They’re young, talented and bold. They might wear T-shirts to the office or listen to iPods at their desk. They are willing to work, but they don’t want work to be their life. This is Generation Y, and as many as 70 million are embarking on their careers. Keep your head up because this generation, born in the mid-1980s and later, is different.
"These are the kids who grew up winning sixth-place ribbons, who think everyone is equal, who can’t understand why a teacher doesn’t get paid the same as an investment banker," says Jim Nolen, a lecturer at McCombs School of Business, University of Texas, who spoke recently at The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). "Even when I point out that the investment banker works more hours and has higher risk for the reward, these kids argue the teacher has the same value. They never learned life’s not fair."
Gen Y has been pampered and programmed with "equality-building" activities since they were toddlers, meaning they are both high-performance and high-maintenance. They also believe deeply in their own worth. As a result, Gen Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional top-down, command-type management, notes Bernie Erven, an ag economist and professor emeritus at The Ohio State University who also spoke at TEPAP. "They’ve grown up questioning their parents, and now they’re questioning their employers," Erven says. "It is great they feel they can talk freely to the boss, but it’s aggravating to the manager who says, ‘Just go do your job.’"
What does this mean for farm business owners today? It means you might have to change the way you manage. Yikes. "Today’s business owners need to ask every employee how they want to be managed," Erven says. "It’s painful, but it’s worth every bit of time you take to learn your employee’s management style."
My Best Mistake. Dick Wittman, a successful producer in Idaho and farm financial consultant, learned this lesson long ago. Read what he has to say about his employee management foibles in our new feature, "My Best Mistake."
Look for this feature each month as we ask successful producers to share with us their mistakes and what they’ve learned. This feature is part of my commitment to not only inspire you with stories of farm business success but to help you learn from the tough experiences of those who have walked before you.
The learning continues with our new columnist, Chris Barron, an Iowa farmer and author of the "Ask a Margins Expert" blog on AgWeb.com. Read what Chris says about profitability in his column "Business Matters."
Real farmers. Real success. Real failures. We’re keeping it real in Top Producer. I think Generation Y would be proud.