Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Friday, 7 August 2009

Managing "Millennials": 6 steps to success with Gen Y (and everybody else too!)

It turns out that managing "Millennials" (a.k.a. Generation Y) isn't so different from managing everybody else...they're just more forthright in asking for - and in some cases expecting - well-balanced and people-centred management practice.

A 6-step process will help you to manage Gen Y - and everyone else in your team - to get the results you want.

At the risk of generalizing (and with a hat-tip to this useful Fast Company blog post) here are a few popular perceptions about Gen Y attitudes towards the world of work:
  • Strong parental links (some would say: being fawned and doted upon by Boomer parents) means this cohort is accustomed to having a strong sense of place, origin and position.
  • They have also been pumped up by their folks to believe they're "special" and can achieve anything. This ego-inflation has been compounded by the "you get a trophy just for participating" ethic in schools and sports, implemented for fear of stigmatizing underachievers. As a result: they expect that same kind of approval from bosses, preferably on a daily basis.
  • Facility with all sorts of technology that connects people means they have widespread social networks and an ability and willingness to engage in self-expression in any number of online forums (facebook, MySpace, twitter, blogs, You Tube, et al.).
  • Riding the wave of a boom economy and sheltered from the harsh realities of the world by their over-protective parents, young adults expect, even demand, that their jobs be fun and fulfilling.
Now before this generational portrait starts to look too much like a mob of clueless spoiled-brats and self-esteem junkies who won't deign to set foot in the workplace on anything but their own terms - let's take a step back and look at the long view.

Historically, every new generation has reaped the benefits of what's come before - better tools, improved nutrition and health and (particularly over the past century or so) techniques for developing greater self-knowledge and insight into human behaviour.

Could it be that Gen X and the Boomers are simply envious - both of the ready availability of these advantages and of Gen Y's unwillingness to settle for outdated management practice that's not much advanced from 19th-century Taylorism?

A better way of management

For years now the argument in favour of "soft skills" has been: if you treat people well, they will perform better. Command-and-control management style (a.k.a. scaring the crap out of people) admittedly gets results in the short-term...and over time produces disengagement, dissatisfaction, health problems and burnout - with all the attendant negative effects on performance and results. And forget about using C&C with Gen Y, who will simply walk.

Today the insights of neuroscience and brain research provide the hard science to back up the "soft skills" message. Below is a six-step* management process, one that will meet Gen Y demands for a more engaging management style and that will work equally well with the Gen X-ers and Boomers in your workplace.

In this brief overview I'll simply describe the function of each step. In future posts I'll offer more details on practical application to manage individuals and teams.

Role starts things off on the right foot by A) establishing a sense of community (with shared values, a code of conduct, and understanding of how the group adds value in a wider context), and B) letting people know how and where each individual fits into the larger group.

Clarify the roles, goals and expectations so that each person's individual efforts are contributing to the group objectives and goals. Build a solid, agreed-upon foundation at the outset to provide an underlying source of enduring continuity in the face of transition, change and even crisis periods to come.

Voice is about expression and creativity. People are going to have thoughts and feelings about the content discussed in the previous step. It's therefore vital to now acknowledge the emotional component with dialogue and an environment that promotes the free expression of thoughts and emotional reactions. Something need not be done about every comment that is made, but people must have the chance to say what they think and feel.

Free expression like this may well cause conflict. That's normal and necessary. What is required is an agreed way to deal constructively with such conflict. This step can be quite confronting (Gen Y is not shy about self-expression!) but skip it at your peril: unexpressed emotional reactions do not go away but instead go underground to fester and bubble up in unproductive ways at inopportune moments.

When team members feel secure in freely expressing themselves, emotional reactivity is minimized and the emotional energy can be productively channeled into creative output. The advantage to doing this step well is that expression results in better understanding, clarity, enhanced creativity and group collaboration.

Reward is about motivation, action and reward - the drive to achievement that comes from the healthy expression of ego. With the emotional energy released in the previous step now ready to be put to practical use, this step answers the question "what's in it for me?" to tap into the passion and drive of each team member. It is results-focused and promotes action over words, performance over process.

"Fortune favours the bold" could be the motto...which can also mean that people "leap without looking". Therefore when describing goals make clear both the consequences of non-achievement and the benefits of achievement. Frame the task in terms of each person's self-interest - but also how achievement will benefit the team collectively. To keep people on track and productive, phrase performance measures in positive language that motivates, rather than coercive language that triggers emotional reactivity and fearful anxiety. This step is about getting things done, the achievement of aspirations.

Heart is about empathy, inclusion and relationships. The previous step unleashed each person's self-interested passion and drive for results. Now is the time to ensure there is a personal connection so that internal competition does not tear the team apart.

Being smart about connecting with your people will help foster a sense of belonging for each team member. Active listening helps managers to be aware of both the explicit and implicit messages in what team members are saying, to know when something just doesn't feel right and take action to head off potential trouble before it becomes disruptive. People don't work for companies or money - they work for people. Offering a sense of personal commitment will build authentic relationships between team members, who gladly go the extra mile for you...and for each other.

Head is about data, tasks and learning. There's an old saying: "People don't care what you know, until they know that you care." In the previous step you got people to care, now you can apply the strength of those relationships to a strong task-focus.

Get clear on the step-by-step actions, make resources available, allocate them efficiently and leverage them to move forward. Ensure good information flow, analyze data for patterns to apply and exploit. Learn from experience and apply that learning to make necessary changes to strategy on-the-fly. Develop skillsets and expertise through training and encourage curiosity about how things work - and could work even better.

Vision is about conceptualization, the big-picture and long-term, seeing things as they could be rather than how they are. The previous step's task-focus went right down into the weeds of details and data; now it's time to zoom back up to the 30,000-ft. perspective. Reconnect the purpose and actions of the team to the wider vision of organization and, wider still, to the trends of the industry, economy, regulatory bodies, and marketplace to consider future plans.

This final step has two important components: A) it pulls together and aligns all the previous ones by focusing on a positive future state toward which everyone can strive, and B) by celebrating what's been achieved so far, it sets the stage for reinvention, for a new foundation and the renewal of the 6-step process.

All 6 steps, every time

Regardless of our generational cohort, each of us has a preference for some of the 6 steps over others, whether Role or Reward, Voice or Vision, Heart or Head. This preference means we favour some steps and want to skip over or quickly rush through the others. As a manager, the advantage of following the 6-step format is that it ensures you address the areas that are of greatest interest to each different team member. The result: much higher levels of understanding, quality communication and better team engagement.

To find out more about how
tmc works with leaders and their teams to get results by applying the 6-step process just described, send an email today!

*-based on the six intelligence centres described in the NeuroPower framework

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