Let’s Take the Mystery Out of Managing Millennials

by:Evan Hackel

 

Evan Hackel

I’m an executive who was born before 1980. Are you too? If so, I believe we have something in common . . .

We worry about supervising millennial workers

Some managers in our age cohort are even scared to work with millennials.  But in my experience, the key to leading millennials is to understand and embrace their millennialism and not be afraid of the problem.

Just to be clear, let’s define our terms. The so-called millennial generation (also called “Generation Y”) includes people born between 1980 and 1998.

One Big Misconception about Millennials

Many managers in my age bracket have told me that millennials “expect to get promoted for doing nothing.” I think that those managers think that because millennials are ambitious – but ambition and laziness are poles apart. Millennials do want to move ahead quickly, but that doesn’t mean that they avoid working hard.

People in my age group often expected to advance our careers by “moving up through the ranks.” Millennials, in contrast, expect to move ahead more quickly. Their heroes are people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who achieved success early. And because millennials are so eager to move their careers forward, one key to managing them is to explain very clearly what they need to do in order to get to the next level in your organization. Earlier in our careers, people like me who are older than millennials somehow learned to never push our superiors to tell us what we needed to do to get promoted. We tended to play by the rules, work hard, keep kind of quiet, and get singled out for promotion thanks to some kind of process that was going on behind closed doors.

You have to open up those doors when you’re leading millennials, because success in managing them comes when we set goals for them with great clarity in your organization.

Processes and practices like these work well:

  • Talk openly and specifically about what represents accomplishment in your organization. You should do this during job reviews, but also start earlier, when you are hiring millennials. In interviews, you can explain who you are, what you are trying to accomplish as a company, and explain the role that they can play.
  • Offer autonomy and opportunities for intrapreneurship. Millennials can be good team players, yet they also expect to “make their mark” by taking ownership and achieving personal successes.
  • Overcome organizational structures that limit individual initiative. Ambitious millennials feel stifled by hierarchical structures in which they can only communicate their ideas and be recognized by their immediate supervisors. It has been my experience that company-wide meetings where people from all levels contribute ideas that are given equal consideration can be a motivator for millennial and younger workers.
  • Provide an outstanding training program. This is critically important because it helps millennials discover a way to grow and achieve their goals more easily in your organization.
  • Engage millennials in conversation about the future of the company. When they feel that their voices been heard, they will become much stronger team players. They will provide valuable insights as well.