Millennials your problem, really? They are your solution if you are prepared!
To know where to go from here, let’s explore how we got here to start with. I will give you a snapshot of each of the current generations in the workforce currently. We will track them in four areas: general culture, family structure, authority, and technology.
- Many still from an agrarian culture or still influenced by it.
- Two parent traditional families with moms at home and dads retiring from one lifelong job. Parents still the primary influencers.
- Respect for, and compliant response to, authority o Technology was a radio and TV with some channels and even sometimes with color!
- More from the cities and suburbs and might visit the grandparents farm occasionally.
- More single parent homes and certainly both parents working. Peers and teachers are becoming the primary influencers.
- Questioning authority, but will sometimes give in to, “because I said so.” o Technology was a color TV, sometimes more than one. Calculators readily available. Computers were a part of discussion and many people had pagers. Y’s:
- Mostly from the cities and suburbs and thinking that the farms are for rednecks. We need to “work smarter, not harder!”
- More than half are in single family homes and the beginning of introduction of nontraditional families. Many times both parents working more so the children have more and see less of the parents and more of their friends and classmates. Peers, media and college professors are primary influencers. o I’m the authority and I will listen and comply if I feel like it or you can convince me, especially if you show me how I benefit.
- Technology is TV with hundreds of channels. Cell phones are now the way to communicate. Desktop computers in many homes and some are many are now carrying their computers (laptops) with them.
- Majority are aware there are farms because they hear about them and see pictures of them. The farm life is too hard and it is stupid to work hard. After all, I don’t need to because I have earned a degree.
- Single family homes equal or even outnumber traditional family homes. Non-traditional family structures become normal. Somebody is responsible but not in charge.
- I’m in charge but I’m not sure what to do and I will follow id you earn that opportunity with me.
- Technology is TV is everywhere, all multiple thousands of them. Even the children have cell phones and their computer is in their cell phone. They have access to all the information they need because they can Google it!
As you track through the generational development and influences, you begin to understand where we are. We have a generational divide like we have not ever had before!
The major divides must be addressed, technology and values. Technology is much more obvious but equally important is the values piece. To save confusion or misunderstanding, let me define values as I use the word. The values I reference have to do with what prior generations translated to, among other things, “soft skills” and “work ethic.” Unlike the generations prior, Boomer’s, Gen X’ers and even some Gen y’s, Millennials are almost completely removed from agrarian influence. The influence that kept generations with at least an indirect understanding of responsibility, selflessness, overcoming difficulty, hard work, the very experiences that help produce “soft skills.” We now have many more people from urban and suburban environments. Additionally, the children that are still in the agrarian culture are much more effected by the urban and suburban influences through the internet. The value that began replacing the agrarian cultural mindset is, authority is to be questioned, challenged, or even rebelled against!
So what does this all mean? Historically we have, with great reason, promoted people into roles with titles such as “manager,” “supervisor,” “foreman,” and lastly, “boss!” When we do this, we give them the keys to the office or jobsite with the expectations that they will manage their new charges and the projects they oversee. Historically, that meant managing all of it, the things, and the people. Along with the titles, they were given the authority to be in charge. If it came down to it, if there was a dispute, all that was required was the manager to solve it with, “because I told you so!” That worked, even with their people. That is after all what we had learned along the way. It worked with the Boomer’s well, for the greatest majority of them. It even worked with the Gen Xer’s, on the whole, and even some of the Gen Y’s. The Millennials, we raised, think of themselves as independent and in no need of and are resistant to being managed!
One could argue that we shouldn’t have to do something special for Millennials. I appreciate the thought and have even felt that way at times too! That being said, I think we are better off discussing what we can do rather than complaining about what “isn’t.” As business owners, we know that it usually isn’t productive to have those discussions, especially when there is a business problem staring at us! We have to come to terms with it and find, or develop a plan to solve our problem. Yes, I said “our problem,” not theirs! So, we must overcome this as we have approximately 70 million of these next generation workers. The good news is that they have qualities that we need and more importantly, they are looking for people to lead them into those values!
Millennials bring a set of challenges to the workforce we aren’t typically prepared for. They aren’t the problem! Their generational differences are just causing a symptom of a deeper problem we have overlooked in how we manage the workforce. The fact that I have had to use this phrasing in my last sentence points to the problem as well. Let me explain, if I had said, “in how we lead the workforce,” most people would at least stumble as they read it and many would even react, “lead the workforce?”. We are focused on developing, promoting, and sometimes training people to be managers. Please don’t misunderstand! Training is important, promoting people is important too.
OK, so we see our problem, now what do we do? This is going to sound simplistic, but here you go……… we have to stop trying to manage everything, especially our people! We must learn to “manage things, and lead people!” So what does that look like? It means that our Boomer and Xer “bosses,” have to learn a different approach than just managing everything! The people with the titles must first be informed that, along with the title for their position, they also became “leaders.” Leaders, what does that mean? I thought I was a “manager,” “supervisor,” “foreman,” even, “boss!” We’ve got to inform our “managers” that they are, by default, leaders. A leader….leads people into teams that then accomplish goals. It sounds simple but, if you don’t know and haven’t been prepared to, it is a scary responsibility! The question becomes whether they will be great leaders or bad bosses!
You are just dealing with semantics, some would say. In some senses, maybe but for the sake of overcoming this very real challenge, we’ve got to make this shift. Managers operate by authority and control. In other words, when there is a decision made and compliance is an issue, the manager says, “because I said so”! For Boomer’s and X’ers, that might work effectively. With Y’s and Millennials, it doesn’t fly. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it won’t work, at least not effectively. You will either get outright defiance from the stronger personalities to the other extreme of needing “safe places” because you have deeply offended them. In some cases, you might even get a visit from an angry parent, yes really! One solution is to respond as many have, “suck it up buttercup!” The reaction of, “because I said so,” will work to a point if you are happy with alienating many of the next generation of workers.
So you are thinking my next suggestion is to start singing Kum Bah Ya or having regular group hugs, right? Wrong! We can’t afford that either. We have businesses to run, products to get out and services to deliver, after all, these people expect to get paid, and they expect it to be top dollar to boot! OK, so we need to just lower our expectations and hand out trophies to everyone, wrong! The key is the Millennials, and we, need real leaders! If we don’t adjust and start developing, promoting and training leaders, we are going to lose. Lose new workers, lose managers lose a great deal of potential!
Trainer, Teacher, Speaker, Consultant,
WKW Consulting, LLC