There are currently 75 million Millennials in the U.S., with more of us—I’m one myself—coming of age and entering the workforce annually. Raised during a time of exponential technological progress, Millennials are unique, and the values and tendencies that characterize us are shaking up the business world and challenging long-term practices throughout all industries.
Many Millennials are already becoming corporate leaders, supervising teams of employees composed of all age groups. Our impact—and our perceived shortcomings—are analyzed endlessly by the media. But it seems that most of this criticism takes a biased and negative stance, stopping short of offering real advice for our integration into professional environments.
Luckily for us—and the people we want to work with—authors Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin present a relevant discussion with Manager 3.0: A Millennial's Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management, in which they present their guide to the generations currently in the workforce and their ideas for how we can all work and excel together.
Karsh has worked with thousands of Millennials in both corporate training and individual coaching sessions through his company, JB Training Solutions. He and Templin, his coworker and a Millennial herself, fill Manager 3.0 with specific examples from their experiences with consultant clients.
As would be expected in any discussion of the generations, the book deals in generalities. Unlike many such dialogues, though, the stereotypes here are presented appropriately—as perceptions. Thus, whether or not they represent how we truly are, Millennial readers can appreciate how we are seen by outsiders. The book explains the differences between the age groups as a means to consider how a Millennial manager can foster a good working relationship among a diverse team. It also contains helpful, specific tips including how to set expectations, illuminate roles, and set goals.
In their discussion of generational differences, Karsh and Templin contrast the “Millennials,” born in the 1980s and 90s, with the “Traditionalists” (1928-1945), “Baby Boomers” (1946-1964), and “Generation X” (1965-1980). While these dates may vary among sources (I've seen Gen X extend to 1984, for instance), most of the characteristics of the generations described in the book will be familiar to readers.
The Traditionalists are mostly retired now, but they were the World War II generation: loyal, hierarchical, and respectful. This is the generation that would spend 30-year careers at a single company and get a gold watch and a pension at retirement.
Characterized by the spiking birth rate follow the War, the Baby Boomers are known for their idealism, their pursuit of the “American Dream,” and their tendency to value work above all else. The Boomers are most likely to resent upstarts who they believe have not “paid their dues.”
Generation Xers grew up in a time of cultural upheaval as social issues and the Vietnam War dominated the period and caused many Americans to rebel against the typical nuclear family structure. Gen Xers were often “latchkey kids.” As such, they learned to be independent and entrepreneurial, though they are also perceived as cynical and lacking in the work ethic of their elders. Generally, they work to survive, not out of company loyalty or an ideal straight from a black-and-white television show.
Millennials grew up being told we are “special” and “precious,” so the stereotype goes. We were told we could accomplish anything if we tried hard enough, and every crayon masterpiece was displayed proudly on the refrigerator. It doesn't matter if you win or lose, our parents said, but how hard you worked, and we were all given a trophy for participation. Older generations resent us for not being forced through a more competitive environment. This is the reason for many describing Millennials as “entitled,” or not willing to work their way up from the bottom of the food chain over a long period of time.
The fact is that every generation sees those that are younger in much the same negative way simply because they behave differently. Boomers were horrified when Gen Xers entered the workforce—they were seen as “slackers” with no goals and no ambition. Boomers wondered why what they had didn't seem to be good enough for their children.
Similarly, Millennials are now said to be shaking up tried-and-true tradition and disregarding established practices without good reason.
And some of our most vocal critics are the Gen Xers, who were so recently unjustly criticized themselves. Each generation seems to forget how they were treated as they came of age and entered the workforce, bringing disruptive ideas, fresh perspectives, and enthusiastic energy into established routines.
Millennials in the workplace (s)
All of these generational differences, say Karsh and Templin, affect our behavior in the workplace. It is important that everyone understand how we are different so that we can work together for the benefit of our common professional goals. Specifically, the authors address how Millennials who are managing older individuals may use knowledge of their likely values and motivations to lead them more effectively.
The authors repeat the idea that, when regarding the typical traits of one generation versus another, we should keep in mind that “it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.” They reject making value judgments about who is right and who is wrong, stressing instead making efforts towards mutual understanding. This would beget cooperation, and, in turn, productivity, they argue.
To explore this, much of Manager 3.0 focuses on the Millennials in a business setting.
We Millennials don't see ourselves working for the same company for 30 years like the Traditionalists and Boomers. Does this make us disloyal? Or simply pragmatists? These days, pensions are all but unheard of, and Millennials value a strong balance between work and personal lives. We refuse to sacrifice our home lives for the sake of our careers, and we are not afraid to look for other opportunities if we don't feel that our employer is meeting our needs.
We are much less likely than older employees to put up with a job we hate. Millennials see work as a social contract with a company: We will work hard for you if you work hard for us.
This may be utterly unthinkable to older generations, but to us it is simply logical.
In the same sense, we wonder, why shouldn't we tell the Vice-President about our great idea during a chance meeting in the elevator?
And we tend to believe that respect must be earned, as opposed to received automatically by virtue of a title or status. As the authors illustrate, Millennials don't abide by a strict chain of command. Indeed, our interactions with superiors are often approached casually and with an inquisitiveness that is often interpreted by older generations as defiance.
However, Millennials are not looking to cause trouble and break the rules. In fact, as the authors point out, Millennials simply focus on efficiency. We want to follow procedures, but we will question them relentlessly—we want to understand their purpose. We reject rules for the sake of rules, and we spurn “that is just the way it's done” as any kind of acceptable explanation.
Millennials are often criticized for not taking “ownership” of both our successes and our failures. We are highly collaborative by nature, and we always think in terms of the group. We are neither ones to hold ourselves up on a pedestal when our team succeeds, nor to fall on our own sword when our team fails. Our motto may well be “All for one, and one for all.”
Millennials also want more technology, more flexibility, and more fun at work. We believe that if people are having fun and being themselves, then everyone will be more creative and productive.
Millennials will work exceptionally hard, but we rely on explicit direction, without which we may stray to inactivity. If we panic when given free rein to complete a goal any way we like, it is only because as we grew up we were always given specific instructions by teachers, parents, coaches, and other adults. It is also a sign that we value doing things correctly, not just the easiest or fastest way.
Millennials as managers
Like any generation, we Millennials do have our shortcomings. (And we can admit it.)
We often cite “having difficult conversations” or “delivering tough feedback” as our main weakness. We tend to shirk from negotiations (I was so glad to read that I'm not the only one!).
And we can have a hard time understanding that “fair” does not mean “equal” in the corporate world.
The authors explain that one of the most common mistakes of the Millennial manager is to try to manage others the way we would want to be managed.
This seems like a simple workplace corollary of the Golden Rule and seems perfectly reasonable to Millennials. However, Karsh and Templin remind us that employees must be managed individually and that the older generations generally do not prefer to be managed in the same way that Millennials do.
Their guidance for Millennials who are leading others includes how to transition from coworker to boss, how to build in fun, how to motivate other generations, and other useful skills. We are instructed not to back down the moment someone voices an opposing viewpoint and given insight into how to succeed in those dreaded negotiations.
The authors also advise that we Millennials need to recognize the immeasurable value of the experience gathered by previous generations over decades. Working with them is a tremendous educational opportunity to gain knowledge that is typically only achieved over many years of trial and error.
A resource for all ages
Karsh and Templin's book is an excellent resource, particularly for Millennials with managerial ambitions, but also for non-Millennial readers, who will gain valuable insights into this often poorly portrayed generation.
Bankers especially will want to learn from the authors' experiences. Millennials are our newest customers, and their entrance into the workforce impacts us indirectly as we all vie for the opportunity to become their financial services providers.
I hope that by utilizing resources like Manager 3.0, we can all come to appreciate the value that each member of our team brings to our organization regardless of age and avoid relying on negative stereotypes to justify age-related prejudice among coworkers.
Most of all, I hope we Millennials remember this in 20 years when we are tempted to criticize the next group of young upstarts—whatever they are called.