Teaching Gen Y to Plan, Adapt to Problems

Gen Yers are often amazingly advanced in their knowledge and skills at a very young age, yet they often lack maturity when it comes to the old-fashioned gradpic3basics of productivity, quality and behavior,” says Bruce Tulgan in his “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Gen Y”.

I think this is a key reason managers get so frustrated with us – there’s a disconnect with what we know (lots!) and what we can get done on our own. Growing up with information at our fingertips, and driven into career-based planning very early, we know our fields and often mastered classroom work with ease. However, it’s that real-life stuff we need to get a grip on.

Kinda logical – we’re young. We have a lot to learn. It’s just different stuff than what managers needed to know in their 20’s. Back then, the “process” was easier – work your way up, trust the company to foster your growth and take care of you. You could focus on just being part of the system, cause you’d be there awhile.

Now, it’s reversed. We know the subject matter and not the company because we may jump ship in tough times, for better opportunities or growth in related fields.  In that process, though we don’t learn the intangibles necessary to get things done within the organization, like time, supply chain or employee management.


So, what does Gen Y need to know how to manage, and what can we get better at? First, it’s personal accountability and learning how to operate in your environment, with the company culture and  personalities around you. Managers can help, but they have to be willing to take the time.

Tulgan says basic planning skills are lacking in Gen Y, which I’d agree with. Many over-parented 20-somethings have always had help setting schedules and creating the kind of flexible path they want.

Our problem-solving facilities may be lacking, but maybe that’s cause there was always a grown-up with a rubric or a conflict resolution process and/or a computer that could answer the question.


One key is teaching young pros how to set priorities. We don’t have all the information. We can’t make big picture decisions without it. So help us. Communicate relentlessly, help us with the process, not necessarily the tasks.

I think managers forget how tough it is to be in our shoes, especially when many of us come off as enthusiastic, accomplished, capable and motivated – on paper. Just because we have that kind of go-getter attitude, doesn’t mean we can actually get everything done on attitude alone.

We need your authority to push back on projects when we’re swamped with other tasks.  Fellow managers may be causing problems – giving new assignments that young employees have no idea how to prioritize. Vendors may not be as responsive to a young person, because maybe the young person didn’t indicate the right amount or urgency or communicate all the necessary information the first time – or maybe that person just doesn’t respect the young pro. Common scenario.


Some managers say we resist timelines. In the increasingly fast-paced world, we know things will change anyway, so why bother? In fact, do we set ourselves up for failure by setting a timeline, often based on a limited understanding of the factors that impact the progress of a given project?

The answer is yes, you need a timeline, but it’s not a scary thing. Managers know things change – that’s just life. You also have to ask them for their help with questions like:

  • How long will this take employee X to pass along to me?
  • What should I do if the vendor pushes back?
  • Do I have the ability to negotiate costs on X?
  • At what point should I bring you in if I need your authority to keep things moving?
  • What is a realistic timeline for this portion of the program, in your experience?


Checklists are also key. It’s the only way to control an outcome, and help Gen Yers buy in as part of the process, and take ownership for it. It helps focus the energy of distracted multi-taskers and allows for teachable moments when the process breaks down. The most effective managers I’ve ever had were willing to walk me through what went wrong, and helped me fix it, not just taking over when things get rough.

Ask for everything to come full circle in a constant feedback loop – but be ready for feedback. You as an employee must constantly report successes and problems, assess your own progress and keep management informed. By doing so, you ask for accountability from your managers. They can’t blame you for being uninformed, letting something slide or missing a deadline when you’ve kept them as part of the process the whole time.

Many Gen X managers hate this. They instinctively want to be left alone to do their work, and you do yours. But it’s not an efficient workplace when only one side is trying to grasp the big picture. That’s why we have managers, and as employees, we have to positively and emphatically ask for their leadership – and help managers know what that means for Gen Y.


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