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

How To Get Your People To Change Today

I talk to executives almost daily about problems they have with their employees. Employees seem to do what they want to do. In a few cases it is defiance. In most cases these problems are caused by a lack of effective leadership. Many managers have no idea how train, mentor, and motivate their people to do the job well or they complain they are too busy.

If you think you are too busy to spend the necessary time to develop your people correctly, they will learn how things are really done in your organization from someone else. Most managers and supervisors are promoted because they are usually the best employees at their specific job. Problems often arise when an employee does a good job and is promoted. The skills that made the employee great do not always translate to being an effective manager or leader. Leading and managing other people who do the job, is very different than doing the job.

A lack of management skill is a big part of the problem. I recently met with a rising tech company in Massachusetts. They had many bright young employees they recruited from Harvard, MIT, Boston College and more. I learned they had a strong focus on creating a vibrant culture. To measure their progress, they conduct a quarterly employee survey. They find much that is positive. However, the number one employee complaint is that managers have no idea what they are doing. Employees want to do a great job. They want to make a difference in what they do. They want to learn and grow. They want to have pride in their company and what they do.

Just yesterday I was with an executive team of a $50 million division of a $570 million company that is working on culture change. Their efforts have had some success but not to the degree they desired. A few of the managers actually admitted to the CEO they did not know how to implement the behavior change initiatives they had committed to. This was the main reason they were not moving forward as desired. They knew why they needed to change culture and they agreed with the initiatives. They just needed more focused direction on how and what they needed to do.

The following is a 5 step coaching process to help your employees change behavior:

The process is called I.H.O.T. or “I have observed…” is a coaching methodology to facilitate changes needed to achieve a goal or handle an issue. The coaching conversation has several steps I will outline here.

  1. Define the problematic behavior:

    “Sarah, in the past week I have observed that you have been more than 30 minutes late on three occasions.” Or, “I have asked you here to discuss…..” Avoid labels and just focus on the behavior. It is important the employee acknowledges their behavior before you move to the next step.

  2. Discuss possible causes:

    Ask open-ended questions to understand what is happening. Using, how, what, where, when, and who will help you get the information you need. Some other open-ended questions are “please explain….” or “please help me understand….” Most managers go right into solution mode when there is a problem. Instead, ask questions and listen.

  3. Discuss possible solutions:

    Do not suggest a solution. Ask your employee for possible solutions. If you give a solution and the employee does not have success with your approach, they blame you. You take away their accountability. If it is their idea, there will be greater buy-in and accountability. If their solution is acceptable to you, ask when they will make the change, “by when will you accomplish this…. etc.” If it is not acceptable, ask what else they can do until you are satisfied. Finally, ask how they would like you to help them.

  4. Agree on solution:

    Determine an implementation plan.

  5. Follow-up:

    It absolutely crucial you follow-up with the employee by the time specified for them to complete the behavior. Inspect what you expect. When they have made the change, recognize their efforts. Tell them they are doing a good job and improvement is being made. You may also follow-up before the deadline to ask them how they are doing and provide any needed support.

Most employees want to do the right thing and will appreciate a coaching approach if it is sincere and focused on helping them solve a problem or improve. If the employee is not open to coaching, they probably will not admit to the behavior problem in step 1. In this case you need to determine quickly if they are right for your organization.

Spend the time necessary to train, coach and mentor your people. It always takes less time in the long run. For those managers who claim to be so busy, what could be more important than the development and engagement of your people? If your people were doing what you hired them to do, would you have more time? Schedule time in your busy day to do the things that matter most and enjoy the positive results. If you find it hard to find more time in the day, look for a future article on how to find more time in your day and why employees don’t do what you need them to do.

The author Spencer Horn is the President of Spencer Horn Solutions, LLC

Related topics: Disengagement And The “Love What You Do Myth”; Is The Fundamental Attribution Error Destroying Your Team?; How Asking Questions Strengthens Your Team; One Reason A Healthy Culture Is Essential; The Power Of Accountability;

How Asking Questions Strengthens Your Team

Effective Questions Help You Motivate, Coach, Mentor, Challenge, Engage, Discover, Understand and Improve

So often leaders feel they need to tell their employees what to do and answer all their questions. This can cause them to miss valuable opportunities to help teach and develop their people. By asking your people to come up with their own solutions, you let them struggle which causes greater learning and learning retention.  By asking questions and for input in meetings and on proposed initiatives, you get great feedback which may improve outcomes and avoid mistakes. You also increase engagement. Telling people what to do causes them to be less engaged. If what you tell them does not work and they are not bought in, they blame the leader instead of taking ownership.  Asking questions helps reduce emotions during conflict and challenging conversations by engaging the logic center of your brain. Learning the art of effective open ended questioning will help you be a more effective leader. Take time to learn this skill today!

Another really effective tool for getting the information you need is “help me understand…” or “please give me a specific example…” You can ask about thought process, how confident some is about a decision, how they made a decision, or why they took a specific action, etc. This is especially helpful when you are frustrated with someone and you want to ask “why did you do that?” Instead, take a calm and curious approach. You may find the the decision or action was exactly what was called for and you will maintain a professionalism the ensures the confidence and trust of your team.