What are the soft skills that young employees are missing that their older colleagues value the most? They can be boiled down to some key behaviors in three “old-fashioned” categories: professionalism, critical thinking and followership. Let’s take a closer look at the first.
Just like those of previous generations, millennials’ and post-millennials’ first real jobs usually coincide with their first real taste of adult freedom and autonomy. They embrace that freedom and autonomy but often resist the attendant responsibility, discipline and consistency. Why do your young employees have difficulty making adjusting to the “grown-up” world? There are five reasons:
- Most young employees are entering your organization straight from school, where they’ve probably become accustomed to a luxurious form of “pretend adulthood,” where room and board are covered by tuition, they are surrounded by their peers and friends, and they have access to the resources of their college or university.
- Even after they arrive in the workplace, young employees are still only a call or text away from their parents, who are likely to have been what I call “helicopter parents on steroids.” Your young employees may be on their own now, for the first time, after being raised by parents who scheduled, managed and supported their every move.
- Customization has entrenched an expectation that individual accommodation is the norm, especially in media. Of course, this trend dovetails with the long-term zeitgeist swing toward relativism – that is, “All styles are equally valid.”
- Communication practices are habits, and most young people are in the habit of remote, informal, staccato and relatively low-stakes interpersonal communication because of their constant access to smartphones and social media.
- Much of what older, more experienced people might see as matters of professionalism – such as attitude, self-presentation, schedule and interpersonal communication – are what young adults are more likely to consider personal matters of personality, style or preference, which are none of their employer’s business.
The good news is that it’s possible to coach new young employees on soft skills, building them just like any other skill they might need to succeed at work, following this basic strategy:
- Make them aware: Name the skill, and describe what it means to the organization.
- Make them care: Explore what the skill means to them in their role.
- Sell it: Explain the self-building value of the skill.
- Break it down: Spell out exactly what needs to be done, step by step.
- Make it easy: Use ready-made lessons and exercises whenever possible.
- Involve them: Give them credit (and maybe even extra credit!) for self-directed learning.
- Make it practical: Spotlight opportunities to practice on the job.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up: Provide coaching-style feedback to reinforce training whenever possible.
When it comes to improving professionalism, teaching the soft skills of good self-evaluation is a good place to start. Regular, productive, honest self-evaluation against clear standards is what really drives learning and growth.
More and more organizations are integrating into their cultures a regular practice of measuring, but, too often, what is measured most is removed from what individuals feel they can actually control. Therefore, the numbers employees are always hearing about don’t tell them much about their own performance and how they can improve. When it comes to using self-awareness to drive continuous improvement, the key is measuring concrete actions that are within the control of the individual.
Get your employees into the habit of regular self-evaluation by measuring concrete actions within their own control – the ones that matter – every step of the way. Help them create their own self-evaluation tools to monitor, measure and document everything they do:
- For every project, there should be a project plan, including every goal and deadline along the way, complete with guidelines and parameters for every goal.
- For every recurring task and responsibility, there should be standard operating procedures, maybe with checklists or other tools.
- Using time and activity logs to track day-to-day actions can be helpful in understanding how and when an employee is using his or her time.
If they learn and develop the habit of using these kinds of self-evaluation tools, you will help them get on the path to continuous improvement. These tools also give you a great way to provide ongoing guidance, direction, support and coaching about their work. Their scorekeeping will also double as a great source of ongoing real-time documentation, making everyone’s job easier.