It’s become almost cliché to say that Generation Z is overparented. But they are. And that is a fact with which managers today must grapple.
Remember, compared with previous generations (yes, even Millennials), Gen Zers’ parents have always been highly engaged with them. Every step of the way, they have been guided, directed, supported, coached, and protected. Unlike previous generations, there generally isn’t as much desire to break free as they reach adulthood.
It can be tempting for more seasoned colleagues to say, “Sink-or-swim time now, kids! Just let the real world sort them out.” But if you take a sink-or-swim approach with Gen Z, they are likely to sink; or go to the shallow end and play; or swim off in their own direction; or get out of the pool, walk across the street, and go work for your competition.
It is most important for managers to remember that Gen Zers are individuals, first and foremost. There is no secret generational formula for managing them, and every person is going to be different. However, because generations are trending toward more involved parenting relationships for longer periods of time, they relate to authority figures differently, particularly those responsible for their success.
The reality for managers is this: You need to make it a priority to spend time with them. Guide them through this very difficult and scary world. Break things down for them like a teacher. Provide regular course corrections to keep them on track. Be honest with them so you can help them improve. Keep close track of their successes no matter how small. Reward the behavior you want and need to see, and even negotiate special rewards for above-and-beyond performance in very small increments along the way.
If this sounds a lot like parenting, that’s because it is. At least sort of.
Of course, do not get carried away. The worst thing you can possibly do with Gen Z is treat them like children, talk down to them, or make them feel disrespected. Treat them as valued members of the team, whose thoughts and feelings are important—not because they need to be coddled, but because they should be taken as seriously as anyone else on the team.
Show them you care about their success
But the aspect of parenting managers should consider adopting with Gen Z employees is to show them you care about their success. That doesn’t mean you need to relate to their deep inner thoughts and feelings, or even inner motives. But you need to care enough to help this person succeed at work, in whatever capacity you can as their manager.
The key first step is to get to know the person your Gen Zer is at work:
· How long have they been working here?
· What is their schedule at work?
· What are their main tasks every day?
· What are their other projects?
· Do they report to anyone other than you, directly or indirectly?
· Do they travel for work? From where?
· Are they generally a high performer, low performer, or somewhere in the middle?
· Are they generally a fast worker, slow, or somewhere in the middle?
· Do they usually get all or most of the details right—or not?
· Are they generally a positive influence on colleagues, negative, or neutral?
· What is their reputation among coworkers?
· How long are they likely to stay working here? Is there a chance they will stay for the long term?
The only way to learn all this information about an employee is to spend time with them one-on-one on a regular basis. The best way to demonstrate that you care about an employee’s success at work is to invest your own time in helping that person succeed.
Invest the right amount of time
Don’t let your one-on-one time with any one person become long and convoluted. You don’t have to shoot the breeze. Keep your one-on-ones relatively brief and focused on preparing the individual for their immediate work of the day, week, or month. Remember, you don’t need to show them that you care about them deep inside, only that you care enough about them to spend time setting them up for success.
As you get to know each person, you’ll have to fine-tune your approach in every conversation. But start each conversation with these questions:
· What’s on your mind (about the work)?
· What is your top-priority assignment right now?
· What steps are you following?
· What step are you on right now?
· What can I do to help you?
Listen carefully. Then try to wrap up each conversation with some concrete actionable advice. The punchline is always next steps.
Be authentic every step of the way. Gen Zers are highly-attuned to fake enthusiasm, especially around authority figures. You must be authentic to succeed with them. So, focus on the authentic common interest between you two, which is the work at hand, and on playing the real role you have in their working lives: that of a manager.
Sometimes managers try to turn themselves into cheerleaders in an attempt to imitate those very rare individuals who have that special ability to inspire: charisma, contagious passion, and infectious enthusiasm. Is this really you? If it is, then you are blessed. But if that is not you, you simply cannot learn it, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying. Lead, but don’t pretend to be a cheerleader. Sympathize, but don’t pretend to be a therapist. Be authoritative, but don’t pretend to be a tyrant. You can lead in a demanding and supportive way and be real all at the same time.