Recently I spoke to a group of HR Leaders at the statewide SHRM Conference in Madison about attracting, leading and retaining Gen Y employees. I’m intrigued by the number of leaders who, as we talk about the differences in the emerging workforce, well, they just kind of shake their heads in disapproval. This is fairly common.
Nick Sarillo, the successful founder of Nick’s Pizza and Pub in Crystal Lake, Ill., has almost 300 employees, 75 percent of whom are under the age of 24. He retains them in a culture of very high expectations. One of the things he said to me when I talked to him recently is, “These young people have high expectations of their leader.”
What I really liked about Nick’s corporate philosophy is that he accepts this reality. And, he has high expectations of them, as well.
I’d like to address eight leadership strategies that will help you succeed in meeting the high expectations of this generation of the workforce.
Eight Strategies for leading Generation Y:
- Stop it! Stop thinking the worst of them. This is as good a place to start as any. Reframe your thinking about Generation Y. This is a large population of people. They will all plot on a bell curve for performance and productivity, just like every generation that preceded them. You’ll find high performers, medium performers and low performers. Treat them as individual people, and you’ll find that you can move away from a stereotype that, somehow, they’re all frustrating.
- Get them off to a great start. They will respond well to a 90-day orientation process. When they show up on day one, be ready for them. Make them feel important. They’re used to this level of acknowledgment, attention and structure.
- Define your expectations at a high level. Don’t underestimate the fact that the young professionals want to be part of something great. Overall, too many leaders are unwilling to put a stake in the ground with a declaration: “I have high expectations of the people who work with me. I will hold you accountable. If I see you doing things well, I’m going to tell you. If I see that you’re off track, you’re going to hear from me, as well.”
- Ask each Gen Y employee what he or she is looking for! Do not lump your individual workers into a big pot and label them. Treat them as individuals. Know what is important to each. An engineering director called me a year or so ago and said, “I have just successfully recruited a fantastic young engineer. Now that I have him, I’d like to keep him. Do you have any ideas for me so that I can successfully retain him?” First of all, this is a great question, driven by a great mindset – “I’m lucky to have this guy.” My advice was simple: Ask him!
- Respond to each Gen Y employee relative to what he or she is looking for. This is a continuation of the “ask him” philosophy. Just ask, “What is important to you while you’re a member of our team?” It is conceivable that you will be able to give your Gen Y employees some of what they want, and they will have to give you some of what you (or the organization) want. Be very clear about what the middle ground is. This is perfectly fine. What’s not okay is to not ask.
- Teach context! When your Gen Y employee asks to be considered for a director role, this is a teaching opportunity, not a criticizing opportunity. Or if your Gen Y employee is too casual, help them understand the proper protocol. Or, if they text too much during meetings, sit down with them and help them understand. If you can envision beginning by meeting them where they are, even if you think it’s inappropriate, that’s a good start. You might say something like, “Matt, I understand that this is something that seems perfectly normal to you. I’d like to talk to you about what will be more appropriate.” We call this approach “affirm then redirect.” This will work more favorably than a disapproving approach.
- Affirm them! The bottom line is this: This generation was raised in a context of high attention and affirmation. They are not prepared to come into your organization and be ignored or de-valued.
- Hold them accountable for results. From our experience, employees want to be held accountable for something great. If you talk with your employees about their performance, in the spirit of helping them be the best they can be, it should be easy for you to view this as a very positive move on your part. Keep in mind, also, that you’re holding them accountable for expected results so that they can be assured of a role on your team for a long time. It’s okay to say this.