Help Your Manager Smell the Coffee

I recently was invited to speak to a group of Millennials, their managers, and human resource professionals at an organization in the Fortune 1000.  The session focused on helping to facilitate understanding between generations and was based on a recent white paper I’d co-written with Brodie Gregory.

During the Q&A after the session, a participant asked me a fantastic question.  He was earlier in his career, probably 26 or 27 years old (squarely in the Gen Y/Millennial cohort).  He asked, “How can I help my manager see that all of the uniqueness associated with our generation can be a good thing?”  Obviously, he had a manager that clearly had some significant negative connotations associated with the generation.  As I continue to speak more and more on this topic, I anticipate getting this question frequently.

The answer I gave him started with asking him to take a hard and objective look at his own performance.  Was his manager unfairly critiquing solid performance or was he accurately working to improve subpar performance?  When others are taking a risk by bringing you on the payroll, you don’t get paid to try hard.  You have to produce.  I think it is likely that some Millennials will struggle with this transition.

Assured he had no performance issues and was doing quite well in his role, I asked him if he has made it a point to talk about how his novel (to this manager, at least) way of doing things actually contributes positively to his work.  Millennials have to understand that many of the things we think of as normal and common sense are pretty radical departures from protocol for the folks tasked with managing us.  And as much as it is their jobs to understand us, we have to help them.  When your manager praises the original and creative way you solved a problem, remind him it was the novel stimulus in the coffee shop that helped you to arrive at that insight.  When you bring in a business opportunity, describe how you nurtured the relationship using social media.

If you are performing well, it allows you to make a case for more flexibility in the process you use to be productive. If your work is of high quality, does it really matter if you do it at 2am on your couch, at 10am at a coffee shop, or at 2pm sitting in your cube?  Many Millennials will make the case that they shouldn’t have to “earn the right” to work differently.  I can see both sides of that argument.  In some organizations, the expectation will be that you do work in the expected context to demonstrate your capabilities before being allowed to go elsewhere.  We could argue about the impact of this on creativity, retention, and engagement, but that will just be how it is for some.

If managers are used to good work being done in a specific context, like at a desk they walk by 5 times a day, it can be difficult to shift gears and expect work of the same or better quality can be done elsewhere.  Getting someone to change their point of view in the presence of information that confirms what they already think is a pretty tall order.  A very interesting question and I’m sure one that others are dealing with as well.

Let us know what has worked for you in the comments section!

Chad Thompson, Ph.D. is the Managing Director of the Consulting and Assessment Practice at Taylor Strategy Partners.  You can connect with him on LinkedIn or following him @TSP_Consulting

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