I have a 23 year old. She knows a lot. That’s fine; we all learned when we were growing up. But it’s not stuff that was in her curriculum. And since I know little about the things she talks about, she didn’t learn them from me. It took me a while to figure out where; the answer was 6 inches in front of my face. As a kid, I went to a lot of social gatherings. With neighbours, our classmates and kids of our parents friends. Or family. But when my daughter goes to social gatherings, it’s not with these groups. It’s with a bunch of people who are in places she could never have reached because they live in all parts of the city. But she knew them. Because of social media.
Let me take a step back. In fact, several steps back, to the beginning of the journey of human civilization.
The Civilizational Shift
Obviously, human civilization has transitioned through many phases. It all started with physical transitions and moved on to hunting and gathering. Then they transitioned to farming and industrialization. And now, we live in the information age. Along with these transitions have emerged societal changes relevant to the contemporary times.
When humans started out and lived in caves, they lived off whatever they could find around them that could be eaten. Feeding themselves and saving their own lives were the primary preoccupation. They learned what they had to learn to survive. They limited themselves to the areas where they could find sustenance, and moved around as required. This wasn’t easy. Every day, you had to hunt or search for food. Sometimes you had to find a new cave. So they figured out farming.
The farmer had to learn new stuff though, about seeds and seasons, water and other sustenance for plants and all the other good stuff farmers do. But it ensured more permanence than the hunter and gatherer ever had. Slowly, most forgot how to hunt and started farming instead. In his attempt to get more and more out of his land for less and less work, the farmer developed tools. This ability to fashion useful things out of natural material eventually led to the creation of machines.
The machines were great. They could work without tiring, produce predictable results, and with consistency. And in a small patch of land, hundreds of people could get jobs. Much better than a farm! Of course, you had to learn how to operate machines for the best results, and since there was a clear set of instructions on how to operate a machine, people just had to learn that method. When you became good at it, you became a manager who taught people how to do the same thing again and again.
It was all great. But as people became wealthier, they aspired for things that were faster, better, higher. They wanted to put behind the monotonous, humdrum life of the industrial world and do more creative, more intellectually stimulating stuff. They became fed up with doing the same stuff, being told all the time what to do, and how to do it. In their quest for this more sublime existence, they developed the tools that would enable them to do it. These are tools that allow people to express themselves in whatever fashion they want, to whomsoever, whenever and about anything. This heady age is what my daughter is growing through. And she is the millennial!
Paradigm Shifts in Learning
Man’s transition from a hunter and gatherer to an information age worker has required him to constantly upgrade his skills. It started with deferment. First, to the environment he lived in, i.e., the basic skills required for survival. Then it moved to deferment to the elements, and the skills required to farm his land holding so that he could bring permanence and food security. Farming created communities, and in turn communities created their learning systems. The learning system in communities was deferment to the knowledge of someone more experienced, the guru. There was no structure, but the knowledge of experience that was passed down from guru to disciple. The discipline remained in deferment to the guru at all times, never questioning anything the guru taught.
During the industrial age, man first experienced a social working order. He not only learned the skills to work a system, a machine, but he also learned to manage groups of people, or be managed by others. Things became much more organized and regimented. There were systems all around, they always worked in the same way and everybody complied with what the system said. Organized education emerged, and it closely followed the top down order. The deferment to the guru was replaced by another top down order, deferment to the system. The system told you what to do, and you did it.
The emergence of the tools of the information age (computers, networks, the internet, mobile phones etc.) has caused a paradigm shift. Those who are coming through information age learning do not adapt easily to top-down systems, simply because there are so many sources to learn from. They learn more from their networks, the internet, and from their vastly expanded circles than they could ever learn at school, from their parents, or from their managers.
That’s where the headwinds are, because social learners won’t heed pedagogic managers. Unfortunately, most managers have learned from education systems and managers from the top down industrial age. When they try to manage top down, they find unstructured, sometimes seemingly irreverent young people. And the millennials find unimaginative, straight jacketed old world managers.
That’s where the problem is. In most businesses, the front line produces the bottom line. If the front line is not aligning with its managers, managers are going to have a harder time getting success. And they will lose good people more frequently than they want.
A new management style
There we go again! Another transition in human civilization and more new things to learn. It’s no secret that knowledge emancipates people, and emancipated people work on some basic principles. The most obvious of these principles are freedom, engagement and creativity. Ever wonder why millennials will more readily work for a start-up than for a big company that’s been around for a 100 years?
Freedom is the release from systems and order. Why do we have so many systems and rules?, they ask. Oh, because it’s the company way, we answer. We’re trying to bind free thinkers, free spirits into a pre-defined system. They don’t like it, because the social systems where they’ve learned from gave them a great deal of freedom.
The freedom they had also gave them a say in what they wanted to do, participate in or work on. When people can think freely about what they want to do, it makes them far more engaged in their work. Traditional work environments expect people to adapt. Millennials expect their ideas to be heard and adopted.
“When I matter, the work I do matters. I feel empowered and valued when I feel that I am an integral part of the team” , says one very enthusiastic individual who is very passionate about the work she does.
I’ve seen social gatherings of young people these days where they are busy creating Instagram and Facebook content by taking pictures and selfies rather than conversing with each other. Now we can label them gadget or technology crazy, but the fact is to remain relevant where they spend most of their time, they have to create new stuff all of the time. My idea is to harness this creativity, and not put it into a stereotyped system.
Managers have to walk a tight line between the millennial employee, their management learning, and the organization’s culture. The gap between where they are and where the millennials want to be bridged. Not everyone is going to get everything they want, but it has to be good enough to get the best out of employees, and give them a great working experience.
The teams being social in nature, it is logical that Emotional Intelligence should be an important factor in team leader effectiveness. It has proven to be successful as well. Self-awareness and awareness about the needs of the millennials would catalyze effective relationship management. Innovative solutions are achieved in highly synergized environments. To influence and move people, managers must possess the knowledge and skills of emotional competencies like trust, communication skills, integrity& more. Emotionally intelligent leaders are essential to developing an environment where employees are encouraged to perform their best.
I believe managers could significantly improve their ability to engage millennials by using coaching techniques. For starters, rather than being prescriptive, coaching focuses entirely on the agenda of the coachee, in this case the millennial. It’s reasonable to expect that the company and the manager have their goals. By having a conversation with the millennial about it, managers can ensure that the millennial has his say in the way he wishes to achieve those goals. This approach has a far greater chance of giving freedom to the millennial employee to think through solutions, and harness his creativity. The bet is a creatively engaged employee will be happier and more productive. Based on this belief we work on sustained development of emotionally intelligent managers, teams and organizations.
Cheers and happy managing!