Effectively Managing The Praised Generation

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Other topics that may interest you: Magnify Your Reputation; How To Make Yourself Instantly More Valuable;  Leadership Is About Impact Not IntentionWhat Is Innattentional Blindness Costing You?Is The Fundamental Attribution Error Destroying Your Team?Cure For The CEO DiseaseWhen Being Too Smart Hurts You

How To Prepare Your Next Generation Of Leaders

Stretch Assignments in Succession Planning

Many business leaders are frustrated in fulfilling their succession plans. They perceive a lack of energy and voracity demonstrated by their designated successors. This perceived lack of motivation probably isn’t so much a demonstration of disinterest, but rather an illustration of limited developmental opportunities. How can we bridge this gap? The best way to develop successors is with stretch assignments. Learning through struggle and confidence building exercises will encourage the development of key skills and capabilities required to demonstrate their leadership readiness. By following the suggestions listed below, leaders can effectively stretch, develop and prepare their team to continue the leader’s’ legacy with confidence.

Step 1: Identifying shortcomings:

There are two kinds of shortcomings you need to assess: 1) Individual skills gaps, and 2) organizational requirements. Development opportunities will illustrate a mix of organizational requirements (the company needs ‘X’ project to be done), and individual requirements (the individual needs to build/develop/practice ‘X’ skills required by this task to personally achieve new levels of performance.) Optimal organizational development opportunities might include shorter-term, high intensity projects that spawn into long-term impacts. Additionally, these tasks should allow for the individual to exercise authoritative/collaborative decision-making, and perform strategic decision making skills while working visibly with other key players.

Step 2: Provide tools, resources and basic instructions:

Discuss the stretch assignment with your team/employee. Be sure to illuminate the opportunity to “see what you’re made of” to both internal leadership and external customers. Describe the impact of the end product – what is your vision for accomplishing this task? Then, provide the tools, resources and basic requirements to the individual/team to get things done.

Step 3: Empower through delegated authority and accountability:

When providing a “stretch assignment”, it’s critically important that leaders enable the individuals to make their own decisions/assessments. As they are held accountable for their actions, the struggle and strife will help long-term learning occur.

Step 4: Step Back:

Although your leadership engagement throughout the process will be available, it should only be available from a mentor perspective – when requested, and even then – in a coaching, not consulting, capacity. When asked for help, leaders can provide strategic considerations, understanding consequences, and seeing second and third degree influences of actions while reaffirming the project vision. Ultimately, the goal throughout this assignment is autonomy – empowering people to step-up, take action, and figure things out by themselves. This may be challenging for highly involved managers, but the autonomy, authority, accountability and empowerment throughout this process will enable employees to truly demonstrate and stretch their skill sets while fulfilling an organizational need in the process.

Step 5: Celebrate the struggle, success and achievement:

Following completion of key project milestones or the final assignment deliverables, positive feedback on successes is critical. During challenging assignments, praise the perseverance and determination to overcome. Celebrate the successes to reinforce those skills that were demonstrated through the endeavor. Share this achievement with others to encourage additional positive reinforcement. This positive reinforcement solidifies the lessons learned through struggle, and further builds confidence that will be applied to follow-on projects.

Although this may sound like all optimism and theory, the actual stretch assignment will likely be a substantial struggle – making or breaking the individual. Failure is most certainly an option – but through careful guidance, encouragement and mentorship together you can create something truly great while building skills and confidence in the process. Why take the risk of failure? Because struggle sparks learning & confidence, further building candidates to fill the role and legacy you left behind. After all, if it was easy, anyone could do it. Is that the legacy you want to leave?

Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC. You may also be interested in the following articles: Increase Your Effectiveness As A Leader With Perception Science; How To Create Success From Failure; How To Get Your People To Change Today; Cure For The CEO Disease