The “In”-side Track

When I started coaching youth football a few years ago I had no idea how much of an outsider I would be. Most of the coaches were fathers or uncles of the players, and those that were not had been coaching together for years. Everyone already knew who the best players were, they had their playbooks and draft boards (yes, draft boards!) primed and loaded, and every coach knew exactly how things should be done.

That first season was hard. The other coaches and I never seemed to be on the same page and there were more than a few times where I would be watching drills and thinking, “what am I even doing here?” I got frustrated a lot, but could never fully pinpoint my frustration. Some nights it would be because the head coach scrapped my playbook edits the night before a big game, and some nights it would be because the other coaches had installed a new defensive package without consulting me. It wasn’t until the next year when I was suddenly a veteran coach, mentoring other coaches, that I understood why my first year was so frustrating. More than the late nights and scrapped plays, what really bothered me was that I was never “In the Know.”

We have all experienced that feeling. When we walk into a room or a meeting and suddenly it seems that everyone is in on an account action plan or the latest office drama that you know nothing about. It’s a terrible feeling and you feel like an idiot for not knowing what everyone else is talking about. It’s an unfortunate part of life that everyone deals with. And for millennials in a corporate setting, not being “In the Know” is often at the heart of most workplace grievances.   

Millennials are the generation of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, where up-to-date information is an increasingly routine part of our social lives. If I want to see what my friends have been up to throughout the day it’s easy to check a status, view a video, or send a photo. If a friend’s puppy chewed up one of her favorite pairs of shoes last night, I already know about it before I’ve gotten myself a cup of coffee at work. And while things like that may seem trivial, they have become an ingrained part not only of our social behaviors, but also of our corporate expectations.

Everybody wants to be “In the Know,” not just millennials. But one of the biggest generational rubs we’ve discussed in some of our previous posts is that millennials are often more driven and, as a consequence, more impatient, than past generations. Add to this our higher levels of social connection, and you can start to see why many managers find we millennials so difficult to work with. In most aspects of our lives millennials are always connected to what is happening. So when we enter the workforce there can be a frustrating disconnect between how “In the Know” we feel in our own lives and how narrowly focused we feel in our early career jobs.

Particularly in larger companies the early career stage can feel isolating and, in some cases, far removed. If I’m at Company A pouring over spreadsheets eleven hours a day for three months to try and identify only three seemingly insignificant errors, and my only continued action is passing those errors along to my boss, chances are I’m not overly fond of my job.

The disconnect in this case is that those three errors I identified were actually reoccurring errors that had gone unnoticed by Company A and the client for several years. When my boss brought that to his boss’ attention it offered the opportunity to connect with client, apologize for the error and offer them a discount on future orders. This increased trust between Company A and the client and actually led to an increase in future orders.

But chances are, if my boss did not take the time to relay that feedback to me, or explain the importance of why I was combing through spreadsheets looking for out-of-whack decimal points before I started the project, I will very likely feel disconnected from Company A’s “inside track.” For me, I just spent three months staring at Excel spreadsheets feeling more like a grunt than a team member, and I was not a part of the client conversation that actually wound up improving Company A’s reputation. Obviously it probably would not have made sense for me to take the lead on that client conversation, but including me as a silent observer on a call or even being kept in the loop throughout the conversation with the client, would’ve gone a long way towards improving how I felt about my own contributions to the company.

This is one of the reasons why start-ups and tech incubators are so attractive to millennials. Everyone has their fingers in a little bit of everything and the smaller team sizes means that there is a stronger community culture among employees. The open offices, bean-bag chairs, and free beer kegs may seem a tad ridiculous, but very often those kinds of amenities foster a more connected company culture. If I’m at Company B and I’m sitting two desks away from our SVP of Sales and he suddenly hangs up the phone and rings our sales bell, I feel excited! I may be in our campus recruiting division and have nothing to do with sales, but I want our company to succeed and being able to physically see that success happening is an invaluable motivator.

Inclusion can take many different forms, but I would argue that it is an essential part of managing millennials effectively. When I started coaching football, if another coach had taken the time to explain to me why we didn’t select the player I had recommended or why we changed our defensive schemes at the last minute, it would have gone a long way to alleviating the frustration I was feeling. Consequently, I very likely would have been a better coach that season and developed a better relationship with my fellow coaches.

What do you think about your boss’ management style? Would you classify yourself as “In the Know?”  Want to learn more about the power of stories in the workplace? SW&A is studying the power of stories in 2017! Head back to Base Camp and join the conversation!