Struggling to Innovate? Try Some Youth Serum

You want me to think young too?

A recent article by Glenn Llopis in Forbes on ways to engage and motivate young professionals, struck me as also relevant to a discussion of how to generate and increase innovation in organizations. All the things Llopis mentions as elements important to young professionals are, in my experience, also present in those individuals, groups and organizations or parts of organizations that are able to innovate. In other words, the energy, curiosity, optimism, idealism, relatively higher tolerance of risk, and yes, even naivety, that characterizes a youthful mindset, are also helpful in driving innovation.

Lest one think that age is simply about calendar years, I would argue that while there is often an element of the aging process and the phases of life and career that coincides with greater or lesser free-spirited innovation, there are also “older” people who retain the boldness and spirit necessary to innovate. Just as some individuals are or become too conservative and risk-averse to innovate, one can see entire organizations that seem locked into a paralysis of mistake avoidance and its cousins micro-management and over-management.

These organizations lack the spark of inspiration, the purpose, the sense that the organization and what it stands for is something worth investing oneself. It is these things that also are important to young professionals; they will probably drive-off experienced employees who also thrive in empowering and inspiring cultures. Here’s Llopis’ list; consider whether these conditions exist at your organization not only for younger employees but for everyone. Then consider how having or not having these conditions might affect your ability to innovate.

1. Empower us; don’t micromanage our talent

Without question, young professionals want their space and an opportunity to express their voice without limitation. As much as the boss may want their young colleagues to do it her way, she must step aside. As one participant mentioned, “baby boomer bosses must allow us to find our purpose within the job and the freedom to discover the opportunities for them.”

When young professionals are empowered, they are deeply responsible for the authority given to them. Because young professionals are socially conscious and responsible, they won’t abuse the power that has been granted upon them. To the contrary, they will pour their strong work-ethic and their loyalty into their boss and the organization will become abundant.

2. Sponsor us; serve as role models

Young professionals seek mentorship and are like sponges when it comes to learning short-cuts. They want to get to the result as quickly as possible. As such, they want their baby boomer bosses to share their wisdom in the form of storytelling, not corporate speak.

Young professionals are most comfortable when they can relate to concepts, strategies and ideas on their own. They need time to process and once they reach the comfort level they seek – they have laser-beam focus and are extremely productive. They want a boss that “has their back,” not on their back.

Supervise, but let your young professionals improvise. Allow them to ask questions. Make them feel as equally as important and valuable. Don’t speak at them, communicate with them. Remember, the more you invade their space, young professionals begin to naturally detach. This makes reconnecting more difficult as they begin to lose trust. Young professionals are curious and naturally skeptical. Provide guidance and specific examples they can use to perform better. You must allow them to control the pace of their comfort level and responsibilities. Lead them through observation. Play to their strengths.

3. Allow us to manage our own brand; don’t define us

Young professionals desire an identity that they can feel proud of. Don’t try to define their identity, give them the tools and support the work environment they require to fit and feel relevant. This begins by letting them be their own brand. Help define it with them, not for them.

Young professionals were raised on the internet where their online community participation influenced how others defined them. They understand personal branding more than most. As one young professional said to the group, “my baby boomer bosses need to stop thinking that they understand me, when they don’t. It’s obvious when they try too hard.”

Remember that some of the characteristics that define the young professional’s personal brand are (to name a few): tech savvy, creative, independent, work well in groups, entitlement, requires a safe environment and trust. Equally as important to young professionals is work/life balance. They work hard and play hard. Life outside of work must be in order to deliver their best work. Don’t disrupt this formula.

4. Trust us; don’t question our intentions

Most young professionals that seek fast-track advancement in the workplace are contrarians. They define the Apple generation. Baby Boomer bosses need to trust themselves enough to not always question their intentions.

Leading young professionals is a tricky thing. They are social entrepreneurs that are naturally wired to innovate and desire to change the world. Since most baby boomers don’t think this way, they can learn a lot about how to raise their own children if they can grow to trust that their young colleagues operate best when they can accept them for who they are. That is why points 1, 2 and 3 must be embraced by baby boomer bosses in order for them to trust unconditionally.

5. Challenge us; don’t marginalize us

Once baby boomer bosses master points 1 -4, this is when they must completely let go of the reins and invest in the value of their young professionals and in their future. Because they get bored easily, young professionals are quick to find new challenges with a new employer. However, if you can quickly accept that young professionals must be continually fueled with new things – they can serve as a powerful innovation force.

Never marginalize your young professionals just because you have not taken the time to work with them to truly understand how they operate. Challenge them to perform unconventional tasks and you will quickly begin to recognize their performance capabilities, skills-sets and know-how. Don’t box them in a corner, stretch their thinking and put them to the test. Young professionals are comfortable with change and can serve as your greatest talent assets if effectively led.

While compensation management and allowing young professionals the opportunity to give back to society were also important – in the end they seek respect. They don’t want favors and the easy way out to be accepted. They just want you to realize that everyone is important and should be treated equally. The organizations that lead and grow the talent of their young professionals will immediately give themselves a competitive advantage.

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