By Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja, and Craig Rusch
Our research design called on the human resource department of each organization in our study to provide us with three managers who were considered to be effective at managing Millennials and three managers who were perceived as struggling with managing Millennials. We conducted one-on-one interviews with each participant and then facilitated a focus group among the six managers.
We were surprised to learn that both populations (the good and the challenged) perceived the Millennials similarly. Words such as “entitled,” “brash,” and “smart” were common in all of the interview transcripts. The focus groups produced no discord or strong disagreement between the groups. Both the good and challenged managers shared frustrations and experiences that aligned. Many of the participants left their interviews commenting that the experience was therapeutic for them.
If both populations of managers perceived Millennial employees the same way and had similar experiences with them, then what differentiated the good from the challenged? We begin by reporting what did notdifferentiate the managers. As we stated in Chapter 1, many believe that parenting has shifted from a focus on training to nurturing. One of our early hypotheses was that women would be better at managing Millennials than men. However, our data did not support such a notion. We also thought that managers who were parents of Millennials would be better at managing them in the workplace, another misconception we had to let go.
Our sample did not have a sufficient number of Millennials who were managers to adequately compare them to our data set, so we cannot say whether they are better at managing their own age cohort than managers who are older. That being said, Millennials who are managers generally score well on our Generational Rapport Inventory (discussed in Chapter 14). In the same way Baby Boomers and GenXers understand each other, Millennials get Millennials.
One artifact that stood out among the managers who were considered to be good at managing Millennial employees was that most of them had served as volunteers in a youth organization (Little League, AYSO, YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Scouting, church youth group). One grocery store manager talked about how much he learned as president of the local little league. Many of the kids he had met through that experience ended up working in his store during their high school and college years. We identified two critically important characteristics required of anyone who volunteers to work with young people:
Both skills can easily be transferred to the workplace.
As we continued to sift our data, we found that the single most important differentiator between the good managers and those who were challenged is that the good managers exhibited the ability to suspend the bias of their own experience. In other words, they started with the Millennial’s experience and not their own. Some of our challenged managers would say, “What experience? They have no experience!” If someone cannot suspend the bias of their own experience, they will insist that “the way I did it” is the blueprint for everyone else. The inability to suspend the bias of one’s own experience will inhibit self-reflection or learning. For instance, “Why am I so bothered by the fact that my employee wants work-life balance?” “What threats do Millennial values represent?” More importantly, “How will I need to change?” One manager we spoke to claimed to have lost three marriages and favor with his children because of his work ethic. He resented his Millennials for prioritizing family and friends over work. Obviously, his projection onto the Millennials kept him from facing his own “stuff.”
Simply put, failing to suspend the bias of one’s own experience excuses managerial leaders from the adaptive work that is required of them to manage in today’s world. Part of the adaptive process is getting outside of the orbit of your own experience and entering the world in which Millennials live.
An underlying premise of this book is that the people with the most responsibility have to adapt first. It may sound cliché, but by setting an example, managers will create an environment in which the less mature will adapt. Adapting does not mean acquiescing to the whims of an individual or a generation. Adaptive managers have the ability to create environments that allow for enough discomfort that people will feel the need to change but safe enough that they can change. We think generational rapport is critical to creating such an environment.
Perspective or mindset is critical to performance. We discovered six areas in which the good and challenged manager perspectives significantly differed.
The Good Managers: Talked about their own need to change to manage in “today’s world.”
The Challenged Managers: Talked about how others needed to change to make it in the “real world.”
The Good Managers: Believed there was something they could do about the situation.
The Challenged Managers: Believed there was little they could do about the situation.
The Good Managers: Allowed their subordinates to challenge them (ideas, processes, ways of doing things).
The Challenged Managers: Sanctioned or punished their subordinates for challenging them.
The Good Managers: Used the power of relationship vs. the power of their position.
The Challenged Managers: Felt the only power they had was their positional authority.
The Good Managers: Working with twentysomethings made them feel younger.
The Challenged Managers: Working with twentysomethings made them feel older.
The Good Managers: Saw themselves as key to the twentysomethings’ success.
The Challenged Managers: Saw the twentysomethings as an impediment to their own success.
The good managers in our study considered the challenge of managing Millennials a personal growth opportunity. Although frustrated or even puzzled, these managers constantly referred to themselves as needing to learn and enhance their own management skills. The challenged managers talked about how their subordinates just needed to grow up and face the real world. Although there is some validity in such a perspective, the focus of their frustration was projected onto what others needed to do, not on their own personal development.
To find out more about the book, visit: http://www.redtreeleadership.com/millennials/.
Chip Espinoza is the CEO of GeNext Solutions, a professional service firm that specializes in cross-generational management. He has taught leadership and management for the last 12 years at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Mick Ukleja is the founder and president of LeadershipTraQ, a leadership consulting firm based in California. He helped found the Ukleja Center For Ethical Leadership at California State University, Long Beach, the second largest university in the state. Ukleja also serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Astronauts Memorial Foundation at the Kennedy Space Center, which oversees the Center for Space Education.
Craig Rusch is a professor of psychological anthropology at Vanguard University located in Costa Mesa, CA. He also serves as chief strategy officer with GeNext Solutions. He has consulted with both nonprofit and for-profit organizations developing solutions that are sensitive to both organizational and human system needs.