Friday, August 31, 2007

Masters of the Breakthrough Moment


by Sally Helgesen For 50 years, Edith and Charles Seashore have taught people how to make organizations productive by confronting conflict and misunderstanding head-on.

In a conference room in Columbia, Md., 78-year- old Edith Seashore sits among 24 young men and women, about half of them U.S. Navy officers or civilian employees working for the Navy. The group, seated in a circle, has come together for a course called “Working with Differences.” Ostensibly focused on diversity, the session is really set up to teach people how to confront the unspoken conflicts, fears, and resentments that make life in organizations painful and unproductive. And as if on cue, right off the bat, two of the participants have gotten into a dispute.

Photographs by Steven Edson

It seems that Patrick, a naval medical center commander, was deputized to act as timekeeper during the session’s “check-in,” or opening introductions. Now the group is running behind schedule. When another participant, a consultant named Michael, asks him to account for this, Patrick shrugs and says he didn’t let anyone run past the allotted two minutes. Michael persists in questioning him, and after a few minutes of argument, Patrick assumes the authoritative tone that one associates with a naval commander: “I believe we’ve covered this. It’s time to move on.”

People nod, relieved to bring this tedious dispute to a close. But then, as the group begins to analyze its first case study (a difficult conversation that one member needs to have with her boss), a feeling of awkwardness remains in the room. People fidget in their chairs or cross their arms. Finally, a participant breaks in: “I have to speak up!” She turns to Michael. “I know we’ve moved on, but I can’t help feeling irritated by how you handled the business with Patrick.”

Michael, she says, had himself been so abrasive and authoritarian in manner that the rest of the group felt intimidated. Another group member seconds her view. A third asks why Michael himself didn’t make his point earlier, when it might have hurried things along. Someone else remarks that Patrick never gave a satisfactory answer to Michael’s question.

Edith Seashore — small, poised, and confident — sits silently and observes. Although the group is splintering into disarray and contention, she seems immune to the typical group leader’s instinctual urge to jump in and set things right. Indeed, like her husband, Charles Seashore (they are known to students and colleagues around the world as Edie and Charlie), Edie is a connoisseur of disturbance, a master of those awkward moments of conflict and unease that most of us prefer to gloss over, move past, get beyond. But it takes time for such moments to surface in a typical group, so Edie holds back, allowing the tension to build and watching as misunderstandings surface.

When at last she speaks, it’s with a quiet but clear authority that pulls the whole group back from the melee. “I think we’re all noticing a couple of things here,” she says. “One is that Patrick and Michael have both been acting on the assumption that they’re right. This often happens when people are in conflict; each one keeps asserting his position. It upsets people around them, as we see reflected here. And the upset doesn’t go away just because the group tries to ignore it. So everyone ends up in a difficult conversation, even though they are trying to avoid one. It’s a little thing, but it’s a big thing too.”

Michael says, “This is what makes groups so difficult.”

Edie laughs. “This is what makes groups so interesting!”

Before long, Patrick is musing with the group about the episode. “Being a military officer,” he says, “I’m trained to move on quickly, because I always have to be prepared for the next action. And some of my staff say I seem unapproachable. I think this may be part of the reason.”

Deborah, an administrator at the hospital that Patrick commands, cuts in. “I’ve been uncomfortable all morning,” she says. “I kept wishing Edie would intervene. But she held back. She had the confidence to let things get really messy.”

Edie asks, “And what does that teach you?”

“It teaches me that being a leader doesn’t mean avoiding the mess of conflict, but helping people learn from the mess.” She beams. “This is why I came here today!”

Patrick nods. “I think I could say that too.”

It’s a typical Seashore moment — a small thing, as Edie might say, but also a big thing. Her patience in waiting for the right moment to intervene, and her skill in helping the group members see themselves as an outsider would see them, have led to a breakthrough. Suddenly, people like Patrick and Deborah recognize how their habitual ways of speaking and acting shape their relationships with co-workers, and thus set the direction of their overall workplace.

This type of experience is the primary building block of group awareness. It feels surprising when it happens: Participants sometimes refer to it as the “big aha.” But in fact it is the intentional result of a refined set of practices used to make interventions in groups. For more than 50 years, Edie and Charlie Seashore have been developing and honing the subtle art of helping people learn from difficult conversations. They are pioneers in, teachers of, and probably the most influential living advocates for the art of the breakthrough moment. Productivity and creativity in the workplace, in their view, occur when members of a group or team wade together into the muck of confusion and unspoken assumptions in order to surface concerns and conflicts that get glossed over in the rush of daily life.

“Organizations can’t change unless people change,” Edie explained not long after the workshop, “and the most efficient and powerful way to help people change is in small groups. You can affect the whole system if you work with the group.”

The design of virtually every prominent effort in recent decades to make organizations more productive — organizational development, the famous GE Work-Out program, high-performance teams, 360-degree evaluations, diversity awareness, the recent management interest in peer coaching — can be traced back to this fundamental insight. There are, of course, hundreds of people who have experimented with small groups and used them to make organizations more productive, and many of them are influential: Edgar Schein of MIT, Chris Argyris of Harvard Business School, Warren Bennis of the University of California at Los Angeles, and Jerry Harvey of George Washington University are a few of the well-known management thinkers who emerged, at least in part, from the same tradition. But the Seashores have been at the center of the field for so long that they are uniquely identified with it. Their patience, persistence, and sheer passion for working with small groups — thousands upon thousands of them, decade after decade — have spread the practices they’ve honed over many years into the mainstream, in organizations as diverse as the Defense Mapping Agency, the National Institutes of Health, IBM, and AT&T. In courses the Seashores have designed and taught at American University, Fielding Graduate University, and the National Training Laboratories (itself the original seedbed of organizational development), they have influenced thousands of people who have made fixing organizations the core of their professional enterprise.

As Professor Bennis puts it, “Their major impact has been far more important and has had a much wider horizon than any single discipline. They helped to create, from the time they started in the 1950s and ’60s, a new social awareness in organizations. And on a personal level, they are two of the most transformative figures I know — change agents, if you will — who have inspired all around them.”

Toolkits for Democracy It’s a few days after the “Working with Differences” workshop, and Edie Seashore is recounting the breakthrough moment to Charlie in their kitchen. They live in a penthouse apartment in Columbia, a planned community conceived in the 1960s as a mixed-use, racially diverse D.C. suburb. Being with the two of them is like spending time with a pair of highly intelligent stand-up comics who couldn’t look more different from each other, but whose routines and timing have been perfected over the years. Edie is smartly dressed and vivacious, with the quick wit and rapid-fire speech of a New Yorker (she grew up in northern New Jersey). Charlie, at 74, is tall and rumpled, with tufts of white hair standing on end, a slow-burn Midwestern pace, and a mischievous desire to constantly provoke a laugh. Earlier today, he stopped at a deli with a female visitor who ordered a meatloaf sandwich. Charlie turned immediately to the teenage waitress. “According to my research,” he said good-naturedly, “only 12 percent of women ever order meatloaf. Would you say that’s what you find here too?” An impromptu mock-academic colloquium ensued, with customers and other staff members getting drawn into a discussion of gender and lunch preferences, until everyone in the restaurant realized the absurdity of the situation and joined in the laugh.

Now, back at the apartment, Charlie recounts a mentoring session he conducted with a student at Fielding Graduate University — a school for mid-career professionals seeking advanced degrees in the behavioral sciences, on whose faculty he has served since 1985. The student had misinterpreted an assignment. “She said, ‘That was a terrible thing I did!’ And I agreed, yes, it was terrible. It was so bad that I wouldn’t be surprised if you ended up going to jail. But please don’t be too worried, we’ll help you find the best lawyer. In the meantime, is there anything I can do?”

Charlie explodes into laughter. Edie rolls her eyes. “Can you imagine, 45 years of this?” Pragmatic and down-to-earth, she is prone to quick retorts and sharp, incisive comments, whereas Charlie — who spent much of his early adulthood performing as a unicyclist, ladder walker, juggler, and clown — is more apt to draw out the absurdity of a moment in improvisations that operate, as he puts it, “at the edge of goofiness.” In his serious moments, Charlie’s relaxed and deliberately informal manner immediately puts others at ease.

“His gift is for asking those real-time questions,” says Cindy Miller, a Ph.D. candidate at Fielding who is training director at a major California biotech company. “Charlie will say, ‘This is what I think is going on, but I’m wondering if I’m just imagining it?’ It sounds simple, but it’s the hardest thing to do because you have to be aware on a moment-by-moment basis. Most people don’t take time to do that in complex organizations where everything is moving fast. But without that quality, most so-called leadership development is merely coaching for behaviors. Being aware of yourself and how you affect everyone around you is what distinguishes a superior leader.”

When visitors join them in their Maryland condo, Edie is quick to ask about their personal lives — marriages, children, the personalities of family members. Charlie is likely to leap into a long and thoughtfully detailed discussion of how attitudes toward groups have changed over the last half century. During this same afternoon at the kitchen table, for example, he begins diagramming the cultural history of group dynamics. There was the upsurge of interest in small groups following World War II, when people were wary of hierarchy because of fascism’s legacy; the fear of small groups as Communist cells during the Cold War; the flowering of group consciousness in the 1960s and early ’70s when grassroots activism took hold and people made a point of questioning authority; and the growing suspicion of small groups in our own era, provoked by public fear of terrorist nodes. Threading through Charlie’s graph is the trend of individual empowerment; the use of small groups, in the Seashores’ view, has made individual decision making more competent and helped organizations become more open to it.

Over the course of their long careers, Charlie and Edie have been instrumental in shaping three managerial disciplines. The first emerged in the business world in the 1950s: group dynamics, or the study of small group interactions as they occur in real time. The second, dating to the 1960s, is organizational development (OD), the practice of making organizations more effective by building up their members’ individual and collective capabilities. The third, diversity awareness, started in the 1970s and ’80s, when people of different races, sexes, ages, sexual orientations, and backgrounds needed help in working together and charting their careers. These three fields have gone in and out of favor with managers and leaders through the years, in part because they have often been practiced unevenly. They have at times been dismissed as ineffective, difficult to implement on a large scale, or simply “soft.”

Yet at their best, these disciplines have introduced a reliable set of methods for achieving authentic relationships in the contemporary workplace. During the “organization man” era of the 1950s and early ’60s, most organizations were secure, stable, and multilayered bureaucracies — almost designed to avoid authentic conversation in the name of standardization and the mass economy. But the rapid technological changes and fierce global competition that characterize today’s intense and evolving environment have forced many organizations to rely on the speed and creativity of high-performing, self-organizing teams, rather than on the command-and-control of traditional hierarchies.

In their work with groups, notes Warren Bennis, “Edie and Charlie breathe and exude transformation as seriously as Buddhist monks practice their teachings.” They are known not just for sparking moments of insight, but also for teaching others to do the same. In 1997, they incorporated many of these techniques into an influential book called What Did You Say? The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback (coauthored with computer scientist Gerald M. Weinberg; Bingham House, 1997). They see this practice as a way to cultivate not just capability in organizations, but democracy — the spread of skills, power, and decision-making authority throughout an enterprise.

In the 1980s, for example, Edie Seashore served as a consultant to the major general who directed the U.S. government’s Defense Mapping Agency, helping him rethink the role of the central bureaucracy. The mapping officers at headquarters had long seen their role as disseminating battlefield images to the soldiers on the ground. Edie helped them understand that the soldiers on the front lines were the real experts and decision makers. They needed the mapping officers to serve as a service bureau — gathering information from field reconnaissance and translating it into simple, straightforward maps that soldiers could use in rapidly changing conditions. To the Seashores, decentralized authority, although it is messy and difficult to control, continues to thrive because it works. But it is always under pressure from leaders who fall into authoritarian habits, even if they pay lip service to change.

“We keep hearing that OD is dead,” complains Edie Seashore at the kitchen table. “We hear that change management has replaced it. But change management is about driving change from the top, and reasserting hierarchy. It’s a way of talking about change but not changing anything.”

Charlie adds, “What’s really needed is to create enough managerial agility to enable people throughout the organization to keep learning so they can adapt to an unpredictable environment. And the way you do that is in groups.”

Roots of Perspective The idea of the small group as the premier vehicle for fostering organizational change can be traced back to the guilds and monasteries of the Middle Ages, and was influenced both by the cooperative movement of the 19th century and by 20th-century psychological research. But for 50 years, the most influential center for studying the role of groups in organizational change has been an institute called the National Training Laboratories (NTL). Kurt Lewin, a social psychologist who taught at the University of Iowa after fleeing his native Vienna in the Nazi era, designed the institute with several of his students in 1947. Professor Lewin saw small groups as ideal laboratories for observing forces of cohesion, disruption, and challenge in microcosm, since such forces were too complex to discern in larger social systems. He and his students envisioned an experimental setting where researchers could in a systematic way lead groups and study the forces that held them together or drove them apart.

Charlie and Edie Seashore on their property in Bethel, Maine.

Though Professor Lewin died of a heart attack several months before NTL opened, his students started it on schedule and ran it every summer from 1947 through the late 1960s. Purposely remote in a far western corner of Maine in order to provide a “cultural island” uncontaminated by daily concerns, NTL offered intense three-week sessions called “T groups” (T for training), led at first only by the most eminent social scientists in the field. Participants included up-and-coming academics, along with senior executives from major companies (TRW, Digital Equipment, Esso, various oil refineries, and the wonderfully archaic-sounding Doughnut Corporation of America) who could afford NTL’s hefty fees. Many well-established practices of group process were pioneered at NTL: giving feedback, conducting “check-ins” to begin meetings, sitting in circles, using flip charts, scribbling on big pieces of paper taped around the room, collaborating on visions for the future, and forming “fishbowls,” or groups set up in the center of a larger circle to interact while those around them observed what they were doing. The institute’s leaders, called “fellows,” established organizational consulting practices and thus carried what they learned to corporations, educators, military units, health-care providers, religious leaders, associations, and communities around the globe.

The personal history of the Seashores is inseparable from NTL. They both came as students. The then Edie Whitfield had been student body president of Antioch College, a prestigious liberal arts college in Ohio. She was also a protégé of Antioch’s President Douglas McGregor, who was author of The Human Side of Enterprise, a pathbreaking 1960 book about humanistic management. Introduced to NTL in 1954 by her mentor, Edie was an instant hit — a self-possessed college girl thriving among the accomplished and idealistic, but somewhat stiff, professors who congregated there. Charlie Seashore arrived a few years later with a more conventional resume. He was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, from a family of well-known psychologists; his grandfather had been instrumental in bringing Kurt Lewin to the University of Iowa. Charlie was a group dynamics natural; he disliked the detachment of conventional social science research, wherein experimenters were so intent on remaining “objective” that they would barely talk to their subjects or help them with their problems. What good was a social science research project if it didn’t improve people’s lives?

Neither Edie nor Charlie was typical of NTL. Charlie’s love of clowning and laughter could lead others to miss his underlying seriousness of purpose. And Edie, while popular, was “basically a mascot,” she recalls. “I was cute and funny and the guys liked having me around even if they didn’t know what to do with me.” For nine years, less-skilled and less-experienced trainers were named fellows while she was turned down, partly because she had no Ph.D. (the prospect of getting one bored her) and partly because she was a woman, a condition to which fellows could then still openly object. “T groups were basically devised by men,” she later recalled, “to teach other men the kind of collaborative skills that often come more easily to women. I think the men feared that once they let women in, women would run away with the program.”

The fear was not unfounded. In the mid-1950s, rather than subject the male participants’ wives to one more shopping trip through Maine’s woolen mills, the faculty decided to start a spouse group. It was the only women’s group at NTL during its first two decades, and it struggled until Edie volunteered to take over. “The participants said, ‘So this is group work? We can do this!’ They ended up entering the field, teaching NTL sessions, getting Ph.D.s, divorcing their husbands, completely changing their lives,” she says. Women consultants, tiptoeing quietly out of the NTL closet, suddenly found a distinct managerial role in organizational development work — a role that is taken for granted now, but was revolutionary then.

Edie set up shop as a consultant in New York in the 1960s, her serene confidence in her own instincts her most formidable asset. At first she worked primarily with religious and community groups — then considered suitable work for a woman — but she soon began to make her name with business and then military clients. She often had dinner in New York with Douglas McGregor, who was then consulting for Standard Oil. One evening, Edie asked him the secret of his success, and he gave her the advice on which she would build the rest of her career. “I listen, and I listen, and I listen,” he said, “and then I come up with one good idea that impacts the organization and makes me worth every penny they pay me.”

Edie adopted “one good idea” as her personal motto. Fred Miller, CEO of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, who has worked with Edie Seashore for many years, sees her success as rooted in this approach. “Edie dispenses wisdom in short doses, little insights that people can assimilate as they go along,” he notes. With her self-invented career and indifference to academic qualifications, Edie, says Mr. Miller, “is credentialed by her practicality, and by her engagement.”

Edie was Charlie’s first trainer at NTL. They worked together occasionally in the late 1950s, while she was building her business in New York, and he was finishing his Ph.D. in Michigan. In 1961, Charlie proposed to a woman named Sandra, using this line: “If you married me, your name would be Sandy Seashore.” She turned him down. Later that summer, working with Edie, he mused absentmindedly: “If you married me, you could work and travel as much as you liked.” It was a novel suggestion in an era when women were expected to quit work after marriage, and though they weren’t dating, Edie agreed on the spot. Charlie then tried to back off, claiming he had been speaking hypothetically, but with characteristic directness Edie told him it was too late, she had already accepted. Unlike Sandy, Edie found the prospect of being known as Seashore irresistible. “Who could turn down a name like that?”

They settled in Washington, D.C., where NTL had begun a variety of programs, mostly for federal clients, and Charlie accepted a position as program director with the institute. He also began a long association with the National Institutes of Health, building collaborative networks that sought to break down barriers between physicians and staff. Edie, whose one good idea decisiveness made her a natural for hierarchies, worked with the Naval Academy, which was suddenly required to admit women in 1972. “The captain didn’t want to hire me because I wasn’t Navy and I was a woman. He stood up when I entered his office and barked, ‘Okay, what should I do?’ I said, ‘Put women officers into the plebe summer program.’ He picked up the phone, barked at someone else, and said, ‘Done! Now what else?’ I said, ‘That was my one good idea. I’ll get back to you with another. Meanwhile, let’s sit down and talk about it, so we can get it right.’” This was the start of what would be an eight-year contract.

Over the next two decades, Charlie and Edie designed and taught courses at Johns Hopkins, American University, and Concordia in Montreal, bringing group process and techniques into traditional academe. They bought a house in Washington’s Rock Creek neighborhood and filled it with friends, dogs, piano music, and children. Their daughters Becky and Kim were born in the 1960s (Edie threw a dinner party the night before she delivered one of the girls). Edie often took her children along on business trips, pioneering the role of professional mother. “Our work and our lives were the same thing,” she recalls, “and the girls were part of it. They always talked about how their friends’ parents seemed to hate to go to their jobs because they weren’t much fun. We were having fun.”

Among the Horsepersons Then, in the mid-1970s, NTL once again catalyzed a new kind of management thinking: diversity awareness. But this time, it happened almost by accident. NTL was facing acute financial difficulties. The “T group” business was declining — in part because of new competition from the less rigorous “encounter group” movement, in part because some of its own most popular leaders were defecting to start their own consulting practices, and in part because as the business environment became more competitive, managers could no longer justify spending three weeks in Maine on “group dynamics,” especially if the results could not be easily quantified. At the same time, the institute had acquired a sprawling Victorian mansion, known as the Founders House — a picturesque setting for workshops but a money pit.

In 1975, Edie joined with three NTL veterans to form “The Four Horsepersons,” a task force charged by the board with trying to save the institute from financial collapse. The other three horsepersons were all longstanding OD consultants: Hal Kellner, who died in the mid-1980s; Peter Vaill, now based in Minnesota; and Barbara Bunker, who works in New York. Together they persuaded 67 associates to donate two weeks each year for the following two years to keep NTL programs running. Edie was then selected as president. “Without the dedicated work of the Seashores at this time,” recalls NTL Fellow and MIT Professor Edgar Schein, “the institute would probably not have survived.”

With Edie at the helm, the NTL members took on the mission of making both the board and the membership far more diverse while also developing techniques for doing group work in diverse settings. To accomplish the former, they expelled all the NTL trainers — about 200 people at the time, many with long-standing pedigrees in the organization — and then admitted trainers one by one, insisting that there be equal numbers of white men, white women, men of color, and women of color. This created a dramatic upheaval, especially for the many white men who had been NTL fellows for three decades but now had to apply for membership all over again, with no guarantee of being chosen.

At that point in the late 1970s, a group of highly educated baby boomers — white women, and women and men of color — were entering the workplace in the United States. There were few models to help these newcomers advance, and resentments and uncertainties made it difficult for highly diverse teams to achieve cohesion. With Hal Kellner, Edie began an in-depth initiative to help AT&T, then the largest corporation in the world, deal with the consequences of a court-ordered mandate to achieve greater gender and racial balance. She saw that NTL had a great opportunity to establish itself as a standard-bearer in modeling the kinds of conversations, more difficult and daunting than ever, that were needed to surface and resolve conflicts in a diverse work force. NTL came to be a defining center for the new field of diversity training; for example, Edie was among the first to form the internal associations that would now be called “affinity groups” for women and for people of color within organizations, a highly effective way to develop collective strength and understanding.

NTL regained its economic health during the next few years, under the leadership of Edie Seashore and Elsie Cross, who became the first African-American to chair the organization. The new leaders maintained NTL’s rigorous emphasis on research, which kept it from becoming a cultlike encounter group or a sales-oriented program like Erhard Seminar Training (est). Edie and Charlie continued to reside in Bethel every summer, buying a big comfortable house next door to the Founders House, and bringing new generations of students with them to learn. Meanwhile, Edie started teaching at Johns Hopkins and at American University, where she established a degree-granting program under NTL auspices, and Charlie joined the faculty of Fielding Graduate University.

Blankets and Sandpaper On an icy weekend in February 2006, the Seashores drive up to Bethel to conduct what will turn out to be a pivotal session at the 50-year-old NTL site, which the board has decided to sell so that it can “get out of managing real estate,” as Edie puts it. Twenty-two Fielding Ph.D. candidates have flown in from around the country to present case studies on challenges they face. Most are senior executives eager to develop their group skills so they can have a greater impact on their organizations. Charlie is leading the weekend’s session with two other Fielding faculty members.

Before the participants break into small groups, Charlie tells them: “Some of you will be blankets, providing comfort and support to others, and some of you will be sandpaper, irritants that lead the group to breakthroughs. Group process is basically a means for applying both blankets and sandpaper to a given situation.”

Calvin, a real estate developer from Boston, presents the first case study. He starts by noting that his greatest challenge is getting people to listen when he talks. Then he goes to a flip chart and starts to diagram his company. As he delves into its intricacies, he turns away from the group. After a few minutes of this, two participants begin to whisper restlessly between themselves. A third joins in. Calvin soldiers on.

At last Connie, a university teacher from Wisconsin, breaks in abruptly. “Excuse me, but would Calvin mind facing his audience? I was interested in what he was saying, but now I’m lost in the details.”

There’s a moment of silence. Someone asks why Connie feels entitled to encroach on Calvin’s time. Other participants agree that she is being disruptive. Connie tries to justify herself.

Charlie watches intently. It’s as if he can see the social forces that Professor Lewin described — cohesion, disruption, and challenge — playing themselves out with predictable regularity. Finally, he asks, “What happened here with Connie?”

“She broke in,” someone volunteers.

“And how did that change the dynamic?” Charlie asks.

“It pulled the attention away from Calvin.”

“Does anyone remember what preceded Connie speaking up?”

There’s a pause. Someone recalls that people had begun chatting. One of the chatters then admits that he had stopped listening to Calvin. “But,” he adds, “I didn’t make a big deal of it like Connie.”

Charlie asks the group to consider the role that Calvin played in provoking inattention. Calvin says, “I don’t think I played any role. I was just presenting my case.”

“You say you have trouble getting people to listen. That’s what happened here. People stopped listening, especially when you turned your back on them.”

“That’s like at work. I get absorbed in the details and I lose people. Then I feel bad because no one listens.”

“So you do have an impact when you’re talking to a group. It’s just not the impact you want to have.”

Such breakthrough moments occur with regularity as the sessions continue throughout the weekend, with Charlie performing a variety of interventions. He plays the role of one participant’s boss, and coaches another to deliver the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. By the end of the weekend, the 22 participants have become increasingly sophisticated at spotting their own evasions, more likely to jump in and say, “I see what’s happening here!” and more intentional in assuming a role within a group.

It’s not possible to tell, of course, whether these insights and epiphanies will lead to permanent changes after the participants go home. Observers such as Charlie and Edie’s old colleague Chris Argyris, an NTL veteran who later joined the faculty of Harvard Business School, have criticized the disciplines of OD, group dynamics, and diversity on the grounds that the breakthroughs and epiphanies fade away; they do not change behavior in any lasting way. Will Calvin, returning to the pressures of his job, be able to squarely face those he is seeking to influence? Will Patrick, the naval hospital commander from Johns Hopkins University, draw upon what he learned to become more patient with his direct reports? And will Deborah, his colleague, confront conflict rather than trying to avoid it? Or will they all simply retreat into habitual patterns when they are once again immersed in their office routines?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pandemic Planning Not At Fever Pitch

Some IT execs are preparing for flu outbreak, but broad interest appears to be waning.


By Patrick Thibodeau

July 16, 2007 -- James Seligman, CIO at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may be among the first people to know if the U.S. is struck by a pandemic, such as an avian flu outbreak. Seligman’s IT staff is building a system that will enable the CDC to collect emergency room data in real time from hospitals around the country.

But Seligman is also focused on ensuring that the federal agency’s IT operations can continue delivering essential services to its employees during a pandemic or other public health emergency.

For instance, the agency has dramatically increased the capacity of IT systems to support employees working remotely. Remote access support has risen from several hundred simultaneous user sessions to several thousand as a result of an expansion in server capacity and the purchase of more Citrix software licenses, Seligman said.

James Seligman James Seligman

In addition, the CDC has crossed-trained IT workers in an effort to make sure that key systems can continue to run in an emergency. And it has installed showers and stockpiled cots, face masks and other supplies to make it possible for the IT staff to work long hours if necessary. Seligman thinks there’s no choice but to prepare for a pandemic. At the CDC, he works with scientists who are deeply involved in the issue and believe that a pandemic is inevitable. “It’s not a question of if, but when,” he said. “So the sooner that companies and families and communities and states are prepared, the better.”

But many other IT organizations don’t appear to be ready, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Ken McGee. At a Gartner data center conference in Las Vegas last November, McGee gave a presentation on the risk of an avian flu pandemic. He recommended that the IT professionals in the audience prepare a pandemic response plan by the end of this year’s second quarter.

Despite his admonition, McGee is worried that fears of a possible pandemic are waning in the U.S. Most of Gartner’s clients “would not be prepared if this descended upon the world tomorrow — they just simply would not be ready,” he said. “I think it’s just part of the human condition: You don’t put the stop sign up until after the traffic accident.”

Scott McPherson Scott McPherson

Scott McPherson, CIO of the Florida House of Representatives and head of the Florida CIO Council’s pandemic preparedness committee, tracks news about the avian flu daily. Despite the reduced rates of cases and deaths thus far this year, McPherson said he’s mystified by the lack of attention that the threat is getting in the U.S.

For instance, he said that if a pandemic occurs, expanding telecommuting programs won’t be a viable option because of network overload and a lack of broadband access for many employees. IT managers “need to prepare for what happens after the work-at-home plans implode,” McPherson said.

But Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at managed security services vendor BT Counterpane Internet Security Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., said the scope of the disaster caused by a pandemic would be so large that businesses’ contingency plans would be rendered useless.

“If everyone loses 40% of their workforce, the world is different,” Schneier said. “You cannot prepare for [that], and you’re wasting your time if you try.” That sort of planning can only be done by governments, not companies, he added.

Even in Australia, which is closer to avian flu hot spots than the U.S. is, media attention to the pandemic threat has diminished from last year, said Richard Constantine, CIO at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.

But pandemic planning is a top-of-mind issue for Constantine, who sees it as a necessary part of a broader approach to business contingency planning.

Constantine said Swinburne is working to ensure that IT and other departments are aligned so that each is aware of what services will be delivered in an emergency and everyone understands exactly what needs to be done.

Choosing products is also part of the school’s planning process. “We’re always looking for technology that can be managed remotely,” Constantine said. Robert L. Mitchell contributed to this story.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shelter From the Storm

Get your clients the full-service homeowners policies they don't know they need.

Financial Planning Magazine

By Jeanne Lee August 1, 2007- When it comes to insuring their luxury mansions and multimillion- dollar beach houses against floods, fires and other catastrophes, wealthy homeowners often have a kind of financial blind spot. Even otherwise savvy clients may default to the same basic homeowners policy year after year, perhaps increasing the dollar limit as their net worth expands, but neglecting to evaluate the quality or depth of coverage.

Two-thirds of people living in homes worth $1 million or more are insured through a mass-market insurance carrier, according to Chubb Group, which focuses exclusively on the high end of the market.

Property and casualty (P&C) coverage is becoming more critical as today’s baby boomer clients get past the stage of accumulating wealth and focus more on wealth preservation. “The affluent client needs access to the high-end insurance agent and doesn’t know where to find one,” says Gary Rathbun, chief executive officer of Private Wealth Consultants in Toledo, Ohio. “I don’t sell P&C insurance, but we need to have those relationships—it’s just part of the service we provide. It’s important to really spend time on inter-viewing and partnering with the right [P&C] firms—and the networking is not something that you’ll get paid for. But it will pay off for your client.”


Although affluent clients may not realize it, their complex insurance needs—if they have multiple homes filled with expensive art and furnishings—go far beyond a rider to cover great-grand-mother’s silver. To start, there’s the issue of how to properly determine replacement cost for a custom-built house that may have unique architectural features, uncommon materials or one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. “We find that reconstruction costs are often set too low,” says Cary Hager, an independent insurance agent with Insurance Office of Central Ohio in New Albany, who specializes in high-net-worth clients. “Many agents are not accustomed to how stonework, say, or certain types of crown moldings add significantly to the cost per square foot.”

Appraisers also take stock of the contents of the home, to make sure that antiques, jewelry, art or expensive collections are covered. “I’ve found $50,000 hand-tied silk rugs that the owner inherited, and never realized were an insurable asset,” says Hager. “I call it the Antiques Roadshow moment.”

The appraisers may offer tips to help prevent losses, such as making sure that valuable paintings are never hung over working fireplaces.


Many meteorological experts are predicting that environmental factors will make our weather more violent. This means expensive coastal property could become even more vulnerable to storms. Insurers are learning to be proactive.

Many insurers shy away from coastal risk. While the federal government runs a flood insurance program that will write up to $250,000 per house, high-net-worth clients obviously need more coverage.

Planners need to make sure that the language in clients’ contract specifies in-kind and quality replacements. “This could mean the difference between getting a mahogany door, or just a door,” at claim time,says Maureen Hackett, vice president of AIG’s private client group. They also need a guaranteed replacement endorsement, which covers the difference if rebuilding will cost more than the value of the insurance policy.

The gap between market value and replacement cost can be especially pronounced in the case of a period house with historical value. For instance, owners spent $3.5 million to rebuild a house in Salem, N.Y., that had been designed by the famous architect Stanford White—even though the house had been estimated to have a market value of only $1.5 million. The Chubb policy paid to replicate the original architectural style in period-appropriate materials because it contained an endorsement known as “law and ordinance coverage,” which provides extra funds to make sure the new structure will meet modern building codes. “If you don’t have that built into your policy and you have a historic dwelling, you’re on the hook for the additional costs,” says Mark Schussel, vice president and director of public relations at Chubb.

When disaster strikes, deluxe carriers make accommodations that would be out of the question with a standard-issue contract, including generous allow-ances for living expenses while a house is being rebuilt. In the case of the Stanford White house, Chubb provided $10,000 per month toward the rental of a comparable house nearby during the months of reconstruction.


In the past two years, carriers have rolled out more specialized coverage for the affluent market. Clients who frequently travel overseas may be interested in Chubb’s Signature Passport endorsement, which provides up to $250,000 for emergency medical transport. “If you are in equatorial Africa on safari and are badly injured, they can get you to France, England or all the way home,” Hager says.

Another risk clients may overlook is the potential for a lawsuit by a nanny, personal assistant or other domestic employee for sexual harassment, wrongful termination or discrimination.

Finding the proper homeowners insurance for a high-net-worth individual may require the joint efforts of a financial planner and an insurance specialist, if for example, an affluent client puts his or her home into a trust.

“Now that the trust is the owner of the home, jewelry and art which was covered by the homeowners policy may no longer be covered,” says Elizabeth Jetton of Mercer Advisors in Atlanta, and a past president of the Financial Planning Asociation. “If I have a high-net-worth client with a very complicated potential loss situation, I would absolutely sit down with an independent insurance agent, because I am the advocate for the total financial picture for that client.”

(c) 2007 Financial Planning and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How to optimize teleworkers

Flexible work schedules can help companies reduce costs and retain in-demand talent, but managers need to do more than set up remote access to enable telework to thrive

By Denise Dubie, Network World, 06/18/07

As telework initiatives spread, managers interested in adopting the flexible work model must set use policies, deploy enabling technologies and establish employee goals to guarantee their telework initiative is a success.

All indications point to the number of teleworkers increasing in U.S. companies. A recent survey of about 200 HR managers by talent and outsourcing provider Yoh found that 81% of companies have remote work policies in place and 67% of respondents said they expect telecommuting will increase in the next two years.

Your take on telework

According to WorldatWork, a Scottsdale, Ariz., nonprofit professional association focused on human resources issues, about 12.5 million of U.S. employees take advantage of telework today.

“Telework programs typically start with one employee coming forward making a request to work out of the office for a day or two per month, and from there, telework can grow like a weed within an organization,” says Rose Stanley, the work-life practice leader at WorldatWork.

Taking the telework leap

Companies faced with a distributed workforce and limited resources for real estate often turn to telework.

For Linda Casey, senior operations manager at McKesson Health Solutions in Broomfield, Colo., telework programs help her staff virtual call centers for new clients, retain tenured and valued employees, and cut real estate costs.

“Many companies can be very reluctant to venture into telework, but once they do, there is no turning back,” says Linda Casey, senior operations manager at McKesson.

For McKesson, the benefits range from money saved on real estate -- to the tune of $1 million per year -- to increased scheduling efficiencies, also saving the company about $1 million.

“Telework helps give us diversity in hiring new people, because clients like it when we employ local talent, and telework makes it possible for us to keep tenured employees if for some reason they need to relocate,” she explains.

Yet Casey reports McKesson’s success wasn’t guaranteed when the company launched its telework program in 2003.

“There are some employees that just are not suited to telework; they simply need more social interaction. And then there are those that just don’t work,” she says.

Creating virtual communications

Clear and ongoing communications play a big part in telework’s success, experts say.

“Employers must sit down with employees to determine how they will check in with each other, how the work will be completed and how employee performance will be measured without as much face time between manager, co-workers and the teleworker,” says Jane Anderson, director of the Midwest Institute for Telecommuting Education (MITE) in Minneapolis, Minn.

Managers need to document telework policies that detail manager’s expectations for communications.

“Managers’ number one fear is losing control over employees’ productivity when they are not in the office,” says Cindy Auten, general manager of Telework Exchange in Alexandria, Va.

“Performance has to be focused on actual work output and not the perception of working. In many cases, teleworkers can have fewer distractions and tend to be more productive than their in-office counterparts,” she says.

And the relationship with those in-office counterparts is just as important as the interaction between teleworkers and their managers.

“People working at home fear there is a perception they are not actually working, and often will overdo it and work much harder to prove they deserve the same respect as in-office co-workers,” says Jack Nilles, co-founder and president of management consulting firm JALA International in Los Angeles.

Others say teaching all employees the benefits of telework and fostering communications between colleagues with video and teleconferences, on-site meetings and social gatherings will help employees continue to work toward the same goals.

Adding enabling technologies

Part of enabling communications involves companies adopting new technologies to keep teleworkers in touch with the home office.

Teleworkers must have at least the same technology available to them as their in-office counterparts.

“The technological requirements have to be there and employees need to be trained upfront on how to meet those requirements working outside the office,” Telework Exchange’s Auten says.

With baby boomers exiting the workforce, more companies will find new employees using mobile communications in their day-to-day lives, making the idea of instant messaging, texting and cell-phone use more standard for office operations.

Companies also have the choice to work with vendors offering new collaboration tools to enable telework in their organization.

“Teleworking can put a big technology burden on some companies,” says Jeff Kaplan, managing director of consultancy ThinkStrategies. “[Software-as-a-service] and managed services providers are drafting their managed service agreements to include not only the centralized office but also the customer’s teleworkers.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tangled Up in Tasks

Multitasking and frequent interruptions are inescapable aspects of office life, but they can exact a toll.

CFO Magazine

Edward Teach
July 01, 2007

According to Basex Inc., a knowledge-management research firm, work interruptions cost the U.S. economy at least $650 billion a year. Analysts Jonathan B. Spira and David M. Goldes reckon that 28 percent of the typical knowledge worker's day, or 2.1 hours, is consumed by unnecessary interruptions and recovery time.

Surely, skepticism is appropriate regarding such a staggering sum (amounting to 5 percent of the gross domestic product). Still, there is justified concern over what researchers call "work fragmentation," associated with interruptions and multitasking.

For example, in a 2005 study, researchers at the University of California at Irvine found that information workers at an outsourcing company spent an average of 11 minutes on a project or task before they were interrupted. Once diverted, it took them 25 minutes to return to the original task. Spira and Goldes cite a British researcher who administered IQ tests to different groups of people; the group that was distracted by E-mail and ringing telephones scored an average of 10 points less than a control group (and 6 points less than a group in another study that smoked marijuana before taking the test).

Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., a well-known expert on attention deficit disorder (ADD), says he increasingly sees people who exhibit symptoms of what he calls ADT, or "attention deficit trait."

An Inverted U Of course, multitasking can be a boon as well as a bane. According to a 2006 study by researchers at MIT, it can lead to higher productivity. Sinan Aral, Erik Brynjolfsson, and Marshall Van Alstyne studied workers at an executive-recruiting firm, reviewing data on more than 1,300 projects over a five-year period and monitoring more than 125,000 E-mail messages for 10 months. They found that workers' revenues were "a function not only of how fast they work, but also of how much they multitask." Heavier multitaskers were able to complete more projects than others, even though their speed per project may have been slower.

But the MIT researchers also found that the relationship between multitasking and productivity is shaped like an inverted U. More multitasking means more output only up to a point, "after which there are diminishing marginal returns, then negative returns to increased multitasking." They noted that previous research has shown that multitasking is associated with "cognitive switching costs," which means that as tasks pile up, efficiency drops and errors multiply.

Another 2006 study, by researchers at UCLA, suggests that multitasking can lead to less-than-optimal learning.

These results have implications for learning in multitask situations, suggesting that, even if distraction does not decrease the overall level of learning, it can result in the acquisition of knowledge that can be applied less flexibly in new situations," concluded Karin Foerde, Barbara J. Knowlton, and Russell A. Poldrack.

A World Gone ADD Edward Hallowell says that multitasking can be desirable, adding variety to the job. But he believes the kind of multitasking in which attention shifts rapidly from spreadsheet to E-mail to Web page to BlackBerry can be damaging. Hallowell's most recent book, CrazyBusy (Ballantine Books, 2006), offers "strategies for coping in a world gone ADD."

For those too busy to read the book, here's what Hallowell told CFO about how to calm down and regain focus. One, take control over your life, while accepting that total control isn't feasible or desirable. Two, prioritize: decide which tasks matter the most. Three, rebuild the boundaries that technology has broken down. "Close your door and turn off the cell phone," he says. "Decide that your day does have an end point, that there are places where you can't be disturbed."

In the end, getting organized, setting boundaries, and learning time-management skills aren't enough, says Hallowell. Emotions are important, too, and people underestimate the role they play in peak performance. Get plenty of sleep, eat well, and make sure you have some positive human contact during each day, he recommends.

"You're not a machine," says Hallowell. "Managing your brain is right at the heart of what success and failure hinge on." And happy brains, he observes, "think better."

Edward Teach is articles editor of CFO.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Web 2.0 Goes Corporate


— Sue Hildreth

June 04, 2007 -- For Jeff Herrmann, co-director of research at investment company Manning & Napier Advisors Inc., the impetus to invest in Web 2.0 came abruptly late last summer. That's when one of Herrmann’s analysts left the company — and much of his recent research vanished as well. It wasn't stolen — just lost somewhere on the former employee's hard drive, Herrmann says. Jeff Herrmann Jeff Herrmann

Herrmann realized that a wiki — a collaborative Web site to which everyone can contribute content — might have prevented the loss.

2.0 Tools & Terms

What are Web 2.0 applications, exactly? Here are the main types:

Blog. Short for "Web log," a blog is a Web journal that lets users post comments or news. Often, they also let readers post feedback.

Podcast. An audio or video file distributed over the Internet through RSS or another syndication feed.
RSS. Really Simple Syndication is a technology that lets users subscribe to feeds that deliver wiki or blog updates or even more general information such as traffic alerts.
Wiki. A collective Web page that allows users to post or link content without having to use HTML.

Herrmann is among the growing wave of executives to recognize the business value of Web 2.0 tools. Innovations such as wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts and social software are ubiquitous in the consumer market, and many people have quietly downloaded Web 2.0 tools at work to use on their projects. In a survey conducted earlier this year by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., nearly three-fourths of the 2,847 executives polled said they planned to maintain or increase their spending on Web 2.0 collaborative technologies, for use either externally to communicate with customers and partners, or internally to improve collaboration among employees.

CIOs have concerns about security, governance, IT support and integration of Web 2.0 applications with existing systems. "Web 2.0 is decentralized," explains Schmelzer. "There’s no centralized authority to mandate or control." Major vendors of Web 2.0 tools for corporate use are addressing these concerns, however. They are adding management and security features, and some are assembling these tools into suites that can be implemented and administered as a platform. Meanwhile, more businesses are experimenting with Web 2.0 tools for a wide range of activities, from content management to employee recruitment.

The Case for Web 2.0 Information Management. Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines Inc. recently grappled with the problem of how to organize and pare down a glut of content built up over time by customer service staff in airports, at the airline’s call center and on its Web site. The airline wanted to consolidate all that content into one repository that could be easily referenced, searched and updated by the service staff. The solution: a single customer service FAQ on a wiki, using the Web 2.0 features in Micro­soft Corp.’s SharePoint Server 2007. Wikis aren’t the only Web 2.0 tools used for information management.

Networking. The use of LinkedIn Corp.’s networking service saved Jeff Hoffman from making a major hiring blunder last December. Hoffman, CEO of Basho Strategies Inc., a sales training firm in Burlington, Mass., was interviewing applicants for a midlevel business development position. As part of the process of collecting references, Hoffmann sent queries to people listed in the Linked­In networks of the most promising candidates.

The feedback he got on one job seeker was particularly revealing. "Two people responded that she was abrasive, didn’t work well with salespeople and had not had much success in her jobs. But what was really interesting was that one of them was from a company not listed on her résumé," says Hoffman. "The feedback was enormously important, because any new hire exposes us to a big risk. It's arguably the most expensive mistake you can make."

Project Management and Collaboration. Web 2.0 technologies are also being leveraged as project management aids, either alone or as part of larger project management applications. RT Logic, a maker of satellite systems in Colorado Springs, relies on the wiki function in Code­Beamer, a configuration management tool from Intland Software, to document the progress of products in development. James Sullivan, configuration manager at RT Logic, says lightweight wikis are ideal for project collaboration because of the ease with which engineers can add comments. "It's a living document that progresses as the development progresses. It's very flexible and easy to use," says Sullivan. "Since we can back up and see what the history was, it gives us a snapshot of where we've been and where we are now."

Content Publishing. The Discovery Channel’s Educator Network offers Web 2.0 technologies to help teachers share ideas. Among them are Six Apart Ltd.'s TypePad service for blogging, StikiPad Inc.'s StikiPad for wikis, iLike Inc.'s GCast for podcasts, Simulat Inc.'s Vyew live conferencing tool and Yahoo Inc.'s Flickr photo-sharing application. Some teachers who recently went to South Africa and New Zealand as part of the Discovery Educator Abroad project used Flickr to post their photos, for example. "They're tools to communicate with other teachers," says Dembo, noting that Web 2.0 technologies are easy to use. "With these kinds of tools, anyone can jump in."

Inherent Limitations Despite the benefits of Web 2.0 tools, smart corporate users realize that they can’t effectively replace face-to-face and phone contact between people.

Security Concerns There are also lingering concerns about Web 2.0 in the corporate setting. Hawaiian Airlines' Osborne worries that uncontrolled use of wikis and blogs could lead to unsuitable content being distributed. "We’re not going to let people just have a free go at everything. There's liability around that," he says.

So the airline will implement an approval process for creating wikis, as well as employ the security features in SharePoint to control who can post content.

David Osborne David Osborne, CIO, Hawaiian Airlines

Experts note that it isn't that difficult to set up a controlled Web 2.0 environment. But the flip side is that too much security can negate the benefits of Web 2.0. "If you’re trying to create an open, collaborative community and you lock it down, you won't have one," says Jim Murphy, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston.

Another issue is that many Web 2.0 applications are hosted services. The idea of having a blog, wiki or even a podcast with private company content on someone else’s server can make executives nervous. Hosted service providers offer security measures, of course, such as SSL encryption, passwords, firewalls, backups and archiving, but if those aren't sufficient, it's often possible to buy the software and bring it in-house.

Here Come the Big Boys Until recently, the Web 2.0 market was dominated by smaller vendors. But the major players have begun adding Web 2.0 capabilities to their existing products. As Web 2.0 becomes part of leading business applications, more organizations are likely to adopt them. According to a recent survey by Forrester Research Inc., large organizations prefer to purchase Web 2.0 products from incumbent vendors. Of the 119 CIOs surveyed, 71% said they would like to buy them from a major vendor, and 74% said they would prefer to get Web 2.0 technologies as a suite.

Support and maintenance is another motivation for buying from a single vendor. "It’s much easier to manage one piece of technology that is integrated and runs on one box," Osborne explains.

Whatever you ultimately decide, the time to start considering Web 2.0 is now. "We’re at the stage where it’s so easy to experiment that it's almost a liability," Murphy says. "You don't want people going down the wrong path with a tool that isn't usable in the long run." The best move that a CIO can make, he says, is to start asking department managers what Web 2.0 functionality they need, and find the common denominators that will dictate which products to purchase. Then make a decision before your employees do.

Hildreth is a freelance journalist specializing in enterprise software. Contact her at For more about next-generation Web tools in the enterprise, see our Web 2.0 Security special report.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Young & (not so) Restless

Employee Benefit News

By Lydell C. Bridgeford

July 1, 2007

Current research shows Generation Y is 75 million strong and becoming the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. workforce, increasing from 14% to 21% over the past four years to about 32 million workers.

As their ranks continue to swell, employers must become more strategic in their efforts to understand, and therefore retain, Gen Y employees (born from 1978 to 1989). Yet some labor analysts assert many employers are clueless as to what this generation wants from a workplace environment, thus hurting their chance of success to woo and keep Gen Y employees with their companies.

Money is not everything

There still lingers a misconception among some CEOs that many younger workers only care about how much they are being paid.

However, Peter Hart, CEO of New York-based Rideau Recognition Solutions says, “At my company, we call them the Nintendo Generation because they have been literally brought up as kids playing online and video games. When you think about it, they are getting recognized almost every second,” noting how video games reward players for achievement at each level.

Therefore, Hart says Gen Y similarly expects instant recognition in the workplace. In some cases, they are even looking for recognition before they have been assigned a task to complete.

Company culture also is meaningful to this generation, Hart says.

“It’s really not about the money, but creating a culture that rocks,” which means creating an environment where young people enjoy coming to work, he says.

Managing Gen Y

Compared to baby boomers and other generations in the workforce, Gen Y tend to be more concerned about meaningful work and relationships with coworkers, attitudes that are key for employers to remember in retention efforts, says Mark Lifter, national practice leader of the talent solutions consulting at Aon Consulting.

Corporate decisionmakers are boomers, so workforce decisions about quality-of-life issues and benefits likely are framed through their experiences, Lifter explains. “As a result, I am not sure if they are as sensitive to the needs of Gen Yers as they could or should be.”

Arturo Coto, CEO of Inquisite, a Texas-based human management software company, agrees. Consider, for example, one of Coto’s clients, a manufacturing company with an attrition rate less than 3%. However, when the company’s leaders started to drill down on that number by segmenting employees by age, they realized young managers — mainly newly minted MBAs — were largely driving the number.

“They were not sticking around and the average [tenure] was about year,” Coto explains. “You had people on the front lines that had been there for nearly 30 and 40 years. Now all of sudden, you have a [twenty- or thirty-something MBA] coming in to gradually implement changes and improvements,” he says.

The situation, if not handled properly, can create a stressful work environment, stemming from generational differences in communication, expectations and entitlement.

In addition, management discovered through employee surveys and interviews that their young mangers did not find the work on the front line challenging enough to put in the time to continue their career path with the organization.

It’s all geared toward “better coaching, nurturing and developing of young talent and teaching them how to walk before they run,” Coto says.

“I think it’s important to validate these trends within your workforce and really understand the new generation within your organization,” Coto remarks. “What are their implicit needs and what do they expect from you?”

Appealing benefits

Gary Cumpata, senior vice president at Aon Consulting believes consumer-driven health plans and voluntary benefits are poised to resonate with younger workers and reverse such turnover trends.

Young employees tend to be attracted to the variety of wellness programs and online health information typically touted by consumer-driven heath plans, and voluntary benefits by their very nature allow employees to select the benefits that are important to them, Cumpata suggests.

“Often employers will augment voluntary benefits with entertainment, coupons, books and discounts features to social activities,” Cumpata adds, saying that younger workers find value in these features. They like that “instead of saying, ‘Here is what you get,’ it’s, ‘Check the list for what you want.’” —L.C.B.

Job satisfaction and the ‘Nintendo Generation’

A 2006 online survey by Harris Interactive, commissioned by the Massachusetts-based American Business Collaboration, polled 2,775 exempt and non-exempt workers at medium and large corporations about job satisfaction. Among employees under 30: • Exempt women cite salary as the most important factor in job satisfaction. Other top priorities are meaningful work and work-life balance. More than half of this group say financial security is most important to achieving a general sense of fulfillment. • Exempt men and women cite advancement as an area of dissatisfaction. In addition, men cite meaningful work and work-life balance as areas of dissatisfaction, in contrast to women, who cite dissatisfaction with benefits and workload. • Exempt women are extraordinarily committed to their jobs. They have the highest engagement level of any group. • Exempt men cite advancement second to salary as the top priority in job satisfaction. This group ranks family life as most important to personal fulfillment. • Non-exempt workers tend to be dissatisfied with utilizing their abilities and with salary. • Non-exempt men also cite dissatisfaction with advancement. Source: The American Business Collaboration