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Managing upwards

Sunday, October 25, 2015
Case preparation guide:

The following guide is intended to aid readers in analysing the case, “Managing Upwards.” When analysing a case, remember that there are many possible approaches and solutions and the goal is to develop your analytical and problem-solving skills rather than figure out “the one right answer.”


Stacy Seales had just returned from attending her first executive’s retreat after being promoted to the position of branch manager at the bank where she worked. This was her second promotion since joining the bank as an accounting assistant in 2007 and represented a major achievement for her career. While she was excited by this promotion, she sometimes felt like a misfit since she was often the youngest person at meetings and often found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to give instructions to subordinates who were twice her age. She had also been experiencing increasing friction with a few of the older staff members who seemed to resent her rapid rise in the organisation. 

As she reflected on the meeting, she couldn’t help wondering whether she would be accepted by employees who were so much older than she was and what she could do to earn their respect.

Case analysis

Q1. What are the typical characteristics of employees who belong to Generation Y?

Generation Y, also known as milllenials or the Internet generation, refers to the generation of people born during the 1980s and early 1990s. In contrast to previous generations, members of Generation Y are more technologically savvy due to growing up within the information age and have incorporated technology into all aspects of their lives.

Employees who belong to Generation Y are much less committed to their organisations and are more comfortable changing jobs. This is evident by the fact that despite being promoted to a senior promotion in a relatively short period, Stacy was still keeping her options open and seriously contemplating a job offer from another company.

Compared to previous generations, millennials seek challenges but are very concerned with achieving an effective work/life balance. 

“Working to live” rather than “living to work” is a common mantra for employees of this generation. These workers also seek constant positive feedback and reassurance they are doing a good job and prefer instant recognition of their efforts by senior management over a more formal annual performance appraisal. 

A striking characteristic of millennials is the fact that they are extremely ambitious and confident in their ability to achieve their life goals. This can sometimes be perceived as overly aggressive by older members of the organisation. Stacy did not hesitate, for instance, to ask for a meeting with the HR manager when she felt that her career goals were not being fulfilled. 

Millennials are also more reliant on social networks and prefer to work in teams. They rely on this network for assistance in getting solutions to problems they encounter and are accustomed to texting and speaking in an abbreviated form with members of their social circle. Face-to-face communication is sometimes viewed as an inefficient form of communication compared to social media and these employees are often unaware of their non-verbal cues.

Q2. What strategies would you recommend to manage these Generation Y employees?

If companies do not want to lose talented employees with the potential for generating significant long term revenues, they need to develop new strategies for engaging millennials. One of the most important actions that managers can take is to set clear targets and provide continual feedback. Performance reviews should be done on a quarterly basis rather than annually and the factors required to succeed in the organisations need to be clearly identified. 

The corporate culture itself needs to be less hierarchical or rule driven and more participatory and “people-centred.”

It is critical that millennial employees be provided with some flexibility and autonomy in order not to feel that they are being micro-managed. Reward systems should be developed to provide public recognition to employees as they achieve significant milestones and the incentive structure needs to be competitive with industry standards in order to increase employee retention.

The company can satisfy employees’ desire for continual learning by offering tuition reimbursement and ongoing training and development programmes. Emphasising the ways in which the company gives back to its community and providing opportunities to engage in socially responsible projects matches the willingness of millennials to focus on a higher purpose in life. Opportunities to blow off steam and engage in social activities are also necessary to foster the healthy work/life balance that these employees crave.

Training needs to be provided in workplace protocols as part of the onboarding process so that Gen Y employees are made aware of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the workplace. 

Establishing mentoring opportunities for employees and providing clear career paths is important for retaining millennials who are driven to succeed and embrace close social ties within the workplace. Spending time teaching and coaching these employees is an investment that will significantly enhance the likelihood of retention while also increasing loyalty. 

Q3. What challenges does Stacy Seales face in her current position and what career advice would you give her?

The major challenge that Stacy faces is that she is not relying on the soft skills that propelled the earlier stages of her career. There is a clear breakdown in communication with the older members of her team and rather than reaching out to the veterans she appears to have resorted to working harder in order to justify her appointment. 

While her professional expertise is unquestioned, she is exhibiting poor interpersonal skills and unduly focusing on the age difference that exists instead of finding creative ways to bridge the gap. 

Focusing on her personal achievements rather than seeking cooperation and building rapport with her subordinates serves to further isolate her from her colleagues. 

Taking the offer from the accounting firm may seem attractive because of the increase in salary and the fact that Stacy would no longer have to deal with the criticism of her coworkers. 

Leaving the current organisation, however, is shortsighted, since it does not preclude the possibility that she would face the same reaction from older workers in her new job. She may also not get the active support that she currently enjoys from her superiors and thus have less of a network to rely on in navigating any challenges she may encounter. 

It thus appears advisable for her to stay and gain some managerial experience while identifying mentors within the organization who can assist her in dealing with the inter-generational conflict that she is currently facing. 

Dr Barney Pacheco is a lecturer in the Department of Management Studies at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine


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