Managing Millennials: What's Really Different

A working student in my evening MBA program approached me to talk about a work situation that was driving her crazy.

She gave me the gory behind-the-scenes view: a few apathetic employees were fully taking advantage of a system that had let them get away with ridiculous performance for too long. She was a new supervisor and knew what was right. Apparently her instincts had been reinforced in our class that night. But the situation felt difficult to reverse. She shrugged and said, “It’s probably because they’re millennials.”

I laughed, “Uh…you do realize YOU are a millennial. right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she acknowledged, “but I’m a DIFFERENT kind of millennial.”

Of course she is. Every millennial is.

Whatever your generation, I’d bet money you don’t feel like you fully fit the stereotype.

Don’t let generational labels and stereotypes screw up your ability to build a winning team. 

What Every Employee Needs

All this talk of the millennial situation is aggravating the perceived “generation gap.” It happens every time a new crop of growing leaders gains traction.  The truth is, the problem she was describing was not generational. It was a hard-core, poster-child example of weak expectations, exacerbated by low-reinforcement and no consequences.

I had those same slippery characters working for me when I was 26. Oh sure their names and contexts were different, but I recognized the story. Back then, I was a gen-Xer trying to manage gen-Xers (I even had to take a course on managing gen-Xers before I could move into management). I recall telling the trainer I was a DIFFERENT kind of gen-Xer.

Yes, we need to understand and value the millennial generation. They bring insights and values we may not understand.

For example, I was all ears when my informal millennial coaches (employees in my organization at the front lines who I specifically put on my informal board of directors to tell me the truth) told me how to become more trusted and accessible to the front lines: Stop wearing a suit and heels to the call centers–it was too intimidating; bring my humor to the next corporate video; and for God’s sake watch some TV every now and then so I can chime in on the break room small talk. It worked. Sure there are few things you can do to be more relevant to the masses.

But the truth is, it didn’t work because they were millennial. It worked because it was a way to meet people where they are. That wisdom has worked for centuries.

Figure out the easy things you can change to connect better at a broad scale, but never forget that teams are built of unique human beings. 

The next time you’re faced with a “millennial” problem, I encourage you to resist the label and dig deeper. What’s really going on at the individual level? Do they get the big picture, so they have the skills to do the job, are they confident and competent…? You get the picture.

Are you struggling with a difficult employee engagement scene? Please call me at 443 750-1249 for a free consultation.

Managing Millennials: What’s Really Different

A working student in my evening MBA program approached me to talk about a work situation that was driving her crazy.

She gave me the gory behind-the-scenes view: a few apathetic employees were fully taking advantage of a system that had let them get away with ridiculous performance for too long. She was a new supervisor and knew what was right. Apparently her instincts had been reinforced in our class that night. But the situation felt difficult to reverse. She shrugged and said, “It’s probably because they’re millennials.”

I laughed, “Uh…you do realize YOU are a millennial. right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she acknowledged, “but I’m a DIFFERENT kind of millennial.”

Of course she is. Every millennial is.

Whatever your generation, I’d bet money you don’t feel like you fully fit the stereotype.

Don’t let generational labels and stereotypes screw up your ability to build a winning team. 

What Every Employee Needs

All this talk of the millennial situation is aggravating the perceived “generation gap.” It happens every time a new crop of growing leaders gains traction.  The truth is, the problem she was describing was not generational. It was a hard-core, poster-child example of weak expectations, exacerbated by low-reinforcement and no consequences.

I had those same slippery characters working for me when I was 26. Oh sure their names and contexts were different, but I recognized the story. Back then, I was a gen-Xer trying to manage gen-Xers (I even had to take a course on managing gen-Xers before I could move into management). I recall telling the trainer I was a DIFFERENT kind of gen-Xer.

Yes, we need to understand and value the millennial generation. They bring insights and values we may not understand.

For example, I was all ears when my informal millennial coaches (employees in my organization at the front lines who I specifically put on my informal board of directors to tell me the truth) told me how to become more trusted and accessible to the front lines: Stop wearing a suit and heels to the call centers–it was too intimidating; bring my humor to the next corporate video; and for God’s sake watch some TV every now and then so I can chime in on the break room small talk. It worked. Sure there are few things you can do to be more relevant to the masses.

But the truth is, it didn’t work because they were millennial. It worked because it was a way to meet people where they are. That wisdom has worked for centuries.

Figure out the easy things you can change to connect better at a broad scale, but never forget that teams are built of unique human beings. 

The next time you’re faced with a “millennial” problem, I encourage you to resist the label and dig deeper. What’s really going on at the individual level? Do they get the big picture, so they have the skills to do the job, are they confident and competent…? You get the picture.

Are you struggling with a difficult employee engagement scene? Please call me at 443 750-1249 for a free consultation.

The Powerful Side Effect of High Standards

My friend, Regina, says that she considers a kid’s book report a win if only one person ends up crying. I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth I put my parents through in the early years. And last night was one of those nights at the Hurt household. My husband, a firefighter, was on an overnight shift, so it was just me, Sebastian, a bucket of Swedish Fish and the promise of a very long night.

I imagine most parents are familiar with the “I didn’t start early enough, and now we need to go to the Walgreens for supplies, stay up half the night and get up early in the a.m., finish just in time to get to school with wet hair and no breakfast kind of loving feeling.”

What makes these nights so hard is that the parent holds the standards.

“Nope, that’s not what the rubric says. We have to follow the guidelines or you’ll lose points.”

“I know it’s late, but your handwriting is getting really sloppy. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to re-write that part.”

Cue the tears.

“Okay, you’ve done all the basics, now how are we going to make this really stand out?”

“But Mom…”

It be much easier to just get through the basics. After all, it’s JUST a book report.

The Powerful Side Effect

And then there’s the side effect. On the ride to school this morning, Sebastian was glowing. “I think this is the best report I’ve ever done.” “I’m sure this is going to be the very best one.” “I can’t imagine I won’t get an A.” “I can’t wait to show my teacher.” And my personal favorite, “Mom, you know you did a really good job too.” 😉

Pride. Confidence. Energy.

Too often I see managers back off their standards, letting their team just get by. After all it’s only a ______.

That’s not leadership.

Tough standards, gentle inspiration.

When you’re tempted to buy into “This is impossible,” consider the side effect.

See also The Power of Great Expectations

7 Ways to Outsmart the Competition: The Series

This is the final post in the series of 7 ways to outsmart the competition. Links below. I’m considering turning this into a keynote. What do you think?

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

5. Be easy to follow

6.Ignore them 

7. And today’s: Hold a higher standard

 

why team leaders tolerate poor performance

5 Sad Reasons Team Leaders Tolerate Poor Performance

Letting slackers slide reduces your credibility, causes your best performers to bolt, and leaves the rest of the team wondering why they bother. No one wants to mire in their own mediocrity. And high-performers hate nothing more than watching their poor-performing teammates drag down results. Tolerating poor performance creates a morale death spiral that takes Herculean force to reverse.

Of course there’s also the over-the-cube talk about the two slackers– the poor performing guy and you. The more you allow the poor performance to go on, the more the rest of the team will shrug their shoulders and join the poor performance bandwagon. Now the death spiral is accelerating with centripetal force, squandering time and draining vital energy from your team.

The sad truth is that every day, team leaders around the world turn their heads and let the poor performance continue.

Don’t fall into these traps.

Why Team Leaders Tolerate Poor Performance

I’m going to start with the benefit of the doubt: that you (or the team leader you’re trying to help) cares, and is not a performance problem. If that’s not the case, same rules apply, one level up.

Beyond that, here’s a gut check for why you’re allowing poor performance to continue.

    1. Guilt- You worry you haven’t done enough to develop to support, develop, encourage, and build confidence, empower, or recognize. If that’s truly the case, you’re right. You’ve got more work to do. Get going. BUT, if you have invested and invested again and it’s still not working it’s time to face that this job may not be the right fit. Stop feeling guilty. You need to do what’s right for the greater good of the company and the team
    2. Morale – I’ve seen so many team leaders so worried about building great morale, that they actually destroy it. If everything everyone does is just great then the folks who are really giving their all wonder why they do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the rest of the team thank me for addressing poor performance. Of course such things are private, but trust me, your team is more astute than you may think.
    3. Saving Face – You hired the guy. Perhaps you even convinced you boss that he was the one. If you’ve done everything you can to make it work, and it still isn’t, it’s far better to admit you were wrong, learn from your experience and move on. Don’t magnify one poor decision with another.
    4. Confidence – You’re scared. You’re not sure how to approach the situation. Get some help. There’s nothing harder for a leader to do than to address poor performance, or remove someone from the team. It never is easy, but it does get easier. Practice your conversation with a peer or mentor. Plan the conversation and anticipate responses. You can do this.
    5. Lack of Alternatives – I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me for an internal reference for a poor performer they are about to hire, and after I share the issues and concerns, they hire them any way. I actually had one guy say recently, ‘well, Karin you have a very high standards, I’m not sure that’s realistic. The funny part is that I had back-filled this guy with someone who was running circles around his predecessor. Hire slow. The great ones are out there and deserve a chance.

If you’ve got a struggling performer on your team, do all you can to help. And if It’s time to let them move on, help them to do that gracefully.

Stack Ranking Performance Management Systems

My boss’ voice was visibly shaken on the other end of the phone. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “We have too many ‘leadings’ this year. You won’t be able to rate your top performer leading, or give her the extra pay.”

“What?” I was shocked. This woman had a hell of year. Plus, I had only submitted one name at that level. “How can that be?, I questioned, still stunned.

“Well you see, I’ve rated you as leading and that counts in the same bucket. It’s either you or her.

“Then let it be her, I responded.” This was unfair but if it was going to be unfair, let it be for me, not her. I’ll have another shot next year.

“No way. It’s done. The forms are submitted. You need to stop arguing. We’ll find another way to ensure she’s recognized.

Scenarios such as this play out in companies every day. Stack ranking performance management systems force leaders to choose between top performers, leaving a wake of frustration and disappointment.

Why More Companies Should Follow Microsoft

Last week the world echoed with virtual high-fives as Microsoft announced the abolishment of their stack ranking performance management system. Marissa Mayer received equally intense grief as Yahoo put one in place. It’s estimated that 30% of Fortune 500 companies still use stack ranking.

I’ve written before about making the best of such systems, inspiring a vision that motivates sacrifice, defining “extraordinary” as behaviors as well as results, involving the team in the evaluation. If you’re stuck in such a system, you must work it well to keep your team highly motivated. I’ve been there, done these things. But this is duck tape on a broken system.

Stack ranking is most destructive when you’ve:

  • attracted a team of rock stars
  • built extraordinary teamwork
  • managed out your lowest performers throughout the year (such systems can actually encourage holding on to poor performers until review time)
  • been given a stack rank curve to achieve at a micro-level
  • accomplished groundbreaking results

The strongest leaders with the strongest results are the victims of such systems.

And so I encourage our LGL community to share their perspectives and stories. Let’s make a timely ruckus. If this resonates, please share your story or opinion. Make up a name if you wish; just enrich the conversation, either way. 

PS: If you know others who would be enriched from, or enrich this community, please encourage them to subscribe. Every day we grow more interesting thanks to each of you.

A greata lternative to the stack rank: The Crowd Sourced Performance Review (download a free chapter).

Building Behaviors that Inspire Sustained Results

If you are just tuning in this week, we are in the midst of a series on Building Results That Last Beyond Your Tenure.

An important component to achieve your vision and accomplish your goals, is identifying the right behaviors at every level.

Just as with creating the vision, you have choices.

You can identify the key behaviors and build performance management systems and rewards to reinforce them. That may work, if your entire performance management system is carefully aligned.

What I find works even better is involving each level of the organization in the process.

How to Identify Key Behaviors: An Exercise

I have been using variations of this exercise in different roles and contexts for many years– sometimes on the outside as a facilitator, sometimes on the inside as leader. It’s easy, and mostly involves an open mind and enough time to really engage.

Set the stage:

Start with your vision and goals. Ensure everyone understands the big picture and how they fit in. You have choices on how to do this. If you missed the post on How To Develop a Team Vision, you may want to take a moment and start there.

Brainstorm Key Behaviors:

Next, brainstorm what specific behaviors each role on the team would need to exhibit to make that vision a reality. What behaviors must the leader exhibit? How about the sales reps? How about the HR team? How about…

For example:

What would the team leader most need to do each day to achieve the vision?

Be more visible?

That’s a start, but too vague.

How about if she spent 3 hours on the floor each day.

Better.

What would she be doing on the floor?

Keep drilling down until you find specific measurable behaviors that will work.

This can be done for every role on the team.

Drilling Down:

Next, consider formalizing this exercise at every level of the organization.

Start with your direct reports, and take it down as many levels as you have.

Ask.

In order for us to accomplish our vision, what behaviors do you need from me?

Then narrow it down to specific behaviors and write them down.

Next, what behaviors must they exhibit? Again, narrow it down and record.

Ask them to repeat this exercise with their teams to discuss the specific behaviors for their roles.

And then a level down.

Take all those behaviors and publish them into a matrix. Everyone then knows what behaviors are expected at every level to accomplish the vision. You can then work to hold one another accountable for those behaviors.

It’s a lot harder to ignore the leadership behaviors you committed to when everyone has a matrix of expectations they can pull out at any time.