“Millennials,” writes Monique Valcour in a recent HBR piece, “want the same things from their employers that generation X and baby boomers do: challenging meaningful work; opportunities for learning, development, and advancement; support to successfully integrate work and personal life; fair treatment and competitive compensation.”
Valcour reinforces lessons I have learned working as a subordinate and as a supervisor with people of all ages, backgrounds, gender, sexual orientation, race, or nationality for the past couple decades. And I’ve found that meaningful work (work that contributes to the mission of the organization and develops the capabilities of the team member), in fact, cuts across all things that divide us and keep us focused on what’s important.
I believe that a lot of discussion about the millennials and their uniqueness is in fact a way that managers excuse themselves for not managing or leading effectively. That’s why a productive approach is essential. Developing every individual, whether millennial or not, is the hardest, most important job a manager must do—it is in fact the primary value-added work of the manager. Remember, as managers, we don’t do the work directly anymore, we support the work to get done.
How do we support the work to get done? The primary motivation for the majority of people is not money, promotion, or flexibility; it is the ability for each person to feel that they are performing challenging, meaningful work. That’s why doling out pay raises or promotions is a short-term solution at best. Like steroids (a quick injection to boost performance), the stimulation wears off and we need another shot to keep pace. Of course people want to be compensated and recognized for their efforts, but these are not the primary motivators for most people.
Management of every organization must ask the question: how can I create sustainable strong capability and motivation for the organization through the development of each team member’s capability? I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by many people in my career and have come to see this as a process of continuous improvement. My TPS/lean background is focused on integration: solving a business problem while (and through) strengthening the capability of each unique individual.
The continuous improvement structure I learned informs an approach to developing meaningful work and individual development. Let me break it down into a few major steps with some sub-steps.
Step 1 – Setting the assignment
a. Background, or the “why” behind the individual development. What is the broader organizational issue or business need we are trying to address?
b. Current Situation. What are the details of the current situation of the specific problem I am asking the team member to solve? I must understand that deeply. This is different than just giving someone an assignment that they must figure out. It is intentional and deliberate based on the business problem to be solved. Also, what is the current situation regarding the capability and motivation level of this individual? Can we successfully integrate these two by choosing an assignment that furthers the objectives of the organization and develops the team member’s capabilities?
c. What is my target situation for the business problem and the team member’s development? I must understand what are the specific steps for improvement to the business problem. Also, what is the target for the development of the individual?
d. What is the gap between the current situation and target situation? Both for the business problem and with regard to the the team member’s capability.
Step 2 – Doing the Assignment
Plan and actions to address the business problem and develop the individual: How do I motivate the team member to take on this challenge and own the business problem? What is my plan for mentoring to ensure the team member learns through this experience? Not to give answers, but to ask the right questions. How do I coach them as they encounter struggles?
Step 3 – Confirming the Result
What were the business and development results the team member was able to achieve? If the results were achieved, why? If not, why not? How could I have better coached this individual through this problem?
Successful navigation of steps 1 through 3 requires that there be some sense of trust between the manager and team member that this is journey worth taking together. There will be situations during the assignment where the team member may struggle. Does the team member trust the manager that this is in his/her best interest?
As Ms. Valcour says, the ideal leader is “a person who leads by example, is accessible, acts as a coach and mentor, helps employees see how their roles contribute to the organization and challenges and holds them accountable.” What I’ve shared in the steps above always provided a basic framework for me of how to provide leadership and mentoring through actually engaging in the work. Confirming the “why” before each assignment allows the team member to see how they contribute to the organization.
We can see that the manager plays a critical role. What about the team member? Perhaps that’s the topic of another post.