I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to unemployment and young people without sounding like an old doucher (insert old man voice here: “I remember when I was a youngster and times were tough, we did whatever it took to make a dollar.”) but I just read a post by Herb Engert that put me over the edge. In it, he addresses the frightening statistics of joblessness among young people today. The entrepreneurs in the 30 and under group he researched suggested five key imperatives for action: expand funding alternatives, increase mentoring and broader support, change the culture to tolerate failure, target and speed up incentives, and reduce red tape and excessive taxation. Though compelling, these suggestions from this particular group make me want to blow my top, and here’s why.
I’ve been working with Gen Y and Millenials for close to a decade, and I have been stunned by the decline in personal responsibility, drive, and motivation each year has brought to each new population of young people I work with. I’ve witnessed a 23+ year old have a public tantrum because his instructor “didn’t respect” him (actually, I’ve lost count of how many students have publicly decried being “disrespected” by an instructor because the instructor didn’t let them off the hook). I’ve had to take countless telephone calls from parents of 20somethings and 30somethings complaining that their child isn’t learning anything and then, when confronted with the fact that their child has a 67% attendance rate, giving excuse after excuse as to why we should allow their (adult) child off the hook (“She’s having a really bad year,” “She just got her 2nd D.U.I. and she’s really depressed,” “He has insomnia and can’t be at school by 9:00. Can’t you make an exception?”) I’ve been saddened by the W.I.F.M. sense of entitlement that is so pervasive among this population, their cutthroat, back-stabbing, reality-TV-esque interactions. The “Even though you may be smarter, stronger, or better than me, I’m going to make sure you lose, or at least look bad, so that I look better; even though I’m not going to do anything to be better, smarter, or stronger. I just don’t want you to win because if you win, we’re not on the same level.” I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. After all, this is the generation where everyone won a trophy, whether they played by the rules or not. Maybe all this nonsense started there.
When I was growing up (again, insert old man voice here), if you played on a team there were winners and there were losers. If you won, you celebrated. If you lost, you licked your wounds for a minute but then you went out and practiced that much harder. No one wanted to suck or be a loser. Fast forward twenty years and at little league and t-ball fields across the nation, kids learned that it didn’t matter if they won or lost, they would still win a trophy anyway. I’m pretty sure that’s when the coaches stopped being allowed to teach kids to win because parents didn’t like it when their kid cried because they sucked – I mean, lost. So, coaches stopped coaching (or, bullying, as some psychotic parents suggested) and started telling the kids that “everyone is a winner,” which we all know is horse shit and the parents all patted their kids’ heads and nodded their own heads in agreement. Or, maybe this phenomenon occurred when parents, guilty because they both had to work long hours at the office to maintain their American Dream – Toll Brothers McMansions, mid-size luxury sedans and SUVs, golf, Abercrombie & Fitch, riding lessons, Uggs, and The Northface for the kids – decided to let their kids off the hook for everything. “I don’t feel like cleaning my room,” “I don’t want to go to practice,” “Amy has the new Uggs. I can’t believe you won’t get them for me,” “What do you mean we can’t go to Great Wolf Lodge for a week? You suck!” Exhausted and over-worked, parents started picking their battles, discipline, dedication, drive, and ass-kicking competitiveness obvious losers, lifeless on enemy soil. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. We’ll make it work,” they replied. “I was going to get you those Uggs for Christmas, honey,” they quickly recovered. “I know your team lost today but you will always be a winner,” they lied. And their kids, smug with a win, nodded in agreement, their Facebook likes, Twitter and Instagram followers, an obvious confirmation of their awesomeness (right?). The fascinating thing about this? These same parents are (gasp) shocked that their adult kids are a.) still living at home or, b.) moving back home after unsuccessful jaunts in the real world due to their unrealistic expectations of how the real world should operate (“What do you mean I’m not getting promoted to vice president of the company after being here for six months?” “They treated me like shit. Like who the fuck are they to ask me to make copies for them?” “I could run that shit a thousand times better than they do.”).
On the flip side, there are some things I admire about this generation (shocking, right?). I love the fact that they are more open to creating their own careers and that they have no fear when it comes to doing just that. I admire their confidence when it comes to self-promotion. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people tout their awesomeness, whether true or not, and the fact that they can build a business off of the spin they generate about themselves is amazing. My generation had to have proof in their pudding before they spouted off about how excellent they were but, as a result, have built long-term success is their careers and the businesses they developed. For example, alongside my husband, I helped grow our business to several million dollars a year in business from the ground up. We had no choice of funding alternatives – we went to a family friend who loaned us money to use as collateral to get more money from the bank. We had no mentors or support – the company we franchised with was brand new to the franchising game so, we in essence, grew up along with them. We would NEVER expect culture to change to accept our failure – failure wasn’t an option, period. We had no government incentives – we had achievement and success and pride as incentives. And, taxation? It is what it is and we made sure our profit margin fit within our tax structure. So, with that said, the five key initiatives I would suggest to young entrepreneurs are this:
1. Stop whining about what you need and wondering who is going to hand it to you. We don’t need to expand funding alternatives so that you can start your business. Like most people that have built successful businesses before you, get up off your ass and go make it happen.
2. Stop expecting other people to create what you need. It’s hilarious to me that with allllllll the thousands of “friends and followers” you guys all have via social media, you’re crying that you need us to create business networking groups for you guys to more readily share information. Instead of telling your thousands of friends and followers what you drank last night at happy hour, or what you’re eating for lunch today, why don’t you ask them if they can recommend a mentor? Or, if you want to build a support network for your entrepreneurial aspirations, why don’t you use your social media skills to build one? Or, should we create an association to do that for you, too? I just read something in a John Maxwell book that said something like, “If you want a glass of milk, you don’t go out and sit in a field expecting the cow to walk up to you and put its nipples in your hands.” Sage advice, obviously paraphrased, but sage advice, nonetheless.
3. STOP ACCEPTING FAILURE AS AN OPTION AND STOP EXPECTING US TO ACCEPT YOUR FAILURE AS AN OPTION FOR YOUR FAILURE. It is nauseating to go back and reread the three bullet points: government needs to promote entrepreneurs as crucial job creators (no they don’t if you do what you say you’re going to do), society needs to be more tolerant of failure and recognize entrepreneurs as innovators (“Even if you lost today, you’ll always be a winner to me, sweetheart.” Is that what you need? Then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur.), schools and universities must help students make the right career choices (oh, that’s right, we need to parent you because your parents were so busy telling you how awesome you are and how you’ll be successful at anything as long as you believe you’re successful, that they forgot to tell you that if you want to be successful you have to work your fucking ass off.)
4. Stop looking to the government to create solutions to your inability to make shit happen. Sure, it would be great if there was a program that could help everyone become an entrepreneur but if you look at programs the government creates to help everyone, there are rarely any self-made success stories. Quite the opposite.
5. Taxation is what it is. If you think the government is going to lower taxes, or make special concessions because you want to start a business and it needs to be easier, then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Big businesses that have received special tax loopholes became so successful WITHOUT those loopholes that they can now hire people to go to Washington and create new loopholes for them. Soooooo, in other words, go get super successful and then you, too, can get special tax treatment.
In closing, I’m sure I’m going to receive tons of flack for this post (“You don’t know what it’s like to be young,” “You’re negative,” “You suck,” “You’re a dream killer,” “You’re already successful. Fuck you,” “You don’t understand what these kids are going through,” “Blah, blah, blah”) but I’m reminded of a quote when I think of this, as I, like Herb, do often. It’s from my husband’s grandfather who used to say: “Shit in one hand and wish in the other. See which one fills up faster.” Herb was right when he said that this is a generation that can be great, but it has to start with young folks not wishing but taking action; however, shitting in their hand isn’t necessarily an action I would suggest.
In an industry where everyone on your team “touches” a client – the receptionist, the assistant, the stylist – it’s important that everyone on your team defines and delivers customer service the same way. What does that mean? Well, if your receptionist creates magic for your guest, creating the expectation of exceptional customer service, but your assistant chews gum while speaking, gossips about the client she just had, and then leaves your guest with a wet head at the shampoo bowl then, guess what? You know that their definitions of service vary greatly and that you have probably gotten a one star review on Yelp. “But I have an employee manual that outlines my expectation when it comes to customer service; I have systems in place,” you say. That’s a great start, I’d reply, but modeling what exceptional customer service looks like must be your next step.
Think about it this way – if a person’s only perspective of customer service is the employees they interact with at WaWa, or 5 Below, the local grocery store, Kohl’s, or Walmart, then their idea of customer service is basic: unenthusiastically greet the guest, take their order, take their money, and then look past them and say, “Next.” And, before you get your undies in a knot, I know that there are some amazing service providers at those places but they are the exception, not the norm. The service standard is B.A.S.I.C. Let’s pretend for a moment that another member of your team’s idea of customer service is with the people they deal with at Nordstrom, the Ritz-Carlton, Whole Foods, or Morimoto; places where customer service takes on a whole new meaning – borderline obsession. I’ll give you an example.
On a business trip to the Tyson’s Corner area of D.C., my husband and I stayed at the Ritz. When we arrived, we were exhausted and hungry. I picked up the menu for room service to order a quick sandwich and was disappointed when I discovered they had only white bread as a bread choice. I ordered a sandwich anyway and at the end of our stay when asked to complete a service survey, I wrote a note that said I was surprised that a hotel like the Ritz-Carlton would only offer white bread to its guests. A few weeks later I received several voicemails from a Ritz-Carlton employee apologizing for my disappointing experience at their hotel. A few days later I received a letter in the mail from the GM at the Tyson’s Corner hotel offering me a free overnight stay at any Ritz-Carlton hotel in the world to make up for not having a different choice of bread during my stay. Talk about INSANE customer service; their decision to go above and beyond shocked me, pleased me and, ultimately, ruined me because now I expect a free hotel stay anytime WaWa is out of my favorite kind of bread. Realistically, though, that customer service experience forced me to rethink what customer service really is.
BusinessDictionary.com defines customer service as: All interactions between a customer and a product provider at the time of sale, and thereafter. Customer service adds value to a product and builds enduring relationship. Huh. Really? So, then that should change every single client/employee interaction, right? Right! And, it should also make defining customer service pretty simple: every interaction should be adding value and building enduring relationships and if it’s not, then your employees aren’t providing customer service at all. “But what about modeling customer service, like you talked about earlier?” Good point. We’ve defined customer service, now how can exceptional customer service be modeled for your team? Simple. A road trip (or, two).
If you’re conducting regular trainings with your team, take the next training time and pack everyone into a car and drive them to Nordstrom. Take them into the makeup department and have them speak to the counter staff; purchase something – ask questions – observe. Go to the clothing or shoe departments and mosey around; engage a sales person and watch the customer service experience unfold before your eyes. Let your team see, hear, and experience a level of customer service they may not be familiar with. Afterward, go to Starbucks and grab some coffee and while you’re there, observe how the Starbucks team interacts with one another and with their guests. Then, sit down with your team and ask them what stood out the most for them at Nordstrom and at Starbucks. Ask them if the service experience they received was different. And then, ask them if they think that that level of service would be well received at the salon and if they think exceptional service could have an impact on the salon’s bottom line. When you get back to the salon, engage your team in a role playing exercise where they will have the opportunity to practice delivering exceptional customer service. It may feel awkward at first – change is sometimes uncomfortable – but when your salon develops a reputation for being the most customer-centric salon in your area, your paychecks will feel anything but awkward.
I went to work for my husband eight years ago when he decided he wanted to open a beauty school and I’m pretty sure that’s when my definition of work-life balance changed. I came from a traditional corporate work background – you know the drill – go to work, do your thing, and at five o’clock, turn it off. Even with a busy sales career that required extensive travel and life as a single mom, I still managed to maintain a life, one that consisted of riding my horses, exercising, running, and spending time with friends and family. I read magazines for leisure, cleaned my own house, and on weekends went into the city for dinner with girlfriends. I had a firm grip on my career and my life; the only balance I sought was whether to ride every other day, or run every other day.
While the school was being built, I continued to work at my full-time sales career and worked part-time, recruiting students and giving tours, in the mornings before my day began, in the evenings after work, and on the weekends. It was an exciting time but neither of us noticed the candles burning at both ends, nor did we realize the habits we were creating at the time would haunt us even after the hungry days of being a start-up were long gone. But with every penny we had going into the business, work-life balance really was no longer a corporate buzz-word or water cooler conversation – it was work-work, period. In my mind (and in reality), if I wasn’t selling, we weren’t making money, and if we weren’t making money, we weren’t eating. And, in the beginning, since it was only us and I was responsible for the sales and marketing, and my husband and his business partner were heading up education and operations, if I didn’t work, we literally didn’t eat. Those were lean days, and they ended up lasting years. The fear of failure, of losing our house, of my husband’s business partner losing his house, of us going belly up, gnawed at me every day and at night kept me far from sleep. But every enrollment, every sale, drove me to want another, and then another, not to mention the insane satisfaction and pride I got knowing I was making my husband’s dream a reality.
Steve Toback, a former senior executive in the technology industry (and, probably no stranger to the work-life balance conversation) wrote a brilliant piece on the work-life balance myth and had this to say about my lament, “We stay connected 24×7 because we want to. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head when you answer a call or a text when you’re supposed to be playing with your kids or out to dinner with your better half. So why do we do it? We love the attention. It makes us feel special. We’re addicted to it. No kidding.” Yeah, Steve, no kidding. But why? Why does working so much make us feel special? When did the latest text or email become the new aphrodisiac? According to Harvard Business Review contributor, Leslie A. Perlow, “Many — if not most — of us are addicted to success. We are successaholics not workaholics. We’re obsessed with work because of the satisfaction we get from the kudos for achievement, not because of some deep-seeded satisfaction from working long hours, as an end in itself. And what this means is that it is the definition of success, not some ingrained personality issue, that is at the source of why we are always on. If this is true, then turning off requires changing what we value in each other, not changing ourselves.” She goes on to share the results of an experiment she conducted where people were applauded for taking time off and shunned for staying plugged in. She concluded that people who appear to be thriving on a non-stop work week are actually thriving on a job well done. I love that story, but what if the judge of the “job well done” is actually the person doing the job? I was beginning to feel like Indiana Jones.
Fast forward eight and a half years, and the business we worked so hard to make successful is just that; yet, my work-is-life mindset vacillates between feast-or-famine and we’re-not-quite-there-yet mentality, choosing to lag behind the business’s obvious success, choosing instead excuses ad nauseam for the countless hours spent on Hootsuite “updating our site” into infinity. Had I trained myself to live in this space of always being “on,” my phone pinging incessantly with emails and text messages? Was my lack of balance excusable in light of the fact that we owned the business and that if it wasn’t successful, our family could lose everything? Or, was I using all of those covers to hide the fact that I am a workaholic and that I’d rather be working than doing pretty much anything else? To make myself feel better, I googled “successful entrepreneurs, work-life balance,” and this is what I found – “If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, there is no such thing as work-life balance.” Thank you, Paul Brown.
So, rather than over think this whole work-life thing, I’m going to a.) go back to my seashore vacation (yes, I’m writing this while on vacation – another sign of a workaholic with zero work-life balance – but, hey, I’m writing it at midnight and everyone’s asleep) and b.) I’m going to follow Steve Toback’s advice, “The next time you hear yourself complaining about how little time you have or your lack of work-life balance, try this instead. Think about your priorities. Think about what you spent your time on that day, that week, that month. Then think about what you didn’t get to do. If there’s a disconnect, do something about it. Simple as that.”