Over the years, my work has allowed me to communicate with a broad range of people. The range includes dock workers to the general manager of all sorts of companies. However, most of my time is talking with middle and upper management. One of the things I have noticed lately is I have been dealing with more millennials at higher and higher levels. Since I want to be the best partner I can, I decided to do a little official, and unofficial, research on millennials. What I found was not what I expected.
First, I reached out to a couple non-millennial friends of mine and asked them what they missed about the ‘old days,’ and what are the challenges they see today? One of the examples they gave was, in the old days, training was done differently than today. Another stated one of his biggest challenges was managing millennials. I have decided to put what I have learned from my friends, and later in this article what I learned from some expert advice, on paper for your reading pleasure.
In the ‘old days’, training provided to new hires was executed slower and included more basics than much of the training provided today. Today’s training often gets trimmed down to ‘click the dot’ online courses and electronic signatures signaling the new hire completed the training. Then, it’s pick up your laptop and get assigned your new cube, which of course, is someone’s old cube. The new hire is now ready to jet to new heights of contribution to their employer.
From time to time an issue arises when the new hire doesn’t fully understand the job requirements expected of them. This is where millennials come in and where they have gotten short-changed. In some cases, we never trained them right. When they arrived in the workforce, we didn’t understand them. At first glance, some millennials seemed to have a chip on their shoulder radiating the vibe they already knew it all. Since that wasn’t what we were used to from new hires, it was off to the online training courses, pick up a laptop, and then they were banished to the cube at the end of the aisle to figure it out.
What we failed to realize was the millennials did bring a new base of information previous generations did not. Some millennials were the first generation that was immersed in technology for a good part of their lives to hit the job market. Moreover, these people had easy access to most every piece of useful and not so helpful information in our world. This observation applies even more to the Gen Z’ers just getting to the market. When they walked through the door, they were eager to display their technology chops, improve the process, and show they knew stuff! Managers of the day interpreted the behavior as hubris, self-serving, and lazy. The reality was millennials were smart, ambitious, and wanted success. The problem lay in getting them to play by our rules or us learning their rules.
This point is where I had to turn to professional advice to make me a better manager. The following may be mostly in my words, but the concepts and techniques I mined from Guthrie-Jensen Consultants, and one of their blogs where I sourced the information. You will find the *link to the blog at the end of this article for further information on Guthrie-Jensen and their work.
The solution that works for many companies is simple. Do what we have always done, or should be doing, just do it better because millennials need it more. Below I will list things a manager should turn up the volume on.
Create a Strong Company Culture
You can hire a millennial with money, but you will keep them or not keep them with your company culture. Yes, it matters if their work has a purpose, if they can sharpen their skills, and make a difference. Creating a healthy work culture where a millennial can earn achievements, hone their skills, have clarity of goals, and they will put in the effort. Stacking stone for the sake of stacking stone isn’t good enough. Millennials want to know what the broader objectives are, is there a way to make stacking stone easier, and how can they get to the next level.
Millennials watched the generation before them toil long hours and work their life away. Today, advances in technology allow workers to not be tied to the curlicue phone cord of yesterday. Millennials are results oriented and dislike heavy-handed micromanagement and respond better to goals and not tasks. It is objectives that count, not how many hours, or where they are achieved from. In the past we were not working if we were anywhere other than our desk. Today’s millennials value, and expect, more time off, but are quite willing to work on their own terms outside the office.
Let Millennials Know You Value Their Tech Savvy, and Use it
Face it, millennials look at tech innovations differently than Boomers or even Gen X’ers. TJO Cargo has a program that allows cargo insurance integration directly into 3PL, forwarder, and large shipper Transportation Management Systems (TMS) via API integration. When I talk to millennials about it, they quickly grasp and appreciate the concept. When I speak to some X’ers or Boomers about it, I may as well be throwing chicken bones and tarot cards at their feet. Unless your data is top secret, let Millennials use their technology, phones, and other personal devices at and for work as much as practical. It will boost their productivity and send the message you trust and value them.
Recognize Their Work
Everyone needs attaboy/girl feedback occasionally. Millennials are particularly hungry for recognition. Recognition is NOT the same as meaningless words and copious ‘you are great’ awards. If it isn’t genuine, don’t do it. For gratitude for what they do, start with a ‘thank you’ and a ‘good job’ when it is indeed a good job. If they are doing good things, they want validation and reinforcement of that.
Show Them a Future They Want
It is true, millennials don’t view long term employment as the generations did before. Back in the day of Fred Flintstone, Fred could depend on working at ‘Slate Rock and Gravel Company’ his whole career. The same is not so with millennials. They come in the door expecting to be moving on more than any other generation. The data supports it. According to The Business Journal, a recent **Gallup report states 21% of millennials say they have changed jobs within the past year. This percentage is more than three times the number of non-millennials. The job-hopping generation wasn’t born this way, like most things, they learned it from us. The generation born between 1980 and 1996 puts many of them being young adults during a recession in the early 1990s, the early 2000s and the Great Recession in 2007. It never occurred to millennials there is, or ever was, something called job security.
You can’t change the way a generation thinks, but you can craft their environment to take it into account. Career paths must be identifiable with more career steppingstones than before. Remember, this generation craves more validation. Feedback to the employee on how they are doing, other than the same old twice a year review, is essential. Make the career steppingstones real, attainable, and not fluff. Like most of us, millennials deplore disingenuous accolades. Move them into leadership roles as soon as reasonably possible. When they are ready, don’t wait to make a move. Waiting for the perfect time will only ensure they are gone when you get around to making the time. If you can get them excited about the career path, keep them engaged in pursuing it, and show them what they can potentially achieve with the company, you are likely to hang on to them longer.
Open Communication and Collaboration
Not too many years ago, when we all wrote our ideas on stone tablets with chisels, project teams were kept small. The driving force was, too many opinions and participants were thought of as negatives which lead to slow progress and analysis paralysis. With the millennial generation, this has changed. Much of the change can be due to the time millennials spent in group chats, gaming platforms, and social media, where many things are executed in groups and teams. Millennials look for employers that have collaborative cultures as it suits the way they think. They will not hesitate to drag a peer into a project even if it is only to ask for opinions. For millennials, working as a team brings more significant and better achievements. Try open office atmospheres, team meetings, and brainstorming sessions to harness the power of collaboration. The company will benefit from it as well as the team.
Leadership and Guidance
The millennial generation may be best known for their lack of affection for traditional authority structure. They are results-oriented but want to achieve the results on their terms. As a result, don’t be a helicopter manager. Having the boss hovering over them and micromanaging does not suit today’s millennial workforce at all. However, millennials do want to be mentored and receive teaching. Having the right kind of senior team manager can be just what the doctor ordered. If the manager takes the time to learn how their new peers’ minds work, it can produce productivity and creativity. This manager position is not a traditional boss role – staff role. The managing of millennials is much less structured than in past generations. The manager function can be more considered a guidance type role. Supply goals, check-in regularly to see how things are going and if they need help, and then let them do what they are getting paid for, pursuing company objectives. If you did your job right, the company’s objectives will also be the team’s objectives.
The steps I summarized in this article won’t apply to every type of position in every company. But if your company is a candidate to add the millennial talent horsepower to your lineup, you will regret not doing so if the effort is managed well. Look to your younger staff members for innovations and concepts for tech advancements. In the event I decide to make a career change; I will no longer avoid managing millennials. Instead, I will look forward to it.
Our most impactful achievement may not be what we have done in our careers, but what we do to help millennials and Gen Z’ers do in theirs. After all, millennials will rule the world. It must happen. In years to come many of us will go buy ugly clothes and move to Naples, Florida near a golf course. It will be nice knowing we left millennials poised for success, doing it their way.