Millennials, known as people born from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, are often considered to have an inflated sense of their own uniqueness, an unwarranted sense of entitlement, and acute case of self-centeredness. That’s why they are often said to belong to the “Snowflake Generation” or the “Me Me Me Generation.”
As a millennial leader, speaking on behalf of the growing cohort of millennials in the labor force, I believe these stereotypes create a pessimistic vision of the future we are capable of building.
Are we all really sensitive, lazy, and entitled job hoppers who think only about ourselves? I think not! Instead, our generation is a catalyst for workforce evolution. We need good leadership, just like every new generation of young workers.
In this article I’ll give some background on millennials, explain why the challenge we face today isn’t new, and suggest best practices for leading millennials in the new reality we are all shaping.
Let’s start with a brief description of what makes millennials tick.
The Story of Millennials
To fully understand the millennials’ generation, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane:
In a digital world, millennials expect things to happen fast.
Millennials grew up playing a variety of digital games. These games have rapid feedback mechanisms, i.e. you can learn quickly from losses and use your new knowledge to play better next time.
Since at least their teenage years, millennials have been able to get things “right here, right now” through instant messaging, on-demand movies, online shopping, etc.
Social media has shaped millennials’ sense of reality and social responsibility.
Many millennials use social media platforms with huge numbers of virtual “friends” and filters that may provide limited views of reality. Many are addicted to digital validation and, as a result, may be more sensitive to criticism and less able to cope with stress.
Millennials have grown up in a digital world where everyone has an equal opportunity to speak up regardless of their ethnic background, gender, age, religion, etc. Online, it takes just a few clicks to advocate for a cause. Hence, this generation feels a need to help make the world a better place and serve a greater purpose.
With such a unique background, millennials are entering the workforce all geared up, ready to make a difference, and prepared to rule the world.
Leaders of Millennials Face a New Version of an Old Challenge
Older generations have been complaining about younger generations for centuries. And these complaints always sound strikingly similar!
Today, these complaints are usually about the habits or perspectives young people have gained growing up in a digital world.
But as a business leader of millennials, your role is not to complain! Your role is to
First, help millennials adapt to workplace realities. Help them understand that the path to job satisfaction and career advancement is not so fast and clear. They are not “unicorns” and must work hard just like everyone else – and not always with immediate rewards for completing specific tasks. Help them the realities of the real-world vs what they have experienced in the digital world.
Second, adapt to millennials’ realities. Stay agile and learn from them — they are the future! Help guide them towards becoming your business’ next movers and shakers.
If you can get this balancing act right, your business will evolve and grow. You can turn millennials’ technology-fueled life experiences into a disruptive advantage in the workplace.
The key of it all is adaption to evolution.
The millennials workforce is rapidly growing. Don’t be on the wrong side of this trend!
Instead, you can give yourself an edge attracting and retaining top talents if you can speak the next generation’s language.
How to Lead Your Team of Millennials
Leaders of millennials should know that this generation’s currency — believe it or not — is not just money.
Here are six more things effective leaders of millennials can give their teams!
Give millennials a good reason to do what they do
Stemming from their fondness for social media, millennials crave meaningful work that directly contributes to a good cause. Leaders should clearly explain WHY something needs to be done, no matter how insignificant it might seem.
Give millennials adventurous stretch assignment that test their limits
Millennials have lived all their lives in a time of constant change and evolution. Therefore, you can expect them to get excited about experimenting, coming up with disruptive solutions, and challenging the status quo.
Let’s face it, not all jobs are as exciting as flying a man to the moon. Leaders must stay creative by giving your energy-filled talents stretch assignment such as leading companywide initiatives, employee engagement initiatives, business process optimization, proof of concept sessions, small automation projects, etc.
Business leaders should strive to find innovative partners to help leverage new technology that reduces trivial / manual workflows and frees younger workers up to take on more meaningful, creative tasks.
Give them a balanced career track that combines “right here, right now” with long-term growth.
Millennials want things fast, maybe even a bit too soon. But it’s not all bad. Leaders can use several creative strategies to guide all those enthusiastic expectations towards productive purposes.
Invest in trainings, certification programs, and possibilities for them to put theories into practice.
Coach them to focus more on the journey to the summit, not just on how fast they can get there. Give them smaller goals or quick wins to achieve within shorter timeframes, e.g. over a quarter or a half-year. Don’t make them wait for a decade to see results.
Create “in between” roles to open more promotion opportunities.
Find ways to enrich their work experience and make rewards and recognition more meaningful and hard-earned.
Consider adopting a variation of the Spotify workplace model in which representatives from different teams form guilds to help remove silos, share knowledge better, and brainstorm new initiatives. This way, guild members can take on roles that expand beyond just their cubicle work.
Give them a chance to build a value-based culture that you can all be proud of
Millennials will be quick to shape your company’s digital image through social media. Make sure this image is positive by:
Advocating, living, and breathing your company’s core values and culture.
Building great employer branding.
Creating diversity and inclusion programs; millennialsare more exposed to diversity than any previous generation.
Providing a safe and judgement-free avenue to voice their suggestions and concerns.
Give them transparency through good communication
Taking an empirical approach similar to SCRUM’s, some leaders provide transparency on decision making and updates through regular company townhalls. Leaders should be equipped to transition away from authoritarian “command and control” management towards more inclusive practices. SCRUM’s emphasis on analysis and adaption encourage leaders to build highly functional, harmonious teams. Leaders should strive to accurately assess the current state of affairs, stay agile, and be open to solving problems in the best ways while collectively and continuously learning.
In addition, remember that millennials are constantly looking for rapid feedback to validate whether they’re getting the job done the right way. Consider incorporating more informal, “on-demand” constructive feedback where necessary.
Give them a good work-life balance
Millennials want it all. Apart from a paycheck, they also want fulfilling work, hobbies to pursue, and a family to grow while avoiding burn out. With modern technology, you can help them by providing more options to work more flexibly and / or remotely.