Integrating Gen Y and Z Into The Workforce. Hint: Command and Control Won’t Work.

I had the privilege to hear Seth Mattison speak at the CAI Human Resource Conference a few weeks ago. He really challenged the way I look at the workforce of the future. Seth posits that there has been a dramatic shift from the command and control management style that started somewhere back in the first war in Mesopotamia and ended with the Boomer generation. That is a long time for management to be “top down”. He says Gen Y and Z are working from an ideology of interconnectedness. This makes sense since they have grown up with a computer in their hands (and we had typewriters and onion skin paper).  For these folks there are no barriers or “titles”, there is only collaboration.

I’ve seen this first hand. The Gen Y and Z in the workforce are much more likely to walk into the cafeteria and sit next to the CEO to eat lunch. Most Boomer’s I know would wait to be asked or make sure they were at the proper level on the organizational chart to sit with the CEO-. Gen Y and Z will express their opinions on the new product and not worry about fall-out. I mean they might be tweeting their opinions about politics and race relations in Ferguson, Missouri, why stop when they sit in their cube at work. Aren’t we all interconnected now? Hmmm. This is a big shift for those with receding hairlines and retirement on the horizon. Isn’t it just easier for these folks to just get in line, keep their heads down and march? It doesn’t matter if you think it’s easier. Command and control is dead. And just so we’re clear on the delineation, Gen X grew up from the 1960’s to the 80’s, Gen Y from the 80’s to around 1995 and Gen Z after.command and control is dead

So how do we do it? Here are some ideas to adapt your organization (and even your parenting style) for the next generations:

Democracy. Seth pointed out that a lot of us late Boomers and Gen X’s were brought up in a family democracy. I can remember having a weekly family council meeting with my parents and two older brothers. Everyone had a say. Everyone determined the punishment . When Seth brought this up, I realized why I would clash with my husband on parenting styles. I was brought up in a democracy and I figured my kids would be too. My husband was not. This was and is a profound realization for me. My husband typically wants to dictate or command and control and I’m asking for everyone’s opinion. “At odds” doesn’t even begin to sum it up, but realizing this has made all the difference. My son is Gen Z and my daughter is Gen Y, when they punch the time clock (if they ever punch an actual time clock) they will be expecting a democracy. A voice. Embrace democracy.

Expectations. Seth says you should “Evangelize Expectations”. This new generation (heck, we all do) needs clear direction and expectations. Command and Control means “Do as I say” with very little feedback. My daughter is new to the work world. She was having trouble because she wasn’t receiving feedback from her boss. She just came from 16 years of constant feedback when she graduated from college. Now she was in the abyss of no information. She felt lost. Before she had the constant feedback of grades or raising her hand and finding our if she understood expectations. This is why Gen Y and Z need constant feedback. Make sure the expectations are clear and you are letting them know how they are tracking. These folks are not from the “no new is good news” camp or the duck and cover.

Permit Failing. Seth said that organizations should “Cultivate Courage”. My take is that people won’t take risks unless they are allowed to fail and to fail often. If everyone is pointing fingers and playing the blame game, you will not have risk takers. If you have an organization (and or family or marriage or partnership) that permits failing, you will have more risk taking and, therefore, more innovation. We need to harness all the creative energy of these digital natives so that we can parlay that into innovation. If everyone is afraid to make a mistake, they will either move on or, worse, quit and stay. Allow growth. Make sure you are permitting failure.

Communication. Be open to different forms of communication. I can count on one hand the amount of phone calls initialized by my Gen Z, 19 year old son. But I probably have received over 1,000 text messages this year to date. Hmmm. If I’m not open to receiving texts, I’m not going to be communicating with my son. It’s easy, it’s instantaneous, and I can look and answer whenever time permits. My father was hospitalized with pneumonia last week (he’s all better now) and we had a giant group text updating family and friends and my son was leading the communication. Family across the country was instantly updated and anyone could pick up and lead the communication. Rotary phones are dead. Embrace all forms of communication; even group messaging on social media.

Shed light. Seth talked a lot about the unwritten rules of an organization. One of the audience members commented that one of the unwritten rules in their organization was not to park with the front of your car facing out. “It means you want to get out of there”. I thought that was so funny but in their organization, it’s the reality. I can remember working for a food manufacturer many years ago where the unwritten rule was that you couldn’t drive a nicer car than the owners. These are the types of things that are completely foreign to a Gen Z or Gen Y. Make sure they are clued in, so that they can be successful. Or better yet, as Seth suggested, ask at your next staff meeting, “what unwritten rule would this organization be better off without”. See what comes up.

Vulnerability. For those of us who are not digital natives (like our Gen Y and Z’s are), we need to be open to accepting some help. Here is a quote from my newly graduated Gen Y daughter, ” I’m incredibly frustrated every single day about the technological tension amongst me and my bosses. Technology becomes personal. If my boss doesn’t know how to do something, they’ll expect me to know everything about it and unload absolutely all of their technological insecurities on me. It makes things awkward. If you have to walk your boss through something step by step, they have to accept an odd sense of vulnerability in front of a young whippersnapper like me. ” Frankly, I couldn’t explain this better than someone who is living this right now. This is what our Gen Y&Z’s think, so prepare to be vulnerable and give up shackles of command and control.

Probably the best point of the presentation was that Seth said that organizations need to view the organizational chart as a web with the decision makers connected in a circle towards the center. This breeds collaboration, communication and risk taking. What would you change about your organization to attract and retain the newest generations?

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