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Turning Gen Y Liabilities Into Assets

The more I speak to nonprofit groups, businesses, or associations about Millennials (also known as Generation Y), the more I hear from people who want to harness the potential of this generation. This is a good sign. On the whole, Millennials are not being written off without a fair hearing. Today's business leaders believe that the youngest generation in the workplace can do great things for companies and causes. The struggle lies in the ability of organizations to understand this generation and then use that understanding to work with them to do something meaningful.

I've found that most people get stuck when trying to get beyond Millennial stereotypes. It seems that previous generations see Generation Y as an entitled, tech-happy, group-thinking, fickle bunch that is just too hard to manage. With these four glaring strikes against them, managers and directors move on and work with someone else.

But, I believe Gen Y's liabilities can be turned into assets for any organization to use well. In fact, some of the perceived "worst" things about Millennials can actually be big upsides for your work and mission. Here's what I mean:

Generation Y is entitled.

Neil Howe took this stereotype head on when I heard him speak. Addressing the issue of this generation thinking of themselves as special when in reality everyone got a trophy or a ribbon just for participating, Howe suggests using the idea of entitlement to raise expectations. His advice? Acknowledge an entitled Millennial with, "Yes - you are special. And we expect special things from you." In other words, validate their feelings and then use it as a jumping off point to set a standard of excellence. Good Millennials - good people, really - will rise to that challenge.

Millennials are always looking at a screen.

Then who better to bring your digital marketing strategy up to date? Who else could teach other employees about texting, tweeting, or tumbling? Being digitally native has its advantages. While not true of every single Millennial, most will have an understanding of emerging technologies, like cloud storage, video conferencing, and social media. Before you shell out big bucks for someone who calls themselves a "guru" on Twitter, roam your hallways and see what ideas young people may have for understanding bits and bytes.

Gen Y always wants to do something in a group.

Gone are the days where isolation is paradise. Generation Y was raised in a group setting. Not only were they over-programmed with Scouts, Little League, and dance classes, they also went to prom as a unit, did science projects in groups of four, and grew up with multi-player video games. This generation understands teamwork. Let them work together on a problem. They'll love the camaraderie and connections developed way more than Generation X will (okay, so that's a Gen X stereotype). Set the bar high for good group work and then cut them loose to see what current issue they can address together.

Millennials have short attention spans.

First off, we all do. Secondly, you can use this to your advantage by getting new hires to focus on special, short-term projects. Many Millennials job hop, mainly because with mounting debt and high unemployment, they're looking for work anywhere. This means you may not have to commit to a long-term employee from Day One. Bring on a Gen Yer to handle a short-term need, like planning an event, running a social campaign, or lending an extra hand during a busy season. Let them know up front it's a temporary gig that could turn into something more if it works out for everyone. This gives you a chance to see if they truly play well with others and lets them work on something to completion to see how much they like what you do. Then, if they leave after eight weeks when the assignment is up, you're not left with loose ends.

Ultimately, working with Generation Y is like building the plane in midair. This generation is still being understood and defined just as they're entering the workforce in droves. Smart companies are beginning to truly take on this generation and use their chief characteristics in order to grow well.

They question isn't whether or not you'll hire, manage, and work alongside Millennials; it's when.

What about you? What other liabilities of Generation Y can be turned into assets with a little finesse?

I'd love to hear your comments below.

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