There’s a new group of people in our workplaces. They’re bright, have an education that some of us can only imagine, and if you listened to their parents’ generation – of which I am a member – they are variously described as having a short attention span, an overgrown sense of entitlement, and a lack of interpersonal skills.
As if that’s not enough, my generation sees this group as being constantly on their phone, and in a constant search for instant gratification. I refer of course, to the people we call millennials. People under the age of thirty-five. A group I call ‘Generation F’; not for the reason you might be thinking. I refer to them as the Facebook generation.
I first became interested in Gen F because I am a parent with a couple of them. As they started graduating, I was listening to them and their friends talking about their jobs, and I took notice of what met their expectations and what didn’t.
That interest grew through my conference speaking work, where the young people will come up to me after my presentations and say things like “hey, that was really good – do you think you can get that message to our bosses? And so on.
So I started talking to the bosses, and sure enough, the gulf between what our millennials think and what we think is about as wide as it’s possible to be. As a result, I now regularly run sessions that I call thirty under 30. The idea is that we assemble a group of bright young things in a room, without any of their bosses in sight, and we talk to them about the stuff they want to talk about within the business.
We talk about all sorts of things. What they know of the company plan, their role within that, the things that they see that we (their bosses) don’t see and so on. We ask about their induction to the company – that’s always good for a few laughs! And the challenges they see for the business, as well as the opportunities they see, which are often very different to what we see.
What we learn in a morning is usually enough to completely re-write the company business plan, (if they have one) and it’s enabled me to build a fascination with the mutual management challenges of us managing them … and them managing us.
So here are three things for all of us to understand as we work alongside – and in many cases attempt to lead – this most unique group of individuals.
- Firstly, we created them. We drove them to school, and in many cases we carried their bags to the classroom. We gave them a mobile phone as soon as they could hold one, so they could call us if they needed to. In other words we gave them a level of attention and support that previous generations – including our own – would find totally foreign. And yet, today we wonder why those young people are not quite as resilient as we expect.
- Secondly, we answered every question they dared to ask. I remember asking questions of my parents in the old days. I usually received one of the following replies:
- you don’t need to now about that son;
- ask your mother; or most regularly,
- children should be seen and not heard – remember that?
- Generation F have never heard those responses. Instead we have hung on their every word and tried to answer everything they have thrown at us, honestly and directly. And of course – if we can’t answer, they can find out the answer anyway.
- Finally, we know that they are permanently engaged in every aspect of their lives. They know everything that’s going on with their friends, the people they compete against in sport, and even those that they are not friendly with. They are on Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. As a result, they know where each other are and what they are doing, at any time of the day or night. In fact, the only part of their lives where they are not permanently engaged is at WORK! And that is because of the way we are managing them.
So, these people have had a totally different upbringing to our generation.
Is it any surprise that they feel lost in the workplaces that we have created?
So, we created them, we answered every question, and they are permanently engaged in every aspect of their lives. Is it any surprise that they feel lost in the workplaces that we have created? Of course not.
So here’s 5 simple things (by no means a complete list), that I think are most important in getting a better relationship with these people, and as a result getting better outcomes from the role they play in your company.
#1. They want to know what the Company is all about. What are the values, the goals and the expected behaviours? That stuff is really important to them. So they need to understand that.
#2. They need to understand how their role fits into those objectives. Remember these are people who are desperate to contribute.
#3. They want their role to be meaningful and relevant. Don’t ask a millennial with a double degree to make the coffee and collect your dry cleaning. That’s a disconnect that they can’t handle.
#4. Let them know how the organisation as a whole is performing. They need to know what’s going on, so tell them. Tell them about new clients, new products and even financial information if you can.
#5. Let them know how they are going. They want feedback and lots of it. Don’t wait until the annual performance review. Make sure that any negative feedback is fair, immediate, relevant and manageable. Or what I like to call FIRM.
- Fair – because these people have a huge sense of fairness;
- Immediate – don’t let negative issues hang around. They will think carrying a grudge;
- Relevant – make sure any feedback is specific to their own performance; and
- Manageable – ensure that it’s something that they can do something about. Don’t blame the for stuff that’s out of their control.
So what’s the action this week? Get out amongst your team and make an extra effort to understand and engage with your millennials.
Here’s 5 questions, for when you stroll up to their work station, to get you started:
- How are you getting on?
- What are you struggling with?
- How do you think the company is going?
- What are the things you see us struggling with?
- If you could change one thing – what would it be?
Just use those questions as conversation starters.
You know, there’s not a generation in history that hasn’t been misunderstood by their parents. But I’d be surprised if you didn’t learn something about your business, and these fantastic young people we all underestimate, if you just make the effort to get out and have a chat to them.
Say good morning to them each day. That will change things. And ask for their opinion from time to time. They love that. Chances are that the return you get will be immediate. Because properly engaged, these people have the ability to blow you away.
Thanks for watching.
Have a great week.