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Imagine if work was like this:

Every year, you sit down with your manager and create a set of goals. You struggle to understand why those goals are important but you agree to them anyway. Occasionally you get together with your manager and review your goals. They are becoming increasingly meaningless because the business and priorities have changed since you set them but your year-end bonus is tied to them so you don’t complain too much. If you miss your goals you get put on a performance improvement plan. Or, worse, you get fired.

Every few years, you get a promotion which means a bigger salary. Earning more money gives you some more comfort. You buy a better TV. Eventually you save up enough to buy a house.

You don’t particularly like your boss, and you aren’t sure if what you’re doing really matters, but life is OK outside work so what do you have to complain about?

One day, someone notices the good job you’ve been doing and puts you in charge of other people. More money is great. Quietly biding your time has been worth the effort. Now you have some power and influence and you’ll be more in control of what’s going on. This is what you think, until you realize you still have a manager, and KPIs, and targets, and the hope of bonuses, promotions and salary bumps. And so it continues until you become the CEO or retire on your carefully saved money.

I asked you to imagine this. It didn’t take much imagination, right? If you’ve been an employee anywhere in the last 40 years, you’ve had some or all of these experiences. You’ve been a human resource to be exploited and coerced into giving up as much value as possible. You’ve been given the carrot of promotions and bonuses, and the stick of a performance improvement plan or being fired. And spent at least some of your time asking yourself the question, “Does my work really matter?” Most people eventually get really good at suppressing the doubt. They complain to Maud about Chris on their break. They become convinced that the world will stop turning if they don’t submit their TPS report on time. I can assure you that the world will keep turning even after TPS reports, work and even humans are consigned to history.


Some workplaces are better than others. Some have an executive leadership team committed to progressive management with the courage to build their business a different way. Unfortunately those leaders are in the minority. But I have some good news: it’s time for work to change. Not because we’ve finally realized that we’ve been doing it wrong; we’ve known that all along.

Work must change because the people who have entered work in the last 10 years – the millennials – won’t put up with working on things that are meaningless because there’s a carrot and a stick.

Why? Your worldview is shaped by a lot of things. At a micro-level your personal experiences, your family and where you grow up. At a generational level it It comes down to major world events that happen during your childhood and teenage years. I’m a Gen-Xer. I took a look at the major world events that took place while I was growing up. I missed the Vietnam War, and I’m British wouldn’t have been a big deal for me anyway. We had the Falklands War – a good old fashioned war about who owned a piece of land. I saw workers strikes and the Poll Tax Riots. The terrorist organization of my youth was the IRA, fighting to reunite a country rather than destroy another one. The Berlin Wall fell, the EU was established and the cold war ended.

All in all, a reasonably peaceful and optimistic time to grow up in.

Compare my experience to that of millennials. They’ve seen extended wars in Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan, where it hasn’t really been clear who won or lost, and whether there was an enemy to fight in the first place. Millennials saw thousands of people die in the largest terrorist attack experienced by the US. They’ve seen their parents’ retirement accounts wiped out during a financial collapse caused by unrestrained and unpunished greed. The IPCC and NASA tell us the the climate is in trouble and may pose a serious threat to society, if not humanity. From a millennial point of view, the people in positions of power are doing little but argue like children.

What’s remarkable is that millennials aren’t angry, they’re optimistic, hopeful and driven to make the world better. They want to be heard.

New You

What does this mean for managers in 2016? Remember, as a manager, you have the most direct impact on how people engage with their work day in and day out. Here are the skills you need to develop in 2016 to be an effective manager :

  1. Build a growth mindset : Lead by example. Learn new skills, experiment with new ideas. Celebrate bold failures, rather than creating SOPs and checks and balances that stifle creativity. Spend time and attention helping your team grow. Go beyond pointing out areas for growth. Find out where your employees want to go, and help them get there, even if it’s a huge career pivot that takes them away from your team.
  2. Be authentic : Move away from being only a manager or an employee of your company. Learn to be the human you actually are. Be clear about who you are and what you stand for. This isn’t a time for people who are bland and dodge tough questions like a politician. To a millennial, politicians don’t appear trustworthy.
  3. Listen : You’re experienced, you’ve worked hard and you’ve been successful. You have a lot of good ideas and the experience to back them up and put them into action. It’s possible that your team has better ideas, or ideas that make your ideas better. Listen to them and adapt.
  4. Be Honest : We all make mistakes. You might pick a bad strategy, under-fund an important initiative or miss a commitment. There may have been a time where you could get away with fudging the truth or passing blame. Not any more.  A generation of people who have been lied to and deceived by those in power need you to take accountability for your mis-steps. This simple act will strengthen trust.
  5. Work with purpose and mission : Be able to articulate why the work you and your team do matters and makes a difference in the world. Working to please faceless shareholders, or because we want to make a profit, is not a compelling mission. Find the soul in your work and help your team find theirs. Many people think you can only find purpose working for a “cause”. This simply isn’t true. There’s purpose to be found in every office and factory.

Nothing above is a new idea. In fact, the leadership and development industry has been encouraging managers to be this way for, oh, about 40 years.

The difference is that now it is an imperative to embrace these management essentials.

Failing to embrace this change will leave you with a team slowly stagnating towards retirement. Embracing change will help you attract millennials hungry to make a difference in the world. You’ll have the people you need to build a high performance, creative and successful team in 2016.

The choice is yours.

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