For Jocelyn Greenky, learning how to navigate the workplaces of Manhattan after college didn’t come easily at first, “I came from a small town; I wasn’t prepared for the workforce,” Greenky says. “But every office expected me to know the culture, the office politics and the speak of the industry off the bat. And I thought: where is the book telling me what to do, and what to avoid?”
It’s safe to say that Greenky is an expert on navigating the workplace — so much so that she’s authored a book, The Big Sister’s Guide to the World of Work: The Inside Rules Every Working Girl Must Know. The book pulls on Greenky’s more than 30 years experience in a variety of roles, from co-founding three companies, to acting as the Editorial Director for the world’s largest publisher, to mentoring others through Women of Tomorrow and Everwise.
We connected with Greenky to learn more about her perspective on the changing nature of the workplace, mentorship, office cultures and diversity.
Your expertise is in coaching, leadership, navigating office cultures and diversity. Did you have any mentors in your professional background?
I did, but only after I became a senior executive. I didn’t have any mentors in my first three jobs. It didn’t occur to me to trust someone in the workplace who was senior to me but not in my line of reporting.
Once I secured that first mentor, I realized how important they would be down the road. If there was anything at work I needed to be aware of — issues with my boss, a lack of clarity around job security, whatever — my mentors would tell me first. They would have my back. And they would speak up for me. That’s the key, is to make sure you connect with someone who is senior but not your boss. Your boss can leave or get fired at anytime. These people will back you up if you are worth it.
As a mentor, do you see common challenges with the proteges you work with?
A lot of people ask themselves, ‘Why doesn’t my boss like me?’ This happens even at the very senior levels. It may seem obvious, but some of the advice I share boils down to learning how to get along with people — which all boils down to the culture you’re in and the cultural background of the boss.
Get into the head of the person you’re trying to understand. First of all, which type of culture did they grow up in? Which type of work culture did they just work in? Do your research! They will no doubt behave and use that experience because they can’t help it. Pretend, for instance, that you own a restaurant and that person, whom you want to get along with, comes in every day for dinner. If you know they’re coming in every single day, you’ll quickly learn their daily habits. They like ice in their water, they don’t want to be spoken to while eating, they are friendly (or not) and take that into account because everyone has social habits, which are more or less permanent. Feed into them. Your boss is your client and never forget that. Put yourself into this mindset at work too.
What advice do you have for new mentors?
Give proteges the truth. Do not dance around what your trying to tell them. Be straightforward. Make sure they repeat back to you what you said so you both are clear as crystal what you are advising them to do. I always give analogies to my advice and relate it to the background of the proteges. The analogies normally are used depending on their outside interests liked cooking, working out or I even relate it to family matters so they can understand quickly. For some reason, they love to hear my work war stories.
Do you see any shifting trends in employee needs and goals?
There are five generations in the workforce right now: Generation Z, Millennials. Gen X’ers. Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. This is a first in human history. Each of these generations communicates and interact differently. Each generation has different questions; different measures of success, different expectations at work and they all affect each other. What I mean by that is this. Now that Millennials have clearly stated they are looking for different type of workweek, that information and need will seep into other generations who may think that’s a great idea and will demand the same. There are many more examples and new ideas are going back and forth from each generation. They are forced to listen as the CEO’s are as well.
Change is happening now and some of it is a result our country maturing. Even the concept of a GAP year for college students originally came from Europe. It’s a positive and true need that someone is designated in most companies to have handle on the changing needs for employees.
Finally, let’s talk diversity. Given the vast amount of cultures represented in both small and large companies, we must take the time to get to know our mates. Dig gently into someone’s background. Recently, I found out my personal doctor, who is a black woman, has a white Jewish Russian mother! Never in a million years would I have guessed that. Now, we talk holidays, food and kids with a fresh understanding of each other. It’s bonded us and it can do the same for you. If you find out that you are working with someone whose background hails from Italy, China, India or Poland, surprise them by learning out to say hello in their language or counting to 10. It’s a nice thing to do for them and will cement the two of you. Promise.
Outside of mentoring, how else can organizations can develop their high-potential leaders?
Ensuring there are leadership training options within the company is key. All levels should be able to take courses to further themselves either at the office or online. I would always recommend that there is a designated full time employee who is an expert in leadership, diversity, culture in an executive role at the office to help facilitate these programs and smooth issues out at work.
Having a personal coach is helpful as well. Investing in this type of service is as important as having a good doctor. Both experts are there to help your mental and physical health. Many of us spend close to half our lives working. Get preventive medicine and information to make your life at work and on the playground work for you!