Sep 3, 2009

Understanding Generation Y

I was running late and the traffic on Route 1 South was not helping me in the least. I finally made it to my destination, the Mid-NJ ASTD Chapter meeting. They were hosting the presentation "Wake Me When It's Over: Keeping generation Y Engaged in the Classroom".

I'm intrigued for two reasons. One, being still fairly new to training and development, I like to expose myself to new and relevant information of my industry. Second, I knew the guest presenter.

Kim Rowe is a founding partner of Agentive Sales and Marketing Solutions. We worked together on a project creating e-learning courses in my previous job and I wanted to keep in touch with her.

I arrive just in time to catch the end of the opening announcements, but not soon enough to get any of the breakfast offered. I'm starving. I find a seat and pull out my laptop to take notes. I notice that I'm the only one with a laptop. Everyone else is using pen and paper. I wonder if this is an indication of the generation gap and part of what I will learn about in the presentation. Also, I am the youngest in the room, the only Gen X. Everyone else is a Baby Boomer.

Wake Me When It's Over: Keeping Generation Y Engaged in the Classroom

There are four generations in the workplace now. Well actually closer to three because the Veterans are mainly retired.

There are 70 million people born between 1980 and 2000. They are as large population wise as the Baby Boomers were. They are much larger than Generation X. This means that members of Generation Y will rise through the work ranks much quicker than Generation X and in some cases quicker than Boomers.

This brought up some discussion from the group. One of the members had already had a Generation Y manager. This brought up talks about company loyalty and 'putting in your dues' before you can advance. I responded with "I would be apt to give more respect to someone who was promoted because of her ability than because of her seniority."

So who is Generation Y?
Kim had a great exercise where we partnered up and in 60 seconds, write down as many words that describe what we thought defined Generation Y. Then we shared our lists with the rest of the group.

Some that were listed:
  • computerized
  • non-verbal
  • visual
  • ambitious
  • ADD - no attention span
  • tech-savvy
  • entitled
  • environmentalist
  • multitasking
  • collaborative
  • independent
  • curious
What was interesting is that someone realized that their describing words went quickly to the negative connotation. Gen Y was described as lacking interpersonal skills because they mainly communicate via text (phone, IM, email, blog, Facebook...) When put in a work environment where one-on-one communication is more prominent, they falter.

But does a different communication style mean that it's better or worse?

Communication via text, especially when work groups are spread over various locations, is becoming more of the corporate norm.

There are significant preconceived notions about what Gen Y is. But not all members of Gen Y (or any group) behaves like the stereotype. Its important not to push your generational ideals onto another one.

claudine_caro_13A generation is a group of people who share similar experiences in their formative years. For Gen Y, they were teenagers during the 90's. Lived through the biggest economic boom and bust, 9/11, Columbine, Gulf War, grunge music.

Gen Y's expectations are all about speed. Technology has made communication immediate. They don't think lineally, they skim and jump around (like surfing the web). They think in branches. They want to know what they need to know. Background info isn't necessary. If they think it's important, they can always look it up later.

Kids have been brought up in a cocoon - they have never been unsupervised. In their highly-scheduled adolescence going from one activity to another, they have become multi-tasking experts as a result. They get good at doing what they 'have' to do, and nothing more -- because there just isn't enough time. As a whole, they prefer socializing in groups and grow up in team environments.

This generation is more diverse and expects more diversity - race, age, cultural... There is more awareness and comfort level with people different than themselves-. Older generations can't project their experiences on Gen Y. They have different frame of references and might not relate.

Tips for Training Gen Y
  1. Tell them why it matters.
    • link to the big picture
    • create multi-generationals training groups
    • tell stories of patients, customers, other employees, real people
    • their motivating factors are different than their parents. create a community
  2. Show them what it means to them
    • attach the WHY to every process
    • show them what exceptional performance looks like. Set the expectation of success.
    • use assessments - how do they rate among their peers, identify their strengths/weaknesses
    • link it to career goals
  3. Engage Them
    • let THEM figure it out
    • have them learn it well enough to teach it to others
    • offer branched curricula
    • make it experiential - let them come up with their own solutions
    • let them get the background info prior to a classroom. Use the classroom for the interactions.
  4. Do it fast
    • take many breaks
    • no more than 10 minutes at a time
    • make it active
    • move fast, then double your speed
    • make it fun and playful
  5. Make it interactive
    • use eye-candy
    • customize the learning
    • don't waste valuable classroom time in one-way, lecture presentations

When you are the trainer, be who you are. Don't try and be something you're not if you're 50 don't pretend you're 20. Set your ground rules early and explain your credentials. And get rid of tired cliches.