L. Darryl Armstrong
Part 7 – The Millennials are different; use those differences to your organization’s benefit
Remember what we have learned from the previous articles about the sociological and psychological make-ups of Millennials? Primarily, this generation has certain behavioral traits and expectations that are well ingrained based on their parental and societal upbringing. Their definition of a “sense of satisfaction” can be defined in three specific ways:
They seek to “make a difference” in the world, as many of us did. However, they will engage with anyone at any level who can or will help them accomplish this outcome. Their social, supervisory and management skills are influenced by their technology rather than day-to-day social interactions. Therefore, they can be lacking in social and interpersonal skills.
They want to make a “real contribution” to an employer’s mission, vision and strategies. But they need to believe in the organization’s mission, vision and values. To engage them, you (the manager) must clearly articulate and explain your expectations, how you will measure their accomplishments, and clearly state what is not allowed behaviorally;
They want to be “innovators”, leading their organizations to do things smarter, faster and better than anyone else. And they believe that they are the only ones who can do it.
As Boomers and Xers, “realistic and pragmatic survivors” of the real business world, we have become skeptics and cynics in many regards. We have survived many social, economic, and political situations that the Millennial cannot even conceive of. Although 60% of the future work force will be Millennials, there are still plenty of Boomers and GenXers in management positions who will do the hiring. It behooves us all to figure out how to work together.
On the positive side, Millennials can be:
True believers in organizations and businesses where they work, if they see opportunities to accomplish “their needs and meet their ambitions”.
Ambition is good. The flip side of this is that they believe they know much more about their (and often your) field of expertise than you do.
Desirous of global work experience – they cherish it, but remember that they will often need to be coached and counseled in diplomacy and process.
Technology savvy. They embrace the available gigabytes of processing power and interconnectivity because it affords channels of technological collaboration.
They have energy to burn.
As we learn to appreciate what the Millennials can offer, we need to understand that most Millennials will not last much longer than 3-5 years with any organization. They expect to change jobs many times, perhaps 5-10 times, in their lives. Choosing to leave the company for greater challenges and go “where they are appreciated and can fulfill their needs and ambitions” doesn’t mean that they are not valuable during their time with us. Just don’t expect them to be there for the long haul.
The evolved Millennial sees each new job as an opportunity and learning experience in the building blocks of their resume and life.
Some of the insecurity and angst of Boomers and GenXers comes from the fact that many of the M-Generation would take our jobs tomorrow, if offered, because it simply looks like fun. It doesn’t take them long to feel that they have learned all they need to learn in their current position. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way they think.
Grunt work, teamwork, and collaboration with other generations are interesting to them only if they can do so technologically. So utilize this to the fullest degree.
We are not saying that it will be easy for us Boomers and GenXers to work with Millennials. Yet it can be accomplished…with members of the M-Generation who are open to mentoring, coaching and counseling by the “old gray hairs.”
If we can tap into the fact that The Millennials truly want to “make a difference” by tackling big issues within our organizations such as poverty, environmental cleanup, best practices in management, or environmental sustainability, we can gain their respect and better utilize their talents.
Innovation, especially in the areas of digital communication and technology, is what they seek. This is where they shine. We need to acknowledge and appreciate this while also making sure that they allow us to guide them in understanding social and management style differences. Getting along with each other and respecting our different generational styles can only help us all achieve what we want to achieve. Let them have free rein in innovating to a certain point, but make it very clear that “they” must respect (as “we” will) social and management style differences so that we can all just “get along” for the greater good. They will need coaching and mentoring in face-to-face social skills and we owe it to them to help them develop in this area.
There are several things that we can do to satisfy the particular kind of meaning that Millennials wants to feel in their work.
First, Millennials want to be heard.
Like it or not, Millennials have ideas and opinions about the organization from day one. They want their ideas about the mission, the work, and the way to get things done to be taken seriously.
The traditional response in many organizations, “This is just the way it is done around here” simply opens the door to them to give you their alternatives, opinions, ideas, and suggestions in an unproductive way.
I recommend you be prepared to capture their ideas and suggestions, because you might just learn something from their insight that benefits everyone and improves your project.
The need to be heard is not unique to just this generation.
Everyone wants to be heard and taken seriously. What makes Millennials different from other generations is that they want to be heard from day one before they have earned the privilege in the eyes of their older colleagues. We waited… until we had gained experience, or understood the project, or had the gravitas to deal with the political, community, management or organizational implications of the situation…before we expected to be heard.
The good news is that research shows they are less concerned about whether their ideas are accepted or not. They simply want the opportunity to speak.
We recommend that you make it a consistent behavior to ask your M-Generation new hire what she thinks about an idea or an issue under discussion. Remember you are under no obligation to act on her ideas or comments. However, listen enough and closely, and you actually may hear something insightful and valuable and worthy of integration.
The new hire will feel fully engaged simply because you asked for her input. And who amongst us doesn’t appreciate being asked?
Millennials also want to hear from you, and they want it immediately – not in annual service reviews.
These folks need and want more feedback about their work so that they know they are making positive contributions. We all feel this way regardless of our generation; however, Millennials want immediate, as in “right now”, feedback not just annually but daily in some cases. This will be tiring and even exhausting yet this is what our research shows.
Those of us in the older generations are generally content with feedback through structured reviews with supervisors periodically throughout the year. For Millennials, though, feedback based on clearly defined and explained expectations should follow closely on particular projects or accomplishments. If you think about it, this makes a certain amount of sense.
So, “chill”, all you Boomers and Xers, you don’t have to follow these new hires around all day, reviewing every little task they complete. Rather, integrate and adopt the consistent behavior of offering the Millennial brief evaluative comments in the midst of his work and pointing out how his efforts relate to the larger mission and vision.
Another thing to remember is that Millennials want to express themselves through their work and will do so often very creatively.
Boomers and Xers have placed greater emphasis on accomplishment as the primary means of self-expression. For Millennials, how they do their work is just as expressive as what they accomplish.
Expect to hear them say “what an awesome” job they have done because they believe their accomplishments are “awesome”.
The authors of The M-Factor note this is a generation with an intuitive sense of “personal branding.” Sure, everyone has an iPhone they say, but no one has an iPhone case just like mine.
Being unique and being noticed are powerful motivators for Millennials. One way to do this is to give them room to put their own creative stamp on their work, whether it is the décor of their workspace or the design of a newsletter.
Another way is to let them own something, a project or responsibility, which is fully in their control and means a great deal to them. Proceed very cautiously and allow them opportunity to grow one small project at a time.
In conclusion, we have examined Millennials and their expectations about the workplace from several different viewpoints:
Their relationship with their parents;
Their sense of entitlement;
Their need for speed and connectivity to the wired world;
And their desire for meaning of their work and life.
For each of these areas, we have offered insight and ideas for “negotiating” through the challenges and taking advantage of the opportunities we will face in working with The M-Generation.
To be most effective at this interaction, and to supervise them, we must work smarter by understanding the unique and different behaviors and traits that are relatively fixed and permanent in this generation.
Don’t waste your time or their time asking how to change them. Accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are. Realistically consider what behaviors you choose to challenge and what behaviors you will accommodate, and then make it absolutely clear what your expectations are. Be prepared to negotiate with them.
It’s important to define sensible, well-articulated, and mutually understood boundaries, standards and expectations for these new hires to live up to and abide by.
However, it’s equally important to learn how to adapt to what they want and need, if they are to be productive in the workplace.