Managing Generation Y -- Part 3

A look at the 14 expectations of the 14th generation of Americans -- children of the late '70s and early '80s

In Managing Generation Y, Bruce Tulgan & Carolyn A. Martin have compiled a pocket guide to help managers who are trying understand the kids born between 1978 and 1998 -- a group of employees with quite different qualities than the Gen-Xers before them.

Their book offers a look at these young adults between 16 and 22, many with impressive resumes even before they hit the full-time workplace. With three to four part-time job or internships under their belts, the authors say, this group is already sure they know what they want out of their careers and how they want to be managed.

Chapter Four: The Fourteenth Generation's Fourteen Expectations

Don grabbed a pile of order forms and headed toward the warehouse floor. The morning strategy meeting had just broken up, and behind him he could hear young workers buzzing, "No way! What does the big boss think he's doing?"

Pretending he didn't hear, Don chuckled to himself as he climbed into a loading truck. He studied the purchase order that topped his pile and aimed the vehicle toward the hazardous-products area located in the east wing of the 500,000 square-foot facility.

All morning, he zipped around the warehouse, trading jibes with young Gen Yers who were still incredulous that the distribution center manager was out there with them.

Don usually arrived at his air-conditioned office in casual business attire. But this morning he wore T-shirt and jeans because he knew today's order volume was exceptionally high. Rather than let his young crew drown in the overwhelm, he wanted to make the day fun and challenging.

So there he was, honking the truck's horn, asking for the whereabouts of the newest inventory, and trying to meet the time-and-accuracy standards printed on each order.

Don had tied significant bonuses to the crew's ability to exceed those standards. He had recently helped redesign the facility's layout and update the motorized equipment, so workers were well aware of his commitment to help them beat their goals.

Bruce Tulgan
Bruce Tulgan

During the morning, Don stopped only to coach a new employee on how to maneuver a small fork-lift, to congratulate his newest supervisor on finishing a fantastic project the day before, and to stock up on the filtered water he had ordered delivered to strategic points throughout the area. Since air conditioning was impossible in such a large space, workers were issued sports bottles and encouraged to take time out to keep themselves hydrated during the summer heat wave.

At lunch, he grabbed a sandwich in the employee cafeteria and traded small talk with a couple of new hires. When he asked how they were doing after two weeks on the job, he got an ear-full.

"We were talking the other day, Don," Kim said. "If we had hand-held scanners that entered bar code numbers directly into a computer on our trucks, we could save a whole lot of time double checking our orders and we'd up our accuracy rates a lot."

"Yeah," Jaime added. "Now we're trying to remember what we grabbed from the shelves when we're loading the shipping containers. We got the order form, but, man, sometimes we just get distracted and forget something. If we had that computer in front of us, we could check it and not worry about missing something."

"Great idea!" Don responded, genuinely impressed. "Would you come to Thursday's meeting and present it to the other managers?"

Jaime moved uncomfortably in his seat. "Uh, I don't know, Don. I don't like talking to a bunch of people."

"Me, neither," Don laughed. "But if you want to get ahead in any organization, it's a great skill to have. Besides, I want the others to know how smart both of you are. Sometimes they don't realize the skills and talents we have out here on the floor."

Kim blushed. "Sure we'll do it, Jaime. We can get together and decide what we're going to say."

"Ok, then we're set," Don added before Jaime could object. "You're on for 8:15 a.m. in my office on Thursday." He cleaned up his lunch debris and headed back to the warehouse.

"Neat guy," Jaime said after he left. "Nobody ever asked for my ideas before."

"And nobody every listened like that," Kim agreed. "I think this boss is going to be okay."

They followed Don back into the muggy warehouse. And, throughout the afternoon, they made sure their horns honked the loudest as their forklifts passed him.

Few managers are as good as Don. But he is a composite of what Gen Yers told us they expect from their managers: a knowledgeable adult who can jump in as a team player when needed, listen to their ideas, recognize and mentor them, be the inspiration that motivates them to excel at work.

Gen Yers know intuitively what our research has been telling us for years -- and what everyone is saying nowadays: The number one factor affecting employee performance, as well as retention, is the relationship people have with their immediate supervisor. People may be drawn to your business initially because of your name or reputation, but what makes them stay is how they're treated by their bosses.

The best managers listen. They care. They support. They respect. They trust. They guide. They communicate. They challenge. They teach. They give feedback. They reward. These behaviors are all part of the coaching process.

Carolyn Martin
Carolyn A. Martin

A 21-year-old who works in the alumni office of large university spoke for most Gen Y talent when he said, "I have played sports all my life, so I think I would want to be coached in my job. To have a boss that shows and teaches until you understand it, and then gives you the freedom and independence to continue it or expand on it. Gives constructive feedback on a regular basis, but not too often. Also encourages and gives positive reward when a job is done right - but doesn't just hand it out for anything."

Our ongoing research indicates that the fourteenth generation has fourteen expectations that define the way they want to be coached by their immediate bosses:

1. Provide challenging work that really matters.

2. Balance clearly delegated assignments with the freedom and flexibility to produce results in their own way.

3. Offer increasing responsibility as a reward for accomplishments.

4. Spend time getting to know staff members and their capabilities.

5. Provide on-going training and learning opportunities.

6. Establish mentoring relationships.

7. Create a comfortable, low-stress environment.

8. Allow some flexibility in scheduling.

9. Be personable and joke around with staff while still getting the job done.

10. Balance roles of "boss" with "team player."

11. Treat Yers as colleagues, not as interns or "teenagers."

12. Be respectful and call forth respect in return.

13. Consistently provide constructive feedback.

14. Reward Yers when they've done a good job.

From Managing Generation Y: Global Citizens Born in the Late Seventies and Early Eighties by Bruce Tulgan & Carolyn A. Martin, Ph.D. Copyright 2001 RainmakerThinking, Inc. Reprinted with permission of HRD Press Inc.

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