You're going to have to change your management style

I spend a large part of my year in conversation with managers working hard to try and understand today’s younger workforce. The pain they’re feeling is palpable. The evidence of change is overwhelming. Making the necessary changes, at times, seems impossible. The hope is that the challenges are being interrogated and slowly but surely acted on.

Business Week has a great article called, Working with China’s Generation Y. It’s a well written article that does a fantastic job describing a younger workforce entering today’s business world in China.

In urban China, Gen Y is a group of exceptionally talented people. No other generation in Chinese history has received such high-quality education for so many people. Chinese Gen Ys are single children born under China’s one-child policy. According to studies such as those by Posten and Falbo of the Guttmacher Institute, China’s solo children perform significantly better academically than peers with siblings. These single children have grown up in traditional extended families (including four grandparents and two parents), under pressure since kindergarten to pass entrance exams. This means that the child’s educational performance has been a top priority for six adults.

The article describes the different approach of this younger set and the challenges that face today’s managers (Baby Boomers and Generation X).

For Gen Y, the good boss is like a kung-fu master who stays in the background, teaching through small hints. The good boss is highly available to his employee and has trust in them. He is balanced and nonemotional. He knows how to share his skills without talking much but rather expresses himself in the right dose, at the right time and place. It is not about telling workers what to do but waiting for the right time to drop by their desk and ask: “Have you asked yourself X? Perhaps you might have tried Y?” Difficult to achieve? Yes, but it is important to show Gen Y why they should respect their boss—and then they will.

I often get the sense that the current set of managers are caught between the reality that they will have to adapt their management style, but also hoping (pleading) that this younger set will do the the adapting, instead of the other way around. Attachment to ‘how it’s always been done’ is a powerful anchor for many managers not wanting to do the work required to make the necessary changes.

Bottom line is that change is required in order to ensure a successful business into the future. It may take some time, but it will have to happen. Today’s younger set will not, and can not change sufficiently. For one, they don’t have a view of ‘how it’s always been done’. They only know who they are, and are going to need those older than them to do the shifting.

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