Don’t Let Great Younger Generation Ideas Slip through Your Fingers

An executive I know hired a young woman for his marketing department and put her to work managing some current campaigns. He found out 18 months later that she was a bona fide expert about marketing on social media—she practically lived on social media. She could have brought so much more to her new employer from day one, yet that extra value went completely untapped for a year and a half.

Call that knowledge loss, call it money wasted, or call it something worse. Whatever you call it, it’s bad. How did it happen? Since I don’t work for that company I can’t say for sure, but it was presumably because the top executives there were all Baby Boomers. It likely never occurred to them that a new younger generation worker had ideas they needed to hear.

Is your management failing to acknowledge the contributions of younger workers? If it is, here are some steps to take to be sure you’re discovering and tapping into the unique insights and skills your younger workers possess.

Strategy One: Uncover hidden skills during the recruiting process. It’s a mistake to screen job applicants by only saying, “Here’s what you’ll have to do on the job…can you cut it?” Instead, ask questions like, “We’re recruiting a team to market our new app—what do you think we need to do?” Or, “We are currently using the XYZ platform to track ad usage in our franchise locations—do you know of anything better?” To use a Zen kind of paradigm, be the student, not the teacher. The things you learn could be very valuable indeed.

• Strategy Two: Invite comments and ideas during new employee training. Training is an ideal time to ask new hires important questions like, “How strong do you think our brand is” or, “Do our competitors do something better than we do?” If you ask questions like those, you let new employees know that you are a company that values honest and open input, and training is the place to do it. After an employee begins working for you, he or she may want to communicate big ideas only to a supervisor, where they could potentially die. Or worse, he or she might never voice those big ideas at all.

• Strategy Three: Get some reverse mentoring going. Reverse mentoring has become popular in many organizations. The idea of reverse mentoring is usually to have an older executive mentored about technology by a younger, tech-savvy employee. I would recommend widening that lens and having younger generations and other young workers keep your senior executives up to speed on things like marketplace trends, new products that have entered the marketplace, and news about “hot” competing companies. The wider you can cast your net for ideas from young employees, the more you benefit.

Reward the big ideas and information that younger generations bring. If an employee delivers a valuable piece of information to you, offer recognition, feedback, or increased responsibilities. Treat it like gold. If you don’t, that bright young mind is likely to think, “Why should I tell my company anything? They ignored me the last time I did.” It’s up to you to offer the recognition that keeps information flowing.

Remember that younger generations have ideas, information, and skills that you need. Are you listening to them? If you aren’t—let’s face it—the fault lies with you. Open the doors, let the information in, and watch your company improve in ways you could never imagine.

Action Step: Meet with your divisional and departmental managers and ask them to help identify younger generations who have specialized knowledge that may benefit your organization.

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