While I’m sitting in my office, someone comes barging in.
“Jamie, we need to make a decision about our junior people right this minute!” Now, since I’m smart, competent, and was once a junior person myself, I give lots of deep thought to things and make a decision.
Then I go to the next person above me, or to my peers, and since we’ve all been in the same number of years and were all once junior, I share my decision. Everyone agrees, we high-five (yes, that still happens), and all is well.
Then I go to the boss. Since he’s one of the only people who has been in longer than me, he listens, and it all makes sense. This is a technically correct answer, and I’m giving it. He nods his head, and I have my marching orders. We congratulate ourselves on coming to an answer, and I make it all happen.
Not long after, this technically correct answer shows up on paper in some way and is communicated down to the junior personnel. The first person, the most junior of junior personnel sees it and says…
“What the #*@%?! How did this happen?!”
Here’s something I’ve forgotten a few times in my haste to come up with the right answer: It’s true that I was once one of the junior personnel, but that was back in 1992.
We’re always told not to forget where we came from as we progress up the ranks, and I haven’t. Of course, where I came from, or I might as well cringe and say “back in my day,” almost all of us junior people were single, just out of high school, and had no spouses, children, or overwhelming debt. We didn’t have internet, social media, direct deposit, cell phones, or the same expectations of our leadership and communication. A number of studies all point to very specific differences within the generations of employees, and if you haven’t dug into them yet you’re missing the boat.
And sometimes, I miss the boat as I remember my roots and make a decision for junior people based on my understanding of what it means to be at the start of a career, or at least what it meant to me. Let’s be serious here for a rare moment. I don’t have to worry too much about making it to most meetings. They’ll just start when I get there. I also don’t have to worry about where to park, or business rules, or living from paycheck to paycheck. Also, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I’m a bit more resilient than that young man or woman away from home for the first time. I’m not insensitive, but I sometimes need to be reminded about what it was like for me at the beginning of this adventure.
And after that reminder, I’m better served to know where my junior people today are coming from. How I got here is a fun and humbling story, but I already know that one. I find that, every time I hear a new one, some new origin story of why people chose to be in this profession, I learn a bit more about how things are for the junior people today, and these new stories are just as humbling as the old ones.
Spending time with junior personnel reminds me that some things, the basics that really matter, never change. What has changed is my perspective, my challenges, and the methods I use to connect, communicate, and mentor.
The first question, and maybe the most important I’ll ask any time soon is this: If it’s my job to be the voice of these junior personnel, how can I do it if I’m not connected to them and understand their perception, expectations, and challenges?
I don’t always have time to poll the audience or hold meetings and focus groups to make a decision about our people, so the best way to do this job right is to continually work on understanding the people I’m making decisions for. That’s a constant effort to connect, stay positive, and listen instead of speak. For me, that’s the hard part.
– How well connected are you with the most junior person in the organization?
– When you make some decision for those below you, do you know which one will immediately have trouble participating due to childcare, travel time, scheduling conflicts, or financial constraints?
I’ll ask it again, because it’s important:
– If it’s your job to be the voice of your junior personnel, how can you do it if you’re not connected to them and understand their perception, expectations, and challenges?
Have a great week out there.
My good thing: Sales of the 2016 Day Job calendar are going very well. Get yours here while they last.