New Leadership for a Changing Workforce

Guest post from Warren Wright:
If you’re hiring and leading a team of freshly-minted college graduates, you may be noticing some differences in their behavior and preferences compared to previous graduates. That’s because they’re from a new generation—we are calling them Second-Wave Millennials (Second-Wavers). The fact is, they still share many of the same traits as their older counterparts (First-Wave Millennials)—raised to feel special, high achieving, tech-savvy, but Second-Wavers (born 1995 – 2004) have some distinct differences that are making managers sit up and take notice.
Who Are Second-Wavers and How Did They Get That Way
Second-Wavers are mostly children of GenXers, as opposed to First-Wavers who were mostly children of Boomers. Both generations were raised with strong parental guidance and involvement in their lives. But while the Boomer parents were perfecting hovering like a helicopter, GenX parents were more likely to be the lawnmower parents who mowed down every obstacle that lay in their child’s path so a clear and clean path toward their future could be followed.
Furthermore, the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 assured that over 70% of Second-Wavers were streaming and chatting from mobile devices before they reached puberty. This brought them the tools to express themselves as individuals and they were exposed to brands that marketed to them as individuals.
This combination of attachment parenting, digital sophistication toward the individual, and placing more value on the importance of social and emotional learning as well as a broad cultural shift toward making a difference in people’s lives has dramatically shifted these Second-Wavers’ priorities.
The Three P’s of Second-Wave Leadership
So, how do leaders practically manage this new batch of workers in the workplace, and what do these Second-Wavers need from an employer? As a GenXer myself, I like to keep things simple and make my recommendations memorable. So, for these Second-Wavers, I’d recommend focusing on the three P’s: Personal Attention, Professional Development, and Purpose.
Personal Attention
From Facebook pages to Twitter handles to Instagram posts, Second-Wavers have always had the tools to create and curate their own brand. Yes, like a snowflake, they are their own person—unique and special. Ironically, they are extremely collaborative, but they still require hands-on individualized attention when it comes to their career path and goals. Consulting form PwC has a unique approach to this issue. They assign every new hire with a team of three different mentor types: An on-boarding ambassador—who gets you up to speed on how things work at the firm, a Relationship Leader—who provides direction in your career, and finally, a Career Coach, who is there to manage you in the moment—they call it managing real-time, or play-by-play. Companies would be well served by following PwC’s lead.
Professional Development
This is a big one. From a very early age, Second-Wavers were conditioned to plan for their future and gaining skills has always been a priority. After all, in video games, they get badges, gold stars, and rewards for getting to the next level! They are hungry for professional development, and in fact, according to Deloitte, the #1 reason they would leave a company is because of lack of professional development.  In my experience, the development they need most is in soft skills, not hard skills. Soft skills like critical thinking, communication, and social interaction—things we older generations take for granted, are simply not taught in college or acculturated at home. 8+ hours of screen time a day has an effect on in-person interaction, and believe it or not, this is area of growth for these Second-Wavers.
After observing focus groups of Second-Wavers, one thing really stands out: They want to know not just what to do and how to do it, but why. I like to say that ‘why’ is the new ‘what’ for Second-Wavers. This is an extremely purpose-driven generation—one that we have not seen since the GI or Greatest Generation who worked on mission-driven projects like saving the world from a fascist scourge. Research consistently shows that this generation is more mindful of the products they buy and services they use gives back to the community. Money is important to them for sure (especially with their high debt load), but mission is still #1.
And not only do they want their work to make a difference to the world, they want to know how their work fits into the bigger workflow picture. For example, if they are updating a database, they want to know—where does their update go? Who uses it next? How does this contribute overall to the company’s mission?
Finally, They’re Worth The Investment
My last point about Second-Wavers is that they bring skills to the workplaces that have been lost by older generations. From an early age, they’ve been immersed in social and emotional learning techniques that, when used properly, can really bring people together into a more effective team dynamic. But you have to give them a chance. They’re smart (best educated generation is US history), they’re techno-gurus who have solutions you have not even thought of, and they are committed and loyal… as long as you are committed and loyal to them.
Part of being a great leader is adapting to change. Second-Wavers represent a new shift in behaviors and priorities, so this is a good time to press the reset button on how you lead. 
Warren Wright is author of Second-Wave Millennials: Tapping the Potential of America’s Youth. He is Founder and CEO of Second Wave Learning, a talent development company that helps companies attract and retain newly-hired Millennials in the workplace.

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