I was listening to episode 79 of HBR Ideacast, Managing Generation Y, in which Tammy Erickson, who writes the Across the Ages column for the Harvard Business Review, was interviewed. As I was listening, I realized that in addition to the baby boomers, this is a generation that is potentially going to change the way you're doing business - or at least thinking about doing business. There are implications to marketing, internal communications, social media, and organizational behavior here.
In the podcast, they referred to the "self-assured, overly emotive, text messaging" generation who are "happy to tackle the big jobs, and they'll do it with confidence." This should be welcome news to any manager's ears, but I think this should be tempered with an acute awareness of the idiosyncratic traits that this generation brings with them. Let's look at them one by one:
I've often said that this is the generation that wants to be an intern on Monday and the CEO by Friday. I admire that kind of drive, but I also wrinkle my nose at the hubris that accompanies it; there seems to be a lack of willingness to put in the time and gain the experience necessary for such a role.
According to the Erickson, this is deeper than just youthful impatience; she says they're likely be impatient for their entire lives. She posits that during their formative years, Gen Y has been bombarded with inexplicable, sudden and tragic events such as 9/11, Columbine and Virginia Tech - and that they've decided that they need to live life now.
I think it goes a little deeper than that (perhaps she was limited in time on the show). Look at the way the cable news networks have evolved over the last 10-15 years. Whether it's padding their daytime programming with Iraq war I or II, the O.J. Simpson chase & trial, or the latest celebrity overdose, all of the news outlets are catering to a need (?) for more information, now. When you take this institutionalized view of news, information and service, it's not too much of a stretch to think that Gen Y is going to expect fast results in the workplace.
But at the same time, I think we need to keep in mind that this desire for results and action may come at a price: the inability to think strategically. Granted, there are very few (if any) strategic planners who are 20-somethings. But if they have this nurtured aversion to longer-term thinking, there may be trouble ahead.
- Lesson: harness the impatience and drive and turn it into an opportunity to let loose their unbridled energy on training in strategic marketing.
Let Me Tell You What I Think
By and large, this generation has grown up in a peer to peer world, where they're used to openly sharing ideas and not being shy about saying what they think. Odds are that in the workplace, if they have an idea that will benefit you, they'll share it - with managers, directors, and even CEOs.
- Lesson: tap into this reservoir of creativity and fresh perspective and get their input on as many facets of your business as possible.
This is the generation that€ was raised on text messaging. They look up on email as an outmoded style of communication. To them text messaging is personal, immediate, and it gets results. They can't understand why it takes us
16 emails deep in a chain to come up with a time to schedule a
conference call. To them, it's a no-brainer: text, boom, done.
In addition, TiVo, Facebook and other technologies lead them to doing things on their own time. We've been used to structure & scheduling, while they do things when time allows them to do so. Asynchronous behavior may become more prevalent.
- Lesson: be open to trying out IM or presence applications in
our day-to-day lives, with internal communications, and possibly with
Gen Y likes their parents; not surprising when these "helicopter parents" are involved in many aspects of their children's lives. While this can be incredibly annoying (and these kinds of parents should ease off, lest they tarnish their kids' reputations in the workforce), it does have one positive side effect: Gen Y has great working relationships with Boomers in the workplace.
- Lesson: use this natural attraction to create strong mentoring programs between Boomers & Gen Y-ers, to share knowledge.
There is no doubt that this generation will have a huge impact on the world. They're certainly ready for us. But are we ready for them?
What do you think? How have you experienced Gen Y in the workplace, either as a Boomer, a Gen X-er, or a Gen Y-er yourself? And what do you think the answers are?