Ali Girard


The Importance of “Why” to Gen Y

I’ll be taking Prosci’s Change Management Certification Program in May, and today they sent out some pre-reading material for the course. The package included the first nine chapters of ADKAR: a model for change in business, government and our community. Being the keener that I am, I read the first two chapters tonight.

The second chapter got me thinking. It covered the first “A” of ADKAR: awareness. I thought that it laid a pretty good foundation for an argument for the increasing importance of change management, starting with this sentence:

“Meeting the human need to know ‘why’ is a critical factor in managing change.”

I think that satisfying this need to know “why” is going to become more important as Millennials (Generation Y) continue to fill out the foundations of the workforce.

Now, being a Millennial myself, I don’t typically like to hear “this is the way your generation is,” but I think that the term “Generation Y” contains quite an apt pun. Of all the things I’ve heard about those born between 1980 and 2000 (you’re self-entitled, lazy, addicted to your phone, and so on) the one thing that resonates with me is that we ask why.

Set up to be the most highly educated group in Canadian history, Millennials are being, and have been, literally taught to ask why. Whether your degree was in Gender Studies or Biochemistry, higher education is partially framed around the pursuit of understanding why things are the way they are. In addition to this, the ease of access to information means not only can we ask why, we can find the answer.

This is not to say that no other generation has thought “why” when faced with a change before. To return to ADKAR, I think it’s a matter of having cultural expectations set. The book states that the “long-honoured nature of military relationships enables rapid compliance to change.” The military has established a culture that has a set expectation: when you are given an order, you act. You don’t stop to ask why because you may have lives depending on your actions.

Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers entered the workforce in different cultural environments than the one that exists today. While those environments might not have been militant in nature, they came with a different set of expectations that involved showing more deference to authority.

Cultural expectations have changed, and will continue to change. As this happens, dedication to developing the “awareness” portion of ADKAR is going to become increasingly important. Unless you’re willing to invest in creating a militant corporate culture, you need to anticipate that Millennials will ask “why,” and that they feel that an organization worth working for will respect their right to an honest answer.

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