Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Paradox of Managing Gen-Y

Corporate America is a lot like a relationship – everybody is sending mixed signals. However, in this simile, I am the lowly Millennial courting corporate America, telling her she completes me, and that together we’ll both be better off, but she can’t make up her mind if she likes me or not…typical.

Over the past few months I’ve read a number of articles on how to manage Gen-Y. While a good majority did cast Millennials as a “problem” and provided a means for fixing that “problem,” I was able to find some gems, one of which was a review of the new Harvard Business Review Case Study: "How I learned to love Millennials (and stop worrying about what they were doing with their iPhones)."

The Harvard Case Study revolved this 23 year-old staff writer named Josh (excellent name), who is given a basic assignment. He instead gives an elevator pitch to his boss on his ideas around on how to use new media to promote the product. What I found most interesting about the case study was actually the “expert” responses provided, and how even though Josh had legitimate ideas around improving the effectiveness of a campaign, he was out of line. Please see naïve “expert responses below:

Ron Alsop, author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace: "Like many Gen-Yers, Josh doesn't respect the corporate pecking order. His generation has little tolerance for lines of authority and proper protocol."

Jim Miller, executive vice president of sales and marketing at General Tool & Supply: "Josh's behavior is wrong on so many levels. He's been hired to do a job, not this other thing that he'd like to do. He has no respect for his boss; that's apparent in his actions."

These responses, along with countless other “expert” opinions from other related articles, all seem to revolve around “roping Gen-Y in,” and keeping them on task, rather than letting them think for themselves. They cast Millennials in a light as believing that since they are more tech-literate, they believe themselves to always be right.

What I fail to understand, is that if we, as Millennials, are encouraged in the workplace to “think outside the box,” be proactive, and most importantly, help make the company as profitable as possible, why then is it a pecking-order faux pas to actually…dare I say…think outside the box? We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

Yes, it is incorrigible for anyone, regardless of generation, to always think that their ideas are always better, however it is important to note, that sometimes, people do in fact have better ideas or new insights to provide.

So at what point does our opinion matter to our superiors? If my idea could save the company $5 then probably not, but what about $5M? While that may be an easy answer when the numbers are extreme, it starts getting grey when the numbers move closer together – if my idea were to save the company $500, $5000, $50,000… At what point does my idea make an indecipherable transition from being an irresponsible use of my paid time and an insult to the “corporate pecking order,” to an idea worthy of a promotion?

The point that I am driving at, is that you cannot put a dollar figure on it, there is no magical formula a Millennial can punch in to see if his/her idea is worth pursuing or not. As a company, you either choose to embrace change, encourage forward thinking, and LISTEN to new ideas, or you don’t. It’s that simple. You cannot straddle both sides of the fence and expect to be successful, because you cannot simultaneously preach a practice of creative thinking and a practice of submission to best practices. So please corporate America, stop sending the mixed signals, I get enough of that already.

-Josh Groth


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Barb said...

So much has to do with the corporate culture.

I used to work for a Fortune 500 where creative/innovative ideas were only considered starting at a certain pay grade, period. Classic Dilbertville. Now I work for a small business where good ideas are encouraged and it doesn't matter who you are...old, young, it's all good. It's a totally different world.

I'm not Gen-Y, and the stereotypical griping about Gen-Y about iPhones and such don't bother me at all. The only thing that rubs me the wrong way with newly out-of-college grads is their tendency to not want to pay their dues and start out in entry level positions. Of course, when I was starting out, I probably needed some "get real" lessons myself, and learned them.

Kind of like your post earlier this week about how new college grads want higher wages. Nobody I know who still has a job is getting raises this year, some are taking cuts to keep their jobs. New grad - get real. Be happy to have offers.

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