Leadership Blog

How to Manage / Lead Millennials

Monday, January 03, 2011

· Provide structure. Reports have monthly due dates. Jobs have fairly regular hours. Certain activities are scheduled every day. Meetings have agendas and minutes. Goals are clearly stated and progress is assessed. Define assignments and success factors.

· Provide leadership and guidance. Millennials want to look up to you, learn from you, and receive daily feedback from you. They want “in” on the whole picture and to know the scoop. Plan to spend a lot of time teaching and coaching and be aware of this commitment to millennials when you hire them.

· Encourage the millennial’s self-assuredness, “can-do” attitude, and positive personal self-image. Millennials are ready to take on the world. Their parents told them they can do it – they can. Encourage – don’t squash them or contain them.

· Take advantage of the millennial’s comfort level with teams. Encourage them to join. They are used to working in groups and teams. In contrast to the lone ranger attitude of earlier generations, millennials actually believe a team can accomplish more and better – they’ve experienced team success. Not just related to age, watch who joins the volleyball match at the company picnic. Millennials gather in groups and play on teams; you can also mentor, coach, and train your millennials as a team.

· Listen to the millennial employee. Your millennial employees are used to loving parents who have scheduled their lives around the activities and events of their children. These young adults have ideas and opinions, and don’t take kindly to having their thoughts ignored. After all, they had the best listening, most child-centric audience (parents) in history.

· Millennial employees are up for a challenge and change. Boring is bad. They seek ever-changing tasks within their work. What’s happening next is their mantra. Don’t bore them, ignore them, or trivialize their contribution.

· Millennial employees are multi-taskers. Multiple tasks don’t phase them. Talk on the phone while doing email and answering multiple instant messages – yes! This is a way of life. In fact, without many different tasks and goals to pursue within the week, the millennials will likely experience boredom. Be careful of them being “a mile wide and an inch deep”.

· Take advantage of your millennial employee’s computer, cell phone, and electronic literacy Are you a Boomer or even an early Gen-Xer? The electronic capabilities of these employees are amazing. You have a salesman in China? How’s the trip going? Old timers call and leave a message in his hotel room. Or, you can have your millennial text message him in his meeting for an immediate response. The world is wide, if not yet deep, for your millennial employees.

· Capitalize on the millennial’s affinity for networking. Not just comfortable with teams and group activities, your millennial employee likes to network around the world electronically. Keep this in mind because they are able to post their resume electronically as well on Web job boards viewed by millions of employers. Sought after employees, they are loyal, but they keep their options open – always.

· Provide a life-work balanced workplace. Your millennial employees are used to cramming their lives with multiple activities. They may play on sports teams, walk for multiple causes, spend time as fans at company sports leagues, and spend lots of time with family and friends. They work hard, but they are not into the sixty hour work weeks defined by the Baby Boomers. Home, family, spending time with the children and families, are priorities. Don’t lose sight of this. Balance and multiple activities are important to these millennial employees. Ignore this to your peril.

· Provide a fun, employee-centered workplace. Millennials want to enjoy their work. They want to enjoy their workplace. They want to make friends in their workplace. Worry if your millennial employees aren’t laughing, going out with workplace friends for lunch, and helping plan the next company event or committee. Help your long-term employees make room for the millennials.

· Make things crystal clear. Millennials are used to following directions (think gaming here). Clarity on all processes, especially how they will move up in the company, is essential. Communicating clearly from the beginning can save enormous amounts of time and energy. For example, if you want your new sales person to send out thank-you notes to their customers after a visit, be sure you tell them that is your expectation and why it’s important. What may seem glaringly obvious to you isn’t always so with this group.

· Focus on what they are good at. This group is energetic, bright, and fearless, and multi-task better than anyone. They are technologically savvy and are used to a 24/7 environment. Instead of complaining about the ways in which this group differs from past generations, use their strengths to your advantage.

· When delivering negative feedback, start with something positive. Overlooking this step can do a lot of damage to a relationship. This generation has grown up being told they can do and be anything, and be the best at whatever they choose. Here is an example of opening a difficult conversation: “Jennifer, your numbers were up in the first quarter, and you did a great job closing three major accounts, but your sales figures for Q2 and Q3 are not acceptable. Let’s talk about what’s going on and how I can help you succeed.”

There are over 80 million millennials preparing to join or joining the workforce. These are desirable employees. Make your millennial employees happy in a fun, yet structured setting, and you are building the foundation for the superior workforce you desire. You are developing the workforce of your future.

In order for this group to be accepted and integrated into existing corporate structures we will have to be aware of some of the leadership tips above and they will have to compromise on some of their ideals.

Thanks to Susan Heathfield at About.com for her contributions here.

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