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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 November 19, 2018

How to Find a Suitable Professional Mentor

How to Find a Suitable Professional Mentor

I went through a personal experience that acted as a catalyst for an epiphany. When I got fired from a job, I learned something important about myself and where I was headed with my freelance career. I realized that the most important aspect of that one rather small job was the influence of the company owner. I realized that I wasn’t hurt that the company and I weren’t a perfect match; I was devastated by the stark fact that I needed a mentor and I had almost found one but lost her.

Suddenly, I felt like J.D., the main character in “Scrubs,” chasing Dr. Cox and trying to rip insight and wisdom from someone I respect. The realization that a recognized thought-leader and experienced entrepreneur severed ties with me felt crushing. But, I picked myself back up and thought about five ways to acquire a mentor without having the awkwardness of outright asking.

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1. Remember, a professional mentorship must be mutual.

A professional mentor must agree to engage in a mutual relationship because, as the comedy T.V. series showed us, one simply cannot force someone to tutor us. We have to prove that we are worth the time investment through persistence and dedication to the craft.

2. You have to have common interests with your mentor.

Even if a professional mentor appears at your job or school, realize that unless you and this person have common interests, you won’t find the relationship successful. I’ve been in situations where someone I respected had vastly different ideas about what was important in life or what one should spend his or her free time doing. If these things don’t line up, you may find the relationship won’t be as fruitful, even when the mentor knows a great deal about one industry.

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3. Thought-leaders will respect your passion.

One of the ways you can prove yourself worthy to a professional mentor is through your passion and your dedication. No one wants to spend time grooming and teaching another who will not take advice or put the effort in to improve. When following thought-leaders on Twitter and trying to engage with higher-ups in a work setting, realize that your actions most often speak louder than your words.

4. Before worrying if he respects you, ask if you respect him.

On the other side of the coin, you should seriously reflect on those common interests and make sure you respect your professional mentor. Just because someone holds a title, degree or office does not mean that person is trustworthy or honest. Don’t be swayed by appearances and take the time to find a suitable professional mentor.

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5. Failure is often the best way to learn

I honestly have made more mistakes than I can count. I know I’ve learned a great deal from poorly organized businesses and my own poor choices. The most important quality I’ve developed is an ability to swallow my pride and learn from my mistakes. If life knocks me down nine times, I get back up 10 times. One of the songs Megadeth wrote, “Of Mice and Men,” resonates in my mind when I pull myself up by my bootstraps and try again for a goal I’ve set: “So live your life and live it well. There’s not much left of me to tell. I just got back up each time I fell.” Hopefully, this brief post can act as a professional mentor to you in your quest to find not only a brave leader but also a trusted adviser.

Featured photo credit: morguefile via mrg.bz

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