Okay, play along with me for a minute. I’m going to give you six behaviors or characteristics, and I want you to imagine a person you know or visualize a character who possesses these traits:
*Judging (“You’re wrong”)
*Superiority (“Clearly, I’m better than you”)
*Certainty (“Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind’s made up”)
*Controlling (“Let me tell you how to do things right”)
*Indifference (“Whatever. You’re not important and neither are your ideas”)
Who or what came to mind? Male or female? How old was he or she? Did you think of a specific profession or a position that this individual held?
Actually, the above list is one that I developed as the “Six Behaviors That Inhibit Communication” and included in my book Risk: A Road Worth Traveling. But when I try to visualize an imaginary character that possesses the above traits, I’ll be honest, I think of a hardheaded football coach from generations ago who is short on intellect and long on testosterone.
What’s ironic is that I recently read a story about a leader within an organization who was focused on improving his communication and teaching methods with his younger employees. And of course, this leader was a football coach.
St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher leads the youngest team in the National Football League; the average age of his players is 24 years old. These young guys are “Millennial,” the last generation to emerge from the 20th century. Depending upon which research report you read, Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are classified as having been born in the period from 1978 to 2000 (give or take a couple of years).
This is a digital generation that grew up with sophisticated video games and handheld devices that delivered more fun and more information than I could have dreamed of as a kid. To Millennial, technology is not a desktop computer and learning is not having your backside planted in chair for hours, hearing someone talk at you. Learning means being engaged, mentally and physically. And communicating means more images and fewer syllables.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article reporter Kevin Clark detailed how Fisher and the Rams have taken a new approach to teaching their players. After hiring a consultant to monitor and evaluate the Rams teaching methods during off-season training and training camp, Fisher and his staff learned some things about our evolving workforce that all of us should consider:
*Attention spans are shrinking, so it’s crucial to keep this audience mentally engaged. The Rams’ teaching sessions evolved from hours-long meetings to brief ones (10-15 minutes) followed immediately by getting the players on the field to put what they just learned in to practice.
*Millennial want to know “Why?” To everything. And that’s a good thing. They need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. This may come from a Millennial trait to view work as a key part of life, not a separate activity. They view work as an opportunity to connect to a larger purpose, and that is an important component of their job satisfaction.
*With an abundance of visual learners on the team, Fisher and his coaching staff use countless video examples to communicate how executing a play one way leads to success, while executing a play another way leads to disaster. And with this technology savvy generation that is accustomed to sharing just about everything, apps like SnapChat and Instagram make it simple for Rams teammates to communicate and pass along information…24×7.
*The Rams have even relaxed wake-up times and are giving players an option of how they would like to receive the team playbook: in the traditional three-ring binder format or in digital files that are compatible with any number of devices…and viewable anytime, anywhere.
So much of this is common sense, isn’t it? I applaud the Rams for taking this step. Interestingly, this Millennial-friendly approach to communicating and teaching is not standard operating procedure for most NFL teams. But with a workforce that learns differently, it only makes sense to teach differently. Understand who you’re speaking with and maximize your efficiency and impact when addressing your team.
The good football coaches are changing.
And so should we.