The Manager’s Million-Dollar Question

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“Gen Y has created a need for a cultural overhaul that has not been this dramatic since women entered the workforce en masse,” Jenny Floren, CEO of Experience said in the January 2009 article Managing Generation Y as They Change the Workforce. An industry leader who has created a critical bridge between college and the working world, she added, “We need the talent and creativity this generation brings, especially when you take into consideration the looming employment gap occurring from the outflux of retiring Boomers.”

This is a tall order for today’s manager. How does a leader manage profitably in today’s economy, while also encouraging the younger generation’s talent and creativity to shine? By remembering a simple acronym WDTLL: what does that look like? When used correctly, this acronym can quickly and easily clarify roles, goals, targets and other sticky work issues. Let’s look at three areas where WDTLL can help managers effectively get the best out of all generations in the workplace.

1. Communication

Gen Y values connection and communication. So do all the other generations in today’s workplace. The intent is the same, yet the methodology used is different. Older generations often prefer face-to-face meetings; younger generations usually prefer online communications, such as texting, social media and IM chats. No one way is right or wrong; it’s all appropriate at certain times.

So how do we work around the different communication styles? Set parameters and expectations up front by asking WDTLL? Communication looks different to different people, so set time aside before starting a project to agree on what communication looks like for this team, on this project. It may change for future teams and for different projects, but for this team, what does clear communication look like? How much text, email, face-to-face meetings are needed to create a high performing team? Once that is agreed, then track it and ensure that everyone is following the terms. Don’t be afraid to revisit the terms if it looks like the original idea may not be working. A good leader is adaptable to the changing needs of the project and economy.

2. Feedback

Feedback is a vital management tool for all generations. Feedback to a Gen Y means daily, short, focused feedback; feedback to a Boomer means longer, more thorough feedback. So again, be sure to ask WDTLL and get input from the beginning of a project. Make an agreement up front on what feedback will look like for this team, on this project, and make sure everyone can live with that. Setting this up front will save you confusion and frustration down the road.

3. Attire

Gen Y dresses differently than Boomers and X’ers. They tend to have a laid back approach to attire, and life in general. Their jeans and flip-flops seem appropriate to them; after all, what does it matter as long as the job gets done? That may be what Gen Y thinks; however, the casual attire can often offend Boomers and especially the oldest generation, Traditionalists.

Again, set clear expectations up front and make sure that your younger employees knows WDTLL? The goal of a meeting is for the listener to focus on the ideas and insights presented, not to focus on the clothes and therefore tune the ideas out. So before big meetings, be sure to ask WDTLL? What does appropriate attire look like for the client? For the manager? For the company culture? When the appropriate attire is in place, then the focus of the meeting is on the ideas and results, not on the attire.

WDTLL is the million-dollar question for all managers. When everyone knows WDTLL, then everyone can start working with a clear sense of roles, goals, styles and accepted behaviors. So start asking yourself, and your colleagues, WDTLL? You’ll see a whole new world open up!

PS-I was recently interviewed about the top 3 Gen Y behaviors that are misinterpreted by other generations. Click here to listen to this 10-minute radio show.

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