I’ve been noodling the issue of how much of an impact the younger generation is actually going to make on the workforce and as you might expect I’ve come to a minority conclusion. Most of the prognostication I’ve read are suffering from a fatal flaw. The opinions of high school students and freshly minted graduates who are not yet earning a living, paying off a mortgage, or raising their children makes their preferences interesting but not earth shaking. Anything that is kinesthetic to them is important to note. They won’t give up texting. IM rather than email will be their preferred method of communicating to each other. They are much more visually oriented than older workers, so get any training you want them to see in a youtube format, but other than that it’s safe to say they will tow the corporate line just like any other generation before them. If they don’t they will be both unemployed and unemployable.
So what does that mean if you are managing a project team? Turn on IM obviously, but from here it gets much more difficult. I was privileged to have managed a young develop staff several years ago (90% of them were under 30 and the youngest was 19) and I didn’t have a complaint in the world. I’m not sure everyone else can count of being so lucky. What I’m concerned about is a workforce that has never been exposed to competition or honest feedback. Once upon a time, in a world far away I had a new college grad who worked for me that thought he was God’s gift to the universe. Yes he was smart, but he’d never had to compete against people as smart or smarter than he was and he simply couldn’t cope. He actually told me that he expected to have been promoted within six months of joining the company because he was sure we would recognize his brilliance. Within three months of his hire date I had him on verbal warning and eventually we were forced to fire him because he simply couldn’t get it through his head that we had rules and that our rules pertained to everyone, even him.
Back in the 80s, the story I’m recounting was an oddity and rather sad. Unfortunately, with many of the trends that are going on in the educational system I’m concerned that this story might become the norm and not the exception. So what do I think was the difference between what I’m seeing now and what I managed just a few years ago? Economic reality. Nobody who worked for me lived at home with their parents. Almost everyone who worked for me was married with a spouse who stayed home with their children. They were smart, talented and driven to succeed. They felt they had to be in order to take care of their families.
So circling back around to my starting proposition; no we don’t need to make a lot of special concessions to the next generation. We need to be reasonable (turn on IM, don’t worry about facebook, understand they are more electronically socially networked than most older employees) but mostly we just need to treat them the same way we treat everyone who works for us; with respect and with confidence that they are competent to get the job done.