By Danielle DeLonge
March 31, 2011
Are your organization’s rising stars being heard? Are your leading ladies and gents being heralded as such? Perhaps it’s time to reconsider roles within your organization.
A few short weeks ago, actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco became two of the youngest stars ever to host the Oscars. Now, whether or not you’re a fan of “The Devil Wears Prada” or “127 Hours,” this fact alone might give you pause, as it did the folks at Reuters: “Oscar organizers tried something unprecedented in the awards’ 83-year history on Sunday-entrusting a young, attractive pair of Hollywood stars to host the film industry’s highest honors.”
Apparently, this all came about in an effort to attract a younger audience, which either fell flat or was spectacular, depending (like so many other things) on who you ask. Did it really work? Since many of us can hardly remember who hosted last year, in some ways, it hardly seems worth noticing. However, while most of us will never be seen on the silver screen, this whole episode brings up yet another point about the difference between generations at work, and begs the question: Why do so many millennials expect an award, as a colleague put it, “just for breathing”? How can some expect to earn so quickly what took others decades to achieve? To many viewers watching at home, Anne and James are still relative newcomers. Did they really deserve to host the awards?
As many of you know first-hand, millennials have a reputation for being very insistent about the status of their positions; we expect to rise up the corporate ladder right away. Some might say we even tend to go for positions for which we’re not qualified. As someone who started out on the bottom rung of a financial services firm, I can readily admit that I fully expected to be a partner someday. Not someday soon, mind you, but I probably expected it for myself much sooner than this particular firm would have.
Which brings us to the topic of speed, as in the speed with which decisions get made, or business gets done, or life happens. In my father’s day, business success took years to achieve - and even then, it only happened if you were lucky. A search of “notable baby boomers” includes some of the usual suspects: John F. Kennedy, Morgan Fairchild, Natalie Cole, Donald Trump, George Bush, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, people who were well in their 40s before they became status symbols. Yes, in his day, JFK was young - really young - compared with those who came before him in that position. But my generation has Mark Zuckerberg - you know, that Facebook guy who was a millionaire by age 25. The one they just made a movie about. Sound a little different?
Though it might not be obvious at first glance, we millennials put more than a little pressure on ourselves when it comes to awards. You may remember a reference in the previous article to the book “Trophy Kids,” named thus because every millennial who played a game was supposedly a winner. Guess what? It turns out that as grown-ups at work, we expect no less. Only here, the rules are different. And so are the rewards.
Finding ourselves unsatisfied with the stature of our positions, the nature of our work or a business environment that is less than conducive to rapid promotion, many of us leave for greener pastures. This may be a contributing factor to the ubiquitous “job-hopping” for which we’re famous. But what does this have to do with you, dear business owner, and what is to be done about it?
Well, for starters, you may consider asking yourself whether your firm has well thought-out job descriptions. When was the last time you pulled them out and dusted them off? Did they still seem relevant, on the whole, given what your company is now and what it does today? Do they seem like positions you would be interested in, knowing what they really entail? Are they able to be easily understood by potential candidates? Are they written in such a way as to attract the type of talent that you’ll need to be successful years from now? If not, perhaps it’s time to rethink them altogether.
Creating a well thought-out plan for promotion within your organization goes hand-in-hand with this exercise. It forces you to think strategically about who you’d like to have where, when. Please understand: This isn’t an exercise in placing false titles where they aren’t appropriate. But it is an opportunity to re-evaluate the skills you expect your team to have moving forward, and a chance to re-examine your closely held beliefs about what success looks like on your team.
If nothing else, it can be an exercise in it honoring your superstars, your rising stars and your supporting cast, knowing that they may not be with you forever. (Or it may just be a way to prevent your team from heading for the hills because they feel like they aren’t being heard or their contributions aren’t being acknowledged.) So this year, give it a go. Be like the Oscar organizers, and try something unprecedented - let your young talent shine. Because if you do it right, then someday when they’re up on another stage accepting awards somewhere else, they’ll have you to thank.
Danielle DeLonge is the Education & Training Program Manager for the Institute for Professional Excellence at Davenport University. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan, and an executive MBA from Davenport University. She can be reached at [email protected]. As of yet, she still has not seen The Social Network.