At Solutions 21, we do a great deal of leadership development at all levels of an organization, from the C-Suite to relatively new and high-potential employees. At some point in our discussions, we nearly always come to the conversation of career planning and strategic career moves. For the C-Suite, they want to know how to mentor and guide new talent. For the new talent, they want to make the right strategic career choices.
Recently, I had a great conversation with a highly talented Millennial. This person is a true high-potential candidate in their firm. They have experienced significant early success and are now plotting some of their next strategic career moves.
It was from this conversation that I came to the realization that all leaders should be aware of the differences in strategy pertaining to one’s career that exists between the year 2016 and 2000 (or earlier… like 1980, in my case).
As it relates to all of our research around the generations, Millennials find themselves in a unique situation when it comes to career strategy. Every generation, including Millennials, have, for the most part, sprinted to age 25. By that I mean everything up until that point was fast-paced and temporary. For example, high school may have felt like forever, but it was only four years! The same goes for college. Everything was quick, had a short runway, and was in essence a sprint to the finish line.
However, Millennials have been born into the land of technology. They have access to information, opportunities, and inputs unheard of in previous generations. Therefore, it is a mistake for senior leaders to apply previous career strategies to this generation. Likewise, it is a mistake for Gen Y to fail to apply some timeless principles to a critical career decision.
Let me explain. One’s career, for the most part, becomes the first time one is challenged with creating a marathon mentality. It is a 40-year marathon, not a four or five-year stint in college. However, up to this point, young professionals have never had an opportunity to develop long-term strategies, and certainly not 40-year decisions. While this has been true for all generations, the culture of instant feedback and technology is a game changer.
Unfortunately, in all of our research, what we see are Millennials taking a sprinter’s approach to a marathon. If something does not go as planned in three or six months, there tends to be quick, almost knee-jerk decisions. Decisions strangely similar to the first few weeks of a college class. “If I don’t like it, I can drop it. I will just pick up another class and get the credits I need.” A pure sprinter’s mentality. “If I drop a core course, I will pick it up later.”
A career is much different. In the conversation I had with the high-potential Millennial employee, we talked about the last 90 days. I actually did the math. Ninety days is .006 of a 40-year career! That’s six tenths of 1%.
If we take that analogy and apply it to the sprinter/marathon analogy and use college as an example, it’s easy to see how mistakes are made. College is really a 36-45 month commitment (summers off…remember that!?). Three months suddenly becomes 8.3% of the overall time, if one goes for four years. That’s a huge difference.
In our leadership development work with Millennials, we often see the application of similar strategies for vastly different situations. Six tenths of 1% is not the same as 8.3%. Even though 90 days is 90 days!
For senior leaders, it is important to understand this mentality and not to apply “what worked for me” to the equation. If you began your career pre-2000, then you did not have the same tools or experience as the culture the current workforce has. You may not agree with or even understand all of the tools and the current culture. Your opinion, with all due respect, is not important. It is just a plain fact there are new tools and a different landscape. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant.
Leaders adapt to the landscape. And for senior leaders, we must adapt.
For high-potential Millennials, it is important to understand, by the very nature of your development, that you may have never faced the task of developing a “marathon strategy.” Your career is the first time this challenge may have presented itself. Like I said above, whether or not you agree, in all due respect, is irrelevant.
When developing strategy, whether it is for a business or personal, there will be outside influences that are not in our control. Oftentimes we will not agree with them. Many more times we may not even fully understand them. The fact remains they are there and our job is to adapt and overcome.
To the senior leaders out there, aim to be a coach and a mentor. Truly work to understand the 21st-century career path. Truly listen to your folks and understand their “sprinter’s mentality.” For Millennials, do not fall prey to the immediate. Your career is not a sprint. It is a marathon. You may have never faced this challenge. Do not apply the wrong strategy to this very important race.
Just for fun, I looked up Usain Bolt’s top speed. He has been clocked at 27.79 miles per hour (that is not a misprint… nearly 28 mph!). I am not a math whiz, but he would be able to complete a marathon in less than an hour. What do you think would happen to the world’s fastest man if he tried to apply that sprinter’s speed, and strategy, to a 26.2 mile run? How successful do you think he would be?