7

My question is related to groups, motivation and millennials - aka generation y. I had a colleague who was a real millennial: he was really driven, he was always looking for new challenges, and was unable to sit tight for an hour. He was a good guy, but once a month he wanted to quit, because the job wasn't challenging enough for him. My boss managed to find something for him every time, so it seemed that the problem has been solved. However, the moral of the other team members (mostly generation x) started to decrease, because he did all the good stuff, and they started think about quitting. Unfortunately, we couldn't fire him, because he did the job well, we couldn't afford to lose a colleague and it was really hard to find new employees.

I've started to think that our approach wasn't good enough, because we tried to motivate on a personal level, but we should have worked on the team level instead. All the resources I managed to read focused on the employee not on the team, but I don't see how to have a working team when it consists of generation x and y employees.

This situation might not be that urgent, but the millennials will start to work, and they'll work with generation x, so their "integration" needs to be solved soon, and I've read somewhere that the generation z has appeared on the horizon.

Finally, the questions:

  • Is there a good example, or rule of thumb how to integrate millennials into an existing working environment without firing them and keeping the old employees?
  • Is there such thing as motivation on the team level?
  • If so, how can it be aligned with the personal level?
5

Unfortunately, we couldn't fire him, because he did the job well

Everybody can be replaced, no matter how good they are. I believe it's better to work in a team where everybody is roughly on the same level, rather than a team where there are few geniuses.

I have previously left a company because I felt bored - it wasn't challenging. I thought I was quite valuable and I was, but they have replaced me by hiring few more people. This has taught me a lesson - everybody can be "disposed of". I'm now working in a better, more challenging environment, and my old work colleagues are also doing well.

  • 3
    "Ideally, the star will be replaced within eight hours. This sends the message that no single individual is bigger than the company." - Jack Welch – Tiago Cardoso Apr 3 '12 at 14:31
  • Not true though. Look at what happened when Steve Jobs was replaced at Apple in the 80s. – Matthew Lock Apr 20 '12 at 1:13
8

This sounds less like a GenX/GenY problem to me and more like a maturity level issue. I would be very wary of continuing to invest in someone who constantly threatens to quit.

When you threaten to leave an organization, you permanently and radically change your relationship to your employer and colleagues. Employers, and colleagues, may look at you as someone who isn't invested in the long run success of the organization. This is a huge risk to any long term project or any roles that require project/product specific knowledge.

I would be tempted to keep this person somewhat at a distance. I might assign them high value projects, if they're good, but never one that is long term, as his/her investment in the organization isn't reciprocated.

This person, in my mind, would be the first person to select in a layoff situation, regardless of how much of a superstar they think they might be.

  • 2
    "I would be very wary of continuing to invest in someone who constantly threatens to quit." +100 – David Espina Apr 5 '12 at 11:36
6

This generation x, y, z, and whatever else are not much more than a broad-bush sweep of attributes based on stereotypes, generalizations, and very little science. It is about as reliable as trying to predict work behavior difference between men and women, introverts and extroverts, black and white, and the religeous and atheists. In other words, a big waste of time. Certianly, the signs of the times and subcultures influence some grain of truth in these stereotypes, but to rely on them to predict future performance is a non starter.

Focus on team building, well developed roles, and motivators based on leading theories of today.

  • I disagree with you, although I don't really like generalization either. I see a difference between generations, and I think we shouldn't ignore the differences. As [project] managers we have to adapt, and now we have a small advantage to prepare for what is coming. – Zsolt Apr 10 '12 at 14:32
  • 1
    That is how stereotypes work and why personal observations are unreliable. Expectation bias or selective reinforcement is at play here. If you think a difference exists, you will find evidence to support it, will reject/ignore/suppress/deny evidence that contradicts it. If you study inter-generational behaviors, you will find some differences due to the signs of the times; however, I doubt you will see anything material or anything that will aid in prediction of behavior with any degree of reliability. – David Espina Apr 10 '12 at 14:49
  • I see your point, and the only thing I can do is to think more and try to see things differently the next time I do some categorization – Zsolt Apr 10 '12 at 15:54
3

You describe a specific situation and I prefer to relate to it instead of generalizations based on theories (generation X, Y and so on). If you prefer to focus on generalizations I would say that you will see plenty of examples in pretty much any company around as it basically means that people of the age 30+ and 30- working together. I guess such setup is true for vast majority organizations around.

Coming back to the point, it seems that handling the person from your story ruins teams morale so my first question would be about the cost of maintaining the situation as it is. Assuming it is high I'd analyze what does the organization gets by such actions.

My challenge: I wouldn't automatically assume that it is the only way to keep the Y-gen guy motivated. The simple fact that he said he wasn't motivated doesn't mean management can't help him find motivations in tasks he does. Sometimes we just don't see potential of our role/position/task and right perspective can help us that.

Then, there is playing in the team. Both the guy and the team should understand who is chosen to do sexy tasks and why it is so. Ideally, these decisions should be transparent, meaning that management should be ready to face the team explaining why it is so and not the other way around. Usually such transparency sends a message: the decisions are fair so we aren't afraid to discuss them publicly.

This is basically the approach to integrate the guy with the team. Either he sees the value of being team player or, well, he isn't a part of the team because he plays his own agenda. In this case, no matter what kind of specialist he is you may consider finding him other place in the org or even letting him.

Read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team if you want to dig deeper.

You ask another question about motivation. If you follow Dan Pink's ideas on motivation (which I do) you don't consider extrinsic motivation effective. Basically everyone needs to find their own drive - something which keeps them running.

In this context it's even hard to answer the question about aligning one's motivation with motivation on team level. It is more about about finding a common goal or purpose (that's what defines a team) and finding intrinsic motivation to pursue this goal.

From such perspective motivation of individuals can differ, e.g. my guess is that Wikipedia authors are motivated by different things (fame, knowledge sharing, interest in specific area, competition, etc.) yet they pursue a common goal: creating best encyclopedia of this time.

Read Drive to learn more about motivation.

  • I think we did a bad job when we tried to motivated him the way I described. You are right on this. The more I think about the case the clearer it gets that we should have let him leave... Thanks for the book references! – Zsolt Apr 10 '12 at 14:35

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