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Anna Liotta brings generational expertise to effort to save golf

Anna Liotta, who has become a national guru at unlocking generational codes, is taking her knowledge on the road, at the behest of the Professional Golfers Association, seeking to reinvigorate older generations as well as help provide clues on how to interest more millennials in the game.

As she heads for San Diego next month to meet with 100 golf-management professionals, she is aware that there's a sense among PGA executives who have watched the total rounds of golf played decline by 2 percent a year for the last decade, that what could be at stake is the very future of golf.

Asked how she became an expert on what makes different generations tick, the founder of Seattle-based Resultance Inc., smiles and responds that as the 18th of 19 children, she just paid attention at home, adding "I was immersed in a multi-generational world."

"Whenever there's a wedding, graduation or family gathering, my family has six generations that are represented," she added. "There are 300 first cousins, 56 nieces and nephews and 47 great nieces and great nephews."

Liotta, daughter of a PGA professional and recipient of a golf scholarship while a student, has had golf as a life-long focus and says she is thus pleased to have been tapped to try to restore some of the sport's lost luster by focusing on different strategies to employ with different generations.

She was the only keynoter at a Sports Diversity and Inclusion Symposium in September of 2014 and the PGA, whose turn it had been to host the annual event attended by executives of all professional sports, invited her to keynote their annual conference in Indianapolis two months later.

Following her presentation as the first-ever female keynoter on the national conference stage in the PGA's 98 years, the organization contracted with her to consult on how to attract more millennials, Gen Xers and women of all ages to the game of golf.

"I have been working with the PGA on developing programs and messaging to attract and retain new players as well as re-engage lapsed golfers across the generations." She said.

Liotta elaborates on the generational issues facing golf by ticking off the challenges by generation.

"For boomers, it's their life stage with retirement and health issues, Gen Xers are focused on young families and Millennials are not interested in investing as much time or money into the game as their parents." She explained.

Liotta's role includes strategy for attracting more women to golf and noted, in an interview, that drawing more women golfers poses the same challenges as addressing the array of generations.

"Attracting women across the generations to the game of golf is a mission-critical initiative for the golf industry," Liotta said. "More women than ever are interested in playing golf, but it's up to the golf professionals and facilities to win the right to have them return after their first experience."

"Boomer and Gen Xer women are at the peak of their career and have high expectations of their customer experience on the course but unfortunately, often they are disappointed," she continued. "Millennial women have grown up playing competitive sports and are ready to bring their athleticism to business golf, but millennials demand a whole new level of inclusion and service from golf, or they take their disposable income to the yoga studio, cross-fit gym, or soccer field."

Part of her commitment to bring more women to the game was her launch 12 years ago of Women Taking a Swing at Cancer, a fund-raising event she presided over for several before turning it over to Gilda's Club, which has changed its name to Cancer Pathways and whose support for the golf event faded.

Liotta recalls that as a university student, she encountered what for her was a life-shaping video titled "What you are now is where you were when."

"That 1989 experience shaped my research in my organizational development studies and I wrote my honors thesis on generations," she recalls.

"What continues to delight me is that the more you learn about the formative things of an individual, the more you know about them," she added.

Running down the generations Liotta said: "Baby boomers want to tell a lot about themselves while a Gen Xer wants to cut to the chase and get to the bottomline. They self disclose after demonstrated value."

Millennials, she said, "want to tell you about themselves first, and how unique they are, what they are up to and each thinks he or she is uniquely fascinating."

Because many view millennials (born between 1980 and 1999) as the most challenging generation in the workplace I asked Liotta to expand on their characteristics.

"They are changing workplace expectations forever, and driving their managers crazy in the process," she said. "They are the first generation to have no expectation of retiring from the company they are working for today."

"Millennials typically decide in their first 30 days whether they will remain with a company for six, 12, or 18 months," she added.

Liotta four years ago wrote what has become a key source of information about the generations. It's called "Unlocking generational codes: Understanding What Makes the Generations Tick and What Ticks Them Off."

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Microsoft leadership changes stir discussions of competition-collaboration workplace issue

Some are seeing the sea change in the leadership styles of the new CEOs of both Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as evidence that even the region's most competition-driven company might be acknowledging that the collaborative focus of workplace millenials could be superseding the competitive trademark of boomers.

Among those sharing that sense of a possible dramatic shift at Microsoft is John Buller, who has spent his life in sports and retail environments where keeping score and winning were the keys to success. But he admits now, as he observes what he perceives as a major workplace shift, that he was always dogged by the sense that somehow collaboration had a place in the success equation.

Anna Liotta

Buller was a top executive at the old Bon Marche retail chain, as well as successful restaurateur, president of Tully's Coffee, and in his collegiate days in the late '60s a Husky basketball star then an assistant coach.

He sees the ascendance of Satya Nadella to the top role at Microsoft and the hiring of Susan Desmond-Hellman as CEO of the Gates Foundation as significant.

So does Anna Liotta, Seattle author and speaker who counsels businesses on unlocking generational codes to enhance workplace effectiveness.

John Buller

"I think it's fundamental for Microsoft, it if is to have exponential growth again, to shift from combative to collaborative in its workplace environment," Liotta said. "Microsoft employees don't now talk with pride about working at Microsoft, and this newest generation will need attitudes and beliefs they share and need to be proud to be where they work and work together in a collaborative environment in order to want to stay."

As a recent article in Puget Sound Business Journal pointed out, "Nadella is a very different man from (Steve) Ballmer. Where Ballmer is bombastic and over the top, Nadella is understated and thoughtful."

Buller makes the point that a similar shift in thinking could have had a role in the selection of Susan Desmond-Hellman, M.D., plucked from her role as chancellor of the University of California San Francisco to be the first non-Microsoft CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Of course Microsoft isn't the only regional company where must-win attitudes have been the key to success. It's merely the major local company whose recent eye-catching changes in command at the corporate and foundation have sparked the opportunity for conversations about what lies ahead in the workplace culture.

It would be difficult to think of many successful companies in the Seattle area for which competitive juices haven't played a ke y role in their success.

Teri Citterman

Thus the thoughts about boomer competitiveness giving way to millennial collaborations inevitably stir conversations where doubt or disagreement are sometimes as much in evidence as agreement.

Buller, in fact, is an interesting persona to be focusing on the transition, which he is doing to the extent of packaging a seminar and producing a blog to help guide corporate executives.

Buller is intimately familier with culture changes since his role as senior team leader for Federated Stores and its The Bon outlets was to engineer one, guiding a shift from "a clerk culture to a sales culture," as he describes the charge.

It was 20 years ago that his Survival Guide for Bureaucratic Warriors was published, with chapters written on first-class flights as he crisscrossed the country to train employees on changing their culture.

"Warriors work for a passion in their lives while soldiers just take orders," Buller said, summing up the premise for the book, and suggesting that "the way to make millenials more passionate and engaged, becoming warriors, is to let them have ownership."

"It's a fallacy to suggest that competition and collaboration are diametrically opposed," Liotta said. "Millenials do love to win, but within that they love to also know their part in the winning, meaning millenials want a lot of feedback on how they are doing," Liotta said of the generation that numbers 76 million in the workplace. That number, incidentally, compares with 80 million boomers.

"A winning attitude is absolutely in line with an attitude of collaboration," she added. "Millenials just don't accept the bankrupt strategy of win at all costs."

Liotta comes by her generational savvy from birth on since she notes in her book Unlocking Generational Codes that "as number 18 in a family of 19 children, I started to experience generational impacts on life at a very early age."

She is CEO of Resultance Inc., where her consulting services and guidance on generational issues have brought her before business organizations around the country.

Another person who has explored workplace issues, but from the CEO's viewpoint, is Teri Citterman, whose recently publishedFrom the CEO's Perspective is a collection of interviews with CEO's from a range of companies on the challenges of leadership.

"A characteristic of millenials is that they expect their ideas will be heard or appreciated, even though they haven't necessarily earned the right to be heard or appreciated," said Citterman, also a GenXer.

"Yes, collaboration is replacing competition as a workplace theme, you can see that everywhere," she said. "competition is a four-letter word."

This discussion is likely to become more pervasive at lunch meetings and cocktail visits, particularly for boomers, or the even older generation tagged Traditionalists, who would have to change the codes of a lifetime to believe companies can win out over competitors without competition being the mantra.

As Buller and I discussed this over coffee for our interview, together we came up with the tagline: "In today's world you will have to learn to collaborate in order to win." 

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