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Are we approaching Gen Y the wrong way?

Posted by Krish Surroy on 12 November 2014

Are we approaching Gen Y the wrong way?

Yesterday I had a conversation with a client who was talking about how he and his management team have had to start talking about specific rewards and incentives for the newcomers in his business - Gen Y grads who have been around less than 1 year. He was exasperated that they were having to have this conversation for the first time. He was left questioning whether it was actually worth investing in their new grads as they was every chance that they would leave in less than two years. He also noted how "needy" his grads were and how much individual attention they want.

This client's story is fast becoming the norm.

This led me to think that we as managers might be approaching things the wrong way. With Gen Y being the first digital natives and the products of positive parenting, maybe we are misunderstanding what they are telling us. Gen Y has been raised to believe that, as individuals, they are special and that anything is possible. This has led to a massive boom in Gen Y-led internet entrepreneurialism which emphasises freedom, inspiration and...a certain need for meaning and individual purpose.

Simon Sinek in his now famous TED Talk, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action", suggests that great leaders and companies don't rely on motivating or cajoling people into certain behaviour (which is what traditional performance management is based on). Instead, they address the WHY. Why they do what they do, the purpose, the meaning, the reason for being. They inspire action by speaking to the emotions rather than to the logical brain. As Sinek points out, Martin Luther King said "I have a dream" not "I have a plan".

If we as leaders and managers want to really engage Gen Y, nothing makes someone more special than getting in touch with their WHY. Maybe we need to spend more time coaching and mentoring Gen Y around their WHY and helping them to see how that is relevant to the business, rather than just talking about targets and KPIs.

Inspiring deep engagement from the inside out is something that we are not used to talking about. It requires a different type of coaching and mentoring and asking different questions. However, in an age where the rules are changing, I think Sinek has a point...and maybe the key to engaging Gen Y.

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