Who Do You Want to Hire? An M-Word, or Brenda?

Jason Jones posted this video and asked ELGL nation to share their feedback. Here’s mine (and I’ll share others as they post on the Facebook group or in the comments):

Simon Sinek reminds me of that person you get stuck next to at a dinner party who talks the entire time and you have to sit there listening to their random theories, anxiously wondering if it’s too soon to pretend to use the ladies room again. His breathless soliloquy about millennials (or as we call them here at ELGL, the m-words) makes me think he’s never actually encountered one in the flesh before.

If his broad brush assumptions about m-words are true, then we should jump on his bandwagon and welcome all of these people who want to immediately make an impact into local government service. Because truly – local government can offer that love, job fulfillment, joy, and diverse skill set development in every department.

He cites an example of someone who wants to quit after eight months on the job, because they didn’t “make an impact.” Pretending this is true for all m-words… this is where the immediate value of local government service works to our advantage. If we hear of people who want to make a difference in eight months, we need to scoop them up – get in a hiring war over them! – because they are the people who are going to join our organizations and question why we’re doing work the ways we’ve always done; why we haven’t embraced technologies yet; when they can get trained so they can help out when their colleague goes on vacation or retires.

And, let’s think of all of the important and impactful stuff that happens in eight months in a local government:

  • Council goals and strategic plans adopted
  • Budgets created, reviewed and adopted
  • Community engagement plans created, implemented, adopted
  • Entire sections of a city repaved, repiped, etc.
  • Parks and playgrounds built
  • Summer recreation seasons planned and implemented
  • Capital improvement projects started and completed
  • …this list could go on and on, but you get the idea… in eight months in local government, you can do a lot of impactful work where you immediately see the value in your community.

He uses the analogy that making a difference is like a mountain, and m-words expect to summit, almost immediately. While I don’t doubt that may be true for some people, I don’t think that’s a generational quirk exclusive to m-words. I think those people are called “gunners” and they were as annoying to prior generations as they are now. Also, it seems a tad dramatic to claim that being able to use technology is “being dealt a bad hand.” If we want to talk about generational problems, then surely using a mobile phone falls far below the global crises that our parents’ and grandparents’ generations faced when they were born.

The collective energy being poured into examining “generational differences” exhausts me. If videos like this are used at local government professional conferences in 2017 instead of talking about how organizations create succession and knowledge transfer plans, then I might have to jab a free pen from the exhibit hall into my ear.

It’s certainly easier to bemoan the perceived problems of a generation of workers than to take the time to harness their energy and let it lead us into a new way of local government service. I’m the first to admit than an eager new hire in their first job is like a puppy: anxious to please, occasionally making mistakes, making a lot of noise, and running ahead faster than we want to walk.

But isn’t that a good problem to have? Don’t we all bemoan “Brenda in accounting,” who can’t use Excel and smells like menthols and kitty litter, and is waiting “one more year, I promise” to retire?

When faced with the choice to have an m-word workforce that desperately wants to make a difference, or Brenda as my next employee, I’m going to hire the overeager puppy that hasn’t learned to put away their cell phone during meetings. Because it’s a heckuva lot easier to say “hey, don’t bring your cellphone to a meeting” than convince Brenda to learn Excel, stop smoking, get a dog, and retire already.

  • Laura

    “If videos like this are used at local government professional conferences in 2017 instead of talking about how organizations create succession and knowledge transfer plans, then I might have to jab a free pen from the exhibit hall into my ear” – PREACH!

    Honestly, this video was somewhat painful to watch – and rather insulting. I concede that I can think of at least one person that I know personally who fits the bill for each negative stereotype he made (and they aren’t just in the m-word group). However, I find the “dealt a bad hand” argument to be off-putting, and it doesn’t give the individual any ownership/responsibility for his or her own attitudes and actions.

    5 years ago, I was that puppy in her first government job. Eager to please, yes – but also, educated, excited, and entirely passionate about public service. Did I want to make a difference? Absolutely! For me, that difference didn’t have to be something that rocks the foundation of the earth and turns it on its head – at least, not in my first day/week/month/year on the job. The difference could be making my coworker’s day, or providing a resident with the best customer service I can deliver.

    When I’m able to find common ground between my personal identity and the vision that has been cast for my workplace, I’m able to be successful in my position, AND feel like I’m making a difference. I have a tremendous need for great leaders who provide mentoring and effective communication in order to help me find that nexus and embrace it. I don’t think that need is exclusive to m-words – we can all benefit!

    May I have my Participation Medal for Commenting now? Just kidding… I’d probably have to put down my phone to pick it up.

  • parrish1908

    THANK YOU!!!!!! honestly I’m over this weird obsession CAN WE LIVE

  • Elizabeth King

    This post is such a refreshing read. As an m-person I am so sick of hearing these over generalizations about who they think I am. A agree 100% that we need to encourage people who are highly educated, driven, and want to make a difference into joining public service. Stop over analyzing us and hire us already.

  • Benjamin Y. Clark
  • Dean Shankle

    Seriously? I couldn’t get past the first 30 seconds. I have been involved in local government for 30 years and have worked with gems and jerks of all ages. Any generational stereotyping is ridiculous and, like all prejudice, a shortcut for a lazy mind.

  • Maia

    Happy to learn I wasn’t the only one who saw this video and couldn’t stop cringing. Still… responding by stereotyping older workers isn’t moving the conversation forward. We’re better than that!