On Managing Millennials

Dear Plucky,

There are a variety of junior employees on my team. It’s been a joy to mentor them, but I’ve noticed that they interpret feedback in a very different way than I do. A small dose of constructive feedback can lead to a tailspin of anxiety, negative self-talk or even tears. Often, these conversations require a follow up to refocus the situation and move forward which can be draining for both parties.

On the flip side of this, this team really exhibits a need for constant vocal, positive reinforcement. One high five can lead to a massive uptick in productivity, but the absence of this regular feedback can sometimes lead to assumptions that the unspoken feedback is very negative.

How can I keep my junior team focused on their development and provide them with the skills to rely less on the feedback of others? I don’t have any participation ribbons left!

From,
Millennial Manager

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Hey MM,

First of all, what a thoughtfully-worded note. “I’ve noticed that they interpret feedback in a very different way than I do” is a generous way of saying what the rest of the world has been muttering under their breath for the past few years. (… aka, “MILLENNIALS, AM I RIGHT???”)

When I read your note, I hear a soft alarm ringing underneath nearly every sentence, a gentle alert that reminds me about the problem of confidence.

I know the world is handling many other tragic epidemics these days, but from my corner of the planet I see lack of confidence as the most pervasive one out there. And since I’m using a word that is thrown around in weird ways these days, I’ll define what I mean by it:

Confidence means that you feel at peace with the direction you’re going because you know that THE ONLY LIFE YOU’RE LIVING IS THE ONE YOU GOT. No matter what’s going on around you (insults? trolls? idiotic senior leadership, illnesses, political turmoil or just a grey morning), confidence is the absurdly rare ability to say “I know who I am and I act accordingly.”

(Btw, confidence does not mean that you think you’re better than other people or that you always have the right answers or that you deserve a $10k raise, pronto.)

So, back to your question. When you describe the juniors on your team, what I hear underneath it is a whole bucket of folks who do not yet know who they are.

Likely, these folks grew up in a generation that had access to participation ribbons and loads of positive encouragement from their parents and teachers. But the world they were dumped into after graduation was one that suffers from a real lack of community. They’re building relationships online (both personal and professional), they’re moving away from their families at young ages… instead of the slow build of identity formed in communities, they are left to figure out who they are based on Facebook likes and retweets.

I’m not complaining about this new world; that seems like clickbait and a total waste of time. But I point it out because it’s the math behind how this generation operates. Work represents much more than a paycheck and the opportunity to churn things out; work may be the deepest place of community they have.

Because of this, it makes total sense that their identity stuff is showing up at work, that they are trying to define themselves according to the people they sit next to, the coworkers who got high fives and those who didn’t, the fear that a piece of growing feedback will lead them straight out of a job.

That fear is great because they wouldn’t just be losing a job. They’d be losing their community.

As their manager, here’s what I’d do: I would instantly shift my language to be very focused on the individual. In a 1:1, I’d ask about what she was proudest of lately, what she wants help with. I’d compliment the way she reacted to a client and I’d ask how she would fix Uber if she could. I would reiterate concepts like growth and development, I’d tell an anecdote about how I screwed something up last week and ask if she ever did something similar.

In short, I would demonstrate that this human is so interesting and has so much possibility that we could spend the whole 1:1 without mentioning coworkers or the company at all.

Side note: they won’t all make it. Some of your juniors have such a long way to go in growing their confidence that they will need another 10 years of hopping around jobs to find themselves. This is not your problem to solve. You cannot control the pace of someone else’s emotional growth.

What is your problem is finding the ones who will make it and helping to build the foundations of their identity and self-confidence. Achieving lofty company missions are possible, but they are more possible when you’ve got a bunch of confident individuals on-hand.

How lucky your juniors are to have you for a manager! And how interesting to consider your own career path moment in all of this, your opportunity to be a springboard for a team of confident, capable humans, willing and ready to report for duty.

Thanks for writing. Hope this helps.
xo Jen

Are you a manager? Do you manage millennials? We’ll talk about the nuts & bolts of managing, plus the bigger conversation about empowering humans at Plucky’s manager training in San Francisco this October! I’d love to see you there.

A Human Disappointed Me.

Dear Plucky,

A human disappointed me today. What should I do?

Love,
Everyone

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Dear Everyone,
Oh, friend. Want to come sit for a few minutes? Let’s walk over here to this bench, the one that overlooks some nature. I like looking at nature when I’m having trouble with humans. Nature has so much less… mega-brains.

Let’s sit here and look out until it feels like we can tackle this big question.
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You know, the vast majority of my job is spent talking to people individually. Sometimes I wish I had a best friend who was a marriage counselor or peace treaty diplomat and she could give me advice over weekly wine because it’s hard for me to hear all sides of a story and realize that no one is wrong. (By the way, no one is right, either.)

How can it be that no one is wrong?! This is a hard question. Let’s look back at those hills for a while.
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When I hear about a conflict, the first thing I do is try to assess the facts. Who said what? Who else was in the room? What time was it?

Then I ask about your intuition. Why do you think this happened? What does your gut tell you? Why would the person act this way? Why would the group act this way? (This illuminates a lot, by the way. Sometimes this step unknots the whole thing and we realize that it was someone else’s fear that led to the whole conflict. That’s easier to excuse and act on — or at least show some empathy towards.)

If you’re still a mess, we focus in on you. When is the last time you encountered this type of person or conflict? Why does it trigger you? How did you deal with it in the past and can you leverage that now?

Then we look to the future because, no matter what it is, you will encounter this kind of person or conflict again. What do you want to learn from this? What do you want to be able to leverage next time? What if your future memoir was titled “Everything I Learned From That Dumb Person”? (I like being funny sometimes during conflict because HEY LIFE! Take it down a notch.)

Does it sound like I’m not listening to you? Does it seem like I’m taking their side? Let’s look at that nature again.
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By the way, look at the way that little sandbar is sticking out of the creek down there. Isn’t that weird? Last time we were here, the sandbar was under water. I guess that happened because there hasn’t been rain in a long time. I guess the creek doesn’t have as much water in it, so it’s starting to dry up.
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People are like that, too. They act differently, depending on the season.
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By the way, you mentioned that a human disappointed you. I’m sorry about that.
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That redwood tree over there has been alive for a long time. I bet there have been a bunch of storms in his lifetime. Look there, how the roots of that tree are all folded around that rock. They just grew around it! And on the other side, they managed to thread through the other trees’ roots.

I wonder if nature is ever disappointed by the cast of characters it has to contend with. Humans that build roads or deer that mow down the fields or droughts that threaten creeks and create islands in rivers…

Some of your disappointments can be solved because the people or the conflicts are amenable to change. But, Everyone, sometimes you are going to encounter a rock or a drought that is out of your control. In those moments, I think you need to ask yourself how you can grow despite it, around it, away from it, above it.
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Remember how I said that no one is wrong? Maybe I should be more clear. I think that humans act in accordance with what they believe is right. Humans are always doing what they know how to do.

This is why I generally feel okay after handling humans all day long. I can see that they are all trying their best. I can also see that they have blind spots, that there are things to learn, that some conflicts arise because of plain old boredom. They’re really hard on themselves and even still they somehow disappoint someone.

All this to say, I think you can make the assumption that the other human you mentioned was somehow trying her best.
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You can always take a walk in nature to forget about humans for a while. Ants are pretty inspiring. Bees, too. Don’t even get me started on butterflies (THEY LITERALLY GO FROM GOOP TO A NEW ANIMAL I CANNOT EVEN.)

Humans are nature, too.

They have giant amazing brains, but humans are nature too.

I hope that helps.

xo Jen

P.S. Interested in hearing more about humans in the workplace? I send a monthly newsletter; sign up here.

Dear Plucky #4: When to Quit

I am starting to seriously doubt my future with the company I currently work for. How do you know it’s time to leave? If it’s not time to leave, how do you make staying seem like a better option?

Boy, this is a popular question.

I want to start by saying that work and life live in the same bucket. You do not magically turn into a different person at 6pm when you head home… whatever was going on at work affects you at home and vice versa. Sometimes we need a change in our lives, a drastic one even, and we conflate issues with our spouse or our roommates or the novel we always thought we’d write with our place of employment. We blame all of our problems on our jobs instead of attributing them to their true place of origin. And we probably do that because we’re avoiding conflict.

So the first question I would ask you is – what is going on at home? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Underappreciated? Uninspired? Unhappy? How can you address those truths without upheaving everything going on between 9 and 5?

But let’s say you look at those things and you see that no, while there are imperfections that exist, much of your discontent comes from your work, be it your role, your coworkers or your ethics. Then I’d ask you: what’s going on at work?

Try to answer it in the simplest and most neutral way possible:
“I don’t get along with my manager.”
“I’m burned out.”
“I don’t know what role I want.”

These answers at least point you toward possible solutions and I encourage you to try working through these before you jump ship entirely. Problems often follow us around in life… and if your issue is one of these, then you are punting the growing you need to do down the road. Whatever you’re living through right now will likely show up at your next job in one form or another!

Does it sound like I want you to stay in your job no matter what? That’s definitely not true. I just want you to make very sure that you’re not reacting to the friction of working with other humans, since that’s not your job – that’s life.

But there may come a moment when you look inside and just see that you have squeezed everything out of the experience that you could have. Or that the people who hold the keys to your path are so blinded (by money? by dysfunction? by tradition?) that you want to look elsewhere for mentorship and growth.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of employees I know who have quit in on-the-spot rages of passion. Most cases are slow boils, which is what makes it so confusing to know when to leave. There will be a swinging pattern of positive and negative days for months or years that leave you paralyzed. And then one day it will just be obvious that you are no longer in the right place. When that happens, I urge you to take immediate steps before your fear beats you back. Email a few networking possibilities, send your resume around, get rolling. Make the intentional decision to remove yourself from the possibility of staying. Because once you know you have to leave, the timer has started on you doing increasingly poor work at your current company. Your drive, passion, dedication and authentic work ethic are compromised. You need to get out as efficiently as possible, for the good of everyone involved.

No matter what, I want to reassure you that you’re going to be okay. Live your life as a science experiment and embrace change, as it will surely teach you something.

Be brave and good luck figuring out whatever change you need,

Jen