It’s becoming increasingly important for us to be able to work across generations in the workplace. The Boomers are starting to leave, but there not all gone, Gen X is ready to assume more of the leadership roles, and Gen Y is getting antsy. The stagnant labor market hasn’t made this situation any easier. It has an adverse impact on internal job movement as well, further complicating the cross-generational relationships. We have to assume that in the next few years we’ll see a turn in the labor market.
Keep these 5 tips in mind as you prepare yourself to lead the Gen Y worker:
1. Give them the rope to hang themselves, but be close enough to catch them
You have to be willing to empower them, and you have to let them learn from experience. The more opportunities that you give them to learn, the more you’ll see them hustle, Gen Y wants to make an impact. Give your people the rope to get their work done, challenge them and give them opportunities to shine, but you need to let them fail too. They’ll learn from it, be better off for it, and you’ll have shown that you have faith in their abilities. Gen Y doesn’t need praise, they need faith, they want to know that you trust in them and you believe in them. Show them and be there for them when things don’t work.
2. Make their work meaningful, challenge them
Don’t just dish out the rote work. Challenge Gen Y. They want to feel involved in what’s important. Many Gen Y’ers probably believe they’re ready to lead, but coach them and talk to them about getting time under their belt and the experiences necessary to lead effectively. Paint them the picture of why it’s important to have lived experiences in the trenches. Let them know it’s like muscle memory, the more you experience, the more you can draw on. Most importantly make sure the experiences you expose them to have meaning. Expose them to leadership; bring them along to the important meetings. Help them see the big picture. Give them insight into career development. Talk to them about the importance of building a portfolio of broad experiences before worrying about leadership. It’s easier to build those experiences early in your career and it will pay off five-fold later in life.
3. Maximize purpose
This may be the most important job you have. You need to find a way to maximize the purpose of the work that your employees do. Especially Gen Y. They tend to be more motivated by making an impact and having a broader purpose in the work that they do. You need to be able to draw out the connections in their day-to-day. As Dan Pink talks about in Drive, you need to be a purpose maximize. Help connect their interests outside of work to the work that they do. It’s not an easy task; it requires you taking the time with them to understand what drives them, what motivates them and where they find meaning and purpose not only in their work, but in the world at large. If you can draw that connection and make it clear for them, you’ll be rewarded for the time you spend up front.
4. Don’t be afraid to give feedback
There’s the perception that Gen Y is ‘soft’ and spoon fed. That they don’t take well to criticism. It’s just that, a perception. Don’t be afraid to give them tough feedback. They need it. It gives them the opportunity to learn. And learning is what it’s all about for this generation. They’ve grown up in the technological age, they may have the attention of a squirrel, but they also have an insatiable curiosity to learn. It’s the result of growing up in an age when information about anything is only a click away.
5. Learn from them
They’re smart, they’re motivated and you can learn from them. Be open to their ideas. Give them the space to voice their thoughts. Teach them how to manage up, show them what a filter looks like and then let them roar, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you get back.
When the turn comes roles will begin to open and movement will return to pre-2008 rates. If you’re a Gen X employee on the cusp of assuming a broader and more complex leadership role, you need to prepare yourself for how to lead. That requires that you understand how to motivate those in line to follow you.
© 2012, Dr. Curtis L. Odom. All rights reserved.