There is a generation out in the workforce today who do not regard, accept or handle feedback or criticism. Often when some of these young professionals run into opposition or frustration at work, they don’t always handle it well. If they don’t get along with a boss, many quit within weeks of being hired. They stay in a job less than two years compared to the average worker who stays in their job about 4.4 years (Bureau of Labor and Statistics). These employees belong to what is called the “praised generation.” Effectively managing the praised generation is a business necessity.
One problem with this generation is they have been overly praised by well-meaning parents. These parents have boosted self-esteem by telling their children how amazing, smart and talented they are. This form of praise, according to psychologist Carol Dweck, can create a fixed mindset that does not respond well to setbacks or opposition. These children are entering the workforce and according to Ms. Dweck, “…many can’t function without getting a sticker for their every move. Companies are reinforcing this behavior by shifting annual bonuses to quarterly or even monthly. Instead of employee of the month, it is employee of the day. Companies are hiring consultants to help them recruit, reward and retain this population.” I just attended an event where one of these consultants was giving my CEO peer group advice to better manage this generation. We have a workforce with too many that require constant positive feedback and can’t handle feedback for improvement.
Two things need to happen for this to change: 1. Managers must to own their behaviors and learn to be better bosses and learn to encourage better behaviors in their employees. 2. Younger employees must learn some resilience and learn how to deal with conflict and disappointment when things don’t go their way like they may be used to. It is important that we figure this out, because like it or not, Millenials (praised generation) are currently the largest generation in the workforce and will make up 49% of the workforce by 2020. They also have many tremendous talents and qualities that will benefit in our businesses.
So what do we do? Long-term: Parents must be willing to allow their children to fail. Help them feel the consequences of loosing a game occasionally, instead of a trophy just for showing up. They need to know when they do a great job and when they can do better. My wife and I have five children. Some of our children are grown and are doing well; they hard working productive members of society. They (mostly) took correction well and learned from mistakes. Some are still growing and learning. Our parenting is sometimes viewed as unreasonable and punishments are sometimes considered ‘mean’ and/or ‘crazy’. Our behavior is viewed as the problem rather than their actions being the issue. We, as parents, have had to be consistent and fair in order to develop responsible, productive adults.
My wife and I get feedback from other parents who say our children are well adjusted. It leads me to believe that many are not ‘leaning’ into the discomfort of teaching children discipline. It is not about being friends. It is about being loving parents. Part of my evidence about these parents comes from managers who are asking for my help with these praised children who work for them. More disturbing evidence of failed parenting comes from a conversation I had recently with a district judge in Las Vegas, where I live. He tells me that convicted felon’s always ask for mercy and don’t feel they deserve punishment for their crimes. He said when he gives the sentence, he is called ‘crazy’, ‘mean’, and worse things including threats. This judge knows the only way we learn is if we experience the consequences of our choices. Society it seems, must bear some of the burden of parenting deficiencies.
My question for you as a leader is-how well do you handle adversity? How good are you at taking responsibility for your actions and your failures? We live in a society where so many look to blame others for their failings. It seems most would do anything they can to avoid consequences. People with this mindset fail to learn and grow because they perceive consequences as negative. Many have the attitude that laws apply to everyone else and breaking the law is okay as long as you don’t get caught. Then if you do, it is because you are being treated unfairly.
So what can you do be more effective as a manager of this praised generation?
- Adjust your expectations:
Realize that developing this praised generation into productive contributors in your business takes commitment and consistency. You cannot simply hope the problem will solve itself. Make employee development an integral part of your business strategy.
- Learn how to praise:
Ms. Dweck gives some great advice that I support which you can immediately implement. Change what you praise your kids and employees for. When they do something hard, praise them for that. When they stick with a project regardless of the outcome, praise them for their commitment. Praise them for the effort not the outcome. Instead of praising for a job well done or a brilliant performance or a great idea, praise them for taking initiative. Ms Dweck even says, tongue in cheek, “praise them for not needing constant praise.”
- Coach & Mentor:
Develop coaching and mentoring programs that focus on soft as well and hard skills. Have a deliberate leadership development program that identifies and advances high potential employees.
- Fail forward:
Create an environment where people have enough freedom to learn by trial and error. Encourage employees to take initiative and take risks within reasonable limits. Mistakes can accelerate learning.
- Increase conflict:
Learning how to normalize conflict and disagreement. With the proper training, managers can learn how to turn conflict into a positive tool for the organization. It will help employees learn to constructively give feedback and benefit from disagreement. Building these conflict muscles will help develop this praised generation and consequently, help older generations make better decisions and be more engaged and productive.
The solution takes persistence and commitment. Your efforts can yield great benefits. Despite some of the negative press the “praised generation” gets, they have a great deal to offer and they are the future of your business.
The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC.
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