Ask Don’t Tell…It Goes Both Ways

Image: Ask Don’t Tell…It Goes Both Ways

In most of our sessions with leaders or HR professionals, someone asks ‘how can we better engage Gen Ys?’ or ‘what can we do to make sure our Millennials are more high performing?’ Often our response is that a great approach is to ask versus tell.  The goal is to have a dialogue with younger employees about how they can contribute, what motivates them and their ideas for how they can contribute to the team. But we rarely remind Gen Ys that the ‘ask versus tell’ approach is something they should also adopt. It goes both ways.

Two Way Dialogue

In a session I delivered this week for a large not for profit organization, some of the HR leaders shared stories about how Gen Ys have surprised managers by being direct, by being vocal, or by not asking questions at all.  In one case, a manager said their younger employees simply left early when they felt their work was done and didn’t ask if they could do so.  A recruiter said younger candidates wouldn’t ask questions about the role during the interview but instead spent time telling her what she wanted from the organization.  Yet another manager was surprised when his youngest employee simply stated there were parts of his job he just wasn’t going to do because he didn’t like them.

In order to achieve two-way dialogue, it’s imperative that both the manager and the young employee feel they can trust one another to be honest. There has to be a willingness to find common ground. However, many times Gen Ys will unwittingly frustrate, anger or annoy their managers by not demonstrating the expected level of respect in the way their manager desires. In order to avoid making missteps, we coach younger employees to understand their manager’s expectations and their organization’s culture to ensure they act in a way that will set them up for success.  Asking managers, senior leaders, recruiters and colleagues how to be successful, what is expected of them and how to best contribute is a good career move.

Intent versus Impact

In our workshop Navigating the Business Environment we help Gen Ys understand how older generations may perceive them and the differences they may encounter as it relates to expectations of loyalty, authority and the work styles. We discuss the difference between intent and impact. In almost all cases, I believe that younger employees have good intentions.  They want to make positive contributions, they want to add value, and the desire is to be proactive and independent.  Unfortunately, sometimes the Gen Ys who work at our client’s organizations take actions that have a negative impact.  Some of these unintended mistakes include:

  • Asking for a promotion too soon
  • Switching shifts with colleagues without manager approval
  • Expecting they can work from home without requesting flexible work hours
  • Coming in late or leaving early
  • Booking time with the CEO or executive team
  • Sharing information with their colleagues about their salary, bonus and performance reviews
  • Using smart phones during meetings
  • Being vocal to senior leaders about what changes need to be made, without a clear understanding of the impact on the business

Watch this video that parodies what Gen Ys need to do to be a ‘rock star’ at work:

As leaders are increasingly expected to be more open, more collaborative and more tuned into their younger employees, it’s important that Gen Ys adjust their approach as well to seek to understand before taking action and considering the impact their behaviours may have.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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