Opinion: The generation game

Lorraine Murphy
By Lorraine Murphy | 23 April 2014

Leading Gen Ys: What I've learned

I actually am Gen Y, just about. Even so, I feel there is a big generational gap between me and my fellow Gen Ys – a combination of being at the upper limit of Gen Y (I’m 31), a stint at a very conservative law firm in the US and two years in what was described by a helpful boss as “the most formal informal agency in London”. As the most junior person in the room, I had to wait to exit meetings last. I knew my place.

The Gen Ys on my team would probably take to Snapchat in indignation if given restrictions like that. They’re different to what I was like at their age. They want ownership, accountability, progression.

Gen Ys are also what has driven my business to achieve the results we have in the two years since it was born. Leading them can however become a leadership challenge for Gen Y old-timers like me, and even more so for the generations that came before.

I’ve picked up some learnings over the last year or so – and I’m sure I have lots more to come…

1. Tell them where they’re going

Gen Ys need a plan, to know where they’ll be in six months, a year, two years. They’re the generation with choices, so they need reassurance that being part of your team is the best choice for them – that there’s a vision for them as an individual.

2. Let them show what they can do (and be there to catch them if they fall)

Talking to our team about this article, they said that feeling trusted was key for them. They need to feel that you believe they can do the job, and let them get on with it – but that you’ll be their safety net if they need it.

3. Make it fun

Gen Ys need to be engaged with what they’re doing – it needs to appeal to a sense of fun and freedom. Google gives employees a budget to decorate their own desks. If it’s good enough for Google…

4. Tell them why

Gen Ys need a reason for everything. If a rule or procedure doesn’t make sense to them, they’ll question it. If you explain why, you’ll get a lot further.

5. Surprise and delight them

We spend a lot of time as marketers talking about surprising and delighting consumers. I’ll let you in on a secret – it works incredibly well with Gen Ys as well. You’ll probably find you get more of a kick out of it than they do.

6. Set structures for communication

Realistically as leaders, we can’t just give our teams carte blanche with stakeholders and budgets. A happy medium is setting a fixed schedule of meetings and catch-ups – times for them to update you on where they’re at, time for you to ask questions and to pre-empt any issues you spot on the horizon with their work. Then keep everything outside of that informal.

7. Coach them on communicating with other generations

It rests with the leader to ensure that Gen Ys modify their communications skills to suit older generations or Gen Zs. For example, a degree of reverence is expected by a baby-boomer when dealing with someone 20-25 years their junior, which needs to be clearly articulated to the Gen Y.

8. Help them to understand themselves

Gen Ys are perceived as being quite preoccupied with themselves – so it’s no surprise that skilling them up to understand their own behaviour patterns is of huge interest to them. We use DISC profiling at The Remarkables Group, which enables the team to understand not only themselves, but me as their leader, the wider team and our clients.

So there you have it – my Gen Y leadership adventure so far. I’d love to hear your adventures in leading Gen Ys – what have been your big wins, your big misses? And Gen Ys, what else do I need to learn…?

Lorraine Murphy
The Remarkables Group

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