They’re not Millennial’s they’re people!

Don’t ask when people were born, or if they are Millennials. As learning leaders and coaches, our job is to harness people’s energy, to stoke that inquisitive fire and create an environment where those people can test their metal and hone themselves into something more than they currently are.

Let’s be clear from the outset, I love technology – it’s exciting, cool (two things I’m not), saves time, keeps us informed and offers us unbridled access to the accumulated knowledge of humanity at the touch of a button.

My worry is that we’re developing such a thirst for the speed of interaction, like a hit of adrenaline that we’re missing out on the richness of the experience and the value it can bring.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a diatribe about the evils of Facebook – although I do think there’s a case to answer – what I worry about is this trend for “liking”, “tweeting” and “sharing”, rather than reading and understanding!

It’s easier to slap a label on something, or give it a catchy name, than to engage in a robust discussion on the subject and enter into the messiness. Life is filled with ambiguity, that’s what makes it such a rich and valuable experience, yet we seem to be hell bent on simplifying everything to the point that it can be boxed, badged and consumed in an instant – leaving you, dear reader, ready to move on and prepare for the next hit.

All of which brings me to the subject in hand and my frustration – if you hadn’t guessed already – with the subject of millennials! In fact, let’s extend that to all the categories from Baby Boomers to Gen X and Y. When did we become so lazy?

In my last post I railed similarly against the “Altruism” present in most businesses approach to learning and their decision making process when it comes to deciding where to direct their energies. Most organisations can’t tell you what are their most critical roles and how well the current incumbents are performing in them with any degree of certainty.

Similarly, this obsession with these ridiculous badges allows learning leaders to apply a broad brush approach to the development of those in the workplace based on when they were born – as a note, say that last bit out loud and tell me it doesn’t sound completely ridiculous – rather than taking the time to understand the individual, what they want and need, before contextualising that through the lens of the organisations goals and direction of strategic travel.

Oh sorry, I forgot, that’s quite difficult to do…

I work for an organisation that has a thriving and successful apprenticeship programme that accounts for more than 7% of our employee population. If you met with them all I’m sure you’d find very many who displayed characteristic millennial behaviour. Interestingly, if you took the time to meet with a large swathe of the other 3,400 people we employ they would too, despite when they were born.

Its lazy thinking at best, and cod science at its worst.

So here’s something to consider from the world of sport – and no, this isn’t another one of those “10 lessons we can learn from Geraint Thomas winning the Tour de France” articles – about how you get the best out of people and it comes from the NFL.

I’ve been watching American football at the professional and collegiate levels for more than 30 years and for the uninitiated amongst you its players are amongst the most measured and tested athletes in the world.

As a potential prospect, these young men will have been tracked, scouted and drilled since High School to determine their potential to play at the highest level. Upon graduation from college a select number will be invited to take part in the NFL Scouting Combine where they are put through a further set of drills, tests and interviews to decide whether they will be drafted to one of the 32 teams in the league.

So, when you hear the staff talk about why they eventually decide to draft someone, with all those statistics and measurements available to help them make their decision, what do you think is often the deciding factor? Well I’ll tell you, it’s whether or not the team feel the player in question is “coachable”.

Over the years, many players have been anointed as the next “big thing” only to fail miserably and when the dust settles the reason for that failure is quite simply the individuals lack of desire to be “coached up”, or shown how to improve their game.

Conversely, there are as many examples of players drafted much further down the order that have gone on to be a great success and have stellar careers in the league. It’ll come as no surprise to hear what makes them different – they’re renowned for the time they spend working with those around them to improve their game, studying game film long after their team mates have left the facility as well as always being the first on and last off the practice field.

If I look at my own organisation, in my role as Head of Learning, I’d say the above resonates with me a great deal. We see people join us from college or university, or complete their apprenticeship with us, and decide that they are at the peak of their powers – how lucky we are to have them deign to work here!

Not surprisingly, most of those people discover quite quickly that they are far from the finished article and either wise up or suffer the consequences. Likewise, I could give you many examples of people who, on the surface of it, are average in intellect and capability but whose appetite for instruction and determination to test and challenge their own sense of what they’re able to achieve has helped them rise to seriously lofty ranks.

As learning leaders and coaches, our job is to harness that energy, to stoke that inquisitive fire and create an environment where those people can test their metal and hone themselves into something more than they currently are.

It’s not to ask when they were born…

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