Archive for January, 2008

I give a lot of thought to how I can best prepare my Millennial students for the world of work.

The other side of the coin is this: how can organizations best prepare to recruit and retain Millennials to fill the massive void that will be created when Baby Boomers retire?

Millennials ascending. Born between 1982 and 2000, the earliest-born Millennials began to populate college campuses around 2000. That means the first cohorts began to graduate around 2004 (for in-depth information on Millennials, see my post below, More With Les names person of the year).

When they graduate and enter the job market, Millennials will be working for and with those generational groups who precede them — Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and some remaining Silent Gen-types. Communication/PR/IMC skills and abilities learned in college and documented by a college diploma are a given. Like anyone else, Millennials must have this as an entry fee to be considered for most good communication/PR/IMC jobs.

But how Millennials relate to the other generational groups will help determine their success or failure on the job. Conversely, how these other generational groups relate to Millennials will determine who recruits and retains the best and the brightest Millennials. This is complicated by the fact that these three generational groups are very different from each other.

Millennials have high expectations and believe that they are special. They are typically enthusiastic, have good attitudes, and want to be challenged. But they also want to be coached, mentored, and respected. By contrast, Baby Boomers will do what the boss says without question and pay their dues because they are afraid to lose a good job. Millennials will job hop in a heartbeat if they are not doing interesting and challenging things from which they can collaborate, learn and grow. Job stagnation will drive them away rapidly.

This sets up a curious work place dynamic: upbeat, engaged, tech-savvy Millennial new hire meets narcissist, corporate-loyal Baby Boomer and scrappy, pragmatic, free-agent Gen-Xer. Fireworks ensue.

When generations collide. We now have these three generational groups on the job together. As more and more Millennials enter the work force, they must understand their supervisors’ and coworkers’ generational script just as supervisors must understand that of Millennials. It’s obvious that effective employee communication will be more important than ever before as Millennials fill jobs in organizations. And like all strategic communication/PR, relationships are essential. How do these disparate generational groups build and maintain mutually beneficial working relationships that facilitate organizational productivity and goal attainment?

To me, a key is for employee communicators to find the similarities between the groups and help to build relationships on that information. Find common ground. Research from The Center for Creative Leadership says the generations are not that different on major issues. Is it stylistic differences then that might cause problems? Stereotypes?

I believe it is imperative for employee communicators to develop a strategic alliance with Human Resources (you should already have it) to work together on employee relations, recruitment/retention, and training and development. The more the generations understand each other, the better (and more productive) the work environment will be.

Postscript: I am a Boomer. My time is ending. One day, like Frodo, I must go to the Gray Havens and sail away. But for now, it is my duty (and my great privilege) to help prepare Millennials for the world of work. I do so with respect and affection for them and with the firm belief that theirs will be one of the greatest generations.


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More With Les is one year old today.

It was January 23, 2007. I worked late in a hotel room in Richmond, Virginia, with WordPress to create this blog. I was speaking at a conference of the Virginia Commission for the Arts. That audience was the first to know that I was beginning my blog to learn more about social media by becoming an active participant in it.

I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge, insight, contacts, and friends by doing this blog. It has become a great joy in my life. Thank you for that.

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It’s a beautiful and serene snowy day here in Vienna, Virginia. Looking out my home office window at the falling snow, it is hard to believe that Spring semester begins January 28.

I’ll be teaching a new class (new for me anyway) — Principles of Strategic Public Relations and Integrated Communication. Towson’s 200-level Principles course is the first required course in the PR Track. As such, it is a larger class. I’ll have 36 eager young minds to fill with the history, theory, ethics, and practice of PR.

I will also teach my regular courses, two sections of public relations writing with 40 students total and a strategic public relations planning and management course with 25 students. I will also serve as faculty advisor to 5 students on internships, a couple of independent studies, and be faculty advisor to our PRSSA and IABC student chapters.

Did I mention that I will also take a doctoral course, Legal and Ethical Issues in Instructional Technology? It is shaping up to be a busy spring semester.

Oh well, as we used to say down South: “Don’t worry about the mule; just load the wagon.”

Please do not take the commentary on my schedule as whining. On the contrary, I am celebrating the many and varied things I get to do.  In my corporate communication management and consulting days, I would regularly work 60 to 80 hours a week, plus travel extensively. My workload at Towson is both manageable and extraordinarily stimulating. I am blessed to have this opportunity at this stage of my life.

But with it comes a great responsibility. I have a total 106 students spring semester. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be responsible for their academic preparation. But more important than that, I want to teach them skills and abilities that will help them have productive and rewarding careers.

I make it a point to know all my students’ names and something about them early in the semester. I run my classes as staff meetings in a corporation. I am the supervisor, and they are my direct reports with specific job assignments. In so doing, we discuss real world PR issues and approaches to solving problems. 

It is most important to me that students learn problem-solving skills and the application of workable strategic communication/PR/IMC techniques appropriate to typical on-the-job situations.

Employers want communication/PR/IMC practitioners who can solve organizational problems. It is my job to prepare my students to fill that role. The wagon is loaded.

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An old man sleeps with his conscience at night,

A young boy sleeps with his dreams.

                                 –John Prine

It’s Friday night. I feel sad. I can’t say why really, just that feeling of melancholy that comes over people my age at times.  Too many years, too many miles, too many things. Baggage, I guess.

I thought I’d check email one last time before turning in. That’s when I got the most incredible message.

The message began, “Over five years ago, I sought your help and advice.” The writer reminded me of the impossible situation she faced at the multinational corporation at which she was communication manager. She was trying to write a strategic communication plan for the organization. She wrote of how we worked through her problems, preparing her to face the corporate dragons.

It was one of those all-too-common corporate situations in which a communicator can fight the good fight only so far. If management won’t assist you or allow you access to information you need, then they prevent you from managing communication strategically. You can’t succeed in such an environment.

She left, severance package in hand. But soon her skills and abilities began to pay off. Opportunities came. Fast forward to now. She is in a good position where she is responsible for strategic communication with the full support of senior management and the board.

She has also been tasked with a much broader planning and management role, including taking the lead for special projects, other departments, and even teaching strategic communication planning within the organization. Her performance reviews cite her strength at thinking and acting strategically.

It made me so happy to hear this voice from the past tonight. Her story illustrates that we must prepare ourselves to think and manage communication strategically and fight the good fight. But sometimes, we must move on if our situation is impossible. She persevered, and tonight she shared her wonderful success story with me.

I’ll sleep happily now.

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We have a family friend visiting us while on sabbatical from Tulane University. We took her to Mount Vernon today to show her George Washington’s home. It’s a wonderful half-day historical excursion if you’re ever in the Washington, D.C. area.

Being that the place is lovingly restored and open to the public in honor of the first president of the world’s greatest capitalist country, the gift shops are magnificent. The main gift shop, the last stop before you dodge tour buses en route to your car, is truly interesting.

In it there are a zillion items that relate directly to George Washington and his wife, Martha. There are a few thousand more that relate to Mount Vernon, the farm itself.

Then there are a selected few that don’t seem to relate to anything except capitalism. For example, you can buy a $500 amber necklace, a $4,800 coin minted in Washington’s time, and a $2 shot glass with “Mount Vernon” written on it.

The restoration, preservation, and presentation of George Washington’s home as it was when he lived there is truly a monument to America’s reverence for its proud history. This stunningly accurate and compelling restoration is a must-see when you come here.

But the gift shop is a microcosm of how goofy our beloved country can be.  The $2 Mount Vernon shot glass is evidence of this.

You can see the little melodrama unfold. Miroslav comes to D.C. on business from Zagreb, gets taken site-seeing to Mount Vernon, and shops for a gift for wife, Dubravka. Days later, here’s the scene back in Zagreb:

“Dubravka, honey, I’m home! I missed you so much in America.”

“Miroslav, darling, I’m so happy to have you home. Did you bring me anything from America?”

“Yes, my love. I brought you this most useful shot glass from Mount Vernon. It has great historical significance.”

“What! No amber necklace?”

Right about now, you are thinking what Dubravka is thinking: Garage sale.

“Miroslav, you wiener! What possible historical significance can this silly Mount Vernon shot glass have?”

“Dubravka, my pet, that is simple: George Washington slurped here.”

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Well, not really. But…… 

According to a Washington Post article Monday, December 31, 2007, more and more educators are using YouTube to reach people.  The list of universities doing this reads like a Who’s Who: Berkeley, MIT, Johns Hopkins, George Mason, American University, to name only a few from the Post article.

The trick here is that anything posted to YouTube is free. So why are these institutions doing something that does not get into students’ pockets? The altruistic reason cited is in keeping with the mission of higher education — to offer knowledge to everyone.

But for free? A university? What sinister and deceptive motive lies at the heart of this?

The Post says they do it to lure applicants, spread the university’s name, impress donors, and to keep alumni engaged.

Institutions have offered distance education courses for years now, at a price. I am studying how to develop and administer distance education courses as part of my doctoral studies at Towson.

Distance education is institution-based, formal education in which the learning group is separated from the instructor and a traditional classroom and in many cases, each other.  Interactive telecommunication systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors. You can typically do the course work any time, 24/7, without having to meet in a regular classroom setting. It is great for working professionals seeking to gain knowledge and/or degrees within career time constraints.

But YouTube? Yea, why not. It gives a university the opportunity to post for free a popular or provocative lecture or lecturer to generate awareness and interest in its programs. There is so much of value that universities can share with the world — research, timely and relevant information on many wide-ranging topics, news people can use — and the greater good is served by offering it up for free.

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