I struggle to put what I believe is an extremely diverse group of individuals in one bucket and paint them with a single, broad brush. But because the common practice has become to call them “Gen Y” or the “Millennium Workforce,” we’ll address them as such in this article. Think about what defines this group. Most surveys suggest that they want to work faster and better than their peers. In particular, many seek assignments with clear set goals and manageable deadlines. But there are also some dangerous trends emerging such as the assumption that they are ready for a far greater level of responsibility than they realistically are on their first day on the job.

As Rod Beckstrom writes in his book, The Starfish and the Spider, the traditional pre-WWI command and control organizational structure is simply too much of my grandfather’s mentality for this group. Many tend to have a very short attention span. They get restless quickly, and similar to the notion of “if they don’t like your movie, they can get up and leave,” they are likely to do the same with any job. Bruce Tulgan, author of Managing the Generation Mix, says Gen Y, “is like Gen X on steroids. They walk in with high expectations for themselves, their boss, and their employer. If you thought you saw a clash when Gen X came into the workforce, that was the fake punch. The haymaker is coming now.

So how do you supervise, lead, and approach this next generation of high potentials? In our experience, many are particularly bright and ambitious, but also have a “spoiled brat” mentality. Technology is very much in their DNA. They seek instant gratification and thrive on challenging much of what their older peers believe to be best practices. A particularly unique characteristic of this group is their command of technology and the fundamental belief that anyone who doesn’t embrace the absolute bleeding edge of technology will simply be left behind.

This future fabric of the workforce is the fastest growing segment of the labor pool and, to many, they are clear trendsetters in the transformation of organizations of all types, size, industry and geographic presence. We believe their hardwiring is unique as evidenced by their ability to electronically multi-task via platforms such as Google, instant messaging, and texting. They possess multi-processing skills that even the generation before them could not envision. Our summer interns typically have 10-15 blogs open at a time. They text constantly and leverage multiple social networking sites. One could easily perceive all of this as wasting time and resources when, in fact, they are getting things done. They just happen to do it very differently than the rest of us. Many are developing a canny ability to solve problems quickly yet, in our experience, they struggle when faced with an interpersonal, face-to-face confrontational situation. They prefer distance in disagreement. Additionally, many view senior leaders as antiquated due largely to their inability to “speak the language.” This lack of communication ultimately creates an even bigger divide.

So, what is the answer? Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Recognize the need to deliberately, intentionally transform much of your preconceived notions around work hours, processes, and even deadlines and budgets. Find a way to channel their energy and develop a work environment similar to the social networks or online environments that they have grown up with. By doing this, you are likely to enable them to perform at their absolute peaks.
  2. Proactively embrace Web 2.0 technologies as business enablers. This includes podcasts, blogging, v-logging (video logging), RSS, and many others that we have yet to fully uncover or truly embrace such as Second Life for training and development.
  3. Consider new communication channels as an opportunity to engage in dialogue. Only by changing the media models, without losing the organization’s leaders’ core values, will you be able to substitute give-and-take dialogue for the traditional, “tossing a message over the wall to see what sticks” approach.
  4. The evolution of the corporate culture will require the development of highly interactive solutions for attracting, developing and to the extent possible, retaining this talent pool. As I mentioned in a recent Entrepreneur magazine article, ideas such as recruiting videos, informal online mentoring, virtual 360-degree assessments, personal and professional competency mapping and capabilities development are some of the ideas that will help you achieve the necessary generational equilibrium.
  5. Foster creativity and enhance productivity by providing tools that promote mobility and convergence. Think: remote access, Blackberries, SaaS (Software as a Service), and video if not virtual conferencing. One of our clients, a law firm, recently completely abandoned desktop computers and has armed its employees with laptops and a generous reimbursement policy for home equipment as well as truly flexible hours. By choosing to emphasize the end result, they have been extremely successful. Their fastest growing workforce is stay-at-home moms.

By staying current with the evolutionary technology landscape, the incoming generation of workers begins to believe that leadership not only has the ability to listen, but also the much more critical willingness to adapt.


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