Getting ahead in the age of distraction
by Corina Chee, Senior Account Manager, Text 100 Malaysia
As Malaysia’s Text Life training ambassador, I often asked tough questions like “What’s up with today’s Generation Y (Gen Y) workforce?” “Why can’t they do as expected minus the attitude and emo-ing?” “Is there any specified training to manage this breed in the workplace?”
While there are clear exceptions to the rule, it’s no secret that in general, Gen Y-ers are in a league of their own, and as different from baby boomers as night and day.
The Biggest Road Block Is Not Them, It’s YOU
Now that we have already established that Generation Facebook comes in all shapes, sizes and alphabets, is there a one-size-fits-all method to whip them into shape at the workplace? My answer is yes and this starts with YOU – changing YOUR mindset as to how you perceive and interact with them.
Admittedly, I too, found it a challenge in the beginning to manage and motivate my Gen Y teammates and figure out what sparks inspiration in them. I wasn’t sure how to speak their language, challenge their ideals and ignite their passion for the job. As a result, my colleagues weren’t always delivering the quality, pace and expectations I’d wanted – and I was exasperated – until it finally dawned on me that that I wasn’t able to face the brick wall any longer.
So I started to change my way of thinking (and believe me, I can be pretty stubborn). I put myself in their shoes and got to know them personally – in short, I became their friend first, manager second. I took the effort to explain the background of a request as often as possible – why certain things need to be done a certain way. I empowered them with tasks and encouraged them to share their opinions and feedback. In doing so, I gave them a sense of responsibility and held them accountable for their own actions. I stopped fussing and micromanaging and learned to let go of the “little things.” I gave them praise when it was due, and pulled them aside for a firm word when they did something wrong. In time and with extreme patience, I found that they weren’t as difficult to manage as I had once thought.
I believe in harnessing Gen Y’s potential and to do so, we first need to understand what makes them tick. Gen Ys are young, energetic, hungry and innovative, with a fresh perspective on technology. This works to Text 100’s advantage as their very essence embodies our corporate culture. Our focus on digital communications also proves very attractive to the tech-savvy Gen Y-er as we offer them limitless opportunities to bring in collaboration, innovation and communication into our line of business at a pace never seen before.
Gen Y folks are also highly ambitious and predominantly motivated by money. They have a short attention span and are easily distracted in the workplace. They look for loopholes, expecting shortcuts and instant gratification. OK, so who doesn’t, right? But the trick is to ensure that they are constantly kept engaged and clued in. Instant feedback is encouraged, and so are positive reinforcements, to keep them motivated and remembering that you do care for their contribution to the company’s success.
Keeping Your Gen Y on a Roll
These quick tips work for me in keeping Gen Y motivated and productive:
1. Don’t assume they share your goals
The biggest mistake managers make is that they expect their staff to think like them. Unfortunately, the typical boomer’s sense of loyalty and pride does not often exist in the millennial’s vocabulary. You need to explain why certain deadlines or behaviors need to be met and addressed, and cut them a wee bit slack for the secondary stuff.
2. Explain what you need and why
Unlike baby boomers, Gen Y children grew up with explanations for everything. Simply telling them “Because I’m your mother and I say so!” doesn’t cut it anymore. The same concept applies in the workplace where they need to know why the tedious reporting structure would make more sense than the shortcut one they came up with. Invest time to answer their questions about the who, what, why, where and how to get the most thoughtful performance out of them.
3. Make deals and compromise
Nobody likes getting turned down, Gen Y included. For example, instead of telling them that their request for leave is: “Not approved, period” make deals like: “I can give you that month off in July to prepare for your wedding and go on honeymoon, if you promise to deliver the market analysis and PR plan two weeks ahead of that date.”
4. Be a mentor
Today’s landscape is so fast-paced and competitive that mentoring in the workplace is even more critical than before. Be a friend to your Gen Y colleagues – someone whom they can look to, to help them navigate through corporate culture, professional conduct, client services and business procedures. Ask for their opinion, get them involved in the decision-making processes and make them feel like they are an integral part of the success of the company.
5. Let them mentor, too!
You will boost your Gen Y’s confidence and visibility by making her or him a mentor to the rest of your staff on those topics she or he knows best. At the same time, you can also learn something new and valuable by asking a Gen Y about what’s hot in today’s pop culture, social media trends and best practices.
6. Let them set their own goals
Baby boomers have been known for being a bit more passive – they’ll wait for their bosses to set annual goals for them and willingly go with whatever their managers felt was worth doing. Encourage your Gen Y employees to be responsible for their own progression by getting them to create their own goals. Once an understanding is reached, set clear metrics for them to fulfill and have regular check-ins to ensure that they stick with the plan and that they are paddling in the same direction. This open communication instills a sense of responsibility and ownership in your Gen Y staff, and further cultivates their loyalty to the company.
7. Give them something to be excited about
Find out their best fit and occasionally give them projects that they will knock out of the park. As an agency, we are not at the liberty to select our clients, but by letting them have a say in their portfolio indicates that we care about what they think.
8. Listen when they speak
Gen Y folks are adventurous and feel they can make a difference enough to change the world. This comes as no surprise as they have been wired from Day 1 and are tuned into live conversations and current trends on the social sphere 24/7. They are bubbling with ideas, which may even be the next big thing for that social media campaign you are drawing up for your client. The Gen Y energy can give you plenty of insights and perspectives if you are open to it. Take a chance and listen to your Gen Y colleagues. Isn’t that why you hire smart people in the first place?
9. Don’t stint on the praise
Praise and acknowledgement are sure-fire morale-boosters for Gen Y, more so when someone is deserving of it. Being specific also reinforces your requirements and expectations to your young staff. The more specific the praise, the better: “I loved the way you helped the NetApp team man the media registration table this morning, Helene. It was a nightmare with all the last minute turn-ups but you remained calm throughout and handled the interaction so professionally – great team work there!” is stronger than “Thanks for helping us out this morning.”
10. Got a bone to pick? Do it now!
I learned this the hard way when I failed to confront disciplinary issues on the spot with one of my staff. As a result, he got away with negative behavior many times until it was too late to rectify the problem. Gen Y-ers want to know immediately what they did wrong, instead of a year down the road during their performance review. So let your Gen Y team member know the same day, if not immediately, when you’re unhappy with something he or she has done. Have the conversation in private and keep to the facts. Instead of: “You never finish your reports within the stipulated deadline. Stop procrastinating and get your reports done on time for once!” the alternative: “I’m concerned that our last client report wasn’t completed in the agreed timeframe. As a result, the Client is now questioning our service quality. Can you recommend some ideas that might help us address this?” is a great way to turn criticism into an action item.
The PR landscape is becoming more complex with the new social channels available to corporations and brands wanting to establish a relationship with their stakeholders. There is no doubt that Gen Y-ers are bringing in new ideas and innovation into the workforce. As we move into the digital communications age, the behavioral attitudes of Gen Y, when harnessed properly, could be the very attitude that would stake our claim in the digital future.