Bruce Tulgan is the new Tom Peters.
Howard Jenkins, Chairman and CEO (fmr.), Publix Super Markets, Inc.

Help Millennials Keep Score

When Millennials know you are keeping track of their day-to-day performance, their measuring instinct is sparked and their competitive spirit ignited. Keeping close track of their work tells them that they are important and their work is important. The process motivates them to perform because they want to get credit, score points, earn more of whatever there is to earn.

Just remember to make it very clear every step of the way exactly how those points can be earned—or lost. You need a system.

The Point System

One outstanding system I’ve seen in action is used in the warehouses of a large beverage wholesaler. Every day, hundreds (or even thousands) of boxes come in one end of a warehouse and hundreds more go out the other end. All day long, boxes are being moved from one end to the other, meticulously accounted for by bar codes scanned each time they are moved. Everybody in that warehouse is on a point system. One of the warehouse managers told me, “The only way you get points around here is moving boxes. If you drive a delivery truck, you get points by delivering boxes. You break bottles, you lose points. If you work in the loading dock, you get points by loading boxes onto the truck. Points are how everything gets done here. That’s how you make extra money. That’s how you get to leave early or get extra days off.”

How does the system work? The warehouse manager laughed: “Everybody is always trying to get points, especially the young guys. We’ve got a very young group in the warehouse. These guys are practically climbing over each other when a truck pulls in. The young guys want to get their points. Some of them want to work all day and make more money. Some of them just want to get their points and get out of here for the day. But they all want to get those points. I just sit back and let [the points] do most of the management work.”

Similarly, the founding partner of a small advertising firm told me that she started giving out “extra points” to associates “for above-and-beyond performance on very difficult projects.” She told me, “At first, I didn’t even know what I really meant by extra points. But I’d usually come back with a bonus check, so the points came to mean something.” The practice was so popular among the younger associates that the partner started attaching points to projects in advance. “After a while, just about any task, no matter how small, was eligible for extra points. If you get something done very fast, you might get extra points. If you really do a fantastic job on something, that’s extra points. It’s for above-and-beyond performance. And it’s worth money.”

Am I saying you should create a point system or start giving out gold stars to your Millennials? If you can think of easy ways to convert the performance you need from your young employees into a point system, then maybe you should consider it. I promise you, a point system will get Millennials focused like a laser beam. If you want them to start showing up earlier for work, attach points for every minute they arrive early, and take away points for every minute they come in late. If you want Millennials to meet quality standards, give them checklists of every detail and specification, and give points for every detail and specification completed—and take away points for every one missed. If you want Millennials to speed up, set a realistic quota of tasks per hour and give points for every task done over the quota—and take away points for every task under the quota. And so on.

Another approach is to help Millennials keep track of their own work by using self-monitoring tools like project plans, checklists, and activity logs. Millennials can monitor whether they are meeting goals and deadlines laid out in a project plan, make notations within checklists, and report to you at regular intervals. Activity logs are diaries that Millennials can keep, noting contemporaneously exactly what they do all day, including breaks and interruptions. Each time he or she moves on to a new activity, the young employee might note the time and the new activity. By using these tools, Millennials can document their own hard work every step of the way and build their own track record of success.

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