A growing Generation Y or millennial employee pool requires new training and management strategies. In the US it is estimated that within the next three to four years, the Generation Y employee pool will grow to 30% of its workforce (Bruce Tulgan, Rainmaker Thinking). According to the Associate Director of Training for ESPN, Doug Kramon, within ESPN’s marketing department, Gen Y’s make up 70% of the team. Gen Y’s are working primarily as sales reps but approximately 20% of Gen Y’s in marketing are middle managers.

Clearings at ESPN

ESPN has responded to the need for Gen Y specific training by conducting open communication forums quarterly called “Clearings”. These clearings offer employees a chance to openly discuss the obstacles they are facing both internally and externally. New managers joining the team attend a three-day intensive training session lead by outsourced training vendor and promoter of the concept, Breakthrough International Group, to introduce the Clearing concept and understand the ground rules of this open communication forum. New employees to ESPN attend a more condensed version of the training.

The Ground Rules for a Clearing

Rule #1: Issues expressed must be respected

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No one is ever “shot” in the Clearing. The employee is coached to express the obstacles he is facing without a verbally attacking anyone. Employees state the facts and describe the behaviors, how the behavior makes them feel and the obstacles this behavior creates. The person being criticized must then respond with empathy and a promise to do his part to overcome the obstacles and improve the working relationship. An experienced Clearing Arbitrator (from another unrelated department) moderates any discussions.

Rule #2: Positive comments are encouraged

Clearings are not just a vehicle to discuss obstacles. Clearings are also an opportunity for supervisors and subordinates to praise and show appreciation for each other by describing positive behaviors and accomplishments.

Rule #3: Action plans must be created

Meetings are scheduled following Clearings that include the Clearing Arbitrator to establish action plans to resolve obstacles.

Kramon explains, “In the end, this allows a team leader or supervisor to better manage team goals and objectives because honest and trusting two-way communication has been established with every team member.”

Identified Obstacles Become Performance Goals

The obstacles that are identified in the clearing process then lead to performance goals for the employee documented in twice-annual performance reviews. The onus for improvement isn’t exclusively on the employee but raises and performance bonuses are based on meeting the performance goals (the employee’s part in overcoming identified obstacles).

ESPN is very enthusiastic about using Clearings as a communication tool, as it removes the passive aggressive communication styles used in the past by disgruntled employees. According to Kramon, “We have noticed a dramatic improvement in the communication in our department due to the Clearings. Clearings build trust”. Kramon is careful to point out that the goals that are set to overcome obstacles identified in the clearing process must be met if the employee is to remain employed at ESPN.

Mobile Training

Kramon also uses another Gen Y training innovation – mobile solutions for self-paced training that allows his team to fit in training when their schedule allows. Flexible work hours and self-paced training fits with Gen Y values and preferred work style.

ESPN provides employees with a PDAs (or some use their personal iPhones) so that they are able to multitask with technology and fit training in when it suits their schedule. Kramon uses Adobe Captivate 3 and Quia Web to create quizzes and exercises that can be accessed by web enabled and Java capable mobile devices such as laptops, PDA’s or iPhones.

Companies or departments with a large Gen Y employee population need to rethink traditional training strategies if they hope to engage Generation Y employees. They require flexibility, after-hour accessibility, collaborative approaches and appreciation for innovative thinking and contributions.