What’s wrong with 20-Somethings? Get the most from the ‘ME’ generation

Me: “What’s your goal for this new career move?”

20-Something: “I want to make as much money as I can as fast as I can.”

Me: “What are you willing to do to achieve that goal?”

20-Something: “What do you mean? I will work, get promoted and make a lot of money.”

Recent Executive Coaching clients have been challenged with how to motivate and manage the 20-Somethings, or the “Entitlement Generation” as they are sarcastically named. The Execs tried all the traditional career development techniques, created incentives and offered a lot of recognition – with no affect. Demands for more money and promotions continued and the complaints and low morale had a deleterious affect on the rest of the team, the timeline and the Exec’s confidence as a team builder.

Sound familiar? Large corporations have a huge backlog of unfilled individual contributor jobs because they can’t find qualified people to fill the jobs, people who know that hard work and long hours result in high pay and promotions.  The nation complains there are no jobs for recent college grads… not true. There are many jobs for grads with the right attitude and who have demonstrated  a hirable skill level and a work ethic a company or corporation can depend on.

And my newest friend, a recently retired Computer Science Professor, told me she was relived to retire two years ago because of late, the students refused to put in the effort and had no desire to learn why they were doing or learning any given skill. She said they just wanted the answers so they could pass the tests and get out of school. Cheating had become a daily concern. She found their communication skills at sixth grade level and their curiosity, nil. Not one to base my opinion on a sample of one, I queried other IT and CS teaching/training professionals. To a person, they complained of the same thing: Minimal effort for maximum demands and high expectations that once graduated, they would get six figure jobs and/or management positions immediately.

I can’t begin to guess how we got here. My job is to help Executives navigate hiring and motivating teams. And that’s the rub.This is more than a management issue, it is a culture issue. How do you motivate people who do not value education or learning when their objective is to make money? Logic says we help them see how knowledge translates to skills used to advance and make more money. That hasn’t worked. Many 20-Somethings feel time served is enough to merit promotion and raises. Whereas their managers see them as putting in the minimum to keep their jobs and doing little that merits promotion or raises. Our traditional review process of where do you want to go and what are you doing to get there and how can I help falls on deaf ears.

So, short of saying, “Don’t hire them,” we have to change our orientation of how we incentivize. Titles mean less than dollars. So, dollars it is.

  • Hire them at their base line skill level and competency.
  • Create a timeline and mileposts for demonstrating mastery of new skills and attach $$ which are banked in escrow.
  • Once all skills are acquired and demonstrated by previously agreed upon metrics, the accrued escrow is converted to a raise or bonus.
  • Pair them with an older, more skilled and productive employee as a mentor and to whom a bonus is given once the partner achieves the goal.

Sorry folks, I have talked to a lot of managers who are frustrated and even angry about the low performance and high demands of the new hires. And I have talked to more 20-somethings than I care to admit. There is a huge disconnect and if managers want to hire from the current pool of technology grads, a change in how we manage them is required. It is my hope that eventually, the new kids on the block will get it and achievement and recognition will resonate and they will become fully functional members of corporate America. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Your turn. Chime in with your experiences. Those of you who are 20-something, tell us what’s important to you. Those with management experience, tell us what has worked for you. This is important.


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