Turn Them Into Knowledge Workers, says Bruce Tulgan

“Gotta keep learning. Gotta keep moving. All the stuff you’ve forgotten, I’ll never have to know. Half the stuff you remember, I’ll never have to know. That just means I’m way past halfway to catching up to you. It’s the obsolescence curve getting steeper and steeper. It makes it a whole lot easier for a guy my age to catch up to the more experienced people.”

So says one Gen Y worker interviewed by Bruce Tulgan in his work, “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Gen Y.” True, but scary for older workers worried about cocky, overconfident Gen Yer’s ruling a world that flies too fast to keep up. Fortunately for all, older workers can also learn new technology and processes, and apply it to higher-level problem solving with wisdom and pragmatism that only experience can teach. Combine inexperience with fast decision making and little practical background, and a Gen Yers world will come crashing down.

We won’t tell you that, but we know it and are afraid of it. Teach us, please!

In an ongoing series, whY genY provides a Spark Notes-esque recap and reaction to each chapter. In Chapter 3, Get them Up to Speed Quickly and Turn them Into Knowledge Workers, we see how to engage Generation Y on the job and help direct their energy and enthusiasm into productive learning experiences.

(*Tulgan’s ideas in bold and/or italic, my recap not.)

3 Keys: High Touch Teaching, Allow New Technology, Manage Their Enthusiasm

Grab Hold and Don’t Let Go
Gen Y wants to jump in, but not sink-or-swim. Plug into their enthusiasm, and run with it.

Train them One Task at a Time.
Let Gen Y take on big projects, but make them master each step. That way, you assure a high degree of proficiency, and they feel like they’re constantly learning. “Unbundling complex roles and rebuild them one tiny piece at a time,” Tulgan says.

Tulgan points out that Gen Yers want to be constantly changing their daily tasks, though for managers it seems that once proficiency is mastered, Gen Y doesn’t care any more and wants something new. This is a reflection of the pace of change Gen Y has always known.

High Tech: Don’t Fight Gen Y’s Desire for Technology
It’s not video games or constant entertainment Gen Y wants, and thinking that way gets you scorn from Gen Y. It’s information, plain and simple. Tulgan cites the quote mentioned at the top of this post, which I thought was absolutely a perfect way to express how important continual education is for Gen Y and those who manage them.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking Gen Y wants to overlook or discredit your experience, problem-solving abilities or relationships you’ve built – that why we need you to manage us, well.

Turn Every Employee Into a Knowledge Worker
Tulgan claims that for today’s business, everyone has to be a knowledge worker. The trick is to get Gen Y to focus on their specific areas for those ideas, not annoy older workers by jumping outside their sphere.

I’ve seen this happen and I know as a manager how irritating it is for a junior employee to propose something and pout when you gently point out that it’s been thought of, tried, or dismissed for reasons beyond their scope of work or understanding. For managers, it’s the kind of management that encourages learning charts, plans and goal-setting. It channels ideas into a focused mechanism instead of jumping out when managers least need or expect it. Gen Yers have a method for expression and innovation, which is half the battle. As long as managáers actually listen and incorporate those ideas, it’s a win-win.


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