Early Career Professionals

Bridging the Age Gap: Millennials in Court Management

The average workplace in America today is made up of employees all over the age spectrum. With Baby Boomers electing to continue to work longer and newly minted adults starting to enter the work space, the professional environment is becoming more and more generationally diverse.

Traditionally, young professionals would expect to start in an industry working for leaders that are both older and more experienced than themselves. Age often garners some authority. This experience is expected and familiar. Early Career Professionals (ECPs), or those under 40 years of age, or with 10 or fewer years of court management experience, may be placed in a less familiar position. As these young professionals begin to earn leadership positions in their respective organizations, they may be met with some resistance from older staff members. How can Millennials, who are perceived as less experienced, effectively lead?

I first started in court management about two years ago, and at that time was a minimum of 10 years younger than all but one of my staff members. While I was extremely confident in my knowledge of court processes, best practices, and ability to lead, the age difference between my staff and myself presented an interesting dynamic. By being sensitive to this issue I was able to have a smooth transition into court leadership.

Be Consistent

Millennials can sometimes be seen as flighty. While being adaptable is certainly an asset in any industry leader, being inconsistent is less respected. Being consistent is frequently seen as one of the most effective ways to inspire trust and confidence. Consistently defined goals and expectations let employees know what is expected of them. This helps to provide a certain level of autonomy for employees, preventing them from feeling micromanaged. Employees will have more respect for policies that are consistently enforced, which will build trust and confidence in both the policies and leadership.

I inherited a division without a lot of structure. There were relatively few written policies and procedures, making them difficult to enforce. By creating written policies and procedures staff could refer to, it made it possible to enforce these policies universally. Expectations were clearly expressed for the first time, and for the most part, clerks rose to the occasion. By communicating my expectations clearly, providing written policies and procedures, and enforcing them consistently I was able to communicate my vision for our division, demonstrate my dedication to serving the public, and gain the respect and deference of my staff.

Consistent behavior is also essential. Leaders must recognize that they are more visible and that their behavior and attitude will be more visible and more scrutinized. Employees need to know that decisions and leadership direction are not going to change depending on their manager’s mood. Court leaders need to be certain that they are behaving in a way consistent with the goals of the court.

Make Meaningful Change

The court is a fluid environment where change is expected. Statutes, opinions of judicial officers, and best practices are all subject to regular change, and the court must be able and willing to change and adapt. Sometimes change is truly necessary to improve the culture, establish best practices, or better serve the community. Change just for change’s sake, however, will lead to change saturation. Change saturation will leave employees feeling confused and frustrated, and even cynical and skeptical.

Structured, meaningful change can help courts better serve their communities. Becoming more responsive to community needs, improving access to justice, and offering technological conveniences to customers may all be brought to fruition by making thoughtful, structured, and well-defined changes to current practices. Long-time court employees, however, may resist change. These more-tenured employees are more likely to respond to a leader that respects tradition and is not dismissive of the structure that they worked hard to establish. By reducing superfluous change, managers can prevent being seen as disrupting the status quo for no reason. Leadership can create support for change when the need can be articulated and demonstrated. I succeeded a manager who did not always explain how and why changes were made, which made them easy to resent. By only making changes I could truly justify a need for, I was able to get my team on board and ready to embrace new ideas and processes.

Be Responsive to Feedback

In the same way that courts can create public trust and confidence by being receptive and responsive to feedback from the public, so too can court leaders create employees’ trust and confidence by being receptive and responsive to their feedback. Feedback from employees is one way to open an honest dialogue between court leadership and employees. A manager’s response and willingness to accept this feedback will help to establish credibility.

Those new to court management would also benefit from employee feedback when establishing new policies and procedures. Making new policies and processes feel more collaborative will create more support and acceptance for the change. Employees that feel their feedback is valued often report higher job satisfaction, and more are supportive of management.

Recognize the Value of Experience

Court employees, not unlike employees in other public organizations, may be perfectly happy remaining in the same position for many years. Those new to court leadership would be wise to take advantage of the knowledge and experience these employees have. Management cannot reasonably expect to anticipate every variable that may present itself. Long-time employees have seen and experienced much that will prove invaluable to court leadership, as long as those leaders are approachable and value this input. The value of the knowledge base these older, long-time court employees have of the court’s case management system, prior practices, and community contacts, to name a few, cannot be overstated. While new leaders may have fresh and new ideas, court-specific knowledge and experience are essential.

I have been fortunate enough to have an incredible mentor in my court administrator, to whom I will forever be indebted for the many lessons she has taught me. I have been equally fortunate to have staff members with both court and life experience from which I have learned a great deal. Leaders who are willing to communicate their appreciation for this long-time experience and knowledge will be far more respected than a leader that is dismissive of this arsenal of information. I have certainly found that employees that feel appreciated and valued for the experience and knowledge they are able to provide will feel more committed to the success of the organization, as opposed to employees that feel dismissed or undervalued.

While a young management team may be less traditional, it is something we will certainly be seeing more of. As Baby Boomers and even some Gen-Xers are beginning to retire, many of these key leadership roles will be filled by Millennials. While some older employees may initially be resistant to this new dynamic, young managers can absolutely be successful, especially if they are willing to value the insight and opinions of their more seasoned team members.

About the Author

Erin Tellez is the court clerk supervisor for the North Las Vegas Municipal Court, which has jurisdiction over traffic violations and misdemeanor offenses occurring within the city limits of North Las Vegas.