Michele Goedde Coaching

What managers of Generation Y can learn from the NFL

It was an interesting year for NFL Football fans. The year of the rookie quarterback, the year of the comeback, many surprise wins, an exciting Super Bowl (beyond the lighting issue). After watching the game, I still think my Seahawks would have fared well in the big game but that is a dream for next year, a conversation for another day.

A conversation emerged post game that I found interesting: how Generation Y has entered the football stadium. And as GenY has done in every other workplace, it’s been fast, on their own terms and with great results.

As quick reminder a few of the commonly discussed characteristics that mark this generation include: They are tech savvy, question authority, are very close to their parents, value relationships, are open minded, have high self esteem and possess great confidence.

What we saw in the NFL was a large number of rookie quarterbacks do really well in their first year vs flame out as has been the case in the past. It was the year of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. In college football, we saw a freshman win the Heisman. What I am saying here is the game is now being led and dominated by some pretty spectacular young talent that seem to come out of college (or even high school) prepared for the game better than ever before.

Generation Y on the football field is not waiting for their turn to play. Out of the gate, they play with confidence and charisma and, with the right coaching, develop fast in their gap areas as needed. This is different than what we’ve seen in the past where confidence develops over time as experience is gained.

In the case of Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll wisely selected him over the more experience player. Why? I wasn’t there, but my hunch is Russell Wilson did not intend to wait a year or two for his turn to play. He approached training camp “ready to play” and Carroll likely recognized that he would develop better on the field in action with the right coaching and mentorship. We speak often in Seattle of Wilson’s leadership skills, his ability to connect to his teammates, how he is “football 24/7”. What else does Russell Wilson have? He has a coach that believed in him and was fully dedicated to his success.

As fans, we find it exciting to see what these young players can do. We look forward to seeing what year 2 holds.

What I often hear about Generation Y in the workplace is a bit different. We don’t get quite as excited about these same behaviors. We don’t embrace this same kind of confident storming of the workplace, this winning my position no matter what it takes. We also often do not provide the same kind of training ground. What if we approached onboarding our new GenY recruits entering the workplace like Football?

Are you interested in seeing Rookie of the Year results from your GenY recruits? Surround them with NFL-style resources.

Imagine if we provided the same kind of robust “coaching.” This means surrounding new GenY’s with every resource needed to be successful. In the NFL it is coaches, assistant coaches, mentorship by experienced players, doctors, trainers, special practice sessions, constant feedback, etc. I suspect the feedback Russell Wilson got all season was 100% focused on how he could improve. I bet his coaches didn’t spend much time analyzing the problem with a bad throw but how he could improve a similar opportunity in the future to produce a different outcome. I would imagine that every resource behind him was designed to ensure he would improve. And wow did he. The second half of the Seahawks season was fun to watch and Seattle fans are excited for next season.

What if managers and leaders provided the same kind of structure and support for their new GenY employees in the workplace. This would include clear roles and responsibilities, an explanation of how the organization works, what success looks like and active daily management. Feedback would be constant and focused on improvement. Experienced and committed mentors would support managers by taking the time to help new hires learn the environment and have a place to discuss business goals and ask questions. Additional resources could be arranged as needed if something was not going well that was focused on improvement and learning (think workplace ‘doctor’ here) with the full expectation that with the right support and dedication on the part of the GenY, a new kind of success is possible.

The truth is that Generation Y wants this kind of support and structure to learn how to work in a business environment whether they ask or not. They also value relationships with people they respect. Imagine what year 2 would look like for your Generation Y workers if they got the resources they need. My guess is it would be pretty easy to re-sign them to your company.

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