ChangeAbility: How To Successfully Lead Generation Y
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1. How To Lead Generation Y: Delivering The Leadership That Will Make Them Thrive Is Easier Than You Think
by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA
Personal note: In my previous position as marketing director at Merriman, a financial advising firm, I had both the two oldest (60+) and the youngest member (23) of the entire firm on my team. My team spanned almost all four of the previous generations (Traditionalists, born between 1926-1938), Baby Boomers (1945-1960), Generation X (1961-1981), and Generation Y (1985-1995). Including an intern, I had four Generation Y members working for me. One of the things I enjoyed most about my job was to facilitate and lead intergenerational team-work. If you are leading young adults (or are in charge of people who lead them) I believe you will find the lessons I have learned about leading members of Generation Y helpful.
Shannon is 25 years old. She is in her second job out of college. She was hired as a ‘high potential’ candidate by her current company. She survived several rounds of layoffs and is very unhappy in her current position. Her old-school, corporate, generation-X boss micromanages her time while not providing much feedback or guidance on her actual job. Shannon is disillusioned with management and cynical about her job. She puts in the absolute minimum in time and effort and spends a lot of her working time surfing the web. The poor job market is the only thing stopping her from leaving the company.
Bruce is 19 years old and in his second year of college. He is the third generation in a family business. His grandfather (70) only recently handed over day-to-day operations to his father (45). This summer Bruce is interning as the ‘social media guru,' his first paying job in the family business. After a few weeks, he is highly frustrated. In his view, people at the company simply ‘don’t get it.' He truly desires to make an impact and help make a difference but feels that no one is listening to his ideas or values his input. In the interest of family peace, he decides to continue with the internship but secretly vows to never again work in this family business.
The above real-life examples demonstrates what happens when Generation Y leadership goes bad.
Today’s young adults entering the workforce are a different breed than those of any of the generations before them. They must be lead slightly differently as they enter the workforce:
Provide constant feedback (and manage their sense of entitlement)
These young adults are used to and crave instant and constant feedback. Most of them grew up with lots of praise. Many Trophy Kids received ribbons and trophies simply for showing up at Saturday games. Their parents have told them over and over again they can achieve anything they want. They are highly optimistic and sometimes out of touch with reality. They are definitely not used to being told that the quality of their work needs improvement.
As their leader, it is virtually impossible for you to over communicate. Provide them with ongoing, just-in-time feedback. Give them the praise and appreciation they crave. At the same time, hold them accountable. You might be the first one to ever tell them the truth about the quality of their work. If they are falling short, you need to tell them. As their leader and mentor, you need to help them discover their weaknesses and strengths and then play to those strengths
A word of caution though: Don’t ever micro manage their time. Instead, lead by objective. They value a flexible schedule and might do their best work from the local Starbucks or at 2 a.m. in their pajamas. Assess their performance, not their attendance!
Be a strong mentor and coach
This is probably the most important lesson of them all. Members of Generation Y are extremely responsive to mentoring and coaching. Develop strong and meaningful relationships with them by really getting to know them: Take them for coffee, go for a lunchtime walk/run, play some golf and most important, ask questions and really listen to what they have to say.
Learn their passions, their desires, their aspiration in life. In return, share your experiences and lessons you have learned. They are hungry for your insights, they love to be ‘in the know’ and they will soak up your knowledge, feedback and advice. Become their strong mentor and coach and your Gen Y’s will thrive, blossom and follow you loyally.
You might also explore a ‘reversed mentoring’ approach, something Jack Welch at GE pioneered over 20 year ago. The idea is to pair Baby boomers with members of Generation Y. The Boomers share their work experience while the Generation Y team members enlighten Boomers about new technologies and social networking.
Share why their work is important
These young people have little time for doing things because they are told to do so or because ‘that’s how we have always done it.’ They are hungry for data and information. Remember that, for better or worse, many of them are constantly multi-tasking, and are taking in thousands of technology messages every day. Faced with this overload, they quickly sort incoming information between what they deem is ‘need to know’ versus ‘nice to know’.
Provide them with lots of context and information. Communicate the importance of their work and tell them how it fits into the company's overall big picture. Help them see that what they do really matters. Show them how their work is making your organization better, making a difference in the world and is part of something bigger - not just adding to the bottom line. Several studies, for example, have shown the importance of environmental causes for Generation Y.
In short: get them fired up for your vision, show them how their work will directly help you to make the vision a reality and your Gen Y-ers will be the best people who ever worked for you!
Give them opportunity for input and ownership
Members of Generation Y have been on their laptops since they were four. They grew up with posting and voting on Facebook and blogs. They have a strong desire to express themselves, to comment and to provide input on topics.
Be bold and have them provide you input and feedback on high-level strategic topics which you would normally not share with them. They will forever value you for giving them the opportunity to ‘upload their thoughts’ and much like any generation before them, they will throw their support behind what they helped to create.
After they have given you their input, it’s time to challenge them: Carve out a project with a clearly defined deliverable, a budget and a timeline, then give them full ownership of it. Make yourself available as a coach and mentor. But don't micromanage them or their projects.
Be tough when assessing the results of their work by providing the honest, credible feedback they so crave.
By Lauren Owen, MBA
“Hold on for a minute,” my client Jane said. “One of my staff has another question." She and I had only been talking for 30 minutes in preparation for an upcoming retreat yet it was the third time she’d been interrupted by her employees. When she came back on the line, she said, “You’d think they could figure out something by themselves! Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh that’s right; you were asking me about my staff. Well, we think we’ve got the best staff we’ve ever had.” I was less than sure myself and made a note to add a discussion about staff to our retreat agenda the following week.
Our retreat focused on developing a strategic plan for turning the ownership of the company over to Jane, currently the general manager, from Teresa, the current owner, by next summer.
After lunch, Teresa, Jane, and I settled back into Teresa’s office. "Ok,” I said. “I’m feeling good that we’re starting to get a handle on the numbers side of this transition, but there’s one element that I want to dig into and that’s your staff. Walk me through your organization.” We spent the next hour creating an organization chart on our white board, filling in staff members names, responsibilities, and salaries and, if they were sales-people, each of their contributions to overall sales.
Next, I told them, “Now I’m going to say a name and then you’re going to hold up your fingers and rate each person from 1 to 5, with a “1” indicating a very substandard employee, and “5” indicating someone who’s so good you would clone them if you could. Don’t look at each other when you hold up your fingers so you won’t be influenced by the other’s ranking.”
Consistent with every other client I’ve had do this exercise, even without looking at each other, both Teresa and Jane ranked their employees similarly, with few exceptions. Of their 15 employees, here’s how Teresa and Jane ranked them:
three employees were “5”,
four were a "4",
four were a “3”; and
four were a “1”
I wasn’t surprised at the low scores as they coincided with symptoms I’d been observing:
- Staff consistently coming to the manager for low level decisions. (In fact, Jane reported that while she was in the hospital the prior week for a medical emergency, she received several calls on her cell phone from staff members with questions they could and should have solved themselves.)
- A history of little to no accountability when they failed to meet easily obtainable performance goals.
- Sales slowing way down when the owner and/or manager was not around, while issues and problems went way up.
- A manager who consistently felt that she was “baby-sitting” the staff.
- Staff members who undermined each other’s activities instead of supporting them.
- Staff members designated as managers when, in fact, they had no management responsibilities or expectations.
- No defined organization chart, lines of responsibility, job descriptions, or evaluations.
- Talented newer staff members expressing frustration over the level of unhealthy competition and lack of team support.
- Staff members who not only did not function well in their jobs but were actively “gunning” for other team members.
The implications? Jim Collins, in his book - Good to Great, stresses that one of the key factors that makes a company great is that it has the right team members in place. He calls it having the “right people on the bus.” My concern was that Jane thought they had the best staff - in fact they didn’t even have the right people on their bus. Succession is one of the biggest changes a company will experience. If you don't have a strong group of people in place to carry you through the inevitable challenges along the way, you greatly stack the odds against your success.
In the short run:
- If something happened to Jane, the company could be severely damaged.
- High-performing employees will eventually leave out of frustration, and potential new ones will not be attracted to this company.
In the long run,
- Unless Jane addressed and solved this problem, she would never achieve her vision for the company, and the succession process could be at risk.
In the meantime,
- Jane will continue to experience on-going high levels of stress and frustration.
If any of the above symptoms sound familiar to you, here are seven questions to ask yourself:
- What would my company look like if every one of my staff members were at least a 4 or above?
- What are the implications of keeping your 1s and 2s (and even 3s) in place?
- How can your 3s and below employees be improved with training, management and guidance, or do they need to find a new career outside of the company?
- How will this succession process succeed if this issue isn’t resolved?
- What’s my contribution to this situation?
And, finally and most important,
- What’s the plan and am I willing to do what it takes to turn my staff into a high functioning team?
What it takes is a long term commitment to expect “4 and 5” levels of performance, coupled with a willingness to do the work to get and stay at that level.
By Lauren Owen, MBA
John, the company CEO, could barely keep his eyeballs from rolling back into his head. He’d asked his general manager, Sally, for a brief report on the day’s activities from the store, and as usual, she was giving him a detailed, step-by-step account of everything that happened, including a side story on what each sales person did that day and the conversations she had with each one.
Exasperated, he interrupted her, with a quick, “I gotta go,” then turned on his heels and abruptly left. Sally sat frustrated and puzzled. Was he angry with her? Was it something she said? She was about to tell him the really important part about how she’d finally gotten to the bottom of an on-going dispute between two staff members. It was an important thing for him to hear, and he didn’t even stick around for it! She also had some questions for John about some pending decisions and now she didn’t know when she’d have the opportunity to ask him again. It seemed like it was getting more and more difficult to get face time with John and she felt her ability to do her job was impacted by this.
Here is what Sally just experienced: A “storyteller” had tried to communicate with a “headliner.” John, a high-energy leader, prefers his information relayed to him in bullet points, preferably starting with the end results. If John had come with operating instructions on the best way to talk to him, they would have read: “just the facts, please.” Sally, on the other hand, is a natural persuader and networker who “likes to be liked.” When she communicates, she prefers to include all the details, including who said what and then what happened after that, building up to the most important events.
Often, chronic communication issues stem from the fact that we tend to communicate with others the way we like to be communicated with, instead of how they like to be communicated with. This behavior is a variation on what executive coach Marshall Goldsmith calls the Golden Rule Fallacy. You make the logical inference that the people around you communicate like you do and so you, in turn, communicate with them the same way you like to be. Wrong!
You’re not communicating with you. A communication style that works for you might not work with everyone else. It’s not “one style fits all.”
We use personality assessments with all of our coaching clients to help them better understand themselves and their preferred methods of communication. Within a work team, assessments help team members understand their colleague's preferred communication styles, how they will tend to react in stressful situations, and how they like to receive feedback. Assessments can also help address chronic communication issues in a safe and positive manner.
For example, when we share assessment results with our clients, we tell them this: Be aware of your own style and that of others around you and communicate appropriately. If you’re dealing with a “headliner,” give him information in bullet points, starting with the most important facts first. If you’re dealing with a “storyteller”, try to give her some time before launching into key points.
Note: besides the two personality types (scales) I talk about here: the “L” for leader/headliner and the “I” for intuitive/storyteller, the Performance Indicator assessment we use also details several other scales.
Once you know more about yourself and others, you realize it’s often not a matter of someone being rude or not paying attention to you; it’s simply how they are hard-wired. Sometimes it’s not the message but the way we’re speaking to them that is actually turning off their listening button.
Mapping and sharing the assessments of the team members of a management team can give us tremendous insights into their overall strengths and areas of weakness. For example, another personality type does not like conflict. If a team’s results show that the members are heavily skewed on that scale, we offer coaching and role playing to help them be more comfortable around conducting confrontational conversations.
Diverse personality styles are a valuable in our workplaces (and lives for that matter). Viva la difference! But just a little insight and coaching into how we’re all hard-wired can make a world of difference in how well we function together.
Here are the top five reasons we (and our clients) like to use assessments:
- Get faster results: The more you know about yourself, your co-workers and your family members, the more effective you can be as a leader and team member.
- Build better teams: Pinpoint areas of strength and areas that need to be addressed in the team.
- Prevent costly hiring mistakes by understanding candidates' not-so-obvious strengths and weaknesses.
- Pinpoint and resolve communication issues by understanding yours and others' communication preferences.
- Understand how your employees are motivated and how they will behave when stressed.
Curious about your own communication and personality style? Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching is offering a complimentary Performance Indicator Assessment and 30 minute coaching session to each of our ezine readers this month, a value of over $175! You take the assessment online (takes about 30-45) minutes. We’ll then email you your report and set up a time to review it via a coaching conversation. If you’re interested, drop us a line by July 31st at firstname.lastname@example.org. See a sample of a Performance Indicator Assessment report here: Redpoint Business Coaching: Assessments
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Send an email to ChangeAbility@redpointcoaching.com. We welcome your feedback!
ChangeAbility is a publication of Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching, which is run by Lauren Owen, MBA and Urs Koenig PhD, MBA.
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