A Boomer, GenX, Millennial, and iGen walk into a bar

I’m a Gen X guy working for Boomers in a Millennial dominated world and want to share some observations with the iGen that will be working with me in a dozen years. Today I manage a small team that consists entirely of folks from the Millennial generation. These “kids”, as I call them daily, are in their mid and late 20’s for the most part, and I am in my early 40’s. I have a few years on most of them and could actually be some of their parents, but I’m still close enough in age to appreciate most of their interests. In fact, I’m surprised how “relevant” I am considering that when I was in my 20’s I thought that folks in their 40’s were OLD because they used words like “folks” in their conversations.

In my current role I am a sales leader in a technical industry. We sell IT solutions. That means we need to dissect the complex environments that we are selling into, identify our client’s problems, create solutions to those problems leveraging products from our portfolio, implement those products, and then continue building a relationship with those clients so we remain valuable to them as the lifecycle rotates. Since I have to manage the people on my team that execute this process day in and day out, I have sought advice on how to best interact with my team. Specifically, the millennials on my team. I’ll apologize in advance to Lauren Marinigh who pointed out in her blog (http://www.laurenmarinigh.com/3-reasons-millennials-shouldnt-be-getting-fired/) that many times these types of conversations take the entire generation to task instead of focusing on the handful of folks that really give credence to some of the challenges pointed out below. Also, much of this advice applies to any one of any age that isn’t doing well at their job. To that end, I’m only talking about the few of you that this applies to.

It has been said that the Millennials…
* Don’t proactively seek resources on their own and don’t always stay up to date on current industry developments
As I mentioned earlier we are in the business of executing a technical sale, and the product knowledge is something that requires time to understand and repeated exposure to fully absorb. In my particular industry, this training is available in multiple forms that are mostly self-service and I argue that it’s incumbent upon you to consume as much as you can. J.T. O’Donnell argues that “we are service providers” and the expectation for large amounts of expensive training is unreasonable. I agree that if you haven’t first at least attempted to consume the training available, and worked with your peers to sort through the things you didn’t understand or needed to clarify, you shouldn’t come knocking on my door to provide you 1 on 1 tutoring. If you sit down with me and we can create a training plan that makes sense to the business, then I am all ears. I’m not sending you off to get a PMP certification so that you can do outbound sales calls however.
* Don’t seek out a mentor
You need to find someone OUTSIDE of your organization that you trust and who has substantially more experience that can give you feedback, can provide a sounding board for your ideas, and can generally help you navigate this new environment called a job. Again, please understand that I am happy to provide you ample coaching day to day, but also understand that my coaching is incredibly biased and one sided. You work for me, and I am trying to extract value from you. By disclosing your weaknesses, concerns, and challenges at length, you are undermining yourself. If you can seek external advice and leverage a healthier mentor/mentee relationship, you can expect all of the same benefits of my coaching without the negatives.
* Work only the minimum time expected
Don’t do this.
* Aren’t very good at managing their time or paying attention to detail
You have to take the time to understand what the expected outcome of every task is. Don’t just fire an email response over the wall without understanding the question and fully understanding the answer you are providing. Don’t just pick up the phone and call/text someone the first thing that pops into your head. Take the time to be prepared to handle the full inquiry. Study what you are working on until you feel that it is perfect and then send it out for peer review. Only THEN do you send it out to the recipient. Who cares about attention to detail? Why is it important? They’re, Their There is why. If you are interacting with a professional and don’t take the time to do a basic spelling/grammar check, then why should that professional believe that you will take the time to provide the level of service they expect? Your reputation is frequently determined by how you present yourself and you may only have a few interactions in which you can do that presentation. Make each one count. Pay attention and strive for perfection in the simple things so that you can achieve it in the difficult things.
* Need to be very careful with how much rope they ask for
Flexibility is a reasonable request in your job, but there is a limit to how much you should expect. Remember that this is a job, and you’re asked to perform that job as expected. I understand that life happens and there are times you need to come in a bit late, or leave to meet the cable guy, or pickup that margarita machine for the pool party this weekend. Also understand that if I give you the leeway to knock out those errands, it’s with the expectation that you make up for it later on. I frequently tell my team that they owe me 45 hours of work each week. I don’t care which hours of the day they choose to provide them as much as I care that they commit to providing them all.
* Point out problems without offering solutions
There aren’t suggestion boxes anymore because they never hold suggestions. They only ever generate whining, complaining, and people tattle-telling on their peers without ever offering an actual suggestion. When you come to the table with a problem, also come to the table with a solution. I know it’s broke and I genuinely appreciate you pointing it out each week in our staff meeting, but if I knew the best fix it wouldn’t still be broken. Work with me here and throw out a couple ideas.

Want to know which one of your peers are succeeding? It is the ones doing the opposite of the list above. Take any one you know as an example run them backwards through the list and I am sure you will see the traits very clearly.

A few of the articles that I read as I was writing this post are below.
http://www.inc.com/jt-odonnell/3-reasons-millennials-are-getting-fired.html
http://www.inc.com/jt-odonnell/5-office-mistakes-costing-millennials-the-promotion.html
https://www.smartrecruiters.com/blog/28700-bosses-share-views-on-millennials/
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/blood-millenial-stephen-greenwell
http://www.laurenmarinigh.com/3-reasons-millennials-shouldnt-be-getting-fired/

1 comment

  1. Mr. Hagstrom,

    I read through your post and very much applaud your general enthusiasm for learning what truly connects with people from another generation (Something I have never thought you struggled with personally). I am not going to sit here and dispute what you wrote, and understand your premise in its entirety. I also realize that you pointed out that your weren’t glossing over the entire generation, but also thought it would be pertinent to point out that your post will likely end up at the bottom of this page (See link below) in its next iteration 10 to 15 years from now. This would actually be a pretty good achievement, it shows some big influence.

    http://www.thewire.com/national/2013/05/me-generation-time/65054/

    That being said,

    Title: The Same Old New Look at the Same New Old Problem

    You are unfortunately caught right in the middle of an age and generation transition. You were literally born closer to the start of the next one, than the beginning of the old one. You are literally a mix of both, the balance in which people wish could be struck at a large scale, but that is impossible to achieve. This, in my personal opinion, is the most inherent piece of the perceived issues between any generation and the one that comes after it. Balance, during the inevitable transition period that we will always have, and are currently going through.

    Old people are different than young people, and if there really is an issue with an entire generations approach to anything (work, life, whatever) then I think we could argue the forces that raise and influence the younger generation are likely at fault. After all, were they born different, or were they raised different? Who controls that again?

    Twenty years from now, I will probably be disappointed with the direction my kids and those of my friends have gone. I will likely write an article or blog post about how in my day we had to actually type in our search queries instead of just think about them and the answer popped up on my HoloLens. Then someone that works for me will write me this same message. It is cyclical.

    Another prime example (beyond the workplace) of generational fears/issues that have lived on since the beginning of industry is that people believe technology has taking away more than it has given, when it reality data on the subject show is very much so inaccurate. What really happened was change, and some people didn’t change with it, while others did.

    http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/17/technology-created-more-jobs-than-destroyed-140-years-data-census

    Every single generation is better educated than the previous one, and it will always be this way. With that education and broader access to the rest of the world via advances in technology comes a great deal if influence and empowerment. Knowledge in and of itself is power, which is why in contracted professions no one wants to be the first to set precedent with the price of the contract. Once someone knows the going rate for something, they will demand the same if they are not already receiving it. Price is not just $, but everything else that factors into someone’s quality in self being, or that of their families.

    The boomer generation brought on one of the biggest shifts in mankind, and often in a negative light. They had the worse collective health that mankind as ever seen (the traditional nutritional track that people eat today, and kill themselves with, wasn’t enacted until around the 1960’s). It is a generation of incredible highs, and absurdly low lows in the world of economics. Generation X has revolted against many of those values in an effort to change the general decision making paradigm that their parents had, but without the real viable tools to do so. Millennial’s are just doing the same, but with the tools of enablement that no generation has ever had, which inherently changes the dynamic in which decisions, processes, and life in general will be approached. They do not want to live their parent’s struggles, and their parents do not want them to either. That is why they were raised and protected in different manner. The result is different people, a different world. Not better, not worse, but different.

    The issues between generations is nothing more than a difficulty to deal with the competing values that must co-exist during the main crossover time that we experience from generation to generation. That flux has about another 10 years left in it before the main crux of influence comes from the people that current leaders label as unwilling to work, and unwilling to conform to what they deem necessary to make it through a day successfully. Time will tell if the world will survive. My bet is that it likely will (not that I am saying you combat that statement).

    Just like the industry we are in, if people aren’t willing to change with the times then they will likely be swept away. I, much like you, see things every single day that make me shake my head, but I do not really fear the future being in the hands of the next generation. Instead, while I am annoyed, I accept that the world will continue to go on, and the way in which it does will likely be different than the way that I did it, as well as, the way that you did it. In the end, it will be ok, just as it always has been.

    I consider you a friend, and I personally value your input and thoughts on more than you will probably ever know. I also believe that you are a person that will allow me to personally flourish in my career, but I think sometimes you should consider the fact that the differences in the way we do things is also what makes us successful.

    Our office has way more potential achievement in front of us, but there is no formula for success out there that guarantees that success, and there never will be. If there was then we would have already hit that mark, and the most traditional companies in the world (Such as IBM) wouldn’t be struggling as hard as they are these days, and have been for several years. They could use some change, and have been trying to find it for a while now.

    Cheers!

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