Leading the Facebook Generation

The trick is not THAT they are different, but WHERE they are different.

By Ty Kiisel, Manager, Social Outreach, AtTask, Inc

I work with a team of mostly young people. Except for the fact that I’m a 50-something guy who rides a Harley rather than a 20-something guy who rides a bullet bike, there’s no real generation gap among my colleagues. Of course, there are some age-related differences, but, for the most part, they are minor things less associated with work and more related to fashion and other personal preferences.

On those rare occasions when my older associates and I talk about the younger people on the team, we talk about how their passion and energy is contagious. In fact, I think we universally agree our younger colleagues keep us on top of our game. The luxury of sitting back and resting on our laurels just isn’t an option.

Writing for LSJ.com, Doug Sites notes, “Young, talented workers have fresh points of view and … can offer newer and more innovative business practices, agenda-setting theories, issue attention cycles, crisis management, and the top social media tactics needed to market your company.”

I agree. Over the last five or six years, I’ve noticed that young people entering the workforce are more empowered and technologically savvy than any other generation I’m aware of.

Although I am a big fan of the Millennial Generation as a group, I don’t think they are any smarter or more capable than any of the previous generations. However, like every other generation that has come before them, the paradigm they work with is built on a mental model that takes the work of previous generations and extends it in ways that aren’t otherwise recognized because the older model doesn’t leave room to make the connection. The trick is not thatthey are different, but wherethey are different. We should be looking for ways to give them opportunities to make the leaps forward based upon their mental models.

The Facebook Generation: Digital Natives in the Workplace

When I first entered the workforce, my IBM Selectric typewriter was the most technologically sophisticated device I used to get my work done. The Internet didn’t exist—nor did cell phones. I have more computing power at my fingertips with my smart phone than NASA used to send Neil Armstrong to the Moon. The Millennial Generation has been collaborating as teams and using the very technology we hope will make our organizations more efficient since elementary school.

I find it puzzling that there are so many business leaders who choose to ignore or minimize the value of social media and other communication and collaboration technologies that are second nature to this generation. Maybe they feel like it’s pandering, but, in reality, theirmental model doesn’t allow them to look outside of their current paradigm and embrace a collaboration model that works well for everyone—not just the Millennials.

There are those who suggest the Millennial Generation has a sense of entitlement that is difficult to accept. “They don’t want to pay their dues,” they argue. It might be true, but I must admit, I felt that way, too, when I first entered the workforce. Thankfully, there were senior members of the team willing to mentor me and help me find my place within the organization. Those of us who are more “seasoned” need to do the same for the current generation.

I have been blown away by what the members of my team are able to accomplish when given the opportunity to contribute at a higher level. We can learn a lot from our younger colleagues. Doing so requires that we take a fresh look at how we manage work and lead people. Let me suggest the following as a great place to start:

  1. Abandon management methods that just don’t work: I question whether or not a heavy-handed, top-down management approach ever worked (I certainly didn’t respond to it), but it will not workwith this new generation. They have been taught to question and not accept anything at face value. When working with younger members of the team, be prepared to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. Nobody wants to waste time, and these people just won’t. They want to contribute value and don’t want to waste time doing anything that be construed as “busy work.” People need to understand the value of the work they’re doing, even if it includes what some would consider “busy work.”
  2. Empower individuals to contribute at a higher level: Most people are proud of what they do and want to contribute to something meaningful. When everyone understands the bigger picture, it adds context to what otherwise might be considered meaningless tasks. When people know why they are doing what they are doing and are empowered to make decisions about how they do it—to add greater value—they will. Emerson said, “Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” I believe this is true of everyone in the workforce, including the Millennial Generation.
  3. Recognize accomplishment: If social media has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that people respond well to positive feedback. In my opinion, taking cues from social media makes sense. If organizations can create an environment where people’s accomplishment are transparent to peers and management, performance improves and people take ownership of their responsibilities and are able to make commitments about their individual contributions. Instead of pushing down assignments, give people an opportunity to sign up or volunteer for the work that is most interesting to them. People perform at their best when what they do is stimulating to them.

Creating this type of work environment isn’t difficult, but it does take effort. What’s more, it’s not only the Millennial Generation that will respond to it. The result will be greater visibility into what’s really happening within the organization, a happier and engaged workforce, and a more productive and profitable business.           

Ty Kiisel is the manager of social outreach for AtTask, Inc. As an “accidental” project manager and marketing veteran with more than 25 years of experience, Kiisel writes about project management, leading teams, and getting work done. His blog, Strategic Project Management, is sponsored by AtTask, Inc., an industry leader in project and portfolio management (PPM) and a pioneer in social project management, which combines the power of social networking with the structure of project management. Kiisel currently is contributing to two books, “The Project Pain Reliever” and “Business-Driven PPM.”

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