Cathie Anderson

This millennial is working to end generational stereotyping

As part of her doctoral work at Drexel University-Sacramento, Jessica Kriegel discovered that four different generations preferred largely the same technology-based learning exercises.
As part of her doctoral work at Drexel University-Sacramento, Jessica Kriegel discovered that four different generations preferred largely the same technology-based learning exercises. Hubert Kriegel

Don’t try to label 32-year-old Jessica Kriegel. The Sacramento resident defies stereotypes, especially those you might have about millennials being spoiled, entitled or a trophy generation.

Kriegel started teaching classes on leadership at age 23 and now works as an organizational development consultant at Oracle. She writes a regular column for Forbes.com on generational differences. In March, she will release her first book, titled “Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes” ($25, John Wiley & Sons, 256 pages).

Key managers turn to Kriegel for help when they want to communicate clear messages to their team members, for instance, or when they need assistance with change management.

“I coach them on creating a clear vision for their team, how to cascade that vision into the business, how to cascade the vision into goals that the employee has,” Kriegel said. “So I do the talent management consulting internally at Oracle now.”

Kriegel also started her own independent consulting business, Ingage Inc., because business acquaintances were often seeking her advice on how to manage generational differences, leadership development and team effectiveness.

“My take on generational issues is very different from what other people talk about,” Kriegel said. “Right now, there’s this obsession with millennials: What do millenials want? What do they buy? How do they act? How do you manage them? How do you hire them? How do you track them?”

Kriegel scoffs at the notion that you can take 80 million millennials and formulate characteristics that define the majority of them.

“It’s imperative that you get to know the person in front of you and you don’t assign all these stereotypes to them because of this 20-year-wide age bracket that they happen to fall within,” Kriegel said. “I’m trying to dispel the whole concept of generational labels because they make no sense.

“What determines the way you are is not your age bracket; it’s, ‘How many siblings did you have? Did your parents beat you? Did you go to church? Did you have an aunt who spoiled you?’ All those types of experiences mesh into one and determine who you are and what your personality is.”

Kriegel has an exercise that she uses to help people understand just how ridiculous labeling is. During group meetings, she asks attendees to list the traits that they think define each generation. They usually come up with a great list, Kriegel said, with adjectives such as loyal, stubborn and tech-averse for baby boomers or entitled, tech-savvy and spoiled for millennials.

“Then I say, ‘All right, how would you feel if I do this?’ I pick up one of my big black flip-chart markers and I cross out the word ‘Millennials’ and I write in ‘Black people,’ Kriegel said. “I just let it sit, and it gets very uncomfortable for a second, and then I say, ‘Isn’t it immediately obvious how inappropriate this exercise has been now?’”

The only thing members of each group have in common is their age bracket, Kriegel said, and yet people apply personality traits and values to them and they think it’s totally normal. In reality, she added, it’s an oversimplification.

Thought leader and author David Rock has written about this human tendency to label or stereotype, Kriegel said, and his take is that when humans encounter something vague or unknown, they perceive it as a threat. Patterns and predictability, however, make people feel safe.

“There’s a threat alert that creates a response in our brain when something is unknown. When there’s a pattern, there’s a reward sensation that is triggered,” Kriegel explained. “If I know millennials are disloyal, entitled and tech savvy, then I can call them that. Now I know all about those 80 million people, whereas I’m uncomfortable with them being a very diverse group of complex people.”

Kriegel began her study of generational labeling while working toward her doctoral degree in educational leadership from Drexel University-Sacramento. She also has a master’s in business administration from the Hult International Business School in Boston. Her class, she said, had 130 students, but only five were Americans.

Kriegel grew up in the United States, but since age 7 she has spent summers in France. Her parents put her on a plane, she said, and told her: “See you in a few months.” Her father’s family picked her up on the other end.

Her father, Hubert Kriegel, was born in France and had run a cabaret there until marrying one of his dancers, Redwood City native Lorraine Person. The couple moved to Malibu shortly after their only child was born. For the last 10 years, Kriegel said, her father has been on a nomadic journey to far-flung places such as the Arctic Circle, Mongolia, India and Argentina.

“My parents worked together for like two years before they actually got together,” Kriegel said. “They never kissed. They never dated, like nothing, and then one day, my dad shows up at her doorstep and knocks on the door. She opens the door and is like, ‘Hubert?’ And he says, ‘Will you marry me?’ She was like, ‘Of course.’ 

Kriegel studied theater as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but shortly after graduating, she decided to exercise her dual citizenship and headed for the European Union. She lived for a year in London but wasn’t very happy there, so she decided to try a different country.

France would have been a natural choice since she spoke French fluently, but the 23-year-old chose instead to go to Milan.

“I was teaching English,” Kriegel said. “My very first client was this guy who had this leadership development consulting firm, and he was learning English because he had a big need to deliver English training sessions. I’m like, ‘Dude, it’s going to take you two years to learn English to the degree that you can actually deliver training in English. Why don’t you hire me? I’ll do all your English trainings and I’ll teach you English. And, you can teach me everything you know about leadership development.”

The experience launched Kriegel into the field of human performance management, she said, and it’s a field that has held her interest ever since.

Kriegel moved to Sacramento in 2008 because she fell in love with a River City native, she said. That relationship ended, but her love for her adopted home blossomed, so much so that that she will be releasing a mobile phone app called In The Sac soon that offers curated, virtual tours to visitors who want to wander through places recommended by local residents.

Editor’s note: This column was changed Jan. 1 to correct the spelling of Ingage Inc.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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