Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Meet Generation M – Your Future Employees!

By Holger Reisinger

The baby boomers are retiring, and the Millennial Generation is taking over. Here’s the brief wiki on the generation that will soon take over the (corporate) world. That is, if they want to…

If you don’t like receptions, then you’re in for some extraordinarily tough times in the next couple of years.

The reason? Well, the baby boomer generation is retiring, and considering their remarkable accomplishments, they certainly deserve a cheer and – of course – a decent glass of chardonnay and some nice hors d’oeuvres.

While these receptions mark the end of the working life of the largest generation ever to set foot on the face of the earth, they also mark a very interesting beginning. Because the exit of the baby boomers also marks the entry of a new generation which is very different than anything we have ever experienced before. And they will change our perception of working more than the very successful 60s generation ever managed to do.

It’s time to say hello to the M (Millennial) generation. Here’s a short intro to the generation about to inherit the (corporate) world.

The “Me, Me, Me” generation

The M-generation was born sometime between the early 1980s and the year 2000 and is somehow a more refined version of the generations before them. Growing up in wealth and security and – more importantly - with the Internet, has given them completely different norms and values than their parents and grandparents.

Scientific studies of high school and freshmen students conducted since 1966 show that the Millennials consider wealth a very important attribute (45 percent for Baby Boomers and 75 percent for Millennials), don’t think it’s important to keep abreast of political affairs (50 percent for Baby Boomers and 35 percent for Millennials), and do not require a “meaningful philosophy of life” (73 percent for Boomers and 45 percent for Millennials).

Enter the “Me, Me, Me generation,” as TIME magazine teasingly designated them.

The M-generation have been told that they are special from the very beginning. But with the rise of social media, the Millennials have a platform for self-expression never seen before. And they embrace it vigorously, finding their position in life while the rest of us are watching. The M-generation is less concerned with privacy than any generation we have ever witnessed.

While the M-generation may seem very obsessed with themselves, they have good reason to be so. Living their life on social media, most Millennials have grown gigantic networks by the time they hit the labor market. Here, they shape new ideas and solve any challenge at hand. They do it alone – but with the backup of their ever-expanding global network. However, being constantly exposed to new ideas, new people, and a huge diversity of interests, nationalities, and needs, staying true to themselves becomes more important than ever. They simply need to know who they are; if not, they go crazy trying to cope with the immensity of information in their networks.

Meaningful Moments that Matters to Me

However, Millennials also love the connectivity in its own right. And over time, connectivity becomes meaningful in itself. It’s the relationship – not hierarchies or the content of the conversations – that matter. The Millennials will pick and choose whoever and whatever might catch their interest. That’s why some researchers call them the “Meaningful Moments that Matter to Me” generation (as a Harvard blogger wrote with a flair for the poetic in 2009). And that makes them hard for companies to handle.

On top of that, most of the Millennials may not be that interested in working for anyone but themselves. The first Millennials hit the labor market at the beginning of the financial crisis, forcing them to walk the paths of non-traditional employment and education. With no job security, this generation has completely different notions of what “work” really is. And that has, unsurprisingly, also prevented them from just “falling in” with the way most companies traditionally define a job, a career, and “workplace loyalty.”

Changes jobs all the time

Recent studies from Australia show that the Millennials have an annual job turnover rate of 40 percent, with two-thirds of Generation M workers leaving each job they hold within two years. And recent research suggests that 40 percent of all Millennials will be freelancers before the year 2020. The era of the company gold watches for long and faithful service is over.

So here you have your super-employees of the future: self-sufficient, super-connected “Me, Me, Me” types with immense networks where everyone helps each other solve all challenges. The good news is that they will probably be the best employees you will ever have. They are smart, and they constitute the first generation ever truly capable of working in groups.

But… they are also really hard to please. And they don’t take “no” for an answer, not even from a boss. So you need to hurry and find out what makes them happy. The baby boomers are leaving, and the next generation (called the Z generation) are waiting in line to get their share of the labor market. And they are not just connected – they are completely wired in.

Get the Millennials right – and you are ready for the next revolution to come. Have fun with it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Urbanization Will Stop

By Holger Reisinger

Urbanization is killing rural villages all over the world. And the new mega-cities are destroying the environment and quality of life. I have an idea how to make this development stop – by creating the perfect community of the future.

It’s the end of civilization as we know it. And it’s one of the largest challenges for most countries in the world.

Urbanization is changing the demographics and economies all over the world. People move to the major cities, leaving the rural areas empty without any prospects for the future. Village houses are unsellable, and rural communities slowly die out, leaving behind only the oldsters and the outcasts. At the same time, prices for housing are exploding in the cities, forcing people to work longer and longer hours in order to make a decent living.

This development is a major challenge for governments all over the world. The major cities are succumbing to the pollution, congestion, and the social tensions linked to rapid urban development. While the authorities struggle to build the expensive infrastructure necessary for dealing with the pollution, sanitation, and transportation requirements linked to urbanization, the cost of running the rural areas also gets relatively higher, because all the taxpayers travel to the cities leaving the welfare recipients in their wake.

Stress is killing our quality of life

The experts all agree. The megacities are coming, and they are here to stay. But I’m not so sure that the experts are completely correct. Allow me to tell you why.

New ways of working and the harshness of mega-city life will make people return to the open skies and the quiet life of the countryside again. In the future, modern technology will allow them to do that without compromising their jobs.

According to a recent survey by ComPsych, 66 percent of workers are living with sustained, high stress levels. At the same time “work-related stress” is now the primary reason why top performing employees in the U.S. are contemplating leaving their organizations, according to a report by the consulting firm, Towers Watson & Co.

Many of the inhabitants of the new megacities would love to quit the rat race to become rural dwellers again. They’re not living in the city because they want to – they’re there because they have to be.

New ways of working will allow them to do exactly that. With new technology, you can manage your job from anywhere. Broadband access, unified communication, video conferencing, and new types of collaboration platforms will give you online access to your colleagues and all the company’s resources, making you productive and able to create value anywhere in the world.

With cheap housing, open spaces, and a low-pace comfortable lifestyle, the old rural areas will be an attractive place for many knowledge workers to start a new, better life. And, I believe they will start doing so in huge numbers within a few years. That is, if we let them.

We can stop urbanization and build something better

We must help the next wave of new rural knowledge workers a little along the way, in the same way that the U.S. government inspired thousands of pioneers to conquer the wild west back in the old days. Then, the rest will follow, benefitting societies, the environment, and the quality of life around the world.

While the avant-garde of the modern knowledge networkers are ready to work from a distance, traditional thinking in most companies and rural communities is not yet ready to accommodate their wishes. Most importantly, the idea of working from a distance is not widespread enough. While working from a distance is now considered somewhat acceptable within a few job types, like call centers, etc., most employers are still a long way from taking other job types out of their conventional settings.

Today, modern software makes it possible to manage, create, and produce most products. You can even handle the telephone switchboard, purchasing, and meetings online. The technology to do so is there. All we have to do is kill the notion that you have to be in the same building as your manager to work.

And then, we need to secure powerful internet connections and infrastructure in rural areas to accommodate the next wave of (knowledge) settlers.

Let’s try it out!

So here’s a wonderful idea for any enterprising politician eager to stop urbanization and rebuild the pride and economy of his or her rural area. Why not invest in making a super-creative, hyper-connected local community and see how it will draw talent from nearby major cities? All it takes is a progressive local community, willing to provide great schools, cheap houses, and perhaps a few cultural events; somewhere calm, scenic, and remote. Then, we can add a few technology companies to provide the IT-infrastructure and the hardware and software needed to hyper-connect the citizens. And finally, we add a number of big city companies ready to take a chance with the first vacant positions outside the traditional working-from-home jobs for the new rural elite to apply for.

On behalf of Jabra, I hereby promise all citizens taking part in the experiment a free, state-of-the-art Jabra headset to go with their UC solution, making them accessible anywhere, at any time (keeping their managers comfortable even if they are hundreds of miles away).

It may sound like an impossible dream, but unlike the time when visionaries dreamt of flying like a bird or going to the moon, we actually already have the technology to build this dream. And I can assure you, that if municipalities, companies, and the IT-giants get together and dare to try, we will build a nice, thriving community with lots of happy, stress-free taxpayers in a hurry. Soon, any rural town will be eager to follow. And the world will have changed for good.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Exit “Knowledge Worker”; Welcome “Knowledge Networker”

By Holger Reisinger

The era of the knowledge worker is over. Get ready for the new breed of super employees who believe that sharing and connecting is better than tremendous amounts of personal knowledge. Here comes the “knowledge networker.”

Just the other day I saw the most hilarious video of kids trying to explain what their parents do for a living. Never having set foot in a modern workplace, the kids clearly struggled imagining what strange tasks classical knowledge workers are actually performing behind our desks. And, honestly, I personally also struggle to understand when some of my engineering and IT friends start explaining what keeps them busy all day.

I found the clip so amusing that I couldn’t help thinking about how work has changed in the past few decades – and what it will look like in, say, 20 years.

The new breed of knowledge networkers

I guess we can all easily agree that working with knowledge is here to stay. Knowledge is the core of virtually all trades today. However, inspired by, among others, the Kotter Institute’s Ken Perlman, I also believe that a new breed of knowledge workers is on the rise. While the knowledge worker of the present is capable of collecting, refining, and thereby developing new knowledge, the knowledge worker of the future will be capable of much more than this.

The super employees of the future are interlinked in immense knowledge networks where all kinds of challenges are solved, ideas float freely, and people of all backgrounds come together to share their thoughts. These networks will be organic and ever-expanding, based on a mutual understanding that sharing knowledge and expertise will benefit everyone.

Being part of this super network takes new skills. These new knowledge networkers are constantly “connected,” both physically and virtually, sharing their own expertise and knowledge, introducing people to each other, and building new knowledge by combining data from many sources – both known and unknown via the many links in their network. The network is the blood in their lifelines – not the knowledge itself.

Sure, the new knowledge networkers know a lot of stuff. But, more importantly, they also know that they do not know everything. That’s why they are closely attached to a tremendous number of people, and have many different information sources and favors everywhere in their ever-expanding network. To them, sharing and connecting is the new currency.

The new knowledge networker is not really concerned about output, but is exceptionally interested in outcome. In the future it matters less what you can personally provide to the solution. It’s the total outcome you are capable of producing by way of your network that’s important. Crowd sourcing will be the standard – also between competing companies. We already see the frontrunners of this movement today. Just recently, a group only connected on the internet managed to crowd source the complete design for a car in just one year – a task taking most car companies up to ten years.

Data-driven evolution

It’s the current explosion in data that is driving the birth of the new knowledge networker. In 2013 alone, humans generated more data than in the previous 5,000 years combined. Most companies will suffocate from information, and in a few years, not even big companies will be able to fund enough people to track all the knowledge it needs to keep up with the speed of development in their industry.

They have to take in experts from all over the world and utilize their knowledge to be able to compete.
The prize for companies tapping into these services will be complete openness and access to the company’s own knowledge. You have to give something in return. Offices will more or less be a thing of the past. With your knowledge base spread all over the world, you might as well stay at home or meet with the parts of your network that you need to in order to solve today’s tasks in virtual meeting rooms.

As a consequence, the new knowledge networker will completely break down any borders between their work and their personal lives. Work will be done when we are in demand, and the rest of the time we will link with new people, grooming our network, making new acquaintances, and connecting with the acquaintances of our acquaintances, thereby constantly expanding our network.

If my predictions about the future are right, it will be rather easy to anticipate what the kids of the future will say when asked about their knowledge networker parents’ workplace. They will simply say: “Mom and Dad are in our living room networking!”

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Hidden Secret of the Super-Productive

By Holger Reisinger

If you tune into your biological clock, you can do ten hours of work in half the time and stop stress at the same time. All it takes is a piece of paper and a little understanding from your co-workers and your boss. 

Have you ever wondered why some of your co-workers manage to be more productive than the rest of the bunch? You know, those “annoying” elite workers that meet all their deadlines without ever working late? I must admit that it puzzled me for quite some time until recently when I discovered the hidden secret of highly productive people. All it takes is to be fully in tune with your internal biological clock. And here’s the good news: we can all learn how.

The secret to being super-productive lies in the natural circular rhythms between the two hemispheres of our brain. When you are primarily dominated by the left brain side, you are most productive at work. You feel alert and see things straight. When you are primarily dominated by the right brain side, you recover, boost the immune system, and clear your thoughts.

The two are never dominant at the same time. Instead, our brain is hardwired to be dominated by either the right side or the left side in a circular rhythm, normally lasting between 90-120 minutes.This circular movement is called the ultradian rhythm, and it works 24 hours a day, regulating our stages of sleep at night.

The natural rhythm dictates that you can only use your logical, linear left brain for around an hour and a half. After that, you must switch to the right brain hemisphere for roughly 20 minutes. Normally, you start getting drowsy, yawn, and feel a sudden urge to eat and stretch your body.

Unfortunately, most of us do not work according to our natural, ultradian rhythms. Instead of utilizing the productive potential we have in 90 minute bursts, we allow our surroundings to disturb us, thereby depriving us our super-concentrated state of mind. And when the brain orders us to rest, we force ourselves to carry on, pumping natural stress hormones such as adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol into our bodies.

Shortcutting the rest period is a deadly sin. It leaves the brain stressed out and the body fully alert at all times. Over time, the brain will reach a permanent stress mode, and eventually you will get very sick.

How you become super-productive

However, knowing your ultradian rhythms can help you to become immensely effective and productive. All you need is to plan your activities so that you work in exactly the right 90-minute periods during the day, focus on one task at the time, and secure being undisturbed while in the ultra-productive mode.

At the same time, you must cherish the 20-minute breaks when your body is predominantly controlled by the right brain hemisphere. Go for a walk. Have some small talk with your colleagues (if done right, that creates a lot of value in itself, but that’s another matter), or something completely different that doesn’t require too much mental capacity.

If you note how productive and energized you are at different times during the day on a piece of paper, your unique work pattern will soon emerge. After that, it’s up to you to utilize this powerful new information.

The potential of working this way is very well documented. In a famous study, Anders Ericsson showed that all top musicians, athletes, chess players, and writers practice their skills and crafts in the same way: in the morning, in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each, with a break between each one.

The do’s and don’ts of the productive brain cycle

If managed in the right way, most knowledge workers are capable of producing what normally takes ten to 12 hours of traditional work in just three bursts of 90 minutes of work, followed by three 20-minute breaks. No more long hours burning the midnight oil.

This discovery is great news for companies and managers striving to increase work productivity to keep pace with the demands of an ever more competitive market. But it also requires most workplaces to organize work and office spaces in completely new ways. We must supply quiet rooms for people working in open office spaces. We must respect the employees who need some time to themselves and stop mistrusting people who take a short nap or leave the office for a while. But most importantly, we must deal with the “always on” attitude of the modern workplace. In the future, the “off” time is most important.

So there you have it. You can get a whole day’s work done in five and a half hours. All it takes is for you to tune into the vibe of your ultradian rhythm - and stop any disturbances in your super productive periods. In the coming blog posts, I will give you some ideas how you can arrange your work life to do exactly that.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Is Someone Looking Over Your Shoulder?

By Holger Reisinger

During the past few years, controlling our employees’ actions and behaviors to make sure that they are not slacking off has been taken to a whole new level. Interestingly, new research shows that all the effort for control has a completely opposite effect – it is actually killing productivity instead!

I recently visited a webpage comparing different software solutions that monitor your employees’ activities online. The webpage also offered a quick calculation showing how much money you can save by controlling your employees’ behavior, which amounts to around $2,000 per employee per year.

While some of the functionalities of these software products may make sense (like prohibiting employees visiting virus-ridden web pages), others left me quite baffled. Most noticeably, almost all of the software solutions can monitor ingoing and outgoing internet traffic, so you can control employees working from home, locate the position of field workers, and track what software programs the employees use and for how long. In short: spying on your employees’ behavior.

Controlling employees from slacking off seems to be a very integrated part of a modern management style these days. A recent study actually shows that 50 percent of all managers were opposed to “working from home,” and another 35 percent only “tolerated” the concept. And while 49 percent of the managers stated “inability to talk face-to-face” when asked why, a stunning 22 percent stated “no accountability,” and another 22 percent stated “slacking off” as their most common problem with remote workers.

Control is also an integrated part of modern open office space design. With all employees together in one room, managers have a clear view of what’s going on. In theory, that should make employees more productive and ensure that they use the proper procedures when working. At least that’s what numerous academic papers are still claiming, indicating that trust is good - but control is great.

It’s not working

To be honest, I find the mere idea of controlling employees to make sure they are working disturbing. Personally, I would hate to have my superiors controlling my every move. And fortunately, new research shows that such “control” doesn’t work.

While control may make people do more, they are not necessarily doing the right thing. Typically, employees overcompensate and spend too much time making sure they are noticed to please their superiors. They start sending more e-mails, especially to their managers, so that they appear active. And they log on to their computer without actually using it – thereby cheating the company’s IT systems by logging in to prove that they are active. All in all, they spend time doing stuff that does not create value – just to meet the control measures set by management.

The idea of overcompensation is completely integrated into our way of working. Even the renowned TIME Magazine advises remote workers to “…make replying to your managers’ e-mails a high priority. Get back to them promptly so that they trust you’re working, not sleeping or playing video games” in their career strategies article series last year.

The transparency paradox

The phenomenon is called the transparency paradox. According to Ethan Bernstein from Harvard University, it gets worse the tougher the control measures become. Bernstein has studied the transparency paradox for years, conducting a series of field experiments in a Chinese mobile phone factory. He concludes that heavy control makes employees conceal their activities through “secret codes” and other costly means. More importantly, however, creating zones of privacy increases performance. When you leave people alone for a while, they start thinking. Sometimes they come up with ideas that might make the company more productive, more innovative, or a nicer place to work. All of this almost never happens in a super-controlled environment. Privacy creates value.

We have similar results from surveys conducted with knowledge workers. Managers may hate the concept of working from home. Evidence shows, however, that most employees are more effective when they are not continuously disturbed by coworkers at work. That is , of course, unless employees have to overcompensate by bombarding their colleagues with e-mails in order to demonstrate that they are not doing something other than work.

Interestingly enough, research as far back as the 1950s documents that control measures are not necessarily good for value creation. Somehow, decision makers have been more concerned about how you can make control measures work in the corporate environment.

Maybe it’s time to face the facts and focus more on motivation and trust rather than control. Get rid of the control software and use the money on a great face-to-face meeting where you can create a compelling vision for your company along with your employees. And then, leave the poor guys alone so that they can actually get some real work – and thinking - done!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

CEOs, Forget “Technology” and Start Talking “People”

By Holger Reisinger

The top 1,500 CEOs of the world have named technology as the top factor impacting their businesses. I believe that people shaping the technology – and the way they behave – are much more interesting. 

It was all over the news – and with good reason. For the first time ever, the 1,500 top dogs in IBM’s annual CEO survey chose “technology” as the most important external factor that will impact organizations and businesses in the coming years.

As far back as anyone can remember, the two top spots on the official CEO horror list have always been “market factors” and “people skills”; the classical duo straight out of the Harvard Business School curriculum. Suddenly, after five years of financial crisis, globalization, major changes in the workforce, and plummeting revenues, the majority of the CEOs name “technology” as the top driver of their business decisions in the coming years.

It’s easy to understand why. New advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and IT have revolutionized, and will continue to revolutionize, the way that we work, live, and play. The new networked social economy with its smart mobile devices, wearable gadgets, Big Data, and new democratized communications platforms have revolutionized products, operations, and business models within less than a decade.

Back to the future

So there you have it: the top echelons of the business society are back on track, looking the future straight in the eye and are already planning how to cope with – and profit on – this new and challenging “├╝ber-technologized” world. Still, I have this strange feeling inside. I may be committing the sin of hubris, but I am not convinced that technology is the real challenge – it’s what technology does to people!

No matter the grandeur of our technological advances, new technology can never be better than the people using it. It’s not until they adapt to the technology and behave as intended that we have actual progress. Technology is about human behavior – not nuts, bolts, bits, or bytes.

We’ve seen major technological advances many times before. Just think of the IT bubble in the late 90s. The technology companies all went bankrupt, and most of the inventions became redundant and disappeared. They’re long gone, but the mindset lived on, and business was never the same again.
I believe the same thing is happening again. Facebook may be worth trillions on the stock exchange, but my kids are already looking for other ways of expressing themselves.

Technology is about behavior

My point is this: technology is just…technology. And what we are seeing now is not a technological advancement – it’s the birth of an entirely new generation of people with exceptional skills of adaptation, multitasking talent, and a completely new and open way of engaging with people, companies, and brands. It’s not the technology that should concern CEOs, it’s the new breed of homo sapiens called the Generation M (for Millennials or Mobile), that should be on the top of IBM’s CEO focus list.

The challenge is two-fold. First, the CEO must bridge the ever widening gap between the adaptation skills of Generation M and the rest of the workforce, while they all wait for us old-timers to retire and leave the world (and, I guess, also the space) to the fittest.

And, after that, the smartest CEOs will redesign their workstreams, create new workspaces (not places…) and define the new social norms that will fit with the super workers of Generation M. The companies that adapt to the Generation M mindset first will be the ones to rule their industries and beat all of the competition.

A piece of advice from me to the CEOs of the world: free, of course, in the spirit of the young, ultra-sharing Generation M’ers. And a plea to the young people who will revolutionize the world (and pay for my pension). Please take me along for the ride. I know I’m only in adaptability mode 2.0, but I would really like to be part of the spectacle. It’s going to be grand!