If they like us, they can provide the most wonderful endorsement. If they don’t like us, they can kill our business in 24 hours
There’s a new generation in our workforce. They’ve been joining up over the last 10 years. They were born between the early ‘80s and late ‘90s, and their numbers are growing rapidly in workplaces around the world. Most of them are under 30 years of age. All of them are under 35. I refer to them as ‘Generation F’.
Generation F doesn’t mean something disrespectful that your mind might be racing to. In my interpretation, it stands for ‘The Facebook Generation’. The sons and daughters of baby boomers who cut their social networking teeth on Myspace, before graduating to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and, for business, LinkedIn.
Of all the people that we manage today, this is the group that is the most misunderstood.
As logic would have it, they are also the group who are least likely to understand those of us who are managing, or trying to manage, them. The reason is simple. These people think differently, act differently and respond differently to almost everything we are likely to ask of them or do with them.
Members of Generation F are just as likely to be part of our own teams as they are to be our customers. There are a lot of them. Currently, they comprise almost 40 per cent of the workforce.
By 2025, that number will be approaching 75 per cent. If they like us, they can provide the most wonderful endorsement. If they don’t like us, they can kill our business in 24 hours.
This collective of young people are our future leaders and managers. Some of thebetter ones are already managing people, and are doing it well.
Of course, this isn’t the first time in history that different generations have had trouble understanding each other.
However, I am willing to suggest that this current generation is the most misunderstood, and probably the most well meaning, of them all.
While those young people have been growing up, the huge surge in the enablement of technology has supported their ‘need to know’ and they have become adept at finding the answers to anything they want to know.
When it comes to job hunting, they help each other and they can help you. A well-connected ‘20-something’ is probably better placed to quickly find you a new receptionist or a replacement warehouse worker than any number of well-meaning recruitment firms.
A well-connected ‘20-something’ is probably better placed to quickly find you a new receptionist or a replacement warehouse worker than any number of well-meaning recruitment firms.
In fact, for all of the negative things said by my generation about Generation F, my experience suggests that the positives outweigh them tenfold. In fact, the only area of their lives where they are not permanently engaged is at . . . WORK!
Harnessing the connections and engagement levels of Gen F is the single biggest people management and customer opportunity out there today.
Based on my experiences, here are some ideas about the things they want:
1. They want to know what the company is about. What are the organisation’s values, and what is the leadership trying to achieve? Where is the business going and what does the future look like? What are the key strategic objectives. Who are the key people? Who are the important customers?
2. They want to know how their role fits into those objectives, and they need to clearly understand what is expected of them. These people are desperate to contribute and they want to know why their role is important.
3. They want their role to be meaningful and relevant. Don’t hire a university graduate and ask them to make coffee and collect your dry-cleaning. They want a real job and they want to be able to understand why their job matters.
4. They are keen to know how the organisation as a whole is performing. These people can’t stand not knowing what’s going on. Tell them what the business is doing well and where there is a need for improvement. Give them financial performance information if you can. They want to know that they are part of a successful organisation.
5. They want feedback and lots of it. Are they doing a good job? If so, tell them. If not, tell them. And don’t wait until the annual performance review. Make sure that any negative feedback is immediate, current, specific, relevant, fair and constructive. If it’s just general, negative feedback, or you’re berating them for something that happened some time ago, they won’t understand, and in fact will assume, often incorrectly, that you are carrying a grudge and that you don’t like them. As one young leader working for one of the big banks said to me recently, ‘You have to remember that we grew up getting gold stars on our homework.’
6. They will tell you that they are good at handling change because they have grown up in a rapidly changing society. However, they are quite resistant to change if they don’t understand the reasons for it. So, by all means involve them in the transformation projects, but make sure they understand why you are doing it.
7. They want to be involved. Don’t tell them what to do. Rather, include them in the conversation and encourage them to help to identify what needs to be done. If they are part of the decision-making process, their enthusiasm for the task will increase disproportionately, you will get greater engagement and a better outcome.
8. They want their opinion to matter. Listen to them. They will feel that they have ideas that are relevant to the business challenges and they will want to be able to share these. Remember they are used to people listening to their opinions.
9. Make sure you give them the tools they need to do the job. After all, they have always had the tools. Gen F are also the smartphone generation and they have always had the latest iPhones and Apple laptops at high school. If you give them a clunky two-year-old Lenovo ThinkPad on their first day, don’t expect them to be grateful. They will probably just bring their own computer to work.
10. Finally, they want to understand what the future looks like. This is not a generation that is scared of change; they will embrace it, as long as they understand what it looks like. They are keen to understand what the future looks like for the organisation, but also for themselves. They are ambitious and they want to know that they will progress and do new things if they do a good job. They like to know that they are making progress, at least at the same rate as their peers. If not, they need to understand why. (Back to the feedback factor again.)
At the risk of repeating myself:
Clarity of purpose. Communication. Consistency.
Next: ‘10 messages from millennials to their managers’ and ‘10 messages from managers to millennials’