Memo to managers: Manage!


It’s official now: Young people are in the driver’s seat in corporate America. Job offers are plentiful, and hiring managers are scrambling. Stephanie Armour, reports in USA Today that he majority of hiring managers feel like they have to convince a candidate to take their job. And one-third of employees are already looking to leave after six months. This is true even in what we used to see at the most desirable fields, like banking.

The rules of what makes a good candidate are changing, and so are the rules of what makes a good manager. Good candidates provide high value on day one, a key since they are more likely than ever to leave early. And a good manager knows how to give employees what they need to be effective every day they are with the company.

It sounds like mayhem, right? In fact, we are watching the emergence of a more collaborative, hands-on, caring approach to management than ever before, and the result might be a workplace that is more productive and fulfilling for everyone.

The energy for this change comes from the convergence of the fact that millennials refuse to stay in jobs that don’t help them grow, and businesses are desperate to recruit and retain young employees . Even the big firms, such as Ernst & Young, pursue initiatives such as recruiting via Facebook, text messaging, and video blogs in an effort to be heard above the cacophony of voices courting young workers.

Enter Bruce Tulgan, author of It’s Okay to Be the Boss: The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming the Manager Your Employees Need, (and video blogger on Brazen Careerist). Tulgan is evangelizing a new kind of management — where people actually do it.

“We have an undermanagement epidemic,” says Tulgan. “Managers walk around saying, ‘I’m hands off, I’m letting you do your own thing.’ ” But what they really mean is, “I’m busy. I’m doing my own thing. I cannot hold your hand.”

But Tulgan says that today’s workers want flexibility and customized work environments. And, “there is no chance on earth that a manager who is not engaged can be flexible and generous.” For example, Tulgan says, “Managers who keep really close track of results don’t care when the work gets done.”

If the recommendation to check in with employees daily makes you cringe, you are probably not in your 20s. Millennials were raised to have adults training them, coaching them, and making sure the world went smoothly so they could learn and grow to their fullest potential.

So it’s no surprise that this is what young people want at work. Annemieke Rice is a great example of a millennial at the office: a highly motivated, tech-savvy, educated employee who wants a lot of face time. She is a student services coordinator at Northeastern University, and she is more than willing to work for the lower salary typical in higher education, just to have a boss who mentors her, challenges her, and opens new doors.

“One of the reasons I’m so motivated is because my boss really lets me know she appreciates me,” Rice says. “Like, she stops by and gives me special projects to do. And she’s always available to sit down with me and let me ask a lot of questions about the back story.” Rice also expects regular feedback and guidance so that she is always on a productive path within the organization. Previous generations saw a manager as someone who collected dues early on — a sort of ticket-taker for the ride up the corporate ladder. So a manager was someone to be avoided at all costs.

Rice, however, would never think of waiting until later to start learning the nuts and bolts. She wants to see her boss regularly because Rice views her boss as a teacher for the adult world. “I would rather my boss tell me now that I’m doing it wrong than I do it wrong for the next 20 years and don’t get to where I want to go.”

Managing someone like Rice is a lot of work. But young people today are consumers for everything — even when it comes to shopping for a boss. So if you want to hire top talent, understand that top talent wants to be managed by top talent. And you’re not top if you are not hands on.

And before you say you don’t have time to manage, understand that Tulgan has heard it before. “Managers who think they don’t have time to manage spend their time managing anyway, but it’s all crisis management that could be avoided if they were hands-on managers every day.”

Here is a list from Tulgan of five how-tos for managers:

1. Manage every day, not just on certain occasions, such as a project explodes.

2. Solve small problems every day so they don’t grow into big ones.

3. Have lots and lots of boring conversations instead of one, big conversation.

4. Reward people for what they accomplish; don’t treat people equally because accomplishments are not equal

5. Think of empowerment as helping someone to succeed instead of leaving them alone.

Tape the list to your keyboard if you’re a manager. Email it anonymously if you’re poorly supervised – and if nothing changes, shop for a new manager, of course.

11 replies
  1. Lewis Green
    Lewis Green says:

    Apparently, I am out of touch; however, when I make a hire, I seek someone who is self-actuated, self-confident and neither wants nor needs their hand held.

    Annamieke doesn’t sound like someone I would hire. When I graduated from college and from grad school, my managers expected me to be able to do the work. Of course there are times when questions need to be asked, but if the work isn’t getting done because of inability or incompetence, the new hire doesn’t need to worry about leaving in 6 months. I will ensure they are gone well before then. And I deserve to be held accountable for making a bad hire.

    Just some background: I have held middle manager positions, executive and senior positions, been a CMO and now run my own firm. I expect graduates to have gotten experience and knowledge when they were in school. I do not expect to have to teach my hires how to do their jobs. I am not talking about frequent reviews or mentoring: But I am getting the impression that today’s workers want me to hold their hands. I don’t hold the hands of adults.

    Where am I going wrong here or have I misunderstood your post?

    * * * * * * *

    Lewis, If you insist on hiring candidates who don’t want close guidence then you will not be able to attract the best candidates. The most talented young people today want personal attention and they want you to help them learn faster than they could learn on their own. If you don’t want to sign up for doing this sort of mentoring, then you will be limited in who you can hire.Also, I am not sure it matters how you did it when you were young. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way for today’s young people to operate.–Penelope



  2. Greg
    Greg says:

    Perhaps "Memo to managers: Mentor!" would be a better title. There is no doubt if managers want to retain the best talent, they have to invest.

    Tom Peters tells a story in one of his books (I think it was "Passion for Excellence") of a restaurant chain area supervisor who would budget his face time with store managers on their percentage of total receipts for the area.

    * * * * * *
    That’s a great title. You’re right.

  3. Stacy
    Stacy says:

    I think that it’s less about “hand holding” and more about “personal attention”. Most of today’s best and brightest in our early 20s have been coddled and solicited our whole lives. We have been made to feel important by our parents, teachers, coaches, the works. Thus, we continue to want and expect face-time and recognition from our superiors. This ties back into the self-esteem post from a few days ago.

    What you don’t want, Lewis, is an immediate report who steps into your office once a month asking “Did I do these wrong?” But I imagine that you would like someone who steps in your office once a week for the first 6 weeks to ask “Did I do this right?” The first few months of any new job have a pretty steep learning curve, not because of the skills involved but because each company has a unique set of procedures to be followed. Early mistakes in documentation can ruin entire projects if they aren’t discovered in time.

    Smart kids want to succeed; they also realize that success is more quickly accomplished with thorough training. That means initial baby-sitting is valued by most of your desirable fresh hires. Some of them will go on to be once-a-month workers who like their autonomy. Others will want to chat about assignments after each milestone, even if that’s a daily frequency.

    Here’s a personal example, specifics omitted: a certain Engineering graduate program at Stanford is a very traditional and rigid. It’s very “our way or the highway”. Every single individual that I spoke to during my grad school visits said that they would not chose Stanford because of that attitude. On the other hand, the corresponding program at Berkeley portrays itself as very flexible and sensitive to student needs. The admissions coordinator, a teaching professor with active research, only uses individualized correspondance. While the Berkeley program is rated as less prestigious by US News, more of my peers preferred that school than any other. These are top-performing students with good grades and excellent test scores, selected from thousands of applicants. Why Berkeley? It’s the department’s attitude that students are important.

    Everybody likes to be coddled. The thing is, it’s a lot cheaper to coddle via managment styles and having a flexible work environment than it is to raise pay. A willingness to accomodate the needs of the individual is very appealing, even to fresh hires that aren’t PhD candidates. A candidate that indicates that they want to talk to a direct supervisor every day is also indicating that they strongly want their work to be successful. Since the success of the company is built upon the individual successes of its workers, I think that’s a desire that you might want to accomodate. Much better than hiring the guy who just wants to trudge along and collect his paycheck.

    (Penelope, I think that you might like to interview this guy at Berkeley. He’s really proud–with good reason–of how admissions have turned around since he took over. I don’t want to specify his name/dept out here in the interweb since that would probably cause issues for the selection committee, but I bet that he’d be willing to contribute to a “censored” post. If nothing else, I imagine that you’d be interested in the basis of his recruitment philosophies.)

    * * * * * * *
    Stacy, this is a great explanation of the difference between personal attention and hand holding. And why it is so smart to ask for personal attention. Penelope

  4. Lewis Green
    Lewis Green says:

    Here is my concern. I have always encouraged and participated in mentoring. But not coddling. What I am hearing from the post and your comments is that today’s young people think business is about them. It isn’t. It is about everybody–employees, customers and the community. Businesses need great teams, not great individuals who are more concerned about themselves than the business and the team.

    So, again, if I am reading this wrong, help me understand better. As for retaining great people: In 35 years, no one has every quit my departments or my business. They get promoted and transferred but no one has voluntarily left.

    As for getting the best and the brightest: I hire for culture, as do most great businesses. I don’t care where the degree comes from; I only care that the new hire is going to fit in and is a people person (we) not a me-person. I am hard-pressed to think of a great business that is focused on the individual.

    Mentoring, flexibility, respect and dignity, Yes. Coddling, No.

  5. Glenn Mandelkern
    Glenn Mandelkern says:

    How to become a better manager is something I’ve taken great interest. One author whose works have helped me a lot is Harry Chambers.

    As both he and I have observed, management today has deteriorated into an exclusively sink-or-swim affair limited to learn-as-you-go, even if you jeopardize other people’s careers along the way. It’s worth seeing how do many managers become managers. The “people skills” part is secondary, if barely analyzed. Instead, the best salesperson becomes the sales manager. The best programmer becomes the software development manager, etc. Yet just because you’re good at something doesn’t insure you’ll be good letting others do it.

    It’s also interesting to note that one of the chief responsibilities any manager has is hiring. So where can a manager go to learn how to hire better? When you look at course offerings of even the top colleges, you see countless courses on management functions like budgeting, scheduling, forecasting, etc. Why aren’t there some on constructing teams for those things, on hiring?

    Because so few managers today get mentored, they commit the grave hiring sin. They believe because they did something really well and got promoted, they must look for similar people, and perilously hire in their own image.

    As an alternative to “coddling,” what really needs more focus are the personal motivations of a given candidate, during interviews and once hired. Luckily, I had a mentor who told me about SSPL, meaning Strengths, Skills, Personality and Limitations. They said the key to making and keeping great hires is knowing what they like to do, and what they’re not so good at. Put them in positions that match their Strengths, Skills, and Personality where their Limitations won’t be an issue. The SSPL also needs to be revisited frequently, not just during annual reviews. People’s motivations can change, and taking them into account is essential for retention.

    And it helps execute that effective cornerstone of management — “delegation!”

  6. Barbara Saunders
    Barbara Saunders says:

    This fascinates me. I’m a Gen-Xer, and I want flexibility and the sort of management that makes the decisions that set the parameters and direction around my efforts and responsibilities. I do not want to be checked on every day. Heck, I would love a manager who said, “Here’s what I need you to do. Get it to me in 180 days,” and didn’t bug me about it until day 181.

  7. Scott Smith
    Scott Smith says:

    I think its great that we can all get together in a circle around Lewis and self affirm at his expense by flapping about our own superiority through idealistic management theories just because they are supported in a book on a shelf. However, the fact of the matter is that a large percentage of businesses cannot (by virtue of industry requirements,staffing, environment, cost, hiring market, etc.) provide or support many of these little utopian theory’s.
    Similarly, there has been a noticable decrease in the attitude and work ethic of many employees and applicants, across the board, over the last 5 to 10 years. Much of which is the direct product of what is being taught in schools and self entitled former public employees (or their offspring) who are being displaced in large portions all over the country; now re-entering the workplace. A large part of the reason a movie like “Office Space” is so popular is that everyone has at least one of the characters in their workplace. I can’t count the number of applicants or employees that miss out on real job opportunities by demanding a schedule that supports their desire to attend some entry level class on “basket weaving” even though it clearly conflicts with the specified job description. New employees have too many options outside of the job for employers to compete with. I have seen a number of people (20 to 30 yrs old)who never fully engaged, and quit without notice or conscience because they were being supported by their spouse or parents. These were people with educations and work history. So, “we” need to give a little more respect to guys like Lewis. Much of the dilema in the workplace today is a direct result of these new world order theories being used in the raising of children. Now those children are in our lobbys and cubicles, driving their managers nuts.

  8. Charlene
    Charlene says:

    I believe there are 2 camps to this discussion of millennial needs in the workplace

    1) people who know that its true and do something about it (i.e. by being a top manager to mentor top talent)
    2) people who hate that its true and criticize it (I did it this way growing up so it must be right)

    On either instance, the fact of the matter is that its true. you can either mentor or criticize but from what I can see, the companies that are on the same page as Penelope have more profits and talent(Apple, Facebook, Google etc…)

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