Our second specialist series blog is from my friend and colleague Eric Chester. He is President of Generation Why, is an award winning keynote speaker on the topic of the new emerging and the author of the acclaimed book Getting Them to Give A Damn: How to Get Your Front Line to Care About Your Bottom Line. Eric is widely recognized as America’s premier expert on educating and employing teens and young adults. For more information, visit his website at www.GenerationWhy.com.
You are an expert on generational differences. What should today’s leaders remember as the 2-3 biggest difference between entry level employees and themselves?
They are not you. And even if you have the ability to clearly recall the period of your life when you were just getting started in your career, don’t make the common mistake of assuming they are a merely a younger version of you. You can’t lead them (teach them, parent them, manage them, etc.) in the same manner–and with the same techniques and strategies your parents, teachers and employers used to lead you. The rules have changed.
How can you lead them if you don’t understand them? You can’t. That’s why it’s imperative to read all you can about the mindset of this new generation but don’t stop there. Pretend you’re researching them for your own book and take some time to swim in their sea. Talk with your young employees, and by that I mean, listen to them in real one-to-one face time. Dedicate a couple hours a week to experience their media and influences in music, movies, blogs, and various pop culture. Find out what their attitudes are towards family, life, and career.
What are the commonalities or similarities we all share despite our generational differences?
Even thought they have a radically different mindset, they haven’t flipped Maslow’s triangle on its end. They still want and need food, clothing, love, attention, etc. It’s just that they’re going about getting their needs met in a totally new way, and they are much more apt to raise a ruckus when they feel that their needs aren’t getting met.
The important thing for leaders to know is that ‘generational differences’ isn’t necessarily about birth year demographics; it’s about shared historical differences. What a child grows up with, they accept or reject. But what they grow up without becomes profoundly important to them. If you look at the vast chasm between then and now, you’ll understand why they aren’t playing the career game the same way you played it, and are probably still playing it.
What companies or employers have you observed doing the best job of managing these differences?
Just like a smart investor can spot a winner by examining financial statements, leaders can spot the companies who are “getting it right” by examining where Gen Whys flock to upon graduation and which organizations boast low turnover rates. Because young workers are so interconnected through social networking sites and other technologies, word of a great employment opportunity spreads almost as fast as word of a bad place to work.
If you want me to list a few companies/organizations that have tremendous street cred among the under 25-crowd, I’d start with the likes of Google, Enterprise, Wegman’s, EKS&H (accounting), Zappos, and GEICO. These companies realize that their employment brand is as important to their long term success as their consumer brand is, and they are always looking to improve. All are very creative in their employment practices and offer fast-track career programs, innovative training programs, flex-scheduling, and merit-based compensation programs that all employees to earn based upon their contribution to service and profitability.
What are the keys to motivating generation next employees?
They want, need, and almost demand individual attention. That means the one-size-fits-all brand of management is obsolete. The more face time you can give them, the better. They want mentors to care about them, and they want to know where they stand at all times and, as in the video games they play, they want to know what they can do to reach the next level. And they want that feedback each and every day.
How do you manage a workplace with a wide range of ages and generations in the mix?
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of moving away from being a ‘one-size-fits-all’ leader. If you get pulled into the “I’m going to manage everyone the same” trap, you’ll be playing the lowest common denominator of personal productivity and performance, connecting with only a small percentage of your team while alienating those who feel their needs are not being met. Today’s best leaders are always on the lookout for connecting points, gathering as much information as possible about their people. They then use management strategies and methodologies that are as diverse as the people who report to them, treating everyone fairly, but each differently.