked with many communicators who ramble and just can’t make their point clearly.  But, what listeners really want to know is what’s your point AND where is the storyline going? And when they know both, then they are more than willing to join you on the journey.

But the challenge is that the journey itself may not be entertaining enough to hold the listeners’ attention.

According to our conversations with listeners, business communicators need to make story content more memorable and repeatable. It’s a tall ask because telling stories takes confidence, and it takes a physical effort to animate a story in a way that listeners find entertaining and engaging.

Only 22% of listeners frequently hear stories that are memorable. And listeners say that stories would be more memorable if the presenter were a better storyteller and if the story aligned better to the topic. So, it isn’t just about entertaining the listener. It’s more about connecting with them, and it takes work to align stories to storylines in a way that makes a point personable and relevant to a listener.

And even if you’ve accomplished that, it may still not be enough to be repeatable! You’ve experienced great communicators who tell a memorable story. But as a listener, you don’t repeat it or use it. And, that defeats the point of storytelling.

Only 18% of listeners say that they repeat stories that they hear in a business setting. That’s interesting to contrast with how often we repeat stories in our personal life. We can’t wait to share someone else’s story if we relate to it or took something away from it.

But, it doesn’t happen often in business. Listeners say that stories have to connect with them. Stories have to involve some emotion from the storyteller and audiences like to be surprised by the direction or twist in a story. It is a tall order for communicators, and most people draw the line before they get really good at it.

People who like to tell stories say that storytelling is natural for them. It helps them connect with an audience and drive a point home. And, people who don’t tell stories say it makes them uncomfortable because they just aren’t good enough at presenting to take the risk. They worry that a story will fall flat and not connect with the listeners and they think it’s difficult to find business relevant stories.

It sounds as if there’s no middle ground, but there should be. That’s why we wrote the book and teaching a program about storylines and storytelling. It isn’t a skill that should only be reserved for the best communicators. It’s a skill that every communicator should embrace and leverage to connect business content with listeners.

Our research shows listeners want stories, and they need stories to repeat your points!

We knew this. We just needed to prove it, and our research shows that listeners are a little more frustrated than even we realized.

So, are you ready to be memorable and repeatable?

If you are, you should join us for one of our programs, Connecting Stories to Storylines. Or, if you’d prefer to read more about our research, you’ll have to stand by. We’ll publish what others are learning in our programs by the end of the year.

But even while we’re writing, we’re always here when you need us.

Missing the Millennial Mark

I was recently at a learning conference in San Francisco and, as has become the norm at these type of events, there was a speaker who was presenting on the topic of “The Millennial Mindset.” The speaker himself was in his mid to late-forties and he began with the usual tropes.

“Millennials are just different.” “Millennials are self-entitled.” “They’ve grown up in a different world.” “They have very little understanding of the corporate world.”

It was not a very engaging talk to listen to, but it was interesting to watch the different reactions across the audience. While several senior HR and Sales managers were nodding their heads in agreement with the presenter, “Oh, I’ve been there with my millennials,” nearly every millennial in the room tuned out of the presentation almost immediately. Two of them stood up and left the room, several pulled out their phones or laptops, and one sitting next to me leaned over and asked me, “Man, can you believe this crap?”  

It’s not my intention to bash the speaker, but rather to highlight the disconnect between how he and the more senior leaders in the audience viewed the topic of “The Millennial Mindset,” and how the actual millennials in the room (the very subjects being discussed!), disagreed. And this level of disconnect isn’t rare. Over the past few years I’ve listened to dozens of presentations about millennials (and even a few by millennials themselves), and each time the vast majority of the younger audience did not resonate with what the speaker was saying, and could not have been less interested in listening.

So why is that? Well, it would be easy to say that the disconnect is simply that millennials don’t like being told about themselves, particularly by someone not of the same generation. And based on many of the exasperated looks I’ve seen during some of these talks, that’s definitely a part of it. But beneath that initial discomfort, there’s a larger communication gap that’s increasingly common in the way senior leaders think about millennials.

In our previous post “Teamwork at Work?” we discussed how Gen-Y is much more synonymous with collaboration and shared working environments than previous generations. We even found that when most people visualize a millennial, they picture a group rather than an individual. And therein lies the disconnect as to why so many senior leaders and managers miss the mark when thinking about and planning for Gen-Y. While millennials want to collaborate and work as a team, they want to be evaluated and measured individually. And the truth is, not all millennials are the same!

Let’s take a quick look back at the presentation in San Francisco. I told you that there were millennials in the audience and chances are, you probably pictured folks who looked and acted quite similar. But millennials are a far more diverse crowd than most people realize. The two millennials who stood up and left the speech were in their early twenties and worked at tech start-ups; the one’s who pulled out their phones and laptops were in their late twenties and worked in the airline, media, and consulting industries; the one sitting next to me was in his mid-thirties and worked in finance.

That’s a pretty diverse crowd, but based on their age alone, they would all be classified as millennials. And that’s really the biggest hurdle to overcoming the generational gap described above. The presenter started his speech with broad strokes of “Millennials are this,” and “Millennials are that,” but who is he actually talking about? In that hotel ballroom he had folks born in the 1980s and folks born at the turn of the century, and the way he structured his remarks suggest that they’re one in the same. That’s grouping nearly 34% (Pew Research Center, 2016) of the workforce as a one personality!

That’s a pretty big miss when you stop to think about it. My sister is only three years younger than I am, and just the other day I had to explain to her who Carmen San Diego was, because she had no idea who I was talking about. Taking that idea a bit further, when Snapchat, a quintessential and stereotypical “millennial social media craze,” came out in 2011, some millennials were just graduating high school, while others already had several years of work experience under their belt. Those two employees may both be “millennials”, but they just simply aren’t the same kind of employee.

There’s a huge difference between 22 and 35, and there’s even the same difference between 22 and 26. It’s not a secret, millennials will tell you so themselves! Someone in their early twenties, fresh out of college may feel like who we all generally think about as a millennial, but I promise you that most 30 year-olds don’t think of themselves as millennials. To a 35 year-old, a 22 year-old engineer is an untrained newbie, someone not of the same mindset or past experiences, and to a 22 year-old, a 35 year old manager is part of the company old-guard. So it’s not much of a surprise that when these two different millennials hear someone speak about their generation with broad strokes they both tune out immediately. Think about it this way: If you’re lumping an orange in with an apple and addressing them both only as fruits, then neither of them will really believe that you understand their needs.

As much as senior leaders and managers may wish, there is no magic millennial formula. If there was, I’d have only written a single post and been done with Base Camp in an afternoon. Instead, millennials really just want to know that you have a plan for them and that it’s one that they themselves can specifically buy into. Rather than have a cookie cutter approach of “Oh, you’ll love it here because we understand millennials (*wink),” leaders need to make a specific effort around addressing the norms, expectations and goals of their new employees every year.

Millennials are not a different species, we don’t have antlers or tails or (contrary to what your dad thinks), speak in gibberish. And when someone begins a discussion around Gen-Y employees with sweeping statements of “millennials do/act/behave like ______,” they’ve already lost a lot of legitimacy with the audience they’re trying to motivate. If walked into my old dorm today I’m sure that it feel like a completely different world to me. Those “kids” would seem so young to me, and I’m guessing that’s precisely what someone in their mid-thirties thinks of me every time I sit down across a conference room table from them.

The social and technological changes that created “the millennial” didn’t happen in a day, and so it would be foolish for us to assume that one day we can have an orientation on-boarding group of Type 1 Millennials. Norms change and what was a perfect mark for your 2011 hires, may be a complete miss for your 2018 hires. Just think about how different the culture of the first generation of Apple computer users is from the culture of Instagram wizards of today. And companies that acknowledge this and shift the way they think their early career workforce will be the ones that attract and retain “millennial” talent.

What do you think about the way your company approaches Gen-Y? What about this crazy new group of Gen-Z on the horizon? Head back to Base Camp to join the conversation!