Work Quake: Who's Shaking Up Every Business Today

Work Quake: Who's Shaking Up Every Business Today

by Liz Nickles

NOOK BookFirst Edition (eBook - First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429978811
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 10/04/2002
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 316 KB

About the Author

Liz Nickles is a nationally recognized expert in stategic marketing and brand development. She is coowner of the research firm Nickles&Ashcraft, which pioneered new assumptions about women in the workplace and teens in the 21st century. She lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband and son.
Liz Nickles is a nationally recognized expert in strategic marketing and brand development. Her research firm, Nickles&Ashcraft, pioneered the assumptions about women in the workplace and teens in the twenty-first century. She is currently director of branding, marketing and advertising at Credit Suisse First Boston. She lives in Westchester County, NY with her husband and son.

Read an Excerpt

Work Quake

Who's Shaking Up Every Business Today

By Liz Nickles

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2001 Liz Nickles
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7881-1



"BlackBerries. We've got to get them their BlackBerries. Have the BlackBerries been ordered?" The mood in the New York conference room of one of the world's largest financial institutions was tense. Over the speakerphone in the middle of the table, one of the senior officers, let's call him Mr. Euro, sounded uncharacteristically anxious as he called in from France. Even in his absence, those around the table could imagine him at the moment: iconically dressed in suit, crisply impeccable button-down shirt, tie, and gold cuff links — in spite of the recent global edict for five-day-a-week "business casual." Mr. Euro was one of the more conservative bastions of the old school. But, as was becoming clear in the meeting, even his stolid foundations were crumbling.

The six people around the conference table leaned closer to the speakerphone, styluses poised at the screens of their Palm Pilots, ready to carry out Mr. Euro's wishes. He wished for BlackBerries. Now.

Mr. Euro was not talking about a field trip to the blackberry patch or a foray to the gourmet produce stand. The BlackBerry was, at the moment of this conversation in the spring of 2000, the newest, hippest, and most in-demand technology toy — a handheld, wireless device that allows access to and sending of e-mail from anywhere. Forget the archaic pager or the paleolithic cell phone. The BlackBerry had become the must-have business accessory, the Prada electronic of the backpack/briefcase set. As such, the younger associates had recently put in a demand for BlackBerries — among other things. However, this particular firm, being on the leading edge — or so they had thought — had actually anticipated this and had proactively initiated the process of harvesting BlackBerries for its employees even before this latest request had hit.

One of the midlevel executives shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he addressed the speakerphone. "Um, we've got good news and bad news on that." The good news was that the Tech department had gone on a quest to get the BlackBerries at a lower price, which it had achieved; the bad news was that this cost-consciousness had delayed the process a good month.

Over the speakerphone, Mr. Euro's voice tightened, although he did not raise it. He was a very polite man, more given to understatement. "Well, that is not good. We need to accelerate this process." Styluses flew across tiny electronic tablets an ocean away. "Now they're going to think we got the BlackBerries because they demanded them. We won't get credit."

They being the young associates. We being the senior management of the firm.

What's not wrong but different about this picture?

The executives sitting in the meeting exchanged glances. Everyone sitting there knew the answer: This was a pivotal moment, one of those instances when everything is about to change, when the bottom card is being pulled from the carefully constructed house.

Even a year before, the young associates on Wall Street — or new, first-year hires at almost any traditional company, for as far back as anybody could remember — were the voiceless slave labor of the organization. They were invisible. They were learning, contributing, gaining necessary expertise and momentum, but they were also doing something that was, once upon a time, quaintly referred to as "paying their dues."

Remember the trainee? I can assure you the Baby Boomers do, because they spent the first quarter of their careers being one. They got the coffee. They answered the phones. They typed their fingerprints off. They canceled their vacations. They practically licked their bosses' feet — and were lucky, if not always happy, to do it. Because they knew this was the way in, the first step in the long arc that would lead, say, forty years hence, to the gold watch, as it had for their fathers (and, in rare but heroic instances, mothers) before.

I remember my first job at an advertising agency. I was a junior junior copywriter. After my first client lunch, I was soundly berated by my boss. I stared at him, bewildered: I had spoken intelligently about the account, been polite and knowledgeable — so why the scolding? As I was quickly to learn, it had to do with the food. The client had ordered dessert. Nobody else had ordered dessert, including me. Especially me. "It's called 'Eat the dessert!'" my boss said, exasperated — actually, he was yelling — the implication being that I should have known my place in the pecking order, which was the rock bottom. "If the client orders dessert, the junior member of the team — that being you — orders dessert too. And eats it!" Every Baby Boomer I have ever worked with has stories like this.

Fast forward to the conference room in New York, where this firm, along with other firms on the Street, was trying to make sense of a paradigm shift that seemed to them to have dropped from the sky. The culture was traditionally one of the most selective, and most demanding, that a new graduate could join. Just one year before the BlackBerry meeting, the territory was familiar, expected, and reeked of the status quo. It was the world of three-piece suits and ties for men; dark-colored skirt suits, blouses, and heels for women. Today it was five-day-a-week business casual (to assist in the re-wardrobing, Banana Republic opened an in-office shop on one investment bank's New York premises; the firm sent out the notice over the intranet). And, lurking around the corner, concierge service.

For decades, the elite young financial recruits, the cream of the Harvards, Whartons, and Stanfords of the world, could look forward to hundred-hour workweeks crunching numbers, dredging research, and assembling pitch books and reports from behind the scenes. Their status within the firms, according to a junior analyst quoted in a front-page article in the New York Times, was a "general perception of inferior creatures." This was, simply, the way it was. It was the price paid for a career path in financial services, for a shot at the megabonuses somewhere down the line. It was unimaginable that a junior staffer would confront, say, a Bruce Wasserstein or Henry Kravis with anything more bold than "Good morning, sir."

But in an instant, things were different. New hirees, strong in self-confidence if short on experience, were making demands. Yesterday's self-termed slave labor force had wrested control of the tiller, and the captains of the ship were charting a new course.

George Anders, senior editor and Silicon Valley bureau chief of Fast Company magazine, observed "more of a sense of 'I'm here, I'm ready for responsibility. Let me go do it.' I think, by and large, this is good. We don't need a version of the old German apprentice system where at age thirty-six you were finally declared a master craftsman and you could begin doing whatever it was you wanted to do."

Upheaval at Salomon Smith Barney was also cited in the same piece in the New York Times. "The youngest workers are having their dues paid for them," trumpeted the article, headlined "At a Wall Street Firm, Junior Voices Roar." A twenty-three-year-old analyst had submitted a list of demands that detailed thirty-six ways the firm could retain their junior members (in addition to their $70,000-a-year salaries). The list included — in part — concierge service, videotape return service, free toothbrushes for business trips, stock perks, free gym memberships, better car service, and beds where the burned-out could relax at work. And BlackBerries.

The sword had been passed. The question remained: Just who was in training for what?

Instant entitlement has swept upon us like a tidal wave, in the turbulent wake of the Tech Babies, just one of a flurry of trends that is spawning a fundamental paradigm shift in how we work, live, love, and, even, exist in a world that is changing underfoot as we attempt to negotiate the shifting sands. In a speech to the Women of Silicon Valley Summit in April 2000, Hillary Clinton called the wiring of the country and its impact "as significant as electrifying the country in the 1930s." Certainly few circumstances in history can compare with the impact of the Internet, and even those that can cannot claim the swiftness with which the Internet has been embraced. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, in 1996, 14 percent of Americans were online; in 2000, the number had surged to 44 percent. In 1998, the average person spent nine hours a month online. Two years later, the number was nineteen. The Strategis Group in Washington released statistics including the facts that in 2000, more than half of all U.S. adults were online; that daily home use of the Internet skyrocketed 50 percent from the previous year; and 57 million adults, or 28 percent of the American population, used the Internet from home every day. In the same year, the percentage of adults who shopped online more than doubled their spending, from $1.72 billion to $3.6 billion. And they're getting plenty of early exposure. According to a Newsweek/Kaplan poll of parents with children in kindergarten through eighth grade in the fall of 2000, 75 percent of them had computers at home and 62 percent were connected to the Net. More than half of the children in grades K to 4 used computers at least a few times a week.

OK, they use computers. Doesn't almost everybody, certainly everybody in the business community? How does this entitle anybody to cut to the head of the line? The answer is, for this group it's irrelevant, because there is no line. True, a lot of people are standing there, queued up like the line exists. But there is a whole group of people who are line phobic. You're thinking a volatile stock market, job market, or economy is going to shake them to their senses? Think again. For the most part, it's beyond the point to them, because they were born outside the line, they grew up outside the line, and that's where they're operating, even if they are starting at ground zero of the career trajectory.

In every sea change, of every generation, there is an advance force of early adopters who set the tone for the mass movement that will follow. This time a new breed of early adopters — a mutation in the DNA — has tossed out a virtual stone, and the surrounding ripples are creating a new culture that is infusing every aspect of our lives until, one day, we will look up and recognize it, indelibly changed, as our own.

It's tempting to slap a ubiquitous "dot com" label on the swirl we see happening around us. Clearly, technology is chipping at the mortar of the once-unshakable pillars of our economic superstructures, and evolving new economies are increasingly renegotiating culture as we know it. But economy and culture are only part of the equation. In fact, the evidence behind this shift points to something more personal, a convergence of technology and attitude that is unique to this time and place.

One of the greatest impacts of the Internet has been a new capacity to allow — and, in some cases, force — people to interact with each other in different ways. In any human interaction, attitude is the critical link; however, it is also the forgotten element. We live with the impact, but we ignore the human engine. The motivations behind behavior are the driving force of action, which in turn lead to reaction. Why are people acting and responding differently from how they used to? Or are they? And what does this mean? What it means to the economy is critical — but what does it mean to me? What can I expect, and how can I prepare myself to handle it?

I was having lunch not long ago with Carl, a very intelligent and accomplished man I've known for two decades. He has led innumerable businesses to profitability, won many awards in his field, been president or CEO of several major companies, and currently holds a distinguished position at the top of a highly respected professional association, where he is responsible for the strategic overlay of an entire industry. But before the waiter could recite the specials, Carl began telling me about the new–versus–old economy culture clashes he was experiencing at his firm and his inability to get a grip on what he saw happening around him and where he fit in. We joked about a commercial that was running on TV, where a woman in her young twenties announces that after ten weeks on the job she's ready for her seat on the board, and Carl rolled his eyes in confusion. "I just don't get it," he said.

Carl is not alone.

Even the most recent historical equivalent to the socioeconomic upheavals we are seeing today, the movement of women into the workforce, failed to produce the kind of instant impact, not to mention resonance, of the New Economy Change Agents. The comparison helps shed some light on the current scenario.

For the past twenty years, researcher Laurie Ashcraft and I have tracked lifestyle trends and changes. Almost two decades ago, Nickles & Ashcraft, via the mail panel of Market Facts, fielded the first nationally projectable, in-depth survey to track women's changing attitudes, motivations, and behaviors, called Update: Women. The implications have ranged from the explosion of the divorce rate to single parenthood to the advent of the Supermom to the "Martha Stewartization" phenomenon.

The movement of women out of the home and into the workplace is one of the most significant socioeconomic shifts of the past century, but there are major differences between what happened in the women's sector and what we are seeing evolve from the new economy, and these differences help underscore the uniqueness and impact of the issues we are experiencing today. For instance, it has taken women nearly twenty years to gain their current position in the workplace, which is still significantly below that of men, while the population of the new economy and an empowered young segment of men and women established an entrenched culture that managed to slice into the establishment in a matter of only a few years. Why is this the case?

Although technology and other factors played a role in providing tools that enabled women to work more effectively outside the home, women's migration into the workforce was an attitudinal revolution, spurred by empowering changes within women themselves. Entering the economic mainstream gave them a new socioeconomic status, but real financial motivation actually played a lesser role. In 1981 the Nickles & Ashcraft Update: Women Survey showed that while 46 percent of all women age twenty to fifty worked primarily for income, the rest were motivated by having an interesting job and seeking self-respect. And the power women acquired by entering the economic mainstream was neither fast enough nor great enough to impact the overall economy to the point where all Americans could see their power reflected in their personal stock portfolios. Although strides were made toward economic equality between the sexes, there was no great engine for the amassing of wealth when women hung up their aprons and got jobs in the late 1970s and 1980s; in fact, the job sectors populated by women tended to be traditionally underpaid arenas labeled "pink-collar ghettos," which were a very long way from Silicon Valley. Partly as a result, women have still not completely broken through the glass ceiling. They have integrated, but not populated, the elite sectors of the economy. Women's advances have been based on performance within a status quo, not its reinvention.

In-depth questionnaires and interviewing of more than 5,000 women in our Update: Women surveys from 1979 to 1989 revealed little to no impact on their attitudes that could be traced to technology or any other outside force. In fact, in spite of the fact that it could be argued that technology produced the dishwashers, washing machines, telephones, cars, and countless other inventions that made daily life and, indeed, having a career, more feasible, none of these was an overnight innovation, and most had been in place since the birth of these women's mothers if not grandmothers. There was no external force to help launch women into a more elevated career trajectory.

Further, unlike those in the technology sector today, women had virtually no career-relevant role models to emulate or follow. In the 1980 Update: Women survey of 2,400 women, which allowed women to write in their selections, not a single respondent named a prominent executive or entrepreneur as her role model; almost universally, women's role models were family members such as their mothers, with the exception of a few who named fantasy figures such as glamorous movie stars.


Excerpted from Work Quake by Liz Nickles. Copyright © 2001 Liz Nickles. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews