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Why Articles On How To Manage Millennials Are A Waste Of Your Time

Why Articles On How To Manage Millennials Are A Waste Of Your Time

A staple of seemingly useful work-related articles is the “How to Manage Millennials” genre. Such articles are worse than useless — they are positively damaging. Here’s why you should not bother reading them and what you should do instead.

Groups Aren’t Coherent or Cohesive

Millennials, Gen X, Boomers — these are categories defined exclusively by age. This is one of the least-useful predictors of a person’s values, traits, or actions, with the sole exceptions of perhaps predicting whether or not they will have children (and how many), what their major purchases in life will be, and how they will die. For example, the vast majority of kids are born to parents between 20 and 40 years of age. Major purchases, like cars or houses, tend to occur around around certain ages.

If you were marketing to them, you’d be deeply interested in the fact that Millennials are more willing to make purchases on their smart phones, or which cultural references will resonate with them (the 9/11 attack but not the collapse of the Iron Curtain).

Other than that, what do Millennials have in common with each other that’s different enough to be useful as guidance for how you should manage them?

Absolutely nothing.

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Bait and Switch

When “How to Manage Millennials” articles do have useful guidance, it’s unrelated to the differences in the generations. Advice to managers like:

  • Create diverse teams
  • Realize different people are motivated differently
  • Celebrate small victories
  • Invest in training

These are all good ideas and are in no way connected to what generation someone is part of. Of course, people with more experience will value experience, while newcomers will want their talents to count for more. That’s true for every generation.

And seriously, do you really need to consult the Barclays 6-Generations Map to figure out that a person with less experience needs more training?

You Don’t Manage Groups

Marketing is a one-to-many activity, and we shouldn’t begrudge marketers their Millennial maunderings. For researchers and demographic planners, studying the generations makes sense. However, you do not manage groups. You manage individuals. The variance between individuals vastly outranks the variance between generations, let alone the similarities within a generation.

Remember, as a manager, you are responsible for making each person who reports to you as effective as possible.

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So, which of these pieces of information will help you better decide whether to give the task of managing the new SharePoint server to Alice or to Bob?

  1. Demographics: Alice is a female and Bob is a male.
  2. Generations: Alice is a Gen-Xer (who are supposed to be moderately tech-savvy) and Bob is a Millennial (reported to be “digital natives”).
  3. Goals: Alice told you in your last one-on-one that she wants to increase her technical expertise. Bob told you in your last one-on-one that he hopes to move into sales in a few years.
  4. Appreciations: Alice values being praised verbally. Bob is more moved by a thoughtful gift.

If you answered anything other than 3, you’re no manager.

Thinking You Manage Groups Distorts Your Thinking

As soon as you start to think you can, or should, manage groups rather than individuals, you’ll give yourself permission to not do the hard work of getting to know each of your direct reports as unique human beings.

When you think of managing groups as a single unit, you’ll start to generalize about motivation, information absorption style, active learning style, and communications style. That thinking will make you a lousy manager. Each of these things varies dramatically from one Millennial to the next, indeed from one human being to the next (also, replacing one set of stereotypes with another isn’t going to help you manage better either).

You don’t have to do appalling things to drive people away — just treat them like indistinguishable demographic entities and your indifference to their individuality will lead them to leave.

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What to Think About Instead

Remember that your job as a manager is to maximize the current and future effectiveness of each person reporting to you.

I teach my CEO and senior executive clients to create a Player Lineup Chart to help them look for and remember a wide range of personal attributes about their people.

As a manager, you should make your own Player Lineup Chart. Include these attributes:

Motivation

  • Personal Goals – helps you connect their personal goals to the team’s tasks. (Have Alice manage the SharePoint server.)
  • Values – helps you help them see how their values are served by the team’s work. (Write Alice a thank-you note, but buy Bob a gift, to show each your appreciation.)

Information Absorption Style

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  • Listener – give this person more verbal briefings. Expect to spend more time in dialog with them.
  • Reader – give this person more background reading. Expect them to read your emails closely.

Active Learning Style

You should be actively managing the growth of each of your directs. Use their innate active learning style to guide you. For example, suppose you’re giving your direct a stretch assignment, and they’ll be working outside their comfort zone. You’ll be checking in with them twice a week to keep them on track and help them succeed. In each case, you’ll get status updates and any open questions. How should you structure that check-in depending on the individual’s approach to learning?

  • Writer – They should give you a brief written summary of status and their questions.
  • Talker – They should give you a brief verbal update.
  • Drawer – They should give you an infographic or concept sketch, or share a one-person Scrum board.
  • Mover – You should go for a walk with them and talk about their status.
  • Silent Thinker – You should ask them to pick one of the above approaches.

Communications Style

Communications style consists of two variables — Introversion vs Extroversion and focus on People vs Tasks. Popularized by William Moulton Marston as the DISC profile, this gives you a quick guide to some common themes you’ll see in your direct reports. I call them the Dominant (task-focused extrovert), the Influencer (people-focused extrovert), the Steady (people-focused introvert) and the Compliant (task-focused introvert). Pay attention to the default style, and the style under stress, of each of your directs.

Conclusion

Never manage a person based on their generation — it’s absurd, impersonal, and demeaning. Manage each person as a unique human being, whose career you are privileged to influence for the better.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on July 16, 2019

7 Powerful Habits To Win In Office Politics

7 Powerful Habits To Win In Office Politics

Office politics – a taboo word for some people. It’s a pervasive thing at the workplace.

In its simplest form, workplace politics is simply about the differences between people at work; differences in opinions, conflicts of interests are often manifested as office politics. It all goes down to human communications and relationships.

There is no need to be afraid of office politics. Top performers are those who have mastered the art of winning in office politics. Below are 7 good habits to help you win at the workplace:

1. Be Aware You Have a Choice

The most common reactions to politics at work are either fight or flight. It’s normal human reaction for survival in the wild, back in the prehistoric days when we were still hunter-gatherers.

Sure, the office is a modern jungle, but it takes more than just instinctive reactions to win in office politics. Instinctive fight reactions will only cause more resistance to whatever you are trying to achieve; while instinctive flight reactions only label you as a pushover that people can easily take for granted. Neither options are appealing for healthy career growth.

Winning requires you to consciously choose your reactions to the situation. Recognize that no matter how bad the circumstances, you have a choice in choosing how you feel and react. So how do you choose? This bring us to the next point…

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2. Know What You Are Trying to Achieve

When conflicts happen, it’s very easy to be sucked into tunnel-vision and focus on immediate differences. That’s a self-defeating approach. Chances are, you’ll only invite more resistance by focusing on differences in people’s positions or opinions.

The way to mitigate this without looking like you’re fighting to emerge as a winner in this conflict is to focus on the business objectives. In the light of what’s best for the business, discuss the pros and cons of each option. Eventually, everyone wants the business to be successful; if the business don’t win, then nobody in the organization wins.

It’s much easier for one to eat the humble pie and back off when they realize the chosen approach is best for the business.

By learning to steer the discussion in this direction, you will learn to disengage from petty differences and position yourself as someone who is interested in getting things done. Your boss will also come to appreciate you as someone who is mature, strategic and can be entrusted with bigger responsibilities.

3. Focus on Your Circle of Influence

At work, there are often issues which we have very little control over. It’s not uncommon to find corporate policies, client demands or boss mandates which affects your personal interests.

Gossiping and complaining are common responses to these events that we cannot control. But think about it, other than that short term emotional outlet, what tangible results do gossiping really accomplish? In most instances, none.

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Instead of feeling victimized and angry about the situation, focus on the things that you can do to influence the situation — your circle of influence. This is a very empowering technique to overcome the feeling of helplessness. It removes the victimized feeling and also allows others to see you as someone who knows how to operate within given constraints.

You may not be able to change or decide on the eventual outcome but, you can walk away knowing that you have done the best within the given circumstances.

Constraints are all around in the workplace; with this approach, your boss will also come to appreciate you as someone who is understanding and positive.

4. Don’t Take Sides

In office politics, it is possible to find yourself stuck in between two power figures who are at odds with each other. You find yourself being thrown around while they try to outwit each other and defend their own position; all at the expense of you getting the job done. You can’t get them to agree on a common decision for a project, and neither of them want to take ownership of issues; they’re too afraid they’ll get stabbed in the back for any mishaps.

In cases like this, focus on the business objectives and don’t take side with either of them – even if you like one better than the other. Place them on a common communication platform and ensure open communications among all parties, so that no one can claim “I didn’t say that”.

By not taking sides, you’ll help to direct conflict resolution in an objective manner. You’ll also build trust with both parties. That’ll help to keep the engagements constructive and focus on business objectives.

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5. Don’t Get Personal

In office politics, you’ll get angry with people. It happens. There will be times when you feel the urge to give that person a piece of your mind and teach him a lesson. Don’t.

People tend to remember moments when they were humiliated or insulted. Even if you win this argument and get to feel really good about it for now, you’ll pay the price later when you need help from this person. What goes around comes around, especially at the workplace.

To win in the office, you’ll want to build a network of allies which you can tap into. The last thing you want during a crisis or an opportunity is to have someone screw you up because they harbor ill-intentions towards you – all because you’d enjoyed a brief moment of emotional outburst at their expense.

Another reason to hold back your temper is your career advancement. Increasingly, organizations are using 360 degree reviews to promote someone. Even if you are a star performer, your boss will have to fight a political uphill battle if other managers or peers see you as someone who is difficult to work with. The last thing you’ll want is to make it difficult for your boss to champion you for a promotion.

6. Seek to Understand, Before Being Understood

The reason people feel unjustified is because they felt misunderstood. Instinctively, we are more interested in getting the others to understand us than to understand them first. Top people managers and business leaders have learned to suppress this urge.

Surprisingly, seeking to understand is a very disarming technique. Once the other party feels that you understand where he/she is coming from, they will feel less defensive and be open to understand you in return. This sets the stage for open communications to arrive at a solution that both parties can accept.

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Trying to arrive at a solution without first having this understanding is very difficult – there’s little trust and too much second-guessing.

7. Think Win-Win

As mentioned upfront, political conflicts happen because of conflicting interests. Perhaps due to our schooling, we are taught that to win, someone else needs to lose. Conversely, we are afraid to let someone else win, because it implies losing for us.

In business and work, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Learn to think in terms of “how can we both win out of this situation?” This requires that you first understand the other party’s perspective and what’s in it for him.

Next, understand what’s in it for you. Strive to seek out a resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties. Doing this will ensure that everyone truly commit to the agreed resolution and will not pay only lip-service to it.

People simply don’t like to lose. You may get away with win-lose tactics once or twice but very soon, you’ll find yourself without allies in the workplace.

Thinking win-win is an enduring strategy that builds allies and help you win in the long term.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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