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To The Green And The Gray: Do This One Thing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about the Green and the Gray. I believe there is a gap in many businesses between these two groups, but they both very much need each other. Their companies need them to need each other.

The Gray need the tenacity and new perspective of the Green. The Green need the wisdom and experience of the Gray. A company that gets both sides working together will be able to truly get around the idea that everything is marketing now.

If there’s any single thing that both the Green and the Gray need in order for this to work it’s humility. Yes, humility. Be humble. I know that doesn’t sound as buzzworthy as ideation or authenticity or dare I say, synergy, but if you have humility you get all of that.

What Humility Does

Humble people lower their guard. Humble people assume they don’t necessarily have the best answer. Humble people don’t feel the need to defend themselves immediately. That means they listen to someone’s point of view. It also means they’re humble enough to consider that you could actually make a good point or contribute to their idea. People of every generation struggle with this. We always think our ideas are better…particularly motivated and smart people.

Just yesterday I was talking about marketing with the lady who cuts my hair. I’ve known her for years. She’s smart, business savvy and was asking good questions. At one point she remarked that my previous comment didn’t make sense. To be honest, I could feel myself getting defensive. I listened to her feedback and realized she was right. I wasn’t being clear. It didn’t make sense. In that moment I had to fight the pride of wanting to be right and assuming I’m saying something that makes sense rather than be humble enough to consider that I wasn’t. I’ll have another moment like that today. Probably several.

You Should Struggle With Humility

Just like you I struggle to be humble but I’d rather struggle with it than not. If you don’t struggle with humility you have either mastered it or you don’t care. I’ll go out on a limb and say none of us have mastered it, therefore if you don’t struggle with it you’re not even thinking about it. It’s not on your radar. That’s a problem.

The Green need to be humble enough to realize that just because an idea gets shot down doesn’t mean it’s a personal attack or that their idea is bad. Maybe their idea is bad. Maybe the timing is bad. Maybe there’s an entire set of circumstances going on behind the scenes that makes their good idea not work right now. Humble people press in and press on.

The Gray need to be humble enough to listen to someone half their age with a fraction of the experience. They really do have something to offer. They really do have perspective you don’t have and that perspective is more fitting and applicable to your business than you may think. Humble people press in and press on.

Press In. Press On.

Regardless of your color you’re going to have awkward moments, tension or situations when you don’t feel like you’re being respected the way you deserve to be. Humble people press in and press on.

You press into a situation by digging in further. So your idea got shot down. So what? Are you going to get mad and go back to your desk and grumble the rest of the day or go talk to the person after the meeting and calmly ask them to help you understand. That’s pressing in.

Pressing on means that even if the answer you get about why your awesome idea was shot down isn’t satisfactory, you’re going to press on. You’re going to keep doing good work. You’re going to step up with another awesome idea next time. You’re humble enough to live with the fact that you still think your idea is awesome but for reasons beyond your comprehension it’s just not going to happen. Maybe the next one will. Maybe next time you’ll present it differently or bounce it off a few people before the meeting or gather more information ahead of time. That’s pressing on.

The world of business has changed. Good companies realize that everything is marketing now even the culture within their company. A culture of humble people working together for the same purpose is a great place to work. Humility turns good companies into great companies…and that’s just good marketing.

Photo credit: “A Very High Five” by Michael Greening via Flickr

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Why The Green Need The Gray

Last week I launched a new series of posts about the Green and the Gray. The follow up to the initial post was why the Gray need the Green. Today’s post looks at the other side: why the Green need the Gray.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Green are Green for a reason. They don’t have a lot of professional experience and they almost certainly have very little industry experience. Couple this inexperience with lacking the soft skills common to young professionals and a generational decline in writing proficiency going back to 2002, and you have the makings of a workforce of Greens who want to be taken seriously but are lacking some essentials that would otherwise help them earn the respect of the Grays.

Why The Green Need The Gray

The Green need the Gray more than they realize. The Gray have their own intuitive sense about things. Sure, it may not be the same intuition that helps the Greens understand that everything is marketing now as I mentioned in the previous post, but the Gray have the kind of insight that you only get with many years on the job.

The Gray have negotiation skills and leadership experience and a sense of timing and priority to know what’s really urgent and what just appears to be. The Gray know how to read people and see the reality of situations that the Green just can’t see. It’s like the Gray see color and the Green are colorblind until they learn what the colors are and how to adjust their eyes.

It Wasn’t Easy Being Green

As a guy who sits between the Green and Gray now, I can look back to my Green years and see that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without many Grays who took the time to push me, teach me, train me and give me wisdom I didn’t know I needed.

I remember one Gray mentor telling me on the first week of my first job out of graduate school that I shouldn’t expect to help much for the first year. That was the opposite of what I wanted to hear and I was offended by the comment. I was ready to make my mark and I had a Master’s degree fresh in hand. I was ready to take the world by storm. He knew that was a terrible idea because I was Green. What he was trying to say is, “I know you think you’re pretty smart and know how things work, but you don’t. You’ve never worked in a half a billion dollar company before and there’s so much you don’t know despite everything you’ve learned to this point in your life.” In other words, don’t expect to help much the first year.

After I got over the initial offense and started to learn more about the organization I saw that he was right. I’d like to think I contributed in that first year, but I was really learning more than I was contributing. They were investing in me and by the second year they were starting to use that investment in other parts of the company.

I’m grateful for the wise Gray leader recognizing how Green I really was and investing in me getting a bit less Green.

How To Connect The Green

Here are a few practical ways to connect the Green into the company and have some Gray rub off on them.

1. The Green in your company want to know they’re doing something that has value and meaning to the company. Even if you’re investing in them, be sure to paint the vision for why they need to be patient now. Talk about what the payoff for them will be down the road.

2. Actively pull the Green into projects or meetings where they can really participate and have a chance to influence decisions. Even if you don’t take their suggestions you will learn something by the questions they ask or recommendations they make.

3. Consider a mentorship program in your organization that actively connects Gray and Green. It may be more relational in nature or it might be more project oriented, but whatever the case, consider being proactive in pairing up the Green and the Gray.

The Green need the Gray. Your organization needs the Green and the Gray to connect. Someone has to lead. It probably should be you.

Photo credit: “Army Men – The 365 Toy Project” by davidd via Flickr

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Why The Gray Need The Green

Yesterday I introduced the idea of the new color barrier in business: the Green versus the Gray. In short, the Green are young professionals who although short on work experience and positional influence, intuitively understand the way business has changed because it’s changed while they’ve been growing up. They have a distinct advantage because they’ve only known the world to be one way.

The Gray, on the other hand, have decades of experience and sit in the decision making seats for most organizations. They have vast insight and knowledge of their respective industries but may be struggling to come to terms with the vast changes in their businesses because of a changing culture of customer expectations, technology, customer expectations and communication methods.

The Gray Need The Green

The thing is, the Gray need the Green. If they can get that they are 90% of the way there.

Today’s Green bring something to the table that the Green of previous generations didn’t necessarily have: an inherent understanding of how people are connected and why that changes the way your business should do business. They have high standards for product quality, truth in advertising, good service, great experiences, real corporate values, vibrant corporate culture and have no problem with the idea that if you mess any one of those up you could severely hurt your brand.

That’s the very essence of “everything is marketing now” too. For the Green, everything means everything. They want to love their work, love the things their company does and make a good living in the process. That might sound overly idealistic but it’s what they’re coming to the table with. It’s also why many tech startups cater to this very thing. They know it puts them ahead of the companies who haven’t figured this out yet.

Fight The Feeling Of Futility

In order to keep the Green engaged will require understanding the way they think and the expectations (realistic or not) that they bring with them from day one. One common frustration I hear from my Green friends is that they make suggestions and recommendations and are regularly shot down without a good explanation. That is a terrible way to manage anyone, but the Green will be particularly annoyed by it. Once they feel like their work is futile they’re going to have one foot out the door.

Do you ever wonder if your Green employees like working for your company? Here’s a test: how many of them have recommended a friend for a job at your company? How many hires have you made in the last year because some of your Green recommended them? If the most connected generation in the history of the world isn’t connecting their friends to your company, you may know all you need to know about what they really think.

How The Gray Lead

The best way to keep your Green from feeling like their work is futile is to guide them. Even if they have a wacky idea it’s a teachable moment. That’s where some of the good Gray wisdom should be kicking in. When the Gray become mentors of the Green, the Green will undoubtedly rub off a bit on the Gray and it will help everyone.

The Gray need the Green more than they may think. The future of their companies depends up on it but it’s going to require getting uncomfortable. It’s going to mean that the Green may move up the ladder quicker than would have ever been considered with the Gray were working up the ranks. There is so much for the Gray to learn from the Green but it will take a willing desire and probably a dash of humility. It will be worth it.

The bottom line is that while everything is marketing now, the Green already get it. For them, everything is marketing. That’s the only world they’ve known. The “now” part is for you…the Gray. That’s why you need the Green.

The next post will be the other side of this coin: why the Green need the Gray.

Photo credit: “War on Reality 1” by Steven Mileham

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The Next Color Barrier In Business: Green Versus Gray

I see a problem ahead for many companies. The bigger they are, the more likely they have this problem. They have a color barrier and they probably don’t even know it: the Green versus the Gray.

Who’s Green? Who’s Gray?

Before I get into the problem, let’s define these colors for the purpose of this post:

The Green: Young professionals somewhere between their early 20s and mid 30s. They’ve probably bounced around in a few jobs so they don’t yet have a vast amount of business experience and they may have even less experience in their current industry. They are, however, digital natives and intuitively understand many of the foundational elements that have changed business communications and marketing today.

The Gray: Experienced professionals around 50 years old and up. They have several decades of work experience and have likely been in their current industry for the majority of their career. They have worked their way up to positions of authority in middle and upper management but they’re unsettled by the way business has changed in recent years. At best they want to understand and embrace the changes. At worst, they want to ignore them and act like their industry isn’t changing as much as it probably is.

The Problem

So here’s the deal, I have been talking to more companies about the idea that everything is marketing now, and what I continue to see is that when I discuss the concept there are two very different reactions. The Green’s reaction is something like, “well, yeah, of course.” The Gray’s reaction is more like, “Ok, this is interesting, but I’m not sure we can/will/want to do this.”

And there’s the gap. The people who have the power to make the changes (the Gray) don’t typically understand (or aren’t willing to consider) how much the world of business has changed. If everything is marketing now, the implications are so far reaching into all aspects of business that it’s uncomfortable for most leaders who have been doing things the same way for a long time. 

In the meantime, the Green are seeing opportunities for their companies to change and adapt and they want to be part of that. They see potential all over the place because they grew up seeing things differently in a time when so much has changed. In fact, it was probably their youth and perspective that got them the job in the first place. But then it got real. They tried to make a suggestion and were rebuffed with a “we don’t do that around here” kind of response. Or they stuck their neck out with a new idea and realized that new ideas are only accepted if they seem safe, plausible and not too distant deviations from business as usual.

The problem here is that both sides need each other. The Green need the Gray. The Gray need the Green. If a business is going to embrace the idea that everything is marketing now, it’s going to take both groups to pull it off.

This week I’m going to be posting more on this topic. I think it’s something worth digging into.

Photo credit: “Untitled” by Adelle McCarthy

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