8 Ideas on How to Lead Generation Y Well in the Marketplace


What do you need to know about the emerging workforce?

For the last three months, recent college graduates have been hunting for work. They represent the most unemployed demographic in the American population. They are forced to make adjustments from campus life to the corporate world. For many, it’s a huge chasm.

I’d like to share a handful of practical ideas I’ve seen work as employers make their own adjustments to the new job candidates they’re interviewing and perhaps hiring these days. I sure hope they spark some ideas you can use as you lead the next generation. I’ll begin by introducing 2 candidates to you.

Brooke is 22-years-old. She got hired right out of college. She was one of the lucky ones. But water seeks its own level and her job only lasted ten months. She is now unemployed. She wasn’t laid off. She was let go. She wasn’t ready to make the transition from backpack-to-briefcase.

Giles is 24. He looked and waited for work seven months after his college graduation. Finally he got hired, but now questions whether he “settled” for a job that wasn’t right for him. During college he was the picture of confidence. Today, he’s the picture of confusion. He’s thinking about quitting.

I wish that these two young people were anomalies. But, alas, they are not. While I continue to teach leadership to high school and university students, and believe in their potential, I see a pattern following their graduation. It’s like a good college football player who never seems to be able to transition to the pros. I don’t think the answer is to stop hiring recent graduates. We hire them each year at Growing Leaders. I think the answer is acknowledging they’re a different breed, and must be led slightly differently as they enter the workforce if they are going to succeed.

Because our organization works with both schools and corporations, we have a vested interest in helping employers understand and lead the new generation of workers entering the marketplace. I want to see both employers and young employees win. Let me offer 8 ideas you might utilize the next time you find yourself leading a young adult on the job.

  1. Create incentive for them. Share the “why” behind the assignments and tasks you give them. Remember, these young people have a strong filter inside their brains that enables them to multi-task and take in thousands of messages every day via technology. They learn on a “need to know” basis. Let them know why they need to know what you are sharing with them.
  2. Micro-manage at first. They’re used to instant and constant feedback at home and school. Most of them grew up with praise, trophies and ribbons just for playing the game on Saturday. Don’t be afraid to watch them and give them your appraisal. Hold them accountable. Over communicate. Unlike Generation X who wanted to be left alone, they want to be watched and noticed.
  3. Let them share ideas. They support what they help create. Give them ownership by letting them talk. They learn best by being allowed to “upload” their own thoughts, not just receive a download from their boss on what they need to know. They are used to “posting” their thoughts on blogs, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. They want to “vote.” They want to express themselves.
  4. Launch a mutual mentor initiative. Some companies call it “reverse mentoring,” but everyone learns and shares. Why not match your Baby Boomer employees with these new employees who’ve been on laptops since they were 4. Ask the Boomer to share their work experience. Ask the Generation Y team member to share their expertise in technology and social media.
  5. Communicate the importance of their work. They want to know what they do really matters. Our research shows that Generation Y wants to work at a job that takes the environment seriously, and has adopted some cause in addition to simply attending to the bottom line. In short, young people today want to be part of something that is very important and almost impossible.
  6. Tell them the truth. They’ve been lied to by adults who said they can do anything they want to do. You and I know that’s a cliché. We all must align our dreams to our strengths. Too many look like the early performers on American Idol. They are out of their gift area and someone needs to tell them so. Help your young employees discover their weaknesses and strengths, and then play to those strengths.
  7. Manage by objective. Be flexible if possible; let them find creative ways to use time and resources. They are less at home being managed by the clock, than by the project. They might do their best work at midnight from home, when they’re off the clock. If possible, try adapting to them, and allow them to achieve when they are peaking each day. Measure results, not just hours.
  8. Mentor more than manage. This one is all-important. Learn to be a coach. Launch developmental relationships with them by taking them to coffee and getting acquainted if you can. They love being “in the know” with their leaders, and will follow you loyally if you connect with them. Put on the mentor-hat and watch what it does for their performance.

Here’s to a win/win relationship for them and for you.

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