Does Gen Y Really Want Honest Feedback?
There is an abundance of articles about why Gen Y needs to be treated differently. However, I was intrigued by the fact that none of these articles appear to have been written by a Gen Y author. So I decided to ask the Y Generation what kind of feedback they want. I gathered data from 3,715 respondents, of which 1,026 were Gen Yers. I asked them their preference for giving and receiving feedback after hearing observations that Gen Y only wants to be praised, recognized and given positive feedback.
The specific question the survey asked was, “If I had my choice I would rather receive…
a. Praise or recognition for a job well done
b. Some helpful corrective feedback
The graph below shows the results. To my surprise, 66% of Gen Y respondents preferred “Some helpful, corrective feedback.” In fact, they responded more strongly on that answer than older generations.
To confirm these finding I also asked another question.
What I appreciate most from my manager is…
a. Clear, specific critiques of what I could do better
b. An abundance of recognition and praise
As you can see from the chart below, the vast majority of Gen Y respondents wanted clear, specific critiques. Older generations have that preference too, by a 2 to 1 margin, but Gen Y wanted clear, specific critiques by a ratio of 2.7:1.
Do they really want it?
The gnawing question, however, is whether they are really, truly willing to hear these critiques. Recently, I spoke to a high-potential Gen Y leader in Amsterdam last week and asked him if he really wanted clear, specific critiques. He said, “I want to know how I am doing, but I am insecure as hell!”
His response leads to yet another facet of managing Gen Y. Confidence also matters, and as we look at confidence by age for males and females we can note that statistically, confidence grows over time. As people age, their self-assurance increases. From our prior reports at Zenger Folkman, we know there is a strong correlation between confidence and willingness to accept corrective feedback. One of the conundrums Gen Y workers experience is genuine curiosity about how they are doing combined with fear and insecurity they may be doing poorly. The result: a person who wants to know how they are doing, but they only really want the answer if the result is good news.
Confidence and Age
Our belief is that younger people in the workforce have always needed more reassurance and reinforcement than their older and more experienced colleagues. This is not a new phenomenon, and it is certainly not unique to Gen Y.
Educational practices have evolved and young people don’t experience the stern, critical and brutally honest teachers that their parents and grandparents faced. There’s no question that the education environment has changed.
How, then, can we best lead Gen Y? Our conclusion is that Gen Y wants honest feedback; however the style and manner in which the message is delivered is especially key to this group. We think this principle applies to all age groups, but the importance of manner and style is most imperative of all for Gen Y.
The assessment also asked people to rate their manager on a series of behaviors (see graph below). Several of the behaviors correlated strongly with increasing the confidence of those in Gen Y. Gen Y workers welcome corrective feedback and critiques, but prior to receiving this feedback it is paramount that they have a manager who carefully listens to their point of view. Rather than blow people away with what’s wrong, managers who first try to understand what has happened from the employee’s point of view are more successful at giving effective feedback.
Those in Gen Y also want a manager who gives honest and straightforward feedback on a regular basis. They don’t want to be ambushed by feedback they are not expecting to hear. Regular feedback reduces anxiety and fear, and if a person knows feedback is coming, they are better prepared to receive the information and consider it well. In summary: Even though they say they don’t need it, Gen Y workers really do want to hear praise, recognition and positive remarks along with the corrective feedback they receive.
In my discussion with the high potential Gen Y leader he described two feedback experiences. One worked well, and the other one was a disaster.
What worked well?
“I was told that I had good analytical skills, and that made me feel great because this was a manager who I really respected. She then asked me, “Would you like a recommendation on what you could do to build this into a profound strength?” Energetically, I said, “YES.” I listened to every word and did exactly what she said in the future. That was great feedback.” (Note that the feedback was positive and focused on the individual’s strengths.)
What didn’t work?
“A high level leader attended a presentation I gave for a group of senior leaders. I thought the presentation went well and I was able to answer all of the questions, resulting in a decision to move forward. After the presentation, the high level leader came to me and said, ‘You really need to have the main point of the slide on every single slide!’ On one slide I had shown some data but I hadn’t included the point in the title at the top of the slide. I had thought the point was obvious enough that I didn’t need to spell it out for others. After that he just walked away. I thought I had done a good job in the presentation, but after his comment I felt the whole presentation was shot and my career was over. To this day I am angry. His comment was correct, but he made me feel like a failure.”
How easy it would have been for the senior leader to have said, instead, “That was a really well-constructed presentation,” then, “Would you like one small observation for future presentations?” (Assume the answer is yes.) “On all slides but one you had the main point at the top. The people in this organization really like seeing it there.” Now the message is positive and is generally focused on a strength.
With lower confidence, Gen Y employees need assurance. They want to know what they can do to improve, but they also need to be reminded that they have done a good job. People in every generation want feedback, but they also want to know if they are “okay.” The message is clear: Gen Y really does want corrective feedback and even critiques, but they are most receptive when it is aligned with ample praise, recognition, listening and assurance as well.