Avoiding The Sally Mentality

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief, hsCIO.com

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief, hsCIO.com

“Somebody just hit your car,” Kate said, walking back into the Starbucks where we meet once a week.

“Stop,” I said, smiling, “Really?”

“Really,” she said.

I grabbed my coat and headed out the door, asking her over my shoulder, “Is it bad?”

Before I’d gotten very far, I saw the prime suspect — a rather unglued young lady who was heading into the store to, I assume, find me.

“I’m so sorry,” said Sally, in a state of semi-hysteria that, strange for its intensity, lacked tears. “This is not cool.”

Decidedly, it wasn’t.

“Relax,” I said, “It’s not a big deal. It’s just a fender-bender.”

“I don’t know what to do. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before. I’m only 23,” she pleaded.

“Well, the first thing we do is call the police (I knew that word would produce an unfortunate effect but had no choice). Then when we’re finished here, you call your insurance company and I call mine. The most that will happen in terms of interaction is my company may try to get my deducible from your company,” I said, realizing that, based on her behavior thus far, introducing the concept of deductibles may have been unwise.

“I just don’t know about any of that,” Sally said. “You’re the adult. I need to call my mom.”

I’m the adult? Sure, I’m 40 and I’m an adult, but was she not 23? If not yet an adult, when might she be comfortable with that label? From her behavior, I suspected the answer was: not one second before she had to.

From the first moments of our acquaintance, her behavior had established our roles. She was to be the child-like babe in the woods, while I was to be the grown up guiding her through these “uncool” waters. I suspect this is a routine — unconscious though it might be — that had proved effective during her extended adolescence.

Now, mind you, though I sound a bit harsh writing these words after the fact, I was as kind and comforting to her during our entire time together as I would wish anyone to be toward one of my children if they were distressed. The point is that I seriously hope, and am comfortable promising, that if one of my children gets into a minor fender bender when they are 23, they handle it with more maturity and composure.

After I’d gone back into the Starbucks and related the story of what had transpired to Kate, she was floored by the, “You’re the adult statement.” Having not been babied during her coming of age, haplessness is one of her pet peeves.

“You have got to be kidding me,” she said, shaking her head.

As we talked, I remembered a presentation from one of our industry conferences in which the speaker advised how leaders can work with folks from different generations. Each one of which, of course, had its characteristics, with the point being that — while it is always easier to relate to those closest in age to ourselves — we do our organizations a disservice if the occasional awkwardness of dealing with those from more distant generations causes us to leave their talent pool untapped.

And so I began to think more about, gasp, healthcare CIOs tapping Sally’s talent pool. Now, of course, though it may not be totally fair to say that Sally is a good representative of her generation, I’m going to say it anyway. Why? Because my gut tells me it’s so. Kids today expect to stay kids for longer, and nothing that happens in college accelerates the transition to adulthood. Even after college, more and more young adults either transition right into graduate school or move back home  — a comfortable and affordable nest from which to figure out what they want to be when they (gasp again) grow up.

While this is all fine and dandy and not your problem, it becomes yours if you hire them. Because these are the folks that are so used to having others handle their problems, they arrive not in an “I can figure it out” mode but rather a “tell me how to do it” mindset. Now, I have no problem showing a trainee how to do something once, but after that, it’s time for the individual to, as my wife says, “work it out.”

But before you write off every prospective employee under 25, keep in mind that though Sally may be the rule, there are, I’m sure, many exceptions. And you can find them if you develop a hiring methodology that specifically seeks to avoid what we’ll call the “Sally Mentality.” It’s a lot easier to avoid something, of course, when you know what you’re looking out for.

Perhaps administer some problem solving tests and see if the initial reaction is to grapple or collapse, because if prospective employees immediately ask to “call mom,” you might want to let them do a bit more growing up lest you become their surrogate parent.

By the way, a few weeks after the accident, I got a call from my insurance company saying the other party wanted to see if we could work things out directly. I dialed the number and heard a female voice more mature than I’d remembered Sally’s to be. And who do you think it turned out to be?

Bingo.

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