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CIO Unplugged – 9/15/08

September 15, 2008 News No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Staying Tethered to a Disconnected World
By Ed Marx

Much has been written about the multi generational workplace. Thanks to advances in science, health, and technology, most institutes encompass a blend of 3 generations with the delivery of a fourth (Gen Z) on the way. Heck, even the age of my running group back in Cleveland ranged from teen through every decade to include the 60s. That made it fun, and inspiring.

With the exception of two individuals, my current leadership team is made up of baby boomers—though in truth, I overlap the Gen X periphery. That likely classifies us as average in this regard. Raised by the “greatest generation,” we have observed and participated in the most rapid advances the world has ever known, across all disciplines. For the first time in history, we now lead a vibrant force of multiple generations. This adds fresh challenges and opportunities.

If your leadership team is anything like ours, you’re struggling to ensure a sense of connectedness in an untethered culture. I am blessed to be part of an IT team that is nationally recognized as one of the best in areas of innovation, leadership, and infrastructure. Just this year, we ranked in the “Top 50” places to work across all industries (Computerworld). Be that as it may, fostering connectedness within a team that telecommutes extensively and where the focus has shifted to performance, as opposed to time in a cube, remains a daunting task. The Boomer leader’s comfort zone requires everyone to see each other daily and nurture a home-away-from-home feeling, while Gen X and Y don’t necessarily desire that environment. Is having a “best friend at work” (Gallup Research) still the most important criteria for connectedness in a post-modern workforce? What can leaders do to reconcile this conundrum so performance remains high and connectedness manifests itself in ways motivating to all generations?

Here is what we do.

· Social Networking- Encourage the use of networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn and develop your own networks within each

· Technology- Provide communication tools such as IM, VPN and video

· High Touch- As much as I value technology, I still handwrite an average of 10 cards per week

· Dinners- Have people over regularly

We purchased a second dining room table and extra place settings a few years ago so we could serve 40 people at one time.

Singles, including single parents and their kids, have been invited on many a Thanksgiving and Christmas to celebrate with us.

· Parties- Hold two huge shindigs each year for all staff, one of which is formal and includes significant others

We host smaller parties at our home to celebrate successes. Ideally, these include the employees’ families

· Play- Volleyball tournaments, foosball, kickball

This fall: six vs. six soccer

· Give- Take numerous opportunities to come together and give

Sometimes we help one of our own who is dealing with a personal struggle.

We participate in United Way and food drives, etc.

· Community- Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building homes or at various local outreach centers

· Phone Calls- Well-timed phone calls to chat with colleagues has proven critical

· Voice Mails- Stay an extra thirty minutes one evening and leave voice mails for individuals on different levels, thanking them for their impact

· Book Studies- Have numerous book studies taking place all the time, which brings people together to discuss specific topics

· Events- Most organizations have some sort of season tickets whether for the opera or local sports team.

Whenever possible, I take advantage of these and give first priority to non-management staff. While I find some of the events are boring (baseball is way too slow), I love hosting these activities simply to connect

· MBWA- For in office employees, walk through work areas regularly

My assistant knows that sometimes it takes me 45 minutes to return from a meeting a few hundred yards away because I love to engage my team

· Unique Meeting Places- Why hold meetings in boring conference rooms? Especially for teleworkers. Meet at Starbucks or Paneras

· Big Dates- Acknowledge your leadership’s birthdays and employment anniversaries

· Lead by Example- I work from home weekly and use all the aforementioned technologies and actions to foster connectedness.

· Transparency- Regardless of the medium, be transparent. Show your warts. Be human. Remove the formalities. A true leader earns respect by respecting others

For those who respond to this by asking “what about work?” I say look at our performance. Additionally, I firmly believe, and my experience will attest, the team that incorporates such connectedness will outperform those who insist it is all about butts in seats.

Do you want to reach across all generations and connect to a disconnected world? Incorporate compassion, acts of kindness, empathy, laughter, and fun into your workplace. Revamp your culture, watch performance improve, and then join us on the list of best places to work. See ya there!

Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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