I don’t hate the people classed as Millennials. I love them! I hate the term ‘millennial’.
I’m not a fan of any of the social science effort to group us into generational boxes. Honestly, as a manger, I don’t even like the red-blue-green-yellow school of personality behavior teaching. Over the years I have been shown Karl Jung’s 4 personalities displayed in many different ways; DISC, RYBG, INTJ, whatever….
My concern is this. We are unique. Each and every one of us possess incalculable combinations of behavior trait, personality, beliefs, and values such that the exact combination you and I present to the world is unmatched by any other person.
Oh sure, we have a few commonalities like favorite colors, the music we love, sports teams, food, drink, etc. However, the core essence of who and what we are is unique; one of a kind.
When I challenge my Jungian friends about their systematic approach to understanding people, the response is something like this…
“Well, what I just showed you will be a generalization. You have to get to know the person.”
WOW! There you go.
Back to my generational concerns. The thing that makes generational differences in the workplace so hard is simply about reference points.
We all live this life based on reference points. Taking a trip we think in terms of “I just passed Omaha, I only have 10 miles to go.” Reference point.
The same is true with more intricate issues at work. Coaching, training, and mentoring new employees requires making a connection with reference points. Sometimes it can be as easy as those shared interests in the local sports team.
The connection/reference point becomes the base from which learning can start.
If you cannot connect on those reference points, there will be a resistance to move forward.
For all the material that has been published about Millennials, the only thing I see standing out is reference points. Otherwise, the basic human needs for shelter, safety, sense of well being, purpose, satisfaction, gratification, and self-worth are no different from my Boomer friends.
We just express those needs in different terms using our reference points.
Here are some examples.
When I took my daughter to her college orientation, the registrar was speaking to us. One parent was complaining about some extra courses that were now required for graduation. The official said to the parents, “Hey folks 25 more years of history have passed since you were here. We have more stuff to talk about.”
In those 25 years, the reference points have radically changed. PCs, cell phones, smart TV, the Internet; all of the things that shape our connection with the world around us are different.
Beloit College used to publish a mindset list annually. The Mindset List looked at changes in the world around us based on your birth year. The college uses incoming freshmen to group the lists. Here are some examples of changes in reference points.
Since the Class of 2019 has been on the planet:
1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.
2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”
3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
5. Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.
6. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.
7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.
8. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
9. Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.
10. If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”
So it boggles my mind when I hear an older executive lamenting his lack of connection to his younger workers. Even more troubling is the notion that because there is no connection, the younger ones must be the ‘bad actors’. That is SOOOO wrong.
To business leaders, I say look at your reference points. Telling your stories using 1980’s or even 1990’s topics, celebrities, and things will definitely not connect.
In the end, after all other attempts to connect have been exhausted, there is nothing wrong with sitting down and admitting “Look, I’m missing the connection here. I am sorry. Please help me help you grow with this company by explaining to me where we need to go to make a better connection.” [as I wrote this I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that this discussion would likely be by text, not face-to-face.]
This whole dynamic works both ways. Regardless of your age, check your reference points before you categorically dismiss any other age group in the workplace as irrelevant.