Becoming a great boss: The secret of managing millennials

Becoming a great boss: The secret of managing millennials
by Rocky Harris – April 2013

Does Gen Y get a bad rap?

gen ages

The generation currently entering the workforce gets a bad rap. They are seen as entitled, spoiled and difficult to manage. They don’t follow rules. They expect to be rewarded without working for it.

While some of this may be true (see chart below), the truth is each generation is misunderstood and treated unfairly by the older generations. I remember when it happened to me.

Back to the future

The stereotype of my generation (Gen X) was we were underachievers known for cutting corners. Slackers.

In 2000, I was a recent college graduate interning at the San Francisco 49ers. One day I left early to attend a graduate sport management class at the University of San Francisco, about 90 minutes away. One of our seasoned executives said, “Typical youngster these days…sneaking out early. Has anyone in your generation ever worked a full day?”

Instead of letting him know I worked full-time for the 49ers with 12 hours of graduate courses and a part-time job on the weekends, I decided to leave without defending the truth or acknowledging his ignorance.

That day left a mark on me, making me dig deeper into why he would make a generalization without knowing me personally. That would be like me saying, “I’m surprised you’re still awake this late in the day old man. Isn’t it time for a nap?”

From that day forward, I realized like most stereotypes, creating generalizations about generations isn’t productive.

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”550px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]”I employ the belief that every individual should be communicated to in a way that will yield results,” said Kristen Gambetta Director of Client Services for the Houston Dynamo. “While there are generational qualities that come into play, it is important to get to know the individual to learn how to effectively motivate him or her to action. If you put your co-workers in a box based on their generation you may not be getting the most out of them.”[/dropshadowbox]

Forgetting to remember

At one point in my career I forgot the lesson I learned.

When I first became a manager, I would complain about the generation below me: “They expect to be president of a team by the time they are 25 without doing any work to get there. They show up to work whenever they want rather than at 8 am when everyone else gets here.” Sound familiar?

I was guilty of doing exactly what I complained about when I was younger.  I stepped back and understood I painted everyone with the same broad brush. It wasn’t fair.

Managing differently

In a survey conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison, more than 60% of employers experience tension between employees from different generations.

A good manager or leader manages each person differently. Why? Because they’re different. Each employee is motivated by different factors. You have to know when to pull the right levers.gen Y traits2

What do you do with the 22 year old who thinks he can be team president at 25? Tap into ambition to get the most out of them. What about the one who gets to the office later than others? Look at productivity. As long as they stay late and get the work done, does it really matter when they arrive?

Even though this generation has a unique set of values, expectations, and approaches to work, so do people of ALL ages. The reason why people have a tough time understanding other generations is the same reason why managers have a challenging time managing employees: No two people are the same and they shouldn’t be treated as such.

John Wooden said, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” The only way to correct without causing resentment is to figure out what motivates and treat them accordingly.

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”550px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]“I find it unique to work with such a wide range in ages, said Houston Texans Senior Director of Communications, Kevin Cooper. “I find lots of knowledge can be exchanged between the generations. The ability to communicate and find common ground is where we need to be. There are modern problems that can use experienced solutions and older issues that require modern ingenuity. There in the middle–where  respectful dialogue lies–is where business can move forward.”[/dropshadowbox]

A message to millennials

My guess is the young men and women entering the workforce deal with these generalizations throughout their young careers. My advice is to not make the same mistake I once did. Don’t pass judgment on other generations. First, consider what motivates and drives those older than your generation. Second, as you progress in your career and start managing people, don’t be quick to judge the next generation behind you. And, third, always remember what Mark Twain said, “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”500px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]

A take from the front of the class

Michael Lysko
Michael Lysko

As a Baby Boomer I’ve taught and coached Gen X and Gen Y. Here’s my take on Millennials:

  1. Don’t underestimate their work ethic and desire to succeed.
  2. When it comes to entitlement and career goals, I don’t think that they are any different from Gen X’ers in that they want to be recognized and rewarded for effort and achievement.
  3. They seem to have an inherent sense of fairness. They don’t trust the mainstream media to give an unbiased view.
  4. Media consumption patterns are much different than earlier generations–in that their interests are much more narrow and social media involves an exchange of ideas as opposed to an authoritative voice on the 6:00 news.
  5. Most respect authority, but are more willing to question authority when they feel strongly about an issue.
  6. Trust must be earned on an individual basis. It doesn’t exist simply because of your title.
  7. They may not expect to remain with a single employer for an extended period of time. They learned from their parents that circumstances can change quickly. They want to be in a position that allows the freedom to make choices that are in their own best interests. [/dropshadowbox]

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