A responsibility corporations never imagined they would have

When I saw a video of Simon Sinek keep appearing in my Facebook feed, I refused to click on it. One headline, “This is EXACTLY what’s wrong with this generation!” was enough to put me off.

When my wife recommended it, I watched it.

It’s a fifteen-minute excerpt from a longer interview, and the focus is on millenials (people born after 1984 or so) in the workplace. He describes, for example, how technology and impatience are shaping this generation, making them less happy and less effective at work. 

“Everything you want - instant gratification! 
EXCEPT job satisfaction & strength of relationships - there ain’t no app for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes.”

Then, at 10:23, he said something that surprised me: it’s a company’s responsibility to help people develop those relationships, to give them the skills to do so.

“We are putting them in corporate environments that aren’t helping them build their confidence, that aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation, that aren’t helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world…”
I hate to say it…It’s the company’s responsibility…we have to work extra hard to find ways to teach them the social skills they’re missing out on.
Trust doesn’t form in a day…It’s the slow steady consistency…We have to create mechanisms where we allow those…interactions to happen.”

You might think teaching “people skills” is the responsibility of parents or schools, or that individuals should just develop them on their own. But if, for whatever reasons, new joiners don’t have these skills - how to build trust and rapport, how to cooperate and collaborate - would’t it benefit the company to help employees develop them?

What do you think? Should organizations be teaching people how to relate to each other?

Update - Feb 1, 2017: Shortly after I posted this, several people pointed out that Simon Sinek recorded a follow-up video (in his kitchen, no less) to respond to some of the strong reactions, both positive and negative, to the things he said in the interview. It's excellent, and clarifies several key points, including the one about corporate responsibility for improving how employees relate to each other.

What millenials want at work

The quotation marks in the Wall Street Journal article seemed to drip sarcasm.

“Millenial experts.” If there was any doubt about the author’s attitude towards them, the word “upstart” made it clear, as did citing the ages of the distinctly non-millenial people offering highly-paid advice. A few weeks later, the NY Times followed up with a similar article, “Corporate America Chases the Mythical Millennial.” 

But whether millenials are different or not misses the bigger questions. What does anyone of any age want at work? And how do we give it to them?

Data on what works

The People Analytics team at Google have been analyzing what makes for a more effective team, and they published some of their findings in November. In short, they found that “Who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions.” They identified five things that set successful teams apart.

Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?
Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high quality work on time?
Structure & clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?
Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?
Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we’re doing matters?
Psychological safety was far and away the most important of the five dynamics we found -- it’s the underpinning of the other four. How could that be? Taking a risk around your team members seems simple. But remember the last time you were working on a project. Did you feel like you could ask what the goal was without the risk of sounding like you’re the only one out of the loop? Or did you opt for continuing without clarifying anything, in order to avoid being perceived as someone who is unaware?”

What we all want

Laszlo Bock, the head of People Operations at Google and author of the excellent book, Work Rules!, talked about the research on what millennials want.

“We measure this sort of thing closely, and if you look at what their underlying needs and aspirations are, there’s no difference at all between this new generation of workers and my generation and my father’s generation.”

What will make a difference in an organization isn’t divining the needs and wants of any particular demographic, it’s figuring out how to get the universal basics in place, as Bock describes them in the same article.

“Every single human being wants the same thing in the workplace — we want to be treated with respect, we want to have a sense of meaning and agency and impact, and we want our boss to just leave us alone so we can get our work done.”

If you can make $20,000 an hour talking about what millenials want and need in the workplaces of the future, that’s great.

If you can actually spread the behaviors that create those workplaces, that’s priceless.