Monday, December 26, 2005

Getting Them to Give a Damn - Eric Chester

Subtitled "How to Get Your Font Line to Care About Your Bottom Line." The book deals with managing and motivating the newest generation of employees known as Generation Y (or Generation Why, the Millennials, NetGen or Echo Boomers.) These are the youngest of employees from ages 16 to 24 that the author has dubbed "kidployees." They are essential to the workforce because increasingly there are more jobs than kidployees to fill them, and at a number around 75 million, they will be with us for the next 50 years. Even though I don't manage employees this age at the moment, I am a parent to someone else's employees and I've seen how their experience in the workplace is shaped by the environment they are placed in.

Chester points out early on in the book that we baby boomers have always believed the old axiom "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." He challenges that notion with a reality for the 21st century: "If you do what you've always done, you are out of business." The book rings true from start to finish. He points out that most of us in management are the equivalent of analog thinkers, whereas this generation is digital. How they are wired for making choices is very different from our own experience, so we predict behavior based on an erroneous set of assumptions from the start. One interesting point he makes is that they can't stand to be bored. "In fact, when surveyed, many young people respond that their fear of boredom in a job is greater than their fear of physical injury." We can keep applying the same thinking, policies, rules and procedures that we have for the last 20 years, but the results will not be the same.

The book has great suggestions for how to deal with the new generation of kidployees that transcends the notion of age. What he suggests will motivate these employees will in fact have a very positive affect on employees of every age. This age group might need a little more attention, but a company's entire employee population can in fact benefit from some updated thinking. He outlines some of the successful initiatives undertaken by Eddie Bauer, Cold Stone Creamery, the Ritz Carlton and even the US Army. He reprints the employment information found in the online job application for the restaurant chain Chipotle (at as an example of how to communicate so they will be engaged from the beginning.

One of his more interesting concepts is the "Give A Damn" continuum (which he shortens to the GAD continuum throughout the book.) On one end is zero and is labeled "Sabotage" and on the other is a 10 labeled "Total Buy In." He then lays out the various types of kidployees within that scale including the Disenfranchised, Bread-and-Butter, Solid Subordinates, and Gems. (Sounds like it could apply to any employee population.) He does talk a great deal about kidployees who are Opies (after the Opie in the old Andy Griffith Show.) And it's Opies that you want to cultivate and keep in your employ. But Opies are not just a matter of what kind of kidployee you have on staff, it's the environment they are placed in. Chester rightly points out that it's not inherent personality traits themselves that give you Gems and Opies, it's putting these kidployees in a job that's a good fit for them, managing the work environment, and motivating them to grow.

It's all very sound thinking with plenty of research to back it up. Chester makes an excellent case for why we need to care about this as management. Companies will continue to have their ranks filled with employees of this age group and we need to be prepared for that challenge.

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