There's No School Like the Old School

Yesterday, I read an article written by a gentleman named L. Todd Wood.  One of my US Air Force Academy's Class of '92 (True Blue!) classmates had posted it on the class's Facebook group.  The gist of the article (which you can read here), was that the Air Force Academy focused on training young men and women to be warriors when he was there in the mid-80s, but now thanks to PC culture the wheels have come off the place.  Sometime during the past 30 years, the cadets became undisciplined layabouts with no respect for authority and with [gasp] access to Dunkin Donuts.   

Comments on the article roughly fell into two camps.  About half bemoaned the perceived loss of the warrior ethos at their beloved alma mater.  The other half pointed out that the article was mostly it-was-harder-back-in-my-day hogwash.  The comment I found most interesting was from my classmate Dana Teagarden who said "I would be more concerned if I showed up after 30 years and nothing had changed."  

Because, seriously, you may not have noticed, but the world has changed!

Millennials entering the workforce today have never known a time in which they didn't have access to the sum total of human knowledge through a small device in their pocket.  500 years ago, the people in a city on the other side of the mountain range from yours might have a medical cure or a new tool people in your city might never hear about in their lifetimes.  250 years ago, something could happen in Europe and people in North America wouldn't know about it for weeks assuming the ship with the message didn't sink en route.  When I was in high school in the 80s, once I drove off in my car, I might as well have been on Mars for how difficult it was to get hold of me.  

Today, my son is in constant contact with a large portion of humanity and a universe of data at all hours of the day or night.  Watching the Arizona-UCLA basketball game today, I asked him what the seating capacity of Pauley Pavilion is.  "12,800" he reported, after an agonizing 15 second wait.  My wife, Bizzy, and I wrote letters to each other when we were seniors in college in separate states.  On a communications scale, that puts us closer to John and Abigail Adams in the 18th century than it does to our own son.  Human nature hasn't changed, but the amount of information available and the rate at which it can be consumed has profoundly changed Millennials' expectations from life.  

As Mark Crowley points out in his article Millennials Don't Want Fun; They Want You to Lead Better, when you're that connected, you see everything.  You don't have to wonder if you're getting a raw deal compared to your contemporaries.  You can see the evidence for yourself.  You have visibility on every possible opportunity.  Because Millennials have the 30,000' view of their options, they value flexibility and work/life balance and they demand to find the deeper meaning in the things they choose to do.  They're as willing to do good work for you as any past generation, but they're not nearly as willing to put up with your crap if you're a tyrannical boss.  

It doesn't matter if you're talking about doctors, lawyers or fighter pilots.  If they don't like the environment they're in, and they see something better somewhere else, they're going to go.  Can you blame them?  Here's the painful part for you as the boss: when that Millennial doctor/lawyer/fighter pilot leaves, she's leaving with many years and potentially millions of dollars of training invested in her--your dollars.   

That's why a Dunkin Donuts coffee shop on the campus of the Air Force Academy is a relatively small thing that is actually a big deal.  It's a small oasis, a connection to the outside world.  A cadet's day to day grind is so exceedingly stressful, that little shop can have compounding effects on morale well beyond the superficial benefits of a cup of coffee.  

Just because a rite of passage makes an experience harder or more painful than it needs to be doesn't automatically mean that it adds value to that experience.  

Like it or not, the Millennial's percentage share of the workforce is already large and it's only going to continue to grow.  You can either take the L. Todd Wood approach and insist that your Millennial employees toughen up and endure the same hardships as you and your Gen X or Baby Boomer cohorts did, or you can heed the title of Mark Crowley's article, and look inward to assess whether you could save yourself a lot of money and headache by adapting your leadership style to change with the times.  

It might feel good to haze the youngsters like you were hazed back in the day, but in the end, wouldn't you rather have a more engaged and productive workforce and save all of that money through less turnover?  




Jeffrey OrrComment