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Managing and Motivating Employees in Their Twenties


3:10 PM Wednesday January 19, 2011
by Michael Fertik | Comments (11)

I've been lucky to work with some


awesome employees in their twenties.
While that formative decade is long and
dynamic for each person; in a
companion post I've offered some Email

observations on the differences between Tw eet This


Generation Z and Generation After-Lehman; there are some
Post to Facebook
consistencies in how best to manage and motivate excellent
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twenty-somethings.
Print RECENTLY FROM THE CONVERSATION
Younger people are especially hungry both to learn and to Managing and Motivating Employees in Their
receive affirmation that they are doing a good job. I've found Twenties JAN 19

the best ones are generally much more motivated by A Model of Consistency in Communication JAN 19
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incremental education and acknowledgement than they are by How to Stop Being a Victim of Your Own Life JAN 19
a modest bump in salary. Of course, the same qualities that HBR's 10 Must
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make younger colleagues so responsive to the education and Managing
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feedback loops, so be mindful of the context into which you Catherine
toss them. McCarthy, Diane
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The best managers of younger employees are people who
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Essentials
decisions. Rather than assuming that twenty-somethings by Clayton Christensen, Thom as 1. Six Keys to Changing Almost Anything
possess enough experience or perspective to read between Davenport,
Peter Drucker, 2. Managing and Motivating Employees in Their
the lines of their choices, these managers take an extra few et al. Twenties
minutes to lay out pros and cons and diagram their rationale. $24.95
Three short minutes of explanation usually make excellent Buy it now » 3. The Biggest Mistake People Make After
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junior employees excited, since they feel the immediate
benefits of gaining insight into decision-making processes. It Being the Boss: 4. The Fall of Wintel and the Rise of Armdroid
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also makes them better at working for you and your company, Imperatives for 5. How to Stop Being a Victim of Your Own Life
because it teaches them how you think. Becoming a
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Really excellent managers of really excellent young people
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also set up regular teaching sessions for them on different Buy it now » Your Day
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Early investment of this kind yields payoff fast.
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Here are some other good ways to motivate and teach young employees:
All Most Popular »

…hbr.org/…/managing_employees_in_th… 1/6
20/1/2011 Managing and Motivating Employees in…
Throw them into the deep end on their first day. Excellent managers of younger people give
them decision-making authority on at least one mission immediately. One very successful Silicon
Valley founder is reported to make everyone in his company "CEO" of something. That's the right
idea. If they don't know how to do it, tell them to figure it out. The corollary here is that you can't
tolerate learned helplessness. Even very talented younger employees; maybe especially the ones
who have the peculiar disadvantages of hailing from privilege;may be tempted to ask you questions
they can answer themselves. Make them sort it out for themselves. If you don't, they won't improve.
And if letting them solve it on their own feels like too big a risk for you, reconsider assigning the
project in the first place. There's always another mission that can be a better fit. As the necessary
last step, once they have completed the objective, give clear feedback immediately. Post-mortems
are critical accelerators of their learning process.

Publicly reward junior team members who are doing a great job. No brainer, right? The
traditional way is to stand up in front of your group, explain what the superstar of the moment has
been doing well, and thank her. Another good but rarely used method is to ask her in front of others
what she thinks of an idea, especially when the debate has chiefly been among senior people. The STAY CONNECTED TO HBR
question itself will be confirmation of her growth within the company, and it will raise her status in the
eyes of her peers. She'll probably rise to the occasion and say something useful.

Ask frequent questions. When you're walking around the office, or standing at your desk, ask your Facebook Tw itter RSS iPhone
junior colleague "what's the dumbest thing we're working on?" The fact that you're asking that kind of
question will carry impact on its own. It will show that you invite and insist on truth-telling and on
hearing bad news. It will stimulate younger employees to think for themselves and affirm their
New sletters LinkedIn YouTube Google
contribution of ideas. Sometimes the answer will also make you realize that something the company
is working on is actually quite dumb and a waste of money. And sometimes the answer will surprise
you in a different way: the employee may think that something he or she is doing is dumb when,
Updating
once understood in context, it is actually quite useful to the business. When you hear this kind of
with new recommendations
answer, consider it a great learning for yourself: something has remained unexplained for the team. OK
Use this chance to situate the "dumb" project in the broader picture of the organization's mission. close
You'll help clear up confusion and motivate the employee who thought part of his or her job wasn't
worthwhile. Get Discovered
Younger employees are often shyer than their older counterparts, so invite interaction not Are you or is someone you know a great
just with yourself, but with others throughout the company. It's a motivator as well as a content provider? Recommend them to be in
catalyst for developing cross-functional intelligence. A simple tip for a manager is to stand while the LiveIntent Discovery Window!
you're at your desk. In addition to being good for your health, removing friction from "getting up" to
walk around, and making you and your work ethic more visible, it makes you much more
Twitter Name
approachable during the day. I've noticed that traffic to my cube, particularly among younger
Reason for recommending
employees has increased by roughly 50% since I started standing at my desk last year. Similarly,
use company events to grease the wheels of intermingling. When you hold company-wide events,
Send Cancel
get a few of your more sociable employees (salespeople are often the right vanguard) to introduce
Sending Recommendation...
different team members and get conversations going. It will be a big relief for younger team
back
members, and it will start the juices of future collaboration flowing. Follow
Give them personal attention. A simple and little-used approach that goes a long way is to call more info
them on their birthdays. That's it. Just call and say "happy birthday, glad to be working with you, latest tweets
hope you have a great celebration." They'll be glad you remembered, you'll feel good about it, and it's
a sweet thing to do.

Do not make the rookie mistake of creating false reasons for praise. Younger people have
contempt for what they perceive as political baloney. Fake it, and they'll know, and they won't trust it
when you really mean it.

Emphasize long-term rewards, and set an example. Rather than living up to their oft-reported
reputation of being entitled ingrates, I've found that the best employees in their twenties — perhaps
particularly in the wash of the Great Recession — admire those who focus on longer-term rewards.
(See my other post on this here.) This is especially true of those who aspire to run their own
businesses one day. You don't need to buy them copies of Marcus Aurelius. Nor do you need to live
like a monk. But let them see that you are resisting some forms of short-term pay or comfort, and
you'll get them fired up to do the same.

Set very short-term projects. Young employees have short attention spans. Blame digital nativity,
social media, the Cartoon Network, or whatever else. But it's true and real, and you need to adapt as
a manager. A good approach is to set weekly cycles so that every employee knows on Sunday
night what she must tackle by Friday EOD. In some cases, set daily goals. You'll find it remarkable

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20/1/2011 Managing and Motivating Employees in…
how productive a short attention span twenty-something can be. They'll pretty much fill the time they
have to get the job done. Setting quick and predictable turnarounds will create high velocity rhythms
and a happy, productive-feeling younger workforce.

Fire those who are not performing. Younger people are disproportionately affected by seeing
others slide by in their jobs. Seasoned colleagues may read between the lines as to why a slacker
is being kept around. Younger people often haven't developed those nuanced lenses yet. Excellent
junior colleagues too often, too quickly, and too strongly come to resent their less competent peers
and the boss who keeps them. Middling quality junior colleagues too often begin to emulate the bad
ones who aren't fired.

For the same reason, fire toxic employees immediately, especially if they have any
interaction with younger people. One toxic colleague can destroy an organization. Younger
employees often haven't developed the ability to wall off the toxin.

Beware of setting up A+ 22-year-olds with 28-year-old managers. Too many late-twenties


managers are threatened by super-smart colleagues in their early twenties.

And finally, wear authority lightly. They take it more seriously than you think. Rookie managers
of younger people can easily mistake informal body language and sometimes insouciant
communications style for disrespect. Don't. It's just leftover adolescent crap mixed with professional
immaturity and generational sloppiness. They are following your leadership much more closely than
it might at first appear.

Michael Fertik is a repeat Internet entrepreneur and CEO with experience in technology and law. He
founded Reputation.com in 2006 with the belief that citizens have the right to control and protect
their online reputation and privacy. Michael recently co-authored Wild West 2.0 which quick ly gained
acclaim as an Amazon.com Number 1 Bestselling Internet book . He has been named a World
Economic Forum Technology Pioneer for 2011

More on: Managing people, Entrepreneurship, Generational issues

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COMMENTS

7 people liked this.

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Bruthah Decie 10 hours ago

Well done. I don't agree with all of this--e.g. I haven't encountered these mythical short attention spans. But
a lot of what you write squares with my experience, and offers a couple of helpful rem inders.

I'm totally in favor of anything that dispels the absolute myth that 20-somethings have an attitude of
entitlement and an aversion to working hard. 20-somethings I've worked with in the past few years have
been among the very smartest, most hard-working, most effective colleagues I've encountered in my
career, which spans m ore years than most of them have been alive.

And it's not even so much a question of "managing" them as guiding them a bit, giving them opportunities
to build skillsets, and then pretty much letting them take the lead.

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20/1/2011 Managing and Motivating Employees in…
5 people liked this.

Michael Fertik 7 hours ago

Nice points. Thanks for the note.

Calum Mercer 10 hours ago

I agree, it is not always a case of 20-somethings having a short attention span and there is certainly
not a lack of ability to work hard and learn. I recently met one such person who joined our Group on
an worklessness programme who was given the task of producing a way to measure the social
return on some of the projects we work on. He went away and did a lot of research, produced a
m odel to measure this that could be replicated across different projects and with a clear audit and
evidence trail. Hugely im pressive work from a young man who had no experience of that kind of work,
and indeed who had been unemployed. It was an example to many modellers on how to put together
a financial model.

We do have to adjust how we work to how people, particularly younger people, operate and such
things as email appear as too formal and rigid a way of communicating

R. Chase Razabdouski 10 hours ago

This shows that you "get it" but even those that "get it" about us in the professional 20-something crowd...
well, still don't "get" the why or anything about us more than the "it" itself. We're not immature, unseasoned,
inexperienced. In fact, many of us have had business ideas or even _real_ entrepreneurial experience
ranging back to when 30 and 40-somethings were just starting their careers as 20-somethings. We grew
up fast, and we're social, dynamic, and have a strict set of ethics on how to deal with one another although
or social conformity standards are completely non-existent.

You're not teaching us the Internet and your corporate systems, we're coming in and saying that the
Internet and corporate system s exist well beyond what they did in the 1980s and 1990s (which we grew up
with, by the way, so we know even those work horses as mere toys) and the organizational culture of older
companies stifles the ability to beef up efficiency or effectiveness through the technological adoption that
comes naturally to a 20-something. That's not a blanket scenario, but I've seen it all throughout my Fortune
100 employment and consulting.

20-somethings are bored. Companies waste their time by teaching 20-somethings "how things are done"
when the 20-something knows that it is already time for that process to be gone. We understand how
those just being born will look at us as managers when they reach 20+. If we actually learn it "your" way,
we will be beyond dinosaurs. We can't allow that, or we'll be surpassed by the current teens and tweens
before we hit our mid-thirties.

4 people liked this.

Anon 9 hours ago

Some of these tips are great, like asking younger employees their opinion. But most of this sounds very
cliche and condescending. At least now I understand why I'm talked down to and have things over
explained to me like I'm a child. That kind of behavior is disrespectful.

3 people liked this.

_TR_ 10 hours ago

Thank you, for a very insightful post on the nuances of people management. I think this is one i will refer
back to.

My instinctual reaction to the suggestions: "fire those who are not performing" and "fire toxic employees
immediately" is to nod in agreement. Nodding more so towards the 'toxic' employees than the
underperformers. I feel that companies and good managers have an obligation (to a finite degree) to
develop their staff where underperformance may be situational. But, I have witnessed on many occasions
the detrimental effect that ‘toxic’ behaviours can have on surrounding individuals and wider teams.
Fortunately in the cases of underperforming employees and unfortunately in the case of ‘toxic’ ones, fear
(or respect) for employment laws mean that few people are fired at the drop of a hat these days.

2 people liked this.

Michael Fertik 7 hours ago

Thank you for the thoughtful note. Great feedback.

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Singu85 31 minutes ago

I'm a 20 something, and I work at the author's com pany. The ideas in the article sound good, but for some
reason, in practice they aren't working. I know first hand that many people feel unappreciated and quite
unmotivated. Sorry to say, these issues are directly related to Fertik's management style.

Bharat Bhushan 3 hours ago

This is really a great article. We all know this from bottom of our heart but som etime this sleeps in the back
of the mind. Appreciate this..

T. Y. Hynds 9 hours ago

The principles of effective leadership holds true regardless of age. I agree we must be inclusive in
understanding aged-based perspectives of the world of work, but shouldn’t we be focusing on managing
and leading everyone in an organization? Mr. Fertik’s major points on managing and motivating
employees could/should apply to for every employee. Take-out divisional references of “younger” versus
“older” (implied). My experience as a manager/director (title) is that a good leader needs to be inclusive by
listening and encouraging interaction of all the team members. I firmly believe that everyone wants to do
good work and this can be accomplished by learning from and sharing with one another. This is best
achieved by creating a sharing team culture.
One strategy to foster collaboration is to assign team or individual mentors based upon acumen, skill, and
knowledge. This takes away the age factor. So, it is not uncommon to see a junior (either be it age or
seniority) person m entoring others on the team based upon his/her area(s) of expertise or knowledge. It
works.
Very good, thought-provoking article.
P.S. In the era of high unemployment, some of the points do not hold true – for now. Most individuals are
staying with a company regardless of whether there is a “hi pot” rotational program, etc. It is not easy to
“jump” to another position. Again, this holds true for employees of all ages. However, an organization
needs to be wary. Employees have long memories and will leave when things get better if employee
satisfaction factors are not included as part of the corporate culture.

fellowstream 11 hours ago

It's interesting that you outlined these as ways to manage people in their 20s. I've used some of these
techniques (especially explaining decision making processes) to manage people in their 30s and 40s as
well. I wonder if it's because I was in my late 20s at the time and that was what I wanted in a manager, or if
this advice can break out of just being for younger employees.

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