If a group of coworkers in June were each asked to pack a supply bag for a perilous journey, the veteran employee would most likely pack all the essential tools. He/she will have measured food and water rations, compacted their load to be at a known, reasonable weight, and present their packs to the CEO after about a week. We millennials however, would show up the next day with five different packs, each with corresponding Tupperware, iPod speakers, detailed topography maps, shark repellent (you never know!), and three separate “ice breaker” card games, all with matching color schemes and waterproof seals, and deposit all five packs on the CEO’s desk with a sticky note saying, “I know, right?”
In the above scenario, both employees completed the task, but their approaches and delivery were very different. And so too, would the CEO’s response be. The veteran employee, who presumably has been around the company long enough to understand how things are done, developed exactly what the CEO wanted and delivered it in a reasonable timetable. Case closed, satisfactorily. However the millennial, who has just joined the company after graduating from [insert university here], wanted so badly to knock their first assignment out of the park that they put in seven hours of overtime to put flashy variety and personal touch on the project. However, they kind of missed the point of the CEO’s project. The millennial did good work, that’s true, but the CEO needed a survival pack, not a party pack. The millennial has essentially expended a lot of wasted effort that didn’t really do anything extra for the business. I know—I’ve done it; it doesn’t feel good.
More than likely, the CEO is going to use the veteran employee’s model and won’t have time to circle back to their newest employee as to why their project model wasn’t chosen. Were I the millennial in that particular situation, I would certainly be frustrated. I just spent so much time on this stupid assignment, where’s my gold star?
Alright, maybe I wouldn’t be that dramatic, but I would be disappointed. And true, millennials won’t often be pitted against a more seasoned employee in their first month of work. But the key takeaways from this scenario remain the same. Be it running our first audit, reviewing our first case files, or making our first sales call, millennials have a driven desire to win, and win big, right out of the starting gate. In my experience this often leads us adding superfluous research to a project or trying to tackle too much too quickly on a sales call. Mistakes are made, managers get frustrated, and we don’t get the immediate, positive response we were hoping for. We may even get a shockingly negative response. And therein lies an interesting paradox: millennials are at their most creative and energetic when they first start at base camp, but base camp is where the most monotonous and technical work has to be done before we are given any of the extravagant assignments.
I was once told in a job interview, “You won’t really hit any home-runs here. We’re mostly looking for a few singles.” While perhaps a rarity, that interviewer immediately put me off before I’d been there more than three minutes. We are an innovative and talented generation, and to be rather blunt, we’re less willing to “be bored” than previous generations. Everyone wants to be a rock star and I’ve seen twenty-two year-olds burn through an accounting file and be ready to deliver their findings before their supervisor even makes it back to his desk.
But the question for us as a collective group isn’t always, “can I put my own interpretive spin on this and get immediate recognition?” The question is, “have I done this correctly and does my work represent my own professional standard?” A task that’s quite often easier said than done. Even harder, how do I channel all this energy!?
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