How to lead the millennial generation
Here’s an interesting fact: In the next five years, nearly half of the workforce will consist of individuals from the millennial generation — those born roughly between the early 1980s and 2000. Millennials are one of the most misunderstood groups, and yet, as employers, we need to make a huge effort to learn more about them and how they fit into (and impact) our companies.
In order to effectively lead team members from the millennial generation, we need to realize a little bit about how they were raised. Most of them grew up being told by parents and teachers that they were “special,” getting awards for everything and constant recognition for even the smallest of achievements. They grew up with technology at their fingertips, in a society of instant gratification that lacks satisfaction.
This formed a generation that became frustrated when they realized they aren’t that special in the world’s eyes, yet everyone else’s lives look perfect through the filter of social media. Their face-to-face communication skills aren’t always the best, and they don’t deal with stress and criticism as well as other generations.
This might sound like a negative spin, but it’s just meant to serve as a basis for understanding. Millennials really bring a lot of positive attributes to the workplace. They:
Embrace technology and innovation;
Value company culture and want to be a part of something bigger;
Like collaboration and teamwork; and
Are adaptable and open to change.
As a leader attempting to recruit, communicate with, and motivate millennials, keep in mind what they want. When recruiting millennials, promote the facts that their job will have lots of variety and that your company utilizes technology and appreciates innovation, positively impacts the community, has recognition programs and bonus opportunities, and values working as a team to reach goals. It’s important to create a culture that draws the best prospective team members and makes them want to stay.
As a leader, you have the biggest impact on shaping your company’s culture. You have the ability to create and/or maintain a culture that either attracts or repels top team members — from any generation, not just millennials (but for now let’s just focus on that one group).
A few ways to build a culture that attracts top team members from that generation include: concentrating on individuals, fostering a “non-corporate” feel, valuing opinions and ideas (making them feel like they have a voice), and incorporating social time and events.
When concentrating on individuals, really take time to figure out each person’s strengths and what their personal motivations are. Give them genuine recognition in front of their peers when they achieve a goal, and make them feel like they are appreciated as part of the group, that they are making a difference in the company and for clients. Fostering a “non-corporate” feel is as simple as showing genuine interest in every individual.
One of the best ways to truly understand each person’s motivations and strengths is to have one-on-one coaching sessions with every team member in your company. This must be done on a consistent basis. I have clients who have effectively implemented weekly personalized coaching, but monthly is great, too. Simply make it a priority and make it happen.
Most managers are used to telling people what to do. Effective coaching is not about telling people what to do — it’s about asking leading questions and finding out what’s important to them. Why do they do what they do, why do they want to achieve certain things, and why do they want to be on your team?
During your coaching sessions, also be sure to ask questions to get to know them personally. We’ve been told for many years not to cross personal boundaries with our team members, but millennials actually want a more personal experience. If you don’t reach them on a social level, it will be harder to retain them. Ask about their weekend and what they see as potential areas of improvement for the company. Ask what charities they’d like to see money go toward and what social events they’d like to see at the company. I’m not saying you have to take them out for drinks after work, but when you know who they are as people, it will be much easier to understand their motivations.
Statistics tell us that millennials actually want more coaching than previous generations; however, their perception of effective coaching may be different than that of the company leader. I remember when I was playing sports in school, if I got personal coaching, it was due to lack of performance or because I wasn’t achieving my full potential.
This generation wants to be “coached,” even if it means a pat on the back or acknowledging that they did what was asked of them. This might seem counterintuitive to you as a leader, and you might be against the new rules that “everyone gets a ribbon for participating,” but that’s not what this style of coaching is about.
Effectively coaching millennials means that we must celebrate wins just as much as we look for ways to improve and keep growing. Many of us, as leaders, are so focused on improvement and growth that we sometimes forget to celebrate the wins along the way. Sometimes we even take the attitude, “Why do I need to celebrate them for doing their job?” I’m not here to tell you whether this is right or wrong, but I am here to tell you that this is the way it is, and if you want to scale your company, you’d better examine how effectively you are coaching this generation (whether you like it or not) and what motivates them.
For most millennials, one of their motivations is to feel like they are part of a team but are still recognized for their individuality. This comes down to the culture you have created in your company. At my company in Colorado, we have made more of an effort to incorporate events that are purely social, from a summer party to cookie decorating around the holidays. Team members want to laugh together, get to know each other’s families, and simply feel bonded with their co-workers.
Another motivation is to feel a sense of purpose. It helps to remind your team members that our industry is responsible for comfort and health, from clean water to electricity to climate control. People get lost in the daily activities of their jobs and lose sight of the impact they are truly having. In meetings and coaching sessions, reiterate the positive impact that they are having on clients. Read positive client reviews in meetings and recognize individuals for their accomplishments.
Finally, millennials aren’t as motivated by money alone as previous generations. The days of running a contest to win a $100 prize and seeing your team work like crazy for a month to win it are over. Now we must get personal, get to know them, and find out what truly motivates them to represent you and your brand at the level you desire.
Every generation has its challenges and strengths, but as a leader, it’s crucial to recognize what those are and adapt effectively.