It’s one of the oldest American success stories: An enterprising guy sees a gap, a divide, a need, a fear, and in the grand tradition of opportunistic greed, exploits it for all it’s worth.
Funny thing is, that’s never how the guy tells the story.
Still, that is how miracle cures, fad diets, male enhancement products, dietary supplements, homeopathic remedies, Ponzi schemes, manmade global warming, and of course, self-help books, came into being.
Just add another name to the list: Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Robert Atkins, Al Gore, and now, Mr. Me 2.0 himself, Dan Schwabel.
So why are we still talking about Gen Y? Because Schwabel’s company, Millennial Branding, just released yet another survey telling us everything we never needed to know about the workplace habits of the millennial generation. And it’s all to promote his new book, appropriately titled, “Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success.”
If I’m sounding a little jaded about this, it’s because I’m beginning to feel like I do whenever I set out to kill a nasty crop of poison oak. I spray it and get some of it. I spray it again and get most of it. The third time is usually the charm – until it comes back the following year. That’s how I feel about Gen Y in the workplace.
Not that I think any of this is funny, mind you. I actually think it’s a spectacularly insidious distraction for young up-and-comers and companies that seek to hire, motivate, and retain them.
To be specific, business leaders shouldn’t be thinking about millennials and millennials shouldn’t be thinking about themselves. Allow me to explain, starting with the management side of the equation.
If you’re a manager at any level, you should run your organization as an organization. Manage your team as a team. Treat individuals as individuals. Focus on achieving your goals as effectively as possible. And none of that should include being distracted by the needs, wants, or deficiencies of a specific age group.
The truth, like it or not, is that coddling Gen Y at home is probably what got us here in the first place. Don’t make it worse by coddling them at work.
Besides, top performers – those with a chance of making it in this world – intuitively understand that work isn’t about them. And that includes all the up-and-coming Gen Yers I know. They’re the ones you want to hire, not those who whine about flexibility and getting more time to text and tweet.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m no workplace Nazi. I grew up in the high-tech industry. I’m a big fan of letting knowledge workers come and go as they please, dress however they like, and all that, as long as they get the job done. That’s how I was treated way back when I was a young engineer and that’s how I’ve always treated folks I managed.
Frankly, I think every new generation wants as much freedom as it can get. There are always individuals with new ideas who push the envelope and help change things for the better. That happens with every new generation. There’s really nothing unique about this one in particular. At least there shouldn’t be.
Here’s the bottom line. This is, without a doubt, the most brutally competitive global market in history. If I’m your CEO or on your board of directors, I want you to make great products, meet the needs of your customers, gain market share, grow the business, and deliver long-term shareholder value. That’s plenty to focus on.
Of course you have to attract, motivate, and retain talented employees to achieve those goals. But thinking you should handle a certain group of people differently is a spectacularly bad idea. If you can’t figure out why that is, then you have no business managing anyone or anything.
As for all the Gen Yers out there, here’s a little advice for you. If you ask some of the great entrepreneurs of your generation – guys like Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg or WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, for example – what made them successful, I guarantee you won’t hear anything about personal branding and self-promotion.
What you will hear about is finding out what motivates you, doing what you love, gaining real-world experience, trusting your gut, working hard, making things happen, and getting things done. To my knowledge, and I’ve been at this a long time, nothing has changed. At least nothing that matters.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.