I am a big fan of the South Florida Business Journal & look forward to receiving my weekly copy in the mail.  Although I practically get all my news online these days,  I have to admit that I still like to get  the hardcopy copy of a handful of newspapers . The SFBJ is on that list.

In the January 21-27th edition, there was a great article in Harvey Mackay’s weekly Swim with the Sharks column titled “Expand your mind to find better ways to address issues.  I like the practical, actionable advice Harvey gives every week in his column. Like many of the SFBJ articles, I always come away learning something new or in the case of this particular article, looking at something from a different perspective.

In the article, Harvey challenges us to look at things beyond the tried & true.  He believes that conformity detracts from looking at creative solutions to a problem.  As always he gives the readers some practical steps we can take to stop thinking the way we’ve always thought.  Great advice & I encourage everyone to read the article.

When I finished the article I couldn’t help but think how relevant Harvey’s message was as it relates to what leaders are facing in corporate America today.   Over the last year, as I’ve spoken at events & for organizations internationally, I have come to realize more than ever how stuck most leaders are in the tried & true.  There’s a big dose of conformity plaguing many organizations out there &  I think this will cost us dearly down the road if continues the way it has.

Although I see conformity in a lot of areas of leadership these days, I see it most when the subject of Gen Yers in the workplace comes up.  All of a sudden,  everyone’s eyes begin to roll, they begin to groan & the criticism of their young workforce begins. Now mind you, Gen Yers have been in corporate for over 8 years now.  More & more of them will be entering the workforce over the next few years.  It’s not like the problem is going to go away any time soon, right?  But yet, for 8 years, as I’ve spoken at events & conferences, all I’ve heard is the same groaning & complaints.  

It reminds me of the quote that says insanity is doing something over & over again expecting different results. I think it’s so applicable here.  Groaning & complaining about Gen Yers for the past 8 years hasn’t helped very much.  In fact, it’s probably hurt a whole lot of companies because Gen Yers are becoming disillusioned in droves regarding their corporate experience. Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Gen Yers in corporate positions & their feedback is pretty dismal.  For some reason,  some leaders out there think that Gen Yers will be the ones to conform to the way the workplace has always functioned. 

From one who has worked in that workplace for over 25 years, there’s a lot in that workplace that’s not working & needs an overhaul.  Why would you want to keep the status quo when much of it no longer applies & is actually holding companies back.  But yet, that is exactly what is happening in companies everywhere.  The new ideas & approaches that Gen Yers come equipped to contribute to the company are being squashed because it doesn’t “conform” to how things have always been done.  Well maybe it’s time to replace conformity with a little creativity & experimentation. 

In my blog I’ve given many examples of how I had to let go of some of my conformist leadership practices in order to understand & unleash the talent of the Gen Yers in my team.  It wasn’t until I stopped repeating what wasn’t working & tried something new that  things changed.  I stopped leaving their talent on the table & began to leverage it with bottom line results.  It wasn’t easy to do but guess what?  Sticking to the status quo & being stuck in conformity was worse.  Trying new techniques not only moved me forward as a leader but it did the same for my team.

So I have taken the liberty of taking Harvey’s practical strategies & putting it in the context of what leaders could do differently as it relates to their Gen Y staff.  Here they are:

  1. Look at the whole picture. It’s easy to think Gen Y is the problem but will that solve the problem? Can the problem be that you are following old rules that need to be re-examined?
  2. Put yourself in another time.  As seasoned leaders, I think we’ve forgotten what it was like for us as young workers.  I know that I had a lot of questions & concerns when I first started working in corporate.  Sometimes putting yourself in their shoes makes all the difference & helps us relate & understand them better.
  3. Reverse the Situation.  Instead of being the one with the answers, why don’t you ask Gen Yers questions instead?  All those unanswered questions often lead to misunderstandings & that can lead to unfair criticism. Getting answers directly from the source can clear up a lot of confusion.
  4. Bridge the gap.   Gen Yers can’t continue to be a source of frustration for you moving forward.  Pretty soon you will have many of them on your payroll. You need to understand where you are now & where you need to get to with your Gen Y staff.  The responsibility of building the bridge to get there is  yours as a leader.
  5. Write down your thoughts.  In our hectic, reactionary world, we as leaders, often don’t have time to even think.  Well, unfortunately, this requires a lot of our thinking so we can brainstorm new ideas & techniques we can use going forward.
  6. Speak Up.  I can’t stress this enough.  I just don’t see many leaders taking the time to really connect with their Gen Y staff. To really get to know them, to let the Gen Yers know them & to start a dialogue.  For me, that made all the difference in the world & it will for you , too.

So what about you?  Ready to take Harvey’s advice & leave conformity behind as you search for ways NOT to think the way you’ve thought before when it comes to your Gen Y staff?