If you are paying attention, or even if you aren’t, you’ve probably heard the workplace chatter about the millennial generation. They are:
- glued to their “phones,” and
- need constant stroking.
Remember Who You Were?
If you are a Baby Boomer – a hippie, turned me generation, turned soccer mom, your generation ushered in free-love, drugs, the broken family, and Wall Street excess. You also integrated the workforce – giving women and minorities a step on the corporate ladder. If you are a Gen X – a latchkey kid, turned MTV fan, turned slacker, turned free agent, your generation gave the word “cynical” a whole new face, established the grunge culture, and wore the mullet. You also introduced work-life balance, turned our focus to business results rather than time and tenure, and renewed the country’s entrepreneurial spirit. Who you were isn’t who you turned out to be. In fact, you were never fully who others thought you were. So let’s give our successors a break. What do you say? Maybe they aren’t exactly like us – nor are they entirely who people say they are. Instead, let’s have a productive conversation about engaging them in the important work of our organizations. After all, that’s exactly what we all want.
Millennials are Gems
Do you believe that you are a gemstone? What about everyone around you – do you believe that they are also gems? No matter what generation you belong to, you are a brilliant jewel. You were formed and cut by mighty forces: the events and pressures of your era – war, prosperity, depression, family structure, layoffs, technological booms, terrorism, etc. A gem is a precious stone no matter when, where, or how it was created. All rubies share the same essential characteristics. The same is true of people. Generations tend to be driven by a common set of values and needs. Chief among them are:
|♦ Autonomy/Choice||♦ Learning/Growth||♦ Challenge|
|♦ Meaningful Work||♦ Relationships||♦ Accomplishment|
These drivers are like the facets of a gem: they reflect the light brilliantly or dully depending on where the light hits the stone. Each generation tends to value some work conditions more than other generations and will shine brightly when the light hits their best facets. Millennials tend to place a relatively higher value on relationships, personal growth, and meaningful work than their predecessors. As a result, they sparkle brightly when they:
- work socially – on cohesive teams that are focused on important work
- have the freedom to work wherever they choose
- have access to leaders so they can engage, learn, and get feedback
- see real opportunity to grow and progress.
So what if they need more feedback than their predecessors? That’s how people learn. The dearth of feedback from leaders is the main reason why employees and results stagnate. If prior generations sought and gave less of it, perhaps it was because they were less savvy learners and more fearful about looking stupid than their younger counterparts. So what if Millennials think it is crazy to be tied to a cubicle to get work done or to put in face time just to appear committed? It’s crazy! People are more productive when they have the freedom to complete work in a way that suits them. Besides, they have been working from “wherever” their whole lives. So what if Millennials want to see a future for themselves and refuse to put the company in the driver seat of their careers? They learned well from their parents who, through layoffs and pay freezes, discovered that you can’t tie your future to the company. Instead, you have to make it yourself.
So, what is the Gen X or Boomer manager to do? In this light, the answer is apparent. Shine the light on what makes Millennials sparkle brilliantly. This generation will comprise 50% of the workforce in six short years (2020) and you will need to know how to work with them – as your employee, or as your boss.
As it turns out, the practices you need to help Millennials shine work well for your whole team:
- Invite them into conversations about business challenges, and give honest feedback on their ideas about those challenges.
- Build automated and personal feedback loops into work processes so they always know how well they are doing.
- Learn the language of mentoring.
- Restructure work processes to make them more team-oriented. Include experienced people on the team as role models for the less experienced folks.
- Call a meeting to talk with your team about a flexible work schedule. Explain that you want to give them all the flexibility they want, as long as all of your business needs continue to be met. Then, define your business needs as a team, and ask them to come up with scheduling guidelines or a team schedule.
- Invite them to offer technology solutions for making the work environment more flexible and efficient.
Any jeweler will tell you to shine the light on a gem’s best facets. The same is true for people. Shine the light on what makes them sparkle rather than what makes you sparkle.