Bridging the Gap
When you look at the generations entering the workplace, what do you see? Do you see naïve employees who believe they’re entitled to a quick promotion and all the perks and benefits that often come from promotion up the leadership rank?
Or, do you see a passionate group of tech-savvy individuals longing to make a meaningful contribution who are in need of mentoring and coaching?
How you answer that question is very important because it will determine how you choose to interact with both millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z.
There is a lot of talk about Gen Y and Gen Z, both positive and negative, as they enter the workplace in record numbers. It’s no secret that the communication preferences of Gen Y and Gen Z don’t always translate well into the workplace. Nor is it breaking news that there is a significant gap between Gen Y and Gen Z expectations regarding the level of work and responsibilities they will receive and what actually occurs.
The word entitlement surfaces whenever I’ve convened forums to discuss talent-management issues. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and focus on attitudes as if that’s the crux of the issue, but it’s not.
The real issue is that we, as a society, have stopped placing value on apprenticeship. We’ve stopped talking about our early career failures as learning tools. We’ve made experience into this mysterious thing that is a hindrance to success for those seeking to enter a career field, instead of showcasing experience as that which bridges the gap between formal education and real-life application.
Here’s the thing about formal education—it merely provides a foundation of knowledge upon which learning can occur.
However, true learning doesn’t occur in the classroom; it occurs as one works through problems. It occurs when situations are encountered and options must be analyzed to determine a course of action. It comes from working with people with differing personalities to achieve a common goal. It comes from applying the experiences gained in one setting to another context.
Formal knowledge teaches principle and concepts, tools and techniques. For a photographer, formal knowledge teaches about how the camera works. It teaches about lighting and contrast. It teaches about picture adjustments and enhancements. However, it’s through experience that one learns how to capture the essence of a moment.
Likewise, in business, formal education teaches key principles and concepts of marketing, human resources, accounting, strategy, and business operations. Students are able to experiment with those principles and concepts in a safe environment where profit and loss, jobs, and the company’s future is not at risk.
Regardless of how much realism case studies attempt to incorporate, they cannot mirror the real world where people and markets behave in unpredictable ways. Business disruption is almost a guarantee within our dynamic business environment where technological advances continue to accelerate.
Yet, prediction of where that business disruption will occur is far from a science. Learning how to read markets and identify new opportunities comes with experience.
Far from being an obstacle to overcome, experience is a gift to embrace. Gaining experience, though, isn’t about making sure employees “pay their dues” or “bide their time” until an opportunity opens up. Gaining experience is about having your employees grow as business professionals so they have the right fodder with which to lead.
By the same token, Millennials need to take on various initiatives and projects so your understanding of the business grows. When done in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, gaining experience can set you up for long-term success far beyond your imagination.
So how do you go about gaining this experience as a new professional entering the workplace? It begins by becoming a student of the organization that you join.
You should seek to learn the company’s vision, mission, and strategy. You should seek to understand how the business makes money and how the work you do affects the organization’s profit and loss. You should seek to understand how your department or function interacts with and supports other functions.
You should seek to develop and nurture mentoring and coaching relationships within the organization. When you develop these relationships, learn their stories. Learn about their successes and failures and how they navigated through them.
Ask for opportunities to shadow these mentors to see how they lead meetings, negotiate contracts, and interact with executives. Leverage these relationships to expand your own network.
Additionally, you should seek to understand the culture of the organization, and where necessary, be willing to challenge it in appropriate ways. As opportunities present themselves, you should volunteer and then perform with excellence.
As you continue to do this day in and day out, you will build both your portfolio and your personal brand. Bridging the gap between formal education and experience is not difficult if you’re willing to do your part. BW