A Guide to Managing Peers: Generation Y

Updated: June 18, 2009

The work environment has changed. Baby Boomers are retiring and Generation X'ers have moved into Management and Executive positions. The new front line of salesmen, business development and a host of entry level positions are now dominated by a new breed of professionals: Generation Y. The generational shift in the workforce pool demands a fluid management style designed to keep your young professionals engaged, motivated and successful.

In order to effectively manage Generation Y, I think it is important to understand the cultural differences between ours and other generations.

• We grew up with technology; video games, personal computers, social networking. These advances have not only shaped us as employees, but they are the things that keep us interested, engaged and most importantly, it's what we're good at.

• We come from an "everybody wins" childhood. Growing up, everyone got recognition, everyone got a trophy, everyone was told "good job." The best player got the MVP trophy and the worst got the hardest worker award. Whether we admit it or not, this plays a crucial role in how we can be effectively motivated and managed.

• We share a collective sense of entitlement. While this is no shining attribute, it is the truth. Due in large part to the aforementioned points, many of us feel like we are entitled to make our own decisions, share in development and be acknowledged for it.

Below are my best practices for effectively managing Generation Y professionals. This is written from the perspective of someone who manages peers, has been managed by peers and for all its flaws, represents Generation Y.

Keep them involved and active in the process:

  • In my experience, young professionals do not want to feel like they are just another cog in the wheel. It is great to have established processes and daily routines, but the business world is changing and in need of innovation. Allow your team to help create and mold processes to promote ownership, innovation and ultimately personal and company success. Sitting back as a manager and expecting that your daily routine from 2 years ago is still relevant today is simply incorrect. Your team has the best understanding of the challenges and potential solutions of their job; give them the forum to voice them.
  • Being involved in the process also means understanding expectations. Set clear, definable metrics for success at the beginning of every month. Assuming your goals or the company goals are the same as the rep's will get you into trouble (especially if you let them develop their own daily processes).

• Reward (or acknowledge) hard work as well as performance

  • A classic Sales Manager rewards his team based on their output alone and not necessarily the work that goes into it or the sales opportunities they could not close. While this is great for the company's bottom line, it isn't always the best for the employee. The burden to perform against sales or close metrics exclusively can quickly turn into a de-motivator for this population, especially in today's economy. Some things to keep in mind:
    • Rewards and acknowledgment do not always come in the form of monetary incentives; an e-mail, personal meeting, group recognition, highlight in a PowerPoint, etc. all serve as powerful rewards for a Gen Y professional.
    • Goals and bonuses do not have to be solely performance based. I have always liked the idea of weighted averages for performance and effort; 70% sales, 30% call volume, for example.

• Use contests to promote effort

  • A simple way to garner effort and excitement is through competition. I prefer strategic daily competitions to month long marathon contests; month long contests drag on, are draining and are too easy to lose sight of the end goal. A daily competition is great to start off a week or come on the heels of a bad day. Breaking up your large team into smaller teams for a one day completion promotes teamwork and allows people who normally don't interact to collectively strive for victory. The byproduct of a competition is turning work into a game for the day; always great for morale.

Allow for a balance of fun and work

  • Don't try and keep your employees on task all day. Many of your Gen Y employees are fresh out of college and are making a difficult transition into the working world. Don't expect that a 23 year old has the maturity level or desire to keep their head down in a CRM or on the phones for 10 straight hours. Be OK with your reps chatting with their friends, checking in on Facebook or tossing around a ball. You will find that being resistant to fun in the workplace will cost you more time and energy than simply accepting it. Allowing a culture to develop where having fun is allowed as long as work gets done creates an environment that is pleasant to work in. If you want to retain talent, your employees must to want to come into work.
  • Remember that there is a very fine line between your workplace being considered a fun house. Periodic reminders to stay on task and calls to action are often necessary. Setting expectations about the work/fun balance with new employees is also a key to successfully managing your group.

• Never assume they know everything you know

  • Peer or not, you are the manager for a reason. Don't take for granted your experience and don't forget what it was like when you were in their position. It is very easy to wrongly assume that your team knows just as much about your business, professionalism, contracts, goals and revenue as you do. You developed through experience and learning at the hands of your manager. Be patient with young, inexperienced reps and give them the appropriate platform and time frame for development.

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