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.