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Passion, People and Principles

So Young and So Jaded

post # 455 — October 24, 2007 — a Managing post

I was giving a presentation to a group of young people (mid to late 20s) newly promoted to their first supervisory position.

As always, I was making what I thought were obvious points – that the best means to get productivity and quality from those you manage is to help them find the meaning, the purpose, the excitement in what they have to do.

The reactions were amazingly cynical. “Have you ever worked in a professional service firm?” asked one young man.

A young woman asked, “But how do you motivate people to do the unexciting tasks that have to get done?” (I told her that she was unlikely to get much commitment, productivity and quality by dlegating with an air of “We all know this is boring, but someone’s got to do it, so I chose you!”)

Obviously, these young people had not (yet) been managed in a style that elicited their enthusiasms. Even though their firm (like all others) had grand statements about its commitment to developing its people, they had already learned (or so they thought) that the world did not really work that way.

I said that I hoped they would not just pass on to the next generation the poor way they had been managed, but I didn’t leave the room with much hope.

Sad, sad, sad.


Illya said:

Dear David,

It is very good to advise to be excited, purpose-oriented and motivating etc. But the problem is, that it is very very difficult to find the motivaiton for boring job. It is not that all the job is boring but some types of job are very very routine. So saying “Oh, this is a very challenging task” to those you manage does not work. It is not honest to name the boring job as “exciting and challenging task” Actually, I agree with those young guys for which you gave the presentation. You can not excite and motivatet the people you manage by delegating the boring job. It is more honest to say: “It is boring, but someone’s got to do it”. When the interesting and complex job is concerned, excitement, purpose-orienting and motivating can work.

posted on October 24, 2007

Carl Singer said:

David, the big red “A” is Attitude — and it’s not an “age” thing.

Perhaps there was an age gap with your presentation in that people may tend to listen more to (age) peers — but that’s not on point.

Re: boring jobs – yes there are boring jobs — and you can’t put lipstick on a pig. But there is a single great motivator.

1 – PAY — you like to eat? Work!

There are potential secondary motivators — do this job well and build a track record of punctuality and performance — and maybe you’ll get a good recommendation letter so you can find a better job (either career path within same company) OR looking elsewhere.

Lots of youngsters who started at McDonalds have gone on to better things.

Yes, these are leadership challenges.

posted on October 24, 2007

Jordan Furlong said:

David, I agree that the attitude displayed by members of your audience was deeply discouraging — you never like to see cynicism from people who haven’t even cracked 30 yet. Part of making it in the business world is taking responsibility for your own career, not sitting back and griping about how this isn’t what you wanted. They need to adjust, and fast.

Nonetheless, I can’t help wonder if the employer here is to blame for more than just poor management. It’s distinctly possible that the work these young people are doing and assigning to others is boring and uninspiring, in which case management is doing a lousy job of matching talent to tasks. There are legions of professional service firms that break their backs recruiting “the best and the brightest” from the new graduate ranks, then turn around and saddle these brilliant young minds with the routine, back-office work that no one else wants to do. The young professional takes one of two messages from this: either the employer is deliberately making me wade through this sludge as part of a “dues-paying exercise,” or this really is what the professional service life is all about. Either way, the result will be exactly the kind of disillusionment and cynicism you described — especially with this new generation of workers who see through corporate platitudes in a heartbeat.

Professional service firms should automate as much of their routine work as they can, outsource most of the rest of it, and focus their efforts on keeping their new hires motivated and engaged with challenging tasks that match their credentials and justify their salaries. I imagine the more senior professionals in the firm would like a piece of that action, too.

posted on October 24, 2007

David (Maister) said:

The three comments above offer very different perspectives. This could be a very enlightening discussion. Please join in!

posted on October 24, 2007

Mike Spack said:


I am going to pick up on your matrix of the four types of practices: Nurses, Psychoanalysts, Pharmacists, and Surgeons. I am 34, so not too far removed from the 20-somethings you were talking to. After reading your books, I decided I would need to be a “nurse” to be an engineering consultant at my age. I don’t have the age or pedigree to do well focusing on the highly challenging work in my profession. I have built a practice of doing “mundane” projects. I do them well and hold my clients hand through the process (I am making good money doing it because the clients I focus on are willing to pay for this service). A very interesting byproduct of this approach is that those same clients are starting (after 5.5 years in business) to bring me more interesting projects.

I have read that Gen Y and Zers (twenty-somethings) want to change the world. Somehow we need to communicate the message that they will grow into their careers. Exciting opportunities get built on the foundation of being competent at the routine tasks of your profession. This is a tough message for newly minted professionals (I personally went through these growing pains out of college), but management needs to consistently bang this drum.

posted on October 24, 2007

Wally Bock said:

I think Jordan is on to something. Perhaps, David, you should have been training these young people’s bosses. I’ve found that people tend to take on the attitudes and practices of their boss, and their first boss has an inordinate impact. Some years back I did a research to try and get at the impact. We identified 16 excellent supervisors in a police agency, all of whom were rated as excellent by their boss, their peers and their subordinates. Then we look at whom they had worked for. It turned out that each of the sixteen broke in with one of four sergeants from an earlier generation. This is hardly scientific, but it’s stayed with me. Our parents and our first bosses have a powerful impact on our attitudes about what work is and what leadership should look like.

posted on October 24, 2007

Lance said:

This doesn’t suprise me at all. While in school, apprenticeship was preached heavily. Most of the people I graduated with do not really enjoy what they do. They are working hard at things they don’t really like in order to have a resume that will get them to something that will pay well and they will enjoy.

One lesson you have taught me David is to never do something I hate or dred–if I can find something I love doing then not only will I have a job that is fun and interesting to me but financial incentives will also follow.

Chalk one up for a hopeful sub-30 year old.

Lance, 25

posted on October 25, 2007

Nick McCormick said:

I agree with Wally. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Managers have an enormous impact on their reports. Bad managers beget bad managers. Thankfully the opposite is also true. Unfortunately, it seems like the good managers are losing the battle. Hopefully we can all help turn that around.

posted on October 25, 2007

Shama Hyder said:

Hey David,

Being in my 20’s, I see a lot of my friends who are very jaded with the corporate world. It makes me especially grateful for always having been an entrepreneur!

posted on October 25, 2007

Mike Spack said:


Wally is definitely on to something, but I don’t have much to add to his comments.

A slightly different perspecitve – I think you should go back to your hospital analogy. I started my engineering consulting firm 5 years ago (I was 29 at the time). I didn’t have the age or the pedigree behind me to be a psycho-analyst or surgeon. I decided I would be best off being a nurse (instead of a pharmacist, i.e. commodity). I focus on competence and communication – I hold my client’s hand through the project. The interesting thing is my clients who were bringing me basic work at the beginning are now bringing me more complicated (some would consider fun) projects now that I have proven myself.

Consultants need to consider their first few years on the job as their residency. You have to have the baseline skills of your profession before you get to work on the most complicated projects.

The medical profession lays out highly regulated steps for surgeons and psycho-analysts before they become fully practicing. Consulting firms would be wise to lay out a similar path for new hires to explain how their career will progress. Then the firm and the employee need to work together to move up the career ladder.

Is this impractical in our age of job hopping and no loyalty?

posted on October 25, 2007

Dominique said:

I feel deeply touched by your comment. Way too many managers use the words, the mottos, the highly valuable contributions of persons like you simply to enrol younger professionals in sweat-shop like journeys. In the end, for these managers, it is simply a matter of maximizing profits, without much consideration for their associates.

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Unfortunately, the most positive and ethical ideas and contributions always run the risk of being recuperated by persons who do not have the same standards as the authors of said ideas, for the sake of serving personal or financial interests or simply because of a lack of global perspective.

However, rest assured that if only one person listens to you and applies what you recommend, that is enough to make the world of professional service firms better. Well, slightly better, but still better.

Yes, it is sad for those who are not lucky enough to be managed by the right category of managers. But the good news is that, there IS a right category of managers. Let’s hope that their number will grow over time. I’m sure that your contribution thereto is and will remain essential.

posted on October 25, 2007

Jay K said:

A couple comments from a 37 year-old. I’ve spent 10 years as a consultant/contractor, and 5 years in corporations before that. I see lots of what David is talking about in his post.

One take on it is those under 30 have a different communication style than the baby boomers. This concept is explored in a book by Karl Kapp, Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning: Tools and Techniques for Transferring Know-How from Boomers to Gamers. The genral idea being that growning up with electronic gadgets and instant gratification creates someone with a different communication style and different expectations about what is work.

Another take on it is that there is a generation of cynical, sellfish workers making their way up the food chain. People who don’t understand that customer service is part of every job, and sometimes it’s better to consider the goals of the group, not just the individual. People who don’t understand the limits of their knowledge or respect the wisdom of those with experience. If anyone has come up with better techniques than I have (which comes down to embarrasing them if front of their peers), please let me know.

And of course the other side is that even Socrates noted that the younger generation had become lazy and selfish. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times.


posted on October 25, 2007

mike said:


You have the analogy of consulting practices being like a hospital – you have nurses, surgeons, pharmacists, and psycho-analysts. Each one has a different function and all of them are important. It is tough for a twenty-something to be a surgeon or a psycho-analyst. They need to learn the basics of the business before they can be trusted with the “brain surgery.” It is important for managers to give their employees the big picture. They need to show them how they can progress from being a pre-med student to being a brain surgeon (or help the employee figure out if they should be a nurse instead).


posted on October 25, 2007

Connie Bensen said:

Hi David,

a quick intro – Through Twitter today I saw that you were presenting at Podcamp Boston & that connected me here. Chris Brogan asked me to review your newest book & I’ve read 4 chapeters. I’m very impressed!

About your questions here – I’m 41 & happened into management 8 yrs ago without formal training. I found that the best way to motivate staff was to get in & do the mundane tasks with them. Set the pace & the tone with them & then gently let them work. I supervised 22 people (all women) & they were very motivated (albeit underpaid in public libraries).

What I’ve noticed is that kids come out of college & seem to expect to start at the top with no life experience. That’s great, but do they realize there are boring tasks in every job? Even in admin I had very creative projects, but some things were mundane & repetitive. But I made sure I never lost touch with the how-to on my front lines.

Now I’ve shifted into marketing (no formal training), leadership & strategic planning as a Community Manager for a software company. And your book is going to be very helpful! My review will be forthcoming. And I’m subscribing to your blog!

posted on October 29, 2007

David (Maister) said:

Thanks, Connie. I look forward to your book review and your continued participation here. Welcome.

posted on October 29, 2007

Gautam said:

Hi David,

Without really knowing the group you addressed some thoughts strike me:

1. Expectations of Gen Y and the millenials are quite different from their bosses.

2. They don’t have the respect for a long corporate life that earlier generations have had. They believe that it’s easy to achieve success if you have a great idea and the “large firm” way of doing things is outdated.

3. Managing is tougher on their managers than before. Most managers have been “developed” based on yesterday’s textbooks. They are ill-equipped to deal with today’s workforce.



posted on October 29, 2007

David (Maister) said:

From: Chris Whitecross, Arrowdynamics Pty Ltd, Australia

I relate completely with your experience outlined in your post. In my work I regularly encounter cynicism and frustration amongst the under 30’s who seem to get the sparkle squashed out of them by their management. In my discussions, the theme that regularly comes out is that their natural desire for appreciation both for their work and as human beings is a long way from being met in the workplace.

As an HR manager for a large organisation in the 90’s it was my job to retrench many people. I did the job but the aftermath of the impact on the individual and their families haunted me despite the fact that we provided ‘top quality’ outplacement assistance to the departing employees.

Most of these employees for the first time found themselves out of a job, under prepared for change and in many cases in financial difficulties. These were the people who went home shattered, disbelieving and harbouring massive bitterness towards the business that had dumped them after many years of service. The business case meant nothing, they experienced massive emotional turmoil. I used to imagine the conversations they had with their partners and families, the tears and vitriol and sense of hopelessness that was played out often in front of their young families. Sadly these kids witnessed aspects of their parents behaviour they had never seen before, fathers and mothers crying, in some cases yelling and screaming in desperate conversations about what to do. These children saw their lives change dramatically, saw their security taken away, saw families split up, parents forced to both work to make ends meet. If it did not happen to their families they knew families and friends where this happened.

These children of the 90’s are the ones who are now in the first stages of their working life. My discussions with them clearly show me that the employers who can offer the things that had been taken from them as children, ie security, appreciation, respect, opportunity and a sense of belonging will be rewarded with a loyal and happy employee who is willing to work and contribute in ways beyond expectation.

Sure they might move on to travel or explore other opportunities but they are more inclined to return in time and also recommend how to find a replacement.

Managers and business owners should stop reading books and attending seminars on the differences between generations and spend the money and time taking their staff for a sandwich and talking to them. Build a relationship, let them get to know the manager as a person. Communicate in an honest and open way, threat them decently and show appreciation. Give them what they are looking for, respect and a place to belong.

Sadly these basic human skills appear to be beyond the capacity of many current managers. It is easier to blame the attitude of young people rather than looking in the mirror and honestly evaluating how much the manager has contributed to the problem. If a manager can’t learn this simple lesson on human interaction, it is then that the childhood spectre comes back with the attitude ‘You won’t do to me what you did to my father!’ They will pack up and leave but screw you for the highest possible benefits and conditions first.

posted on October 29, 2007

Mike said:

I think what you’ve discovered is Gen Y. Don’t you know? They can completely run the corporate world and don’t need anyone telling them any different!

Please excuse the dripping sarcasm, but having been on the hiring end of this generation (I’m 35 and with my father own a research and consulting firm), my take is they need a collective kick in the pants. Their expectations are completely unrealistic and if they are not completely in love with every single aspect of their job, their work ethic is sub-standard. And firm loyalty? Forget it.

posted on October 30, 2007

Dan said:

Hi David,

Having moved past my initial cynicism, I’m now mildly amused at how many management books, seminars, and classes focus on motivating others. I’m 44 and won’t pretend to understand a generation other than my own but I’ve never come across anyone who started a new job being cynical and jaded from day 1. It seems to me that managers should work on finding out what is happening to de-motivate those around them than trying to become some sort of ‘master motivator’ – a fool’s errand by the way.

Certainly there are boring and mundane aspects of any job, but they are just as essentail as the more interesting aspects if one is striving to do the whole job well. To segregate work into the buckets of ‘mundane’ and ‘exciting’, and then dole it out to juniors and seniors respectively is a textbook example of how to de-motivate. Maybe the managers of this group have an opportunity to demonstrate the mundane aspects of their own jobs while making sure that their juniors have a reasonable balance of mundane and exciting tasks.

posted on October 30, 2007

Florin Petean said:

I’ll mention a few reactions I’ve experienced, as facilitator:

1. It’s their responsibility! — I’m not ready to deal with this kind of behaviors. I hope that time will bless them with wisdom and experience. Not me and not now, thanks!

2. They are victims of unfavorable circumstances— I’m very sorry for your worry, but it’s beyond my contract — maybe I’ll mention that to the their management

3. It’s my responsibility! Shame on me! I’m not prepared enough for that! I should me more scrupulous with my preparation next time!

4. Let’s go deeper! Let’s discuss it!

Recently I was faced with a similar situation, and my dilemma remains (as I feel there is some truth in each situation I’ve described above) — what can I do? What do you do to deal with reactions like cynicism, sarcasm, skepticism?

posted on November 12, 2007

Penelope Rafa said:

Sigh! If only I could get our management to indulge in inspiring us!

I’m 24, with a company for 2 years and have a management who seems to have forsaken their staff completely. Fair enough, maybe we should be self motivated … but for heavens sake, facilitate our growth with your experience!

I’ve used the white board in our conference room as an “anonymous suggestions board”, went ignored. I’m thinking of buying my boss a book – 1001 ways to energize your employees and I don’t care anymore if it comes across as an utter insult.

Any advice? David, loving your podcasts!

posted on January 12, 2008