Embrace young professionals as culture creators
By Anthony Iracki
As a millennial, I am faced daily with a number of perceived truths about my generation, such as the things I have “killed”—credit cards, divorce, American cheese, print news, ESPN, Applebee’s. But what is hurting my career most is that I want too much, too soon, and I need to pay my dues and stop moving around.
What a pretty picture. Who wouldn’t want to be known as a cultural mass murderer, vegan, and a young upstart with no respect for the way things are or have been?
Yet, what these perceptions often fail to acknowledge are all the positives of my generation. I came of age in a digital world where information and interconnectedness flourished. An age where innocence was lost in seeing the backdrop of a favorite holiday movie sequel crumble in flames, and a job-market decision to scuba down to the bottom of the Marianas trench with James Cameron as soon as I graduated.
So what is one to do when faced with this new and uncharted world? Hit the reset button and create. Create a new world focused on fairness, equity, and inclusion. My generation set out to create a new culture that’s been all the rage in the tabloids, but has hit roadblocks at work. What we need now are fewer articles on what’s wrong with us, and fewer ones from millennials opining about what’s wrong with those above us, and more about collaboration in order to accomplish greatness in our lines of work.
We want fairness from employers to allow us to work remotely or in-house and to be treated as the adults we are. We want equity in respect and compensation for the hard work we do. We want inclusion in the process, the decision making, and a seat at the table to share ideas. The world moves fast, the future is still in our hands, and millennials want a say in what’s to come. But we need your help, distinguished professionals, and, more importantly, we want your help getting there.
At this point, you might be asking: What is a culture creator besides a Linkedin buzzword? And that is a great question. A culture creator is someone who sees the world and asks, “Why not?” But more importantly that person then says, “If not me, then who?” That person understands that change comes from hard work and dedication, and knows it comes from the heart and for free. That young upstart in your department asking all those questions about why things have been done a certain way probably sees something that could be improved upon and would probably tackle the challenge for free if you asked. You could create buy-in, allow that person to demonstrate value, and establish a mentoring opportunity.
Opportunities To Lead
Taking a step back, the most important piece in all of this is communication. As a manager, you will never know what staff members are capable of if you don’t talk to them. Sounds simple, but the reality is that most issues start and stop with communication. Regular one-on-ones are important to get a feel for an employee, track progress, build trust in the relationship, and, most importantly, look for the key to all of this—capacity. Do individuals on your team have the capacity to impact cultural change inside the organization? They can have the heart to try, but they also need capacity to take on one of the hardest challenges anyone will face.
So you’ve had the conversations, you’ve found a young professional with great ideas who demonstrates capacity to do the work, and you can tell there’s an issue he or she is passionate about. What next? Create opportunities to lead.
When I was with a former employer, there was a real challenge with complacency and individuals who didn’t focus on professional development. As the leader of a committee to address the issues, our team focused on creating these opportunities by conducting 2360 evaluations and setting up learning communities for staff members to improve. These communities were led by individuals who showed passion for the topic, and it didn’t matter what their title was. I was given an opportunity to impact the culture of my department, and in doing so I gave other individuals the opportunity to lead as well.
My biggest accomplishment, however, has been impacting the culture of my state association. In 2016, my group launched a Young Professionals Network focused on professional development, mentorship, and leadership opportunities for young professionals and college students in Wisconsin. Through the YPN, we were able to create statewide leadership positions and various opportunities: to become published, to present at conferences, and to network with leaders on a national level. We brought young professionals to the state association board table and the foundation table with full-on voting seats. And we had our own conference tract to bring in speakers. All of this was accomplished within two years.
Sounds great, right? But the last component to all of this is the most important. None of this would have happened without the help and support of mentors and distinguished professionals in my state, and especially my department head who vouched for me. I would not have had the opportunity to start the YPN if my state association director had not said “yes” and mentored me along the way. Mentorship matters.
Find Common Ground
My charge to all millennials and distinguished professionals in the field is to stop focusing on what’s different and focus on what’s similar. What are some cultural challenges you see in an organization leading to the loss of staff members or a negative working environment? How can you as a distinguished professional reach out and help a young professional who seems to be struggling? And, young professionals, how can you be the change you want to see before freshening up your resume and hightailing it out of there? There’s always going to be something at every job that isn’t perfect. But if you can stay, find a mentor, and have impact to build a company culture you’re happy and proud to work in, then you’ll find a much more fulfilling career. Be the change you want to see. Create the company you want to work for. Find a mentor and don’t ever look back.
If not you, then who?
Anthony Iracki is a Recreation Supervisor from the Metro Milwaukee area. He is the past chair and founder of the Wisconsin Park and Recreation Associations Young Professionals Network. When he is not working to impact change, he enjoys hiking with his dog, Samson, collecting watches, and traveling. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, Linkedin.com/anthonyiracki, or Facebook.com/airacki.