In the News – ‘Training Gen Y’

Let’s face it, just mentioning the topic of ‘Gen Y’ might cause you to force back a big yawn as it’s something that’s been discussed for a good few years now, mostly, it would seem, focussing on the negatives of this generation (e.g. demanding, feelings of entitlement, impatient, overly ambitious, etc etc).

However, of late I’ve been speaking to the organisations I work with about Gen Y’s positive attributes (e.g. driven, dynamic, tech savy, confident, accepting of change, etc) and, more importantly, given that many of them are now knocking on the door of 30 (and are therefore moving into leadership positions), how organisations are preparing themselves for the impact (positive and negative) that Gen Y will have on their organisation (and industry) and how L&D/OD are providing the right learning pathways to bring out the best (and minimise the worst) in preparation for Gen Y moving up the ranks until they (evenitably) fill the C-suite positions.

With this topic in mind, I thought I’d post this recent article from CLO-mag….

The Gen Y Workplace

By: Ladan Nikravan –  Chief Learning Officer Magazine – 10/6/11

While Generation Y is forcing companies to think more creatively about
the when, where and how of work, their views aren’t that different from older

Command-and-control management is foreign to more than 70 million
Americans who make up Generation Y. Unlike previous generations, members of Gen
Y have been pampered and programmed to believe in their own worth. They’ve
grown up questioning their parents and are now questioning their employers.
They don’t expect to stay in a job, or even a career, for long, but they are
looking to leave a mark wherever they go. And they likely will seek multiple
options and venues to satisfy their development needs.

“The older generations typically look to receive their development on the
job,” said Kim Huggins, president of K HR Solutions LLC and author of GENerate
Performance! Unleashing the Power of a Multigenerational Workforce
. “They
often rely on their manager to take charge of their career path and make
recommendations for how they grow and develop. The younger generations tend to
drive their own career path. They look for guidance from their manager, mentor
and others but ultimately they make their own decisions about their next move.
They are much more likely to change jobs or companies if they do not feel their
developmental needs are being met.”

Different Objectives, Same Values

According to a recent SBR Consulting study, although 70 percent of
millennials say there is a possibility they will change jobs once the economy
improves, and more than one-third (36 percent) stated they definitely or
probably will, job-hopping is a millennial stereotype grounded in little truth
for one reason: Millennials aren’t the only employees who seek greener pastures
when they are disengaged in their jobs. Of the 225 Business Insider readers who
responded to a December survey, 57 percent of those who quit their jobs in the
past two years left without another opportunity lined up. Further, it’s not
just young people who were doing this: 54 percent of people ages 25-34 quit
without another opportunity versus 55 percent of people ages 35-49.

During the peak of the recession, employees were far more likely to stay
put unless they were laid off. There was a sense of thankfulness to have a job
— especially for recent graduates. As the recession dragged on and companies
kept cutting positions, fewer employees were left and resources became scarce.
Morale and loyalty began to drop to an all-time low, but it was accepted
because gratitude for employment prevailed. Now times are changing, for all

“Respect means something
different to each of us; it is something that all of us desire, especially in
the workplace,” Huggins said. “Respect is shown or not shown through the
attitude, actions and approaches of leaders every hour of the work day. Leaders
should do a self-assessment of how they show respect to their employees. This
can provide great insight, and with some minor adjustments can have a
significant impact on employee morale. A one-size-fits-all approach just
doesn’t work anymore. Leaders have to be willing to modify their style to fit
the needs of their employees.”

According to findings from a 2011
Rouen Business School study, there is no generational difference between such
needs in the workplace, which debunks many stereotypes about Generation Y.
Rouen professor Jean Pralong carried out an intergenerational study on 400
French participants with similar educational backgrounds, ranging from students
to salaried workers in their 60s. The research compared three groups: Gen Y
master’s level students, Gen Y salaried workers in their first jobs and
salaried workers from Generation X. The study showed that attitudes toward the
workplace and ideas about careers between Generation X and Generation Y are the

“There are differences between
Generation Y students and Generation Y salaried workers,” Pralong said. “It’s
the context — being a student or having entered a company for the first time —
that makes the difference rather than being part of a certain generation. It’s
logical: People immersed in the same context are socialized similarly; they
share their peers’ thinking and react to the same difficulties or conditions.”

Pralong said disenchantment, when
it exists, comes from uncertainty about careers long-term. It also comes from
excessive individualization in management methods. Wanting to challenge or
stimulate an employee too much, leaders forget that he or she also needs
stability, coherence and fairness. Fundamentally, businesses that retain their
employees and obtain excellent performances from them are those that offer fair
management systems and favor personal development in a stable environment.

Despite conclusions from
Pralong’s studies, many employers continue to believe the desire for
development varies depending on an employee’s age.

“We’re undergoing a transition
from people needing to learn when there’s either something urgent or it’s
remedial to a learning environment where there’s an idea of continuous
learning; we all need to be more comfortable learning all the time,” said Lynne
Lancaster, co-author of When Generations Collide. “That can present challenges
for the different generations. We need experiential learning that gives the
younger ones an opportunity to ask questions, listen and learn from experienced

Lancaster said learning leaders
need to think about knowledge transfer during the next decade. It’s not just
learning rules, procedures and technologies — there are some subtle forms of
learning where they must identify what type of knowledge has to be passed from
employee to employee and find more ways to make that happen.

The combination of Generation Y
climbing the professional ranks and baby boomers refusing to retire has
dramatically shifted the composition of the workforce, but on Jan. 1 this year,
the oldest members of the baby boomer generation celebrated their 65th
birthday. According to Pew Research Center, for every day for the next 19
years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach age 65. Currently, 13 percent of
Americans are 65 and older. By 2030, when all members of the boomer generation
have reached that age, 18 percent of the nation will be at least 65.

Next Generation Leaders

Millennials may not be boomers’
direct replacements, but they are in the pipeline. As organizations continue to
compete for a shrinking supply of qualified applicants, their focus will be on
recruiting and retaining the youngest generation’s brightest talent.

For example, through interviews
and focus groups at Intuit, the organization has found younger workers like to
have greater visibility to career paths and the ability to explore different
career options. Therefore, the company has created a Next Generation Network to
facilitate networking and mentorship through social networking events and
lunches with senior leaders. Intuit also promotes cross-company innovation
through reverse mentoring programs where members are encouraged to share
social, mobile and productivity tools with colleagues.

Intuit’s use of networks and
small groups isn’t limited to employee networks. The 28-year-old software
company keeps design teams small enough for two pizzas to feed them and ensures
ideas are executed into concepts in less than six weeks, resulting in an
environment that’s like a network of start-ups with the support and resources
of a large, established company.

“We give employees white space
time to think and a platform for experimentation so they have the flexibility
and freedom to create solutions that solve big customer problems,” said Michael
McNeal, vice president of talent strategy and acquisition at Intuit. “Employees
can come here and build products, be entrepreneurial and develop the
capabilities to start, run and grow a business. We keep it fast, fun and
innovative, and this environment helps us attract and retain top talent.”

This environment also attracts
Generation Y employees. McNeal said millennials often seek mentorship with
senior leaders and like to learn by doing, so short-term projects in a variety
of product groups are important. Younger workers have grown up with technology,
and they live a digital lifestyle, so Intuit offers online and interactive
learning and development opportunities.

Similarly, learning leaders at
L’Oral USA believe the most important way to attract millennials is by clearly
articulating that life at the cosmetics and beauty company means
personalization and options. The organization’s message is about opportunities
versus careers.

“Millennials want a plan that is specific to them,” said Sarah Hibberson, senior
vice president of human resources at L’Oral USA. “They want a lot of
information and guidance on their development. Learning more closely resembles
games than logic to them, and multitasking is a way of life.”

To cater to Gen Y’s career
projections, L’Oral offers a management development program in several areas,
including marketing. In this program, a new hire goes through six months of
integration including a week-long discovery program. This includes three months
of sales experience and three months of consumer intelligence experience. Then
the employee begins a rotation supporting a marketing team. During this time
the employee attends several formalized learning programs and can spend up to
18 months in this program before graduating to a specific open position in

“It is important that there is
leadership within the organization Gen Y can relate to,” Hibberson said. “We
want our Gen Y employees to have a first assignment with someone who many times
went through the same hiring and integration track they did.”

As Generation Y gains traction in
the workforce, tactics used by organizations such as Intuit and L’Oral will
become mainstream for all generations. At Southwest Airlines, for example, any
new development opportunities created may cater to Gen Y, but they are
available to, utilized for and appreciated by all employees.

“We don’t do anything different
or anything special in particular to attract Gen Y folks,” said Bonnie
Endicott, manager of leadership development at Southwest Airlines. “Our ‘Living
the Southwest Way’ motto sets our expectations, which we require of all employees,
regardless of the generation. We attract a lot of millennial employees because
they value this community. We ask you to wear your spirit, work hard, be
innovative, courageous and have a servant’s heart. We’ve done very well in
getting a variety of folks from all generations into our workforce, but our
culture really attracts Gen Y.”

Southwest focuses on
cross-functional learning as opposed to efforts siloed by department to allow
all generations to build cross-functional skills and to network. The company’s
corporate university, The University of People, gives employees 10 different
freedoms, and one is the freedom to learn and grow. Every employee works with
his or her leader to create a development plan. The plan is executed in
whichever way the employee prefers — formal classes, lunch and learns or book
debriefs, for example. Rather than consider generational differences, the
company looks at development in lieu of learning style.

“Adults in particular have
different learning styles,” Endicott said. “We try to address those and make
sure we have components to engage all four generations in the workforce.
Recruiting and retaining Generation Y is important, but the focus is the
greater workforce. If you offer a variety of ways to learn, reinforcing the
central concepts in a variety of ways, you’re going to hit all your different
learning styles and employees.”

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