Millennials and Contracting: A Great Match

Home Forums Acquisitions Millennials and Contracting: A Great Match

This topic contains 15 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Griffin Wholley 8 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #161022

    Jaime Gracia

    Earlier this month, Emily Jarvis of the DorobekINSIDER program discussed the “Rising Acquisition Professionals Panel” at this year’s Acquisition Excellence conference, hosted by GovLoop’s very own Steve Ressler. However, she seemingly and unknowingly typecast the group, which I am guilty of myself, by stating:

    Millennials — they are often motivated, pushy, impatient and innovative — they want change and they want it now. So it seems like they would be a perfect fit for the acquisition community.

    Of course Emily intended no offense, but I find myself doing this all the time. I managed a 50-person team of incredibly smart and mostly millennial team members a couple of years ago, and we did some amazing work together. However, I admittedly didn’t understand them, and didn’t get them.

    I was reading a 
great piece over on FierceGovernmentIT on this issue, and the editorial really hit home:

    The most ridiculous example of this I’ve recently seen 
comes from a Government Accountability Office report that worries that because National Nuclear Security Administration staff must often work in secure areas that prohibit the use of personal cell phones, email, and social media, that they suffer “a disadvantage in attracting younger skilled candidates.”

    Really? What insane person, member of Gen Y or not, has an expectation of Facebooking from a top secret site containing nuclear bombs? “Status Update: Gonna take the nation’s nuclear deterrence stockpile offline in an hour in order to do some maintenance. Hope nobody finds out!”

    My staff worked in a secure facility, so there were no issues. I did not even realize this was an issue.

    Are these type of issues really considered part of the hiring difficulties for younger workers?

    The op-ed continued to the crux of the matter:

    But the real problem is that in seeking to glean workplace expectations from age demographics, worriers of this ilk miss out on the fact that expectations tend to conform to a plausible reality. The workplace shapes expectations as much as expectations shape it. And so, Gen Y and all people find themselves in the same place of participating in give and take of desires and needs balanced against organizational imperatives and inertia. It’s the same story that’s happened since forever.

    Stop worrying about what Gen Y wants, or what any made-up demographic wants. Really worry about extracting the maximum amount of good work out of individuals–that’s the important thing. The rest will follow.

    The “Rising Acquisition Professionals Panel” really opened my eyes about how foolish my biases were, to the point of actually wanting to and actively hiring younger professionals. Now if I can just get clients to stop asking for 20 years of experience…

    Questions to the younger acquisition professionals:

    1) Do you face these biases in your procurement shops?

    2) What about mentors. Are those relationships helping?

    3) How do overcome these stereotypes?

  • #161052

    Griffin Wholley

    1) I’m not in a procurement shop, but do face (and live up to) these biases. While I don’t know what gen group I’m in (I’m on the cusp), I do know that because of the agency’s median age, I’m labeled “NextGen” and am the first person people call to help them with their IT woes. (The fact that I FAILED my intro to Computer Science course during undergrad is usually ignored.) I would refer to the article on GovExec (yesterday?) for what I think (and see daily) as the real reason the Fed isn’t so attractive:

    I would then argue against that to say, “With the loads of student loan debt recent grads are carrying, I doubt they’d care where they work. Dump on that the incentive of ‘if you work for us for 10 years, we’ll forgive the rest of your debt’ and the Fed starts to look more attractive.”

    2) I’ve had a couple “mentors” in my brief fed career. Some were great. Some were less than great. What made the great ones worth going (back) to was their openness, their eagerness to pass the torch, and their desire to help me succeed. The things that made the not-so’s not no great were that they just wanted someone they could complain to about all their woes, or as a “check-the-box” exercise for their next great advancement, etc. It’s really hit or miss, and based a lot on what you’re looking for in a mentor, what kind of personality you mesh with, and how much you are willing to put into the relationship.

    3) I personally enjoy the “motivated, pushy, impatient and innovative” moniker. I am motivated. I can be very pushy and impatient. (Why do GS-14/15’s constantly expect me to do their work? Don’t get me wrong, I am a friendly, helpful person. It’s part of the Eagle Scout creed. I just don’t understand why, if we’re on the same level of the org chart, and you told the boss YOU would compile a report, why you’re sitting over my shoulder asking me to run the reports, pivot the data, and then prepare slides. Will it take me 15 min vs. your 2 hours? Yes. Will you turn it in as your own work? Yes. Do I have the same amount of work to do for my programs? Yes. Am I getting paid $50k less a year? Yes. This isn’t what I had in mind when I heard “admin savings.”) I would like to believe that I am innovative. Time will tell. To me, these aren’t bad things to be. If you look at the past, president, and projected future leaders of industry and government, they’ve all shared these personality traits.

    I’ve turned in assignments to old bosses and had them say, “This can’t possibly be done well, because it only took you an hour. It takes me 5 hours.” My cure, I let the document sit on my desk (or in my sent box) for the next 4 hours and then resubmit. The response was always, “Now THIS is good work. See, what did I tell you.” I remember the Penguins from Madagascar and say to myself, “Smile and wave boys. Smile and wave.”

  • #161050

    Jaime Gracia

    Thanks for the great feedback Griffin. I never thought the monikers were bad, but some take offense to it. In fact, I consider myself a “Type A MANIAC.”

    I too quote the “Skipper” from the The Penguins of Madagascar, I don’t want excuses, I want results!” Too funny.

    Isn’t it ridiculous the things you need to do to jump through people’s hoops? Like you waiting 4 hours to pretend to work on something that took you an hour. Fine, I’ll be more productive elsewhere while I am “working” on the TPS reports.

  • #161048

    Sterling Whitehead

    I will say that for me, having access to my personal cell, Gmail, and to a lesser extent social media does make a workplace more competitive for me. I don’t expect to be able to do stupid status updates from a Top Secret site though. However, it is nice when you’re stressed to take a 5-minute breather by seeing what you’re friends are doing. Facebook is a digital water cooler.

  • #161046

    Jaime Gracia

    Certainly mental breathers are important, but social media should also be part of an agency’s communications startegy. Hard to discuss communications and outreach to the public and end users when social media and personal emails accounts are blocked.

    Security is normally the excuse, but it seems like an outdated excuse.

  • #161044

    Griffin Wholley

    Exactly! There’s also the quote, “Do or do not, there is no try.” ~ Yoda. I am just now realizing that I’m a Type AAA trapped in a Type B. There definitely needs to be balance in all aspects of my life (mental, physical, emotional/spiritual) in order for me to succeed/be happy. One of the hardest parts of adjusting to the Fed budget cycle is the difficulty in finding balance within a constantly changing process. I read up on Chaos Theory and then completely understood Federal Appropriations Law, until the house started meeting on the FY13 Pres Bud Requests… now I’m thinking I need to brush up on my Sun Tzu!

  • #161042

    Jaime Gracia

    That is better than my recent strategy of banging my head against the wall in frustration. Remembering the days of a functional Congress and passing budgets on time.

    Those were the days…

  • #161040

    Griffin Wholley

    Personally, I find that a way to avoid the political “hoops” in catching up on programmatic content is to check in on my project’s Facebook pages. They usually provide the content that is “congressionalized” (i.e. made very bland) for release in official agency print (i.e. Congressional Justifications/PBRs, Fact Sheets, websites, etc.). I’m a big advocate for using collaborative environments such as wikis, Google pages, SharePoint, and MAX to house all content with wide-open restrictions allowing anyone and everyone access to the content. Also, Wikipedia is (for NASA content at least) usually kept very accurate by curators who used to be program/project staff/managers. For the “Top Secret” things, I used to work for a defense contractor while in undergrad, and have many stories from the tech folks who summed up IT security best with, “If it’s on a computer, it can be hacked. Period.” The way they (and I) see it is, if you take the time to put information behind super secret firewalls, or in extra protective habitats, you are just putting a bow on the information you think should be hacked. As far as security goes, I’m of the Jeffersonian mind set: The government exists to protect the rights of the individual from the will of the masses. (paraphrased heavily, because I’m running out of time to Google the exact phrase.)

  • #161038

    Sterling Whitehead

    Agreed. I’ve seen social media, personal cells (with cameras), and personal email allowed in agency facilities. Sometimes security is justified in places like top secret sites, but these restrictions are usually overdone.

  • #161036

    Jaime Gracia

    The “Security Card” seems a bit overplayed at this point. Many managers will tell you that the real reason is they don’t want the younger workers goofing off, as they don’t understand what social media is.

    I was told recently by a senior federal manager that twitter is for describing what you had for breakfast, and that it is useless.

  • #161034

    Joe Boutte

    You hit the issue on point when you said, “Stop worrying about what Gen Y wants, or what any made-up demographic wants. Really worry about extracting the maximum amount of good work out of individuals–that’s the important thing. The rest will follow”. Appreciate the thought and advice! I think focusing on the individual’s and team from the perspective of expected outcomes and performance trumps all the discussion of demographics. We are too complex to simply cubby-holed with a checklist for managers to follow. We all deserve genuine leadership and to be treated as the unique individuals we are. Have a great weekend!

  • #161032

    Jaime Gracia

    Thanks Joe. Any Generational member is part of a team, with expect results and outcomes based on maximizing performance. Good management and leadership is about getting the best from people, regardless of age. everyone has a unique skill set, and it is up to the manager to realize it, understand it, and leverage it.

  • #161030

    Robert Bacal

    Just a suggestion, if you want to understand Millennials, or, in fact any generation other than your own. Put aside the labels, because generations have to do with WHEN people are born. The key, as David Foot has mapped out in several books is that the key issue is AGE (and age related experiences).

    Millennials are now between the ages of 12-32 (do I have that right?) When you were that age, what were YOU like? Probably:

    motivated, pushy, impatient and innovative — they want change and they want it now. So it seems like they would be a perfect fit for the acquisition community.

    And, by the way, if you notice the ridiculously wide age range, you’ll realize that “Millennials” are so different from each other depending on their ages, that the concept is absolutely useless.

    But in any event, the key is to look at age, stage of life for that age cohort, and you WILL understand them, because you’ve probably been there.

  • #161028

    Jaime Gracia

    Thanks Robert. I do not think it a stereotype that younger generations are more adept at using and leveraging technology, since they were raised with it and in the generation where technological advances have really skyrocketed.

    Nonetheless, you are correct that Age is not a determining factor, but the level of strengths that diversity brings.

  • #161026

    Robert Bacal

    I have a feeling I didn’t explain myself very well, since I didn’t discount age. I discounted supposed “generational differences”. I think a lot o fstuff gets confused in these discussions, when we don’t get specific enough to actually have common understandings.

    For example, it’s one thing to classify Millennials as “impatient”, and another to attribute to them skills (ie. tech. skills) that would have been impossible to learn by earlier generations since the tech. didn’t exist.

    Again, if people think that a 12 year old and a 32 year old (both Millennials) have anything much in common, then I waste my breath. 32 yr olds of today are much more similar to 32 year olds of 40 years ago than to any other group, or for that matter 32 yr. olds of 60 years ago, at least in many ways.

    The issue of comfort with new technologies is a result of people not understanding the past very well. There have always been new technologies, and new things that are both accepted and resisted, whether it’s radio, television, arrowheads, sharper stones, etc. The PROCESS hasn’t changed, just the technology, which is why, in effect a 32 year old today is very much a person who was 32 years old in the 1950’s (taking into account a few salient effects, such as war experience, but even then…)

  • #161024

    Sterling Whitehead

    I hate to say it, but man, some people (like that sr fed mgr) are stupid.

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