Commencement season is in full bloom. And many organizations are looking forward to an influx of freshly-minted graduates within their ranks. Potential and excitement fill the air. The opportunity to develop, inspire, engage, and grow these new workplace entrants is great. So is the potential to kill their motivation and drive… with just four small words.
I met a young man in his mid-20’s recently who shared with me his plans to change jobs. He’d been with his current employer for a couple of years, taking on increasing levels of responsibility. He didn’t mind the additional work without a title change or more compensation; he was delighted to be learning, expanding his skills, and gaining valuable experience. A position in his current organization that represented the next logical step in his career progression had recently opened up. He summoned the courage to approach his management with his interest. The response he received started with those four small words:
“You’re too young to…”
Nothing that came after mattered to – or was even heard by – this young man. He promptly activated his network, started applying for jobs elsewhere, and tendered his resignation.
It reminded me of a time earlier in my career. I was a consultant and had been working with my company’s sales team and a prospective client on a sizable and fairly complex training implementation. Things had gone well and the client was very happy with the work. The contract was signed and I got ready to head off to Arizona. Then I heard those four small words:
“You’re too young to…”
Planning the implementation was one thing; but rolling it out… that required someone with more experience and some grey hair. I’d done a fine job, my boss told me. But I was too young to take it from there.
These four small words go far beyond answering a request or redirecting someone’s effort. They’re killer words. They extinguish motivation, inspiration, excitement, and even connection with the organization. These four small words close doors and choke off possibilities. They discourage, demoralize, and drive young people away.
Now, let’s be honest. Not all young people are prepared to take on every challenge they aspire to. But youth should never be used as an excuse or reason to hold someone back. Instead, what if organizations and managers communicated a different ‘you’re too’ message to their young, ambitious workers? What about…
You’re too talented to not keep growing… so what skills will you need to develop to be prepared to take on greater responsibilities?
You’re too valuable to not know how much we appreciate you… so thank you for your contributions and performance.
You’re too creative and innovative to not continue to be challenged… so what‘s next on the list of things you’d like to take on?
The ambition and even impatience of young workers can be a vital competitive advantage to organizations who know how to harness it. We need young employees to remain passionately engaged so we can cultivate them into the tenured contributors who will become the bedrock of our organizations. The first step is to rid your vocabulary of those four small words. And we’re never too young – or old – to do that.