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The 7 Most Effective Ways to Recruit, Retain and Motivate Your Youngest Generation

2006 is a year of great excitement for the Baby Boomers, as they begin to turn 60 and move toward retirement. The organizations that employee this generation – the largest generation in history – are beginning to realize the importance of “knowledge transfer” – or “succession planning” – and are beginning to ask the question “how do we recruit and retain the next generation of leaders?” The answer lies in the approach to understanding, motivating and mentoring this generation that grew up with/in an environment of instinct gratification and a lack of parental guidance. Recognizing these differences, and the different way in which they view the world is critical to meeting them where they are and developing them into the next generation of leaders.

I sometimes hear frustration from organizational leaders that the younger generation has an “entitlement mentality,” they lack loyalty, and don’t want to pay their dues. In fact, compared with previous generations, in general they do share different values that can create those perceptions. Organizations and leaders can respond in a number of ways: they can churn these employees until they find some with the “proper” attitude; they can hire them and try to mold them into the corporate structure; or they can avoid hiring them. The most successful companies will be those who can attract them, create an environment in which they can thrive, and learn to leverage their differences into assets for the company. Just as successful companies have learned to respond to market threats and opportunities, they too will find the opportunity provided by the attitudes, skills, and perspective of the new generation.

The following tips are meant to help foster a greater understanding of Generation X and Y employees, what they may be looking for, ways to gain their commitment and loyalty, and tap into their uniqueness.

1. Mentorship
As an organization leading this generation, you must make a commitment to creating effective mentoring programs. The younger generation is impatient, raised in a fast-paced world dominated by technology and instant gratification – they need guidance.

While the younger generation is screaming for balance in their lives, they are also craving challenging work. They want the challenge and they need the guidance.

2. Coaching – Communicate and Connect
Separate and distinct from mentorship, coaching goes to a much deeper level. While mentoring is about showing the way, sharing experiences and transferring knowledge, coaching is about helping them get to know what they want, who they are and what experiences might serve their needs best.

Providing feedback and support to this generation is essential – they want to grow – AND – they want to know what they can do to contribute to their company and their community.

3. Provide Training and Development
Much like the Baby Boomers, this generation is education focused – they love to learn. In fact, many experts label this group as the most education- oriented generation in history. If we do not provide training and development to this generation, they will quickly lose interest and become disengaged in their work.

4. Design a Plan
With both parents working, this generation was raised by institutions and the media. Institutions told them exactly where to be and when to be there and media told them exactly what to think and who they should be – they were not challenged to think for themselves. Now – they’re out in the working world expected to know how to manage their time, set goals for their future and manage their career and they don’t know how. Helping them to create a plan for their future will help them to be present and motivated in their current role. Without a plan they will not understand why it might be good to stay a few extra hours to complete an assignment – they need to see and be excited about the bigger picture.

5. Be Flexible – Balance
Encourage their values. The younger generation has seen what working 80 hours a week can do to their health and their families. They desire a work place and a work load that will allow them to have the flexibility to balance the many different components of their lives – setting an 8-5 work day may not work for all employees. Truth be told, some people do their best work at mid-night – why not let people work during the times they are at their best? Let them know when they need to be there for meetings and let them figure out the rest – after all, getting the work done is the most important – manage that and let them manage the rest.

6. Opportunities to give back/Volunteer
This generation has an intense desire to make a difference in the world. Allowing them to take paid time away once or twice a month to be of service to their community will make a huge difference for them – not to mention the positive outlook the community will have on your company!

7. Responsibility
This generation seeks freedom and desires responsibility – they want to be a part of the decision making process. Hand them the work, set a deadline, be available for questions/support – then let them figure out how to get it done on time. If they can’t manage to get their work in on time, you might ask how you can help them reach their deadlines – they may need to take a time management course!

Below are some messages to motivate our youngest talent, Zemke (2000):

You’ll work with other bright, creative people.

Your boss is in his (or her) sixties.

You and your coworkers can help turn this company around.

You can be a hero here.

Do it your way.

We’ve got the newest hardware and software.

There aren’t a lot of rules here.

We’re not very corporate.

Providing a Blueprint for Generational Leadership

Developing an understanding of the specific ways in which Generations X and Y view the world will provide your organization with valuable insight into how to attract, sustain and motivate the younger generations. When you speak their language and they understand your language, the stage is set for better communication, increased productivity and increased profitability. I was reminded of this when one of my client’s commented, Why do my younger employees keep talking about this whole balance thing, when there’s work to be done?

There are a couple of important things to consider here.

First is the fact that each generation has different formative experiences and, therefore, place different values on different things. The fact that they are differently valued does not make one right and another wrong they are simply different.

So, what are those differences and what can you as a manager do to best tap the talents of these generations?

Each generation has its own work ethic, different perspectives on work, preferred ways of being managed, idiosyncratic styles, and unique ways of viewing such work-world issues as quality, service and showing up for work.

Bridging the generational gap will:

  • Provide an atmosphere for shared learning
  • Heighten productivity
  • Increase leadership capability
  • Identify company and individual goals and enable action to reach them
  • Boost morale
  • Sustain commitment and reduce attrition rates, thereby reducing cost of recruiting and training.

Working Harder or Smarter?

By and large, the more seasoned generations believe working harder equals achievement. Often times their philosophy entails, the more hours in the office, the more work that is accomplished. The younger generations place a higher value on balance, informality and working smarter. When I first began my career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I remember thinking to myself do these people have a life outside of their computers all they do is work all the time. I was confused and, frankly, scared although I did not know exactly what I wanted to do with my future, I did know that I did not want to work crazy hours glued to a lighted screen. What I needed more than anything was to spend some time thinking about and creating my future actually developing a plan. If my mentor would have taken the time to sit down with me and help me think through and create a plan, my anxiety would have decreased and my commitment to her and the organization would have increased significantly.

Learning on Your Own or Through Mentoring

As soon as I arrived at NIH, I began searching for someone to mentor me. Every time one of the scientists said they would mentor me, they simply gave me more work to do. They didn’t understand that I needed to know what the larger vision was for my future, how my efforts would contribute to the vision at NIH, and how the work they were giving me would help me add to my professional growth. I have now realized that this scenario is wide spread. The intentions were right but they did not have the understanding of how to effectively mentor younger generations. In addition to providing these generations with important work, it is crucial to show how their work contributes to the larger picture, which in turn enables them to explore and clearly define their career plan and the steps to get to where they want to go.

Paying Your Dues

The second thing to consider is that many if not most young people expect to finish college and land a well-paying job without having to prove their work ethic and abilities. Of course, it rarely happens that way. Simply put, showing enthusiasm and a desire to do a great job with small projects even something as small as offering to take notes in meetings shows a potential to take on bigger projects. Managers are more likely to trust such a persons level of commitment, and trust is built and nurtured over time. In general, most managers are unwilling to delegate larger projects if the employee cannot demonstrate an ability to do the small tasks really well. Allowing for time to pass, so that experiences and relationships can be built, is vital to career growth.

Taking the time to help your younger employees understand that something as small as doing an excellent job taking notes in meetings can affect their future with the company is vital to their development. As a result of mentoring your younger employees in such ways, they begin to trust you and loyalty is developed. What you give is what you get may be a truism, but it is no less true for being so especially when it comes to the development of younger employees. If you take the time to help them plan for their future and see the value of their work, there is a greater chance they will work that much harder and smarter for you.

While many people might think of mentoring as babysitting because it can be time-intensive, mentoring does not need to be hand-holding, nor does it have to lead to frustration. You begin mentoring a young employee simply by listening and searching for ways to address the inevitable uncertainties and fears. By effectively mentoring, you take the anxiety for the future out of the picture and allow the employee to be present in their experience of your organization.

Charting a Course

For example, when you hire a younger employee, it is of tremendous benefit to both of you to map out a plan for the future accompanied by milestones to achieve your respective goals. It’s a win-win situation you want highly productive, engaged (and engaging) employees, and your employees want to know what’s possible for them and how to achieve it. If you discover that the position an employee currently occupies is not a good match for his or her abilities or future ambitions, be sure to explore how the employee sees this position leading to the future he or she desires. Ultimately, it is not about acceptance or rejection it is about filling needs not only your organization’s needs, but that of your employee. If it leads to a change in jobs for the employee, whether inside or outside your organization, positive growth will occur for both the organization and the employee.

Lend a Hand – Lift a Soul: Helping Young Women Recognize Opportunity

Sex at a young age, troubles in school, gang-related activity, remaining in abusive relationships, wearing provocative clothing, physical and emotional violence – versus – excellent academic achievement, outstanding athleticism, participation in extra- curricular activities and a commitment to community involvement. What can we do to transform the lives of young women from the first scenario to the latter? And how can each of us make a difference? Can you as an adult step into the world of a young woman and work diligently to empower her to become what she is capable of becoming? How can someone like you possibly help the young women with whom you come into contact? These are all important questions, and I would like to share some of my thoughts.

In our fast-paced society where most parents work and have too little time with their children-certainly much less time than in the past-it is extraordinarily important to find time to encourage and empower young women. Young people strive to achieve a sense of belonging-often in a group or clique of one sort or another-where they can explore and define their identities. In a world where adults are often less involved in the lives of young people, we need to step up and take responsibility for helping them learn about themselves and how to make their way in the world. If we do not, we leave it up to our modern mass media to dictate our children’s view of the world, themselves, and thus, their very future.

Mass media does not, and perhaps cannot, teach many things. It certainly does little to teach self worth. It does not teach initiative. It does not teach young women even simple things like how to eat healthfully, the value of dressing with class or where to go to grow and learn about themselves and other successful young women.

Young women need you to help them learn and grow. Programs such as Girls Unlimited, athletic activities and extracurricular academic programs all provide positive community-based youth support systems. Many young women do not know about these programs, nor do they think they could ever be a part of them. This is where excellent women mentors can play a key role in the development of young women. Listen, listen, listen to what they are working through. Think about how you can connect them to others and how you can help them grow in a positive way. It simply does not matter if a young woman is your child or not – help them – they will thank you immensely later.

I will never forget the first woman who told me that I could succeed, and then stuck by my side through both good and not-so-good days. No matter when I went to her, she listened to and encouraged me all the same. She never asked, in word or deed, how I was going to help her. She focused only on how she could help me. To this day I think of her, I call her and I send her cards to let her know how much I appreciate everything she did for me. I encourage you to take a moment to think about the first woman who empowered you.

Without mentorship, it is far too easy for young people to be drawn into negative cliques or groups, never living up to their full potential. Because we know that young women have a strong need for affiliation in peer groups, it is absolutely essential that we enable them to connect to positive, supportive environments where they can explore who they are and what they wish to become. Ultimately, we must provide the settings and tools to enable them to realize all the wonderful opportunities that are out there just waiting.

I firmly believe that we should strive to create a world in which any child or young adult – regardless of origin – is not impeded from achieving his or her full potential. Obviously, the desires and wishes of the young are, in large part, directly influenced by those surrounding them. Given the opportunity to be involved in programs that enable them to see their own positive potential, many young women will begin to realize that the world holds possibilities of which they never dreamt. The ability to see what they are capable of in the wider world has to begin somewhere. Strong female mentorship is the key to helping young women get a fast start in the race of life.

I ask you now – who are you mentoring – how are you Lending a Hand and Lifting a Soul?

Here are some suggestions for how you can Lend a Hand to young women:

  • Find someone you work with to listen to and encourage – listen for how you can help her and offer your assistance – do it without any expectations of something in return – just help her.
  • Go to an organization whose mission is to empower young women and offer your time.
  • When you see that a young woman is having difficulty, ask yourself how you can be of assistance – and offer to help.
  • Go to your local University/College’s CareerCenter and offer your time to mentor a student.

If you would like more information on how to become an outstanding mentor – or – if you would like to begin receiving my e-newsletter, please contact me at: