Somehow last week turned into a spontaneous celebration of the potential within the Gen-Y/Millennial generation that’s just waiting to be fully tapped. Everywhere I turned, articles, conversations, and presentations reaffirmed my belief that we need to move past the intergenerational finger-pointing and harness the good, albeit different, approaches to work and life that the Gen-Y/Millennial generation offers.
Because it’s their inherent flexibility, openness, and communication skills that hold the key to future success in business and life for all of us, if carefully mined.
It started when I read an article in this month’s Fast Company magazine by Nancy Lublin, CEO (and self-described “Chief Old Person”) of Do Something entitled, “In Defense of Millennials.” As an employer of 19 full-time millennial staffers, Lublin shared how she flips the common complaints lodged against the generation on end and makes them into a positive:
- Compliant #1–they multi-task: Lublin agrees that they do, and often not with great success but that isn’t going to change. So, instead, “I see my role as defining a clear goal, giving her the resources to take the shot, and then getting out of her way while she takes the dunk.”
- Complaint #2–they share too much information on their social networks: Lublin sees it as, “Free advertising.”
- Complaint #3–they are entitled: Lublin believes it makes them hungry for responsibility and she gives it to them.
- Complaint #4–they require too much praise: Lublin feels that we all need more praise, so gives it freely.
But it’s the last paragraph in which she wonders, “Maybe the real problem isn’t this generation–maybe it’s that the rest of us don’t manage them for greatness, for maximum effect,” that rang in my ears when I met with a terrific senior leader last week.
We met for lunch prior to a work+life fit strategy session I facilitated for his group. I asked him, “So how have you found working with the millennial employees in your organization?” He smiled and proceeded to share the following story that perfectly illustrated their power to get things done when we guide and let them,
“Well, in the worst part of the financial crisis, our work essentially doubled. And at one point, I needed 24/7 coverage over the weekend. We have a large group of analysts that’s composed of recent graduates a year or two out of college. I decided to reach out to one of the analysts I knew from the company softball league and ask him to help me coordinate coverage. He said, ‘No problem,’ and within 15 minutes not only was the entire coverage schedule filled but they’d coordinated it so that all of the analysts also got to attend a big party they’d been planning. The weekend came, the work was covered well and everyone was happy, including me!”
I responded to his story with a sly smile and said, “Do you see how you used the inherently flexible way that they naturally work to fulfill your business need and, at the same time, give them the work+life fit they wanted? And all you had to do was make one quick phone call.”
He thought for a moment and confessed, “I really hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re right. I guess I could have scheduled all of them and told them when they were working and really made them mad in the process. Instead I decided to trust them to figure it out. And they did!” Then we proceeded to talk about the specific lessons learned from that incident and how that same flexibility could be a lever to meet other business needs.
And it’s not just business issues. When Gen-Y/Millennials have an objective and resources, their spirit and energy can breathe new life into even the most entrenched, seemingly intractable social challenges.
My week of Gen-Y/Millennial celebration ended with a presentation by Courtney E. Martin at the Boston College Center for Work and Family’s 20th Anniversary conference. Martin talked about her new book, Do It Anyway, in which she profiles an inspiring group of next-gen social activists, some of whom were showcased in powerful video clips that she shared. After hearing their stories, you couldn’t help but feel confident that our global society is in very good hands.
Again, as Martin admitted in her presentation, Lublin conceded in her article and I acknowledged with the senior leader, there are going to be challenges in every group. But by and large, if given the understanding, trust and support, this wonderful up-and-coming cohort has so much to offer. It’s time to stop the finger-pointing and to mine these perceived shortfalls for treasure. Because it’s there. Are you?