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Generation Why?

At the recent CEDIA Management Conference, a record 260 attendees converged on San Diego to discuss employee recruitment and retention and many other business topics, sharing best practices and learning from some of the top experts in those categories. One keynote speaker who took a particularly intriguing approach to the human resources topic was Eric Chester, a muscular, former high school teacher who has made the subject of Generation Why? his primary focus.

So named for the group of young people who follow on the heels of the much-publicized slacker-generation X, Generation Why?, according to Chester, is the tattooed and multi-pierced demographic that might answer the age-old Army command, When I tell you to jump, you say… with Why? instead of How high?!

In his engaging style, Chester offered insight into this often-baffling group of kids who can be as aggravating as they are necessary to the future of our businesses. One observation Chester made that is tailor-made for our industry was that, generally, this next wave of potential employees hates stagnation and boredom more than anything else. Theyll choose physical injury over boredom, Chester pointed out. That could bode well for custom installation business owners whose field technicians and installers typically experience a change of environment every day. Try out this recruiting tool the next time youre looking to hire new installers and technicians: We offer a change of scenery, change of environment, and change of temperature, nearly every day.

Although he admitted that generational studies is not an exact science, Chester seemed to get to the heart of basic human tendenciesspecifically why Generation Why asks Why? so much.

This attitude, Chester believes, comes from over-nurturing Boomers who started their families later in life and then allowed their kids to have more freedom and voice than any prior generation. As employees, Chester said, Generation Why? expects the same treatment from their boss. Specifically, they dont like being told what to do, but prefer having a voice in the organization.

Chesters concepts made a lot of sense, though they may be hard to implement. Instead of shutting them up, which is what youd like to do, get to know them as a people, he suggested. Get to know their books, movies, and their MySpace page. Dont try to be like them because youd only be a poser. Instead, step back, know who they are, and tune into their frequency.

I was feeling pretty good about this advice until I ran into RS contributor Michael Heiss at lunch later that day. Mike told me that he thought the whole thing was nonsensea point he also shared with Eric Chester personally. Mikes argument was that while its a great idea to treat your subordinates fairly, that does not mean you should throw rules for politeness and decorum out the window when it comes to dealing with your well-heeled clientele.

A lot of the clients in this business are rich, conservative guys who might not appreciate a tattoo on the side of some kids head, Heiss said. The boss might be cool with it, but he needs to tell his employee that when he goes over to Mr. Jones house, he needs to put a hat on his head and cover up the tattoo.
Chester agreed that you can still have your rules, but just make sure that you establish them up front and stick by them. You must, he said, be the boss that tells your employees the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Never misrepresent your culture.

Generation Why? is a skeptical bunch that have seen a lot of things that have put them on guard and made them distrustful, Chester said. They want to believe in you, but you have to show them why they should.