Millennials need to learn Wikipedia is no substitute for expertise or effort.
If, as Woody Allen famously said, “80% of life is just showing up,” then I would say to the next generation of employees, “Just imagine what percent of life showing up on time could be!”
At industry events or just when a couple of managers get together, the conversation inevitably turns to the difficulty melding new so-called millennium employees into a workforce of seasoned “baby boomers.” The challenge is real and transcends all job functions – and industries. A good friend who is a pharmacist complains about the same problematic work traits. So, too, does another friend in retail. The frustration is not specific to industry, organization size or geographic location.
Intelligence is not the issue. Today’s youth are infinitely better schooled in a vast array of subjects than any generation before them. Often, their math, science and critical-thinking skills are outstanding, and, as with any “next” generation, the ability to look at things with a novel perspective is refreshing. No, brain power is not what causes friction between the new and veteran employees. Somewhere along the way, however, despite impressive academic achievement, far too many millennials are missing that something that separates mediocrity from excellence.
Some call it responsibility, persistence or tenacity. Others refer to it as maturity, moxie or grit. No matter the preferred term, it defines a trait missing in so many entering the workforce today. As intelligent as this next generation may be, without these intangibles, success may be an elusive dream rather than a slam-dunk.
Those I have spoken with typically complain about three basic characteristics that have come to define millennials in the work force: First, an abominable track record of consistently – and that’s a key word – arriving to work on time. Showing up once is fine, but how about all five days a week? Second, the obsession with their smartphones. Regardless of the job, they want to have earbuds in while performing the task at hand. And third, lack of persistence in doing a thorough job. The generation of Google seems to not want to actually learn about anything, but are comfortable simply scratching the surface, as if Wikipedia is a substitute for expertise. Mindful, not all demonstrate all these traits, but far too many do.
One of the obvious frustrations when trying to assimilate new employees into the cadence of an existing workforce is the lack of interest, borderline defiance by the young in conforming to the established order of workday life. And this is where the friction takes on anything but a palatable ring. The biggest irony, however, is that this talent is constantly tethered through digital connectivity, yet they miss the responsibility that comes with being part of a team that depends on punctuality, focus and tenacity to excel.
And that’s where I think both educational institutions and society are failing. Basic skills, such as verbal communication, responsibility, determination and focus – even on tasks that are not “fun” – is essential for individual as well as organizational success. Bright and educated is just not enough. Possibly Thomas Edison said it best when he said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” The next generation must understand that today, as ever, success takes more perspiration than inspiration.
There is a real opportunity for improvement if, between the classroom and society/media’s depiction of essential character values, young people are taught the importance of responsibility, commitment and follow-through – and see the link between concerted, collaborative effort and their personal as well as organizational success.
Collaboration cannot exist if everyone shows up to work at a different time. Collaboration is not just texting; it is engaged dialogue and interaction. And to interact, you cannot be tethered to a smartphone to listen to music, FaceTime or chat. Collaboration requires focus, and to focus you need all your attention on the subject at hand. Nor is collaboration always quick or easy. More often than not, to make real progress everyone must dig in their heels. Success rarely happens on the first try. Tenacity and grit are required. Those who collaborate can succeed.
Commercial and industrial businesses now are grappling with how to meld these very different approaches. How these conflicting work cultures harmonize will be interesting. Technology will assuredly have a significant impact on future jobs and how they are performed. But basic commitment, resolve and responsibility can never be replaced by a machine or an app.
Around the world, in companies large and small, beyond all the whining, sighs of frustration, and “team development” webinars that staff in supervisory positions must endure, we all must learn to be more flexible. As difficult and annoying as it may be, that also means clearly communicating those few but essential characteristics, and tasks, that each and every young, new employee must be able to master, while letting go of the notion they will comply to all the workplace norms we have long cherished.
Change is never easy, especially when you are at the vanguard of the movement. And change never moves in a predictable direction or a constant speed. More often than not, however, there must be some bedrock that establishes terra firma for all. For the next generation of employees, it boils down to this: We welcome your intelligence; we admire your skills, but let’s nudge those odds for success upward, so “puhleeezee” at least show up to work on time, and not just once, but over and over and again.
is president and CEO of IMI (