How To Manage A Multi-Generational Staff

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[The following is the full raw transcript for a LEADx Podcast interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Kevin Kruse: Are millennials really different from other generations? Hello everyone, I'm Kevin Kruse. Welcome to The LEADx Show, the smartest way to start your day. Don't forget, you can watch a new free training video every single day at LEADx.org. Tell your managers, a new training video every single day. Recent topics have even covered how to develop your personal brand, your brand proposition, even how to become a writer for Forbes or Inc.

Now, today on the show, we're going to hear from someone who became a manager at age 23. Now she's a global VP at an enterprise software company, still at a very young age. We talk about managing generations, workplace collaboration, and the magic behind the benefit of getting work done more quickly. Our challenge of the day, don't assume. Today, when someone comes to you with a problem or a complaint, before you jump in to solve it, or even decide to passively sit and listen, don't assume. Ask, “Are you looking for advice or are you just looking for a friendly ear to vent to?” Don't assume. 

Our quote of the day, now this is one of my favorites, it's not a short one, goes like this. “I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” Of course, that is from the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. What a fun time to be an NBA basketball fan, huh? So many rising stars, so many colorful rookies.  

I'm here in Philadelphia, so of course we're celebrating the return of the Sixers, at least they're watchable, with Joel Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, bunch of young players. The Ball brothers rising up in Los Angeles. NBA's the sport of the future. They say that the average age of baseball fans, it's like 60, and football fans it's in the 40s. The average of NBA fans are teenagers, teenage boys primarily, so they're saying NBA is the sport of the future. 

Now, our guest today has held several leadership roles in business operations, engineering program management, and software development at companies like Oracle, BEA, Plumtree, Syndio. Today, she is the Global VP of Product Management for SAP Jam, SAP's cloud collaboration platform. Our guest is Daisy Hernandez. Daisy, welcome to the show.

Daisy Hernandez: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Excited about this topic.

Kruse: Good, good. Well, it's sort of a tradition on The LEADx Show. I ask the same exact question to all of our guests, and it's because I think we can all learn a lot from failure. Failures are stepping stones. Sometimes painful, but they usually lead to important things, so I'm hoping you'll start by telling me a story. Tell me about one of your best failures, and what'd you learn from it?

Hernandez: Wow, okay. Yes, I do agree they're learning moments. They may not feel like at it at the time, but certainly, when you look back, those tend to be sometimes the most pivotal points in your career. I've been fortunate to have several failures early on, too. I think that's also really key.

So, one that sticks out in my mind, given this topic, was that I was a relatively new manager early in my career. I think I was only 23 years old when I was managing a team.

Kruse: Wow.

Hernandez: I was actually running the Quality Assurance Department for a software company. I had a particular release that I needed to get out the door, and one of my colleagues on the development side had offered resources over to me. One of the biggest lessons that I've learned is do not assume what may be what the other person wants. So, for example, because I felt like I was “borrowing” resources, I was overly accommodating in terms of whatever they wanted to do.

So, we had this project, we have certain tasks, and she had asked me, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” I spent an inordinate amount of time offering all kinds of choices, and I was a little shocked when she turned around and said, “You're the manager here. Can you just give me some direction?” At first, I was pretty insulted, and I was also embarrassed. I was like, “Wow, who's this person? Why are they talking to me like this?”

But I liked that, because a lot of times, we always assume or project what we think that someone wants, or maybe what we want ourselves. Really, everyone is looking for something different. Sometimes they're looking for coaching, sometimes they're looking for direction, sometimes they're just looking as a sounding board. I think that in fact, the way that I now run any kind of one on ones or meetings that I have, is I always ask if they're about to bring up a topic it's like, “Is this an escalation? Is this an FYI? Do you need my help?” Because sometimes you also assume that someone's coming to you and you're supposed to fix their problems for them.

That was something that, it was shocking enough, but it made me really sit and think and ponder. It made me emotionally react, so that I would remember it. It's also something that, not to age myself, many years later, I still look back on as something as a, “Just remember, don't assume what the other person's looking for.” I actually really appreciated it, and if I ever run into this person again in the future, I would actually thank her. She'd probably be surprised.

Kruse: Well, she probably doesn't remember it. It probably wasn't as dramatic for her as it was for you.

Hernandez: Usually that is the case.

Kruse: But you bring up a really good point about assuming, and I can see this even like in our personal lives. Like, someone comes and they're telling you about their bad day, or someone's being a jerk or they've got a problem. I think, I don't know, this is gender bias, but I think guys are a little more guilty of this than women. We jump into, “Solve it mode.” Like, “Oh, you should do this” or, “Did you try that?” Sometimes people just, they're just venting. They just want to share.

Hernandez: Oh, that's funny.

Kruse: They're just connecting, right?

Hernandez: And call me a guy, because I'm [doing] the same thing. I have to sit there and sometimes it's—you don't actually know what the right solution is. You're assuming because you want to fix it. I think people are just naturally fixers in general. I don't know if there's any necessarily a gender slant to it, but that being said, I did tend to go into male dominated industries and careers. So, who knows? Maybe I'm just one of the guys, but I agree with you. A lot of times people assume that they are coming in for a solution and in actuality, they want to work it out on their own.

Sometimes trying to do that, you come across pedantic, and sometimes I stop myself. I'm like, “I'm sorry, I'm probably sounding really pedantic as though I know what the right solution is,” even though the intent may be that you just want to be helpful.

Kruse: Right. Now, I'm going to throw you a little bit of a curve ball on this second question, because you mentioned that the first time you became a manager you were 23 years old. That seems pretty young, especially in a tech industry. So, why do you think got fast-tracked there? What'd they see in you that said, “Okay, she's ready to be a manager of this QA team?”

Hernandez: Right. Well, I was pretty fortunate that my career started during the time, for one thing, in Silicon Valley, and during the time where startups was a craze. It still is, but back then was the internet boom. So, I ended up applying for roles that they couldn't fill because everyone else was abandoning telco companies, for example. Because no one wanted to work at corporate, they all wanted to work at these startups.

So, they decided to take a chance on me when I graduated from college, and said, “You know what? We don't normally give this role to anyone who has less than 20 years experience working at Pacific Bell, but we're going to go ahead and give this to you.” No extra pay or anything. Of course, being as naïve as I was, I was like, “Sure!” because I wanted to learn.

I ended up being an electronics engineer, and the reason why I'm sharing that is because I noticed that I would take on a challenge, probably good that I didn't know what I was getting into, and I would succeed at it, and then someone else would see that I was doing something interesting, or different, or growing, and then they would offer me—basically, it's like, “I have a problem, and I'll just give it to you.”

There ended up being a situation where I ended up leaving telco, working for [another] company, and it was same exact thing. “We have this role to be a technical project manager, to run all of these markets,” and it was basically what they called ‘telco return.’ Meaning that it wasn't their flagship product. It was their guineapig product for those markets that didn't upgrade their cable yet, to do to two-way, which now, of course, everyone has cable modems.

But back in the day, they would use the telephone line for their uploading, 'cause most of it was downstream anyway. So of course, I was again, naive enough to take on that challenge, be as inexperienced as I was. I didn't realize how hard it was going to be, and actually that was another one of my failures, is that I ended up running 26 markets and I was doing everything. I didn't realize that it was new provisioning software, new networking equipment, new everything.

So, I started to troubleshoot my markets on behalf of my customers because the rest of the company wasn't really supporting that product. Ninety-nine percent of their business was all on the flagship product. So, when they noticed that I was reporting all these bugs, they said, “You know what? Why don't you go ahead and manage and mentor all of our Q engineers since you're able to find all these bugs and troubleshoot it yourself? Why don't you go ahead and do that?”

I guess I just ran into this pattern that someone would have some gap. They realized that maybe I was naïve and brave enough, as I like to put it, to go and take it on, and not knowing how difficult it was going to be, and just persevere through it.

Kruse: Wow. Now, the other question I get all the time about management is managing the multiple generations in the workforce today, and especially millennials. Now, I don't know, we've never met so I don't know if you're a millennial or older than that, but I'm assuming you've managed millennials in the past, or are managing some now. Is that true?

Hernandez: Yes, I am managing actually multiple generations. Actually, when I was 23, and a newbie to managing, I was actually managing people who were retirable.

Kruse: Wow.

Hernandez: And you can imagine that dynamic.

Kruse: Right, 23 and—

Hernandez: Being on that end, back then, right? Twenty-three and giving direction to people older than my parents at the time. But yeah, and just for transparency, I'm not a millennial, but I'm definitely on the border. I can empathize with all the discussions around how millennials are so different and it's just any other generation just so happens to be that it's a generation that had access to different kinds of technology. 

Kruse: Well, let me start there, because everybody's always asking, “How do you manage millennials?” There's lots of stereotypes, whether it's Simon Sinek or someone else talking about, “They all want to be Vice President in their first year. They all want to do this, they all want to do that.” When I look at the studies, anytime I look at a generational study, I can see no difference between millennials and I think, “Oh, this is BS. This isn't true.” Then, I talk to a lot of millennials and they're like, “Oh no, it's all true. It is true that I want to be Vice President in a year.”

Hernandez: Really?

Kruse: So, I'm a little mystified myself. Like, I don't really see, like I think younger workers are, because they're earlier in their career, they're more naturally interested in growth.

Hernandez: Ambitious.

Kruse: Yeah, right. But to me, that's the way I was when I was in my 20s or 30 or whatever. So, how do you see? Do you think that the millennial generation is unique in some ways?

Hernandez: I think they are unique in some ways in that the expectations of what tools and processes and access to information and everything around us, like for example, my kids, I mean, they are so advanced in being able to teach themselves all kinds of things, through a lot of the consumer websites that we have today.

So, I do think that there are some differences in terms of what's available to us, but I do not personally subscribe to the—I can remember back when I was starting out that everyone around me also assumed that they were entitled to be Vice President or directors or whatever the title was at the time, too. I have the conversation, given that I manage multiple generations, I have the same conversation about, “Okay, what does it take to get to the next level? This is what you need to be able to do towards that path, and this is what you need to focus on in order to get there.”

I've had that conversation with every single one of my employees, irrespective of generation or age. What I think is happening is because of the overemphasis of the—On one hand, we say, “Oh, my gosh, majority are millennials” but then we also know that we're anywhere from four to five generations in the workforce. So, I don't think that it benefits companies to focus so much on the differences of the generations versus figuring out how to make the most of your entire workforce. Because you're just alienating somebody.

Or, you're just feeding into stereotypes, and then like most stereotypes, if you find one thing true, it's like, “Oh, it proved all the stereotypes are all true.” Do I see that kind of behavior, “Oh, that's what they all say”? Yes, but you know what? I've seen it in older employees as well.

Kruse: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think about, I guess, like the wrap that I hear a lot is about that might be true generationally speaking, is they're not as focused on work. People will say, “Oh, they don't work hard” or, “They don't want to work more than an eight-hour day” or, “They're not willing to put in their time, pay their dues” and it does seem to me that generationally speaking, they may have seen their parents or people older saying, “Well, what did that get them?” They still got laid off in the Great Recession. They still lost their pensions, or whatever.

So, I think maybe generationally there is a little bit more focus on quality of total life. I don't like the phrase work/life balance, but that work/life blend.

Hernandez: Yeah. The typical work-life balance, yep.

Kruse: Yeah, and I'm wondering in the tech industry, in Silicon Valley, is that still true? Or, is this startup culture still pervasive, where people are pulling all nighters and eating ramen noodles and things? I mean, do you think it is  different by the industry?

Hernandez: Different by the industry. This whole notion that millennials don't work hard, I also think that there's also a difference in how people work. I remember when I was first starting out. It was 100% expected that you were in the office 100% of the time. We didn't have as much flexibility in all these applications and I actually like the fact that I worked hard, but I wasn't always ‘on.’

So, what I think people are confusing is that “Okay, so what did we trade off?” I know that there are so many people who all complained that they're always ‘on.’ Whether it be on the weekend, or some weird timezone because we work such a globally diverse workforce. Sure, are they trying to now manage it so that they can have flexible schedules? Yes, but the tradeoff is that they also tend to work on vacation, or on a holiday, or answering an email. I see that across multiple generations.

So, is it that they're working harder or longer or whatever? I think it's that the style of work or the nature of work has changed.

Kruse: Yeah, yeah. I see that, and this is kind of an interesting setup for something you've been working on. Tell us about SAP Jam.

Hernandez: Yes. SAP Jam is, SAP's collaboration solution. What we've done is really looked at how to apply collaboration capabilities in very specific business processes. I mean, that's what SAP is known for, the application company. The reason why we focused on that was because we wanted to make sure that if people are using our software to connect with others and get work done, that it was really actually driving results, not just collaboration for the sake of collaboration.

So, we looked at different lines of businesses, so we looked at HR, we looked at sales, we looked at service, we looked at professional services, different lines of businesses as well as industries, where the nature of the work is naturally collaborative. I mean, you're having to interact with a set of people. There's information that you have to access. There's data that you have to look at, and there's feedback that you're looking to get from those experts. While there are many different forms of communication tools out there, not all of them lend itself well where you are trying to ensure that you are capturing all of that intellectual capital, right?

Especially since we're talking about how the workforce is changing, people change jobs all the time. You'd hate for all of that knowledge to just end up in somebody's inbox, that no one has access to after they leave. So, nowadays, given the fact that people expect to learn differently, or access information on the go, because it's a very mobile, remote, or globally distributed workforce, we make sure that we're looking at things like learning, onboarding, account management, service resolutions, all of those things, and trying to embed collaboration into those processes to make it much easier for a company to transform themselves. Especially given how much companies have to evolve in order to keep up with their competitors.

Kruse: In terms of a collaboration solution, break it down for me and our listeners. Like, give me a use case, and whichever, HR or something. If we were working on a team together in HR or sales, how might we use SAP Jam specifically?

Hernandez: Sure. So, let's say I'm on the account team, and typically many of our accounts require several accounts team members. But they also need some information from some product experts, depending on the request for information, or proposal that they're getting from the customer and the requirement. As they go through the account cycle and engage with a customer in some private virtual workspace, they may also have an implementation partner that they have to bring in.

Wouldn't it be nice if the implementation partner already comes into a virtual workspace where they can catch up on all the requirements and all of the discussions that have already happened, versus having to—as most projects—having to explain where we are with a project over and over again, as our project team members change in and out? That would be a great example of how we're using it to manage a customer, their requirements, their project, and you'll notice that you're having to collaborate not just internally with employees, but people that you work with on a day-to-day basis. You and I are having a discussion and we don't necessarily work for the same company, for example.

Another good use case is sales enablement. Especially given the size and the scale some of our customers are operating in. They have to figure out a cost-effective way of distributing product knowledge to their sales reps because nowadays many of their customers probably know more about their products by researching on the internet, and looking at reviews. So, you want to make sure that your sales reps or your customer support reps, or anyone that's interacting with customers, they need to be at least as knowledgeable if not more so than your own customers.

Otherwise, what kind of service are you really providing your customers? So, that's a great way for them to share a lot of information, but also for the internal employees to ask questions, get feedback, and also make sure that questions are being asked and answered, versus having to repeat it over and over again. So, you're learning through osmosis by just seeing—'Cause sometimes you know how you don't know that you have a question until you see the question asked? So, you end up learning naturally as well, on the job. Those are just two of, I don't know, I could probably list like 30 million use cases for collaboration.

Kruse: Sure. Now, I'm curious. At LEADx, we're very small, so half a dozen of us, maybe more contractors remotely, and we use a very simple online collaboration system. It's got some project to-do lists and it's got message threads, and things like that. We took to it fairly quickly because we're all remote, so there was no other face to face solution. We're also, well I'm the dinosaur, but I mean, everybody else is a millennial and they were already using different messenger apps on their phones as consumers, and it just came very naturally.

But what do you see when an organization is trying to adopt something like SAP Jam, some collaborative solution, where would the potholes or stumbling blocks be? Like, who resists this kind of a platform?

Hernandez: What we hear from customers is—

Kruse: I don't want to blame generations again, Daisy, but I'm wondering like so, any kind of change management, there's going to be a, “How come Joe's not on that thing? He keeps sending email.”

Hernandez: That's correct, that's correct.

Kruse: So, what's Joe's problem? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

Hernandez: Well, with any tool actually, and there is a little bit of truth to it being generational in that they're used to using a certain tool. That being said, I've also seen it where everyone has their preference. So, it doesn't help if someone's on collaboration solution X, and another one's on collaboration solution Y. Sometimes I even see that, even within the same generation, so I actually don't—There is some generational aspects, but sometimes it's also the war of which solution are you on? Which IM are you using? Are you on a consumer one? Are you using an internal sanctioned one? You end up having communication channel overload, and you add email to that.

It's actually the reason why we did focus on very specific scenarios and use cases, because it's no longer about the tool. Not to say that there aren't any adaption challenges or things like that, because there are with any tool, because it's a change, right? I'm doing something different than I'm used to doing before. The key is making sure that you explain why and how it helps them get their work done, which is why we spend an inordinate amount of time not just focusing on employee productivity, because that's a very vague way of saying everyone is getting the most out of their day.

It's whether or not that productivity leads towards business results where someone is able to accomplish something and get rewarded, or a department's able to reach a certain key performance indicators that lines up to the corporate goals. Because I always say that the only thing that's viral for most people is getting their work done. If it helps me get my work done, I'm more likely to adopt whatever it is. If I can now make the most use of my time, because going back to what we talked about before, work/life balance, that's exactly what people are trying to do is, “How can I be done with whatever task I have and be able to do that in a way where I have to work with other people that I'm not sitting together with?”

Kruse: Yeah. You know, the phrasing is subtle, but you just, that really was a light bulb moment for me, because I often think about some change management, “Hey, it's going to make you more productive.” Well, when someone says they're going to make me more productive, I think, “That's great for the company. I've become more productive for the company.” When you say, “It helps you to get your work done,” it means like, “Okay, I'm going to get to my kid's soccer game at 5:00 or 6:00 or whatever it is.” So, that's a big difference.

Daisy, this has been a lot of fun chatting about all of these topics. I want to thank you for that, and how can our listeners find out more about you and SAP and SAP Jam?

Hernandez: Well, I am available via LinkedIn. I'm available via Hernandez, easy search. I'm available on Twitter, @MMCHernandez, and to find out more about SAP Jam, go to SAP.com/sapjam, or simply search.

Kruse: Fantastic, and we'll put all those links in the show notes. Daisy, thanks again for coming onto The LEADx Show.

Hernandez: Thank you so much. This was honestly so much fun.

Kruse: Oh, that's great to hear. Well, we'll have to do it again sometime.

Hernandez: Yes, yes.

Kruse: Thanks again. 

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of LEADx.org, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

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Kevin Kruse
CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://page.leadx.org/demo.