Generation Y: Are we preparing leaders to deal with this generation of new employees’ expectations?

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • From a Gen Y youth’s perspective
Introduction So, what is all the fuss about Generation ‘Y’ (those born between 1980 and 1995)? Are they different? Yes. Are they difficult? Different is only difficult when we don’t understand or can’t understand what the difference means. As a leader, manager, supervisor, what can you do to increase your effectiveness when motivating and managing Generation ‘Y’? Influence and inspire. As a Gen Y myself, from discussion with my peers, we believe these are the two values Gen Y employees admires most about their leaders. Their leaders must have the ability to empower and excite them towards not only the organisation’s goals but towards personal excellence as well. Many bosses find themselves in leadership positions without ever having consciously made the choice to become a leader, let alone a great leader. For these bosses to evolve into an exceptional leader for the youth, they first have to step down to the level of the youths. They have to show them that they were exactly where they are when they started and that it is indeed possible to climb up the corporate ladder to reach the position they are in now. Now how exactly does one do so? Here are some practical guidelines:   1. Talk to them Everyone wants to feel important, and what better way to show the importance of your employees then to get to know them on a personal level. Share with them your personal journey about how you’ve reach to the top of the ‘food chain’. Provide them with that sense of belonging that motivated you to stay on with the organisation and it is likely that that same reason would be the reason that would make them want to stay on as well. 2. Hang out with them Now, I don’t mean to be weekend hang out buddies, no. There still need to be a boundary between boss and employee. However, have a get together every now and then to show your employees that you care and that you are genuinely concerned about their well-being and their happiness in the organisation. Yes, there are retreats and all that usual shenanigans, but you need to show that you are involved. You are interested and involved in the team bonding efforts that go on in the organisation. 3. Be a confidant Everyone loves a listening ear, especially the youths at our day and age. They have the constant perception that the boss is only someone who gives orders and instructions and not to be messed around with. Whilst being firm, offer to be a friend to the employees. Don’t just listen, but hear them out, their problems and what challenges they are facing. Help them understand the reason for some operation procedure and the direction the organisation is heading in the next few years. That way, everyone would be on the same page. Today’s Gen Y is an interesting group of people and a vital one for that matter. Succession planning is crucial and there is always a need to stay relevant, on that note youths are the future of the next generation, thus there is a need to invest significantly in them. Leading and engaging Gen Y at work For the first time in modern history, workplace demographics now span four generations, meaning that 20-year-old new hires can find themselves working side-by-side with colleagues who are older than they are by 50 years (or even more). The five generations and their birth years are depicted in Table 1. Gen Y (including in large number of today’s Youths) are also individuals who holds on to grudges, any bad experience with you and they will remember it for a long time, so be careful what you do to them. At the same time, the youth these days make it a point to go above and beyond their call of duty and often produces exceptional work. All they ask in return is acknowledgement. A simple pat on the back and words of encouragement does the trick, trust me. "Leaders today are facing a critical challenge: how to adapt their leadership practices and style to get the best out of Generation Y employees. They can’t do so alone. Organisations have a responsibility to help managers understand how workers’ expectations have changed and how they can adapt their leadership style to these new conditions. More importantly, organisations needs to provide leaders with the tools and processes which allow leaders to reward and recognise, train and develop, empower generation Y employees more effectively" Leaders for the youths are scrutinised pretty intensely at this day and age. They play a vital part in the motivation process of the youth’s professional journey. Leaders with the ability to present themselves well have already won the hearts of the youth. Youths feel that, “If I put in effort to look good and professional, you should too.” Now, I’m not talking about superficiality, I’m talking about looking professionally good. All in all, the ability to connect and gel with the youth is not an easy task. It takes a lot of effort and may be a little time consuming but the results would be tremendous. Good leadership is hard to come by, good leadership for the youth, is extra work. However, it would be all worth it when you hand over that office of yours to your predecessor who was once a youth under your wing. The ‘Peter Principle; states that in modern organisations, most bosses rise to the level of their least competence, like the specialist (e.g. accountant, engineer, lawyer, etc.) who is so good at their craft that they get promoted to a management position in ‘charge of people’ without having mastered any real leadership skills. And then they bomb. It’s not their fault; they were promoted into the position with little or no training or mentoring... it’s sink or swim. What Gen Y looks for in their leaders? Things are not how they used to be. Employee expectations have definitely changed with regard to work. Leaders can no longer ignore these new expectations nor refuse to adapt their leadership style and methods to deal with these new expectations. In a research report published in Singapore on ‘Gen Y at Work, Their Views and How they are Viewed,’ Gen Y-ers believe that it is most important for their leaders to be caring, inspiring and competent. On the other hand, managers from the Other Generations believe in demonstrating competence, honesty and a forward-looking orientation to the Gen Y-ers they lead and manage. The overall pattern of results clearly suggests that there is a gulf between the Gen Y workforce’s expectations, and their managers’ beliefs about how to lead them. The results suggest that Gen Y prefers relationship-oriented leaders, while their managers believe in demonstrating a relatively more task-oriented approach to leading them. What makes a great leader in managing Gen Y? In several cases that Centre for Executive Education (CEE) came across in consulting engagements, well intentioned promises of leadership development, coaching or mentoring were made to the leader when they were appointed, only to fall by the wayside because more pressing business matters crowded out the hours in the leader’s day. Like a captain of a sporting team or a general of an army, leaders need to innovate, inspire, excite or provide a clear vision to others. They hold and believe in a vision and just as importantly, have the self-belief and conviction to communicate it to others. Furthermore leaders do not have definitive characteristics. Some inspire and organise, whereas others are strategic or tactical, spot opportunities or protect against disaster. Leadership is a journey of discovery. It is the expression of a person at his or her best whose aim is to transform something for the better and to develop this potential in others. It is not a solitary pursuit but one that harnesses the energy of those around you. A manager can implement processes, monitor performance, set business goals and objectives and generally take care of the day-to-day needs of their staff. However achieving authentic leadership takes more than textbook management skills. CEE believes that with the relevant executive development support, those with leadership potential can be developed into outstanding leaders. No one can argue that a great leader can boost an organisation’s growth and performance in much the same way a poor leader can run one into the ground. But what makes a leader effective or ineffective is a more nebulous concept to pin down. According to Jim Kouzes, author of the best-seller ‘The Leadership Challenge,’ the qualities that make an effective leader have two distinct perspectives: what followers look for and what research from the past few decades has shown. “There are four things consistently that we have found that people most look for in a leader. Number one, people want a leader who’s honest, trustworthy and has integrity. Second (they want someone) forward-looking, who has a vision of the future, foresight and thinks about the long term. Third, people want a leader who is competent, has expertise, knows what they’re doing, and fourth is inspiring, dynamic, energetic, optimistic and positive about the future.” These still hold true on what Gen Y-ers expects from their leaders. Leadership styles Gen Y is well known for wanting more flexible work schedules. With mobile technology and cloud solutions widely available, resistance to alternative work schedules by Gen X or Boomers Manager is becoming a barrier to progress at the workplace. All managers must get to a similar understanding of why Gen Y looks at flexible work arrangements as a given. With globalisation a force driving corporate strategy, allowing employees to choose to work nights and weekends over day shifts makes sense. Working from a cafe today and hotel, onsite tomorrow is smart business. Those managers who grew up in corporate-land believing work occurs between 9-5 need to learn to rethink how, where and when work gets done. Gen Y gets this. It’s time that Managers of other generation must do, too. Some people have one style of leadership, which is fine if they can find a situation that requires that style of leadership. Flexible leadership, however, involves being able to adapt your leadership style according to the generational make-up of the team and situation – e.g.: taking charge when a team is forming but playing the role of coach when a team is managing itself well. Overall, CEE research suggests that Generation Y is an ambitious, impatient and yet tremendously promising generation, one that employers must listen to in order to bring fresh ideas and perspectives to traditional operations. Though successfully connecting with Generation Y may be challenging at times, the consequences can take employers from good to great, and prepare for an uncertain and rapidly-changing future. Conclusion Leaders today are facing a critical challenge: how to adapt their leadership practices and style to get the best out of Generation Y employees. They can’t do so alone. Organisations have a responsibility to help managers understand how workers’ expectations have changed and how they can adapt their leadership style to these new conditions. More importantly, organisations needs to provide leaders with the tools and processes which allow leaders to reward and recognise, train and develop, empower generation Y employees more effectively. For Singapore’s budding leaders to compete with the world’s best, managers need to embrace the latest techniques of executive development to enhance their abilities to better manage the Gen Y and soon Gen Z workers.  The price of not doing so will create plenty of managers, but very few leaders. Finally, remember: Leadership development is a journey, not something that can be learned on a five-day training course. It requires time, reflection and a high level of self-awareness. [The writer is the Gen Y Business Development Manager of Centre for Executive Education (CEE Global) and is a recent graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Business and Accountancy. CEE Global offers executive coaching and leadership development programs that help professionals develop the skills and knowledge to embrace change and catalyse success in their industries. Website: Email:]