Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, never one to shy away from giving his opinion, was in the news again this past August, this time for giving back his kids’ participation trophies. This issue ignited a national conversation on youth sports, entitlement, and competition.
It reminded me of an interaction I had years ago with a friend. I wished his sons good luck before a soccer tournament, but was told that “luck wouldn’t be necessary.” Everyone in the tournament would get a trophy just for showing up.
“Just for showing up.” I was surprised at the visceral reaction that phrase elicited in me.
As a business owner for 25 years, I was stunned. What would these boys’ first day of work look like? Would they demand a signing bonus just for walking in the door? Would they expect to a raise the first time they stayed late to work on a project?
It’s easy to jump on the Millennial-bashing bandwagon. These are, after all, the kids who have gotten trophies for participating. The sense of entitlement. The need for constant feedback. The lack of discipline. I worried that we were creating a generation of “softies” that lacked the ability to compete in school, at work, and in life. Rather than punishing our kids for things they do wrong, we rely almost exclusively on external motivators - public praise, allowances, cars - to keep them motivated.
And while I do think we coddle our kids too much today, I realized that as the CEO of a marketing agency, I need this generation. In fact, I need them a lot more than they need me. So I put aside my instinctual perceptions, and empathized with them. Talked to them. Got to know them. What I discovered is that if you meet them halfway, not only are they capable, they’re smarter and more driven than my generation ever was.
I learned that a lot of this generation, especially in this area, watched their parents lose their jobs after decades with a company. Why should they work hard and be loyal to a company that isn’t going to be loyal back?
I also know that we maybe tend to love our kids too much. We want them to have everything we didn’t have. Maybe this upbringing has given us a generation of entitled softies. But, it’s also given us a generation of some of the most creative, inclusive, tech-savvy, and passionate people I know. The things that Boomers are so quick to complain about are also what give this generation so much potential.
They lack discipline…but they’re also more likely to think outside the box. Millennials are engaged with not only their friends, but the world. While Baby Boomers may watch the news or read the paper in the morning, Millennials stay engaged 24/7. While this means they may miss deadlines, it also means they’re going to be more creative in their thinking.
They want to be rewarded…but with rich experiences rather than money. A recent Fast Company article reported that 50% of Millennials would take a pay cut for a job with a mission they believed in, and 90% want to use their skills to better the world. I’ve started to see the value in encouraging employees to take on “passion projects.” Ones that may not make much money, but they provide an opportunity to work on something they believe in. It’s resulted in some great work.
They want a lot of flexibility at the office…but they’re also the ones online at 11pm. While Boomers generally go home and unplug, their younger colleagues are often right back online after dinner. To tap into this off-hour creativity, we’ve created flexible work schedules that allow employees to work when they feel most productive. Scheduling meetings has been more challenging, but I’ve found that people are not only happier, they’re more productive.
They expect constant feedback…but it’s because they want to constantly improve. Millennials want feedback, but they don’t want to be micro-managed. They ask a ton of questions not because they’re needy, but because they want to succeed. The key is to make sure that they’re ready to receive and apply that feedback - both positive and negative.
As the CEO of a creative agency, I know who I need to bring my vision of a successful and dynamic business to life. I am looking for people who can adapt to the fast-changing world of media and marketing. I want ambitious, goal-oriented people who want more than a job and a paycheck. I want creative people who think outside the box. I want people who want to make an impact.
I think James Harrison is teaching his children a valuable lesson that will help them grow into successful adults. It’s the same lesson we teach our new employees - you don’t get rewarded just for showing up. You get rewarded for outcomes that matter.
Adapting some of our ways of working to put them in a position to make that impact doesn’t diminish my expectation of their work - it raises it. And they know it.