Managing Millennials

February 17, 2016

The largest generation in the U.S. workforce today is composed of people born after 1980, and they represent Generation Y or Millennials. These 54 million workers are often called digital natives because they do not know of a world without computers and the Internet.

And while they may not fully appreciate that FAX machines and interoffice memos were once essential, it’s important to see the value of their unique perspectives and contributions.

Millennials were educated working in groups and therefore may be more accepting and effective in work teams than others. They are likely to be more technically savvy and connected. And while they may want regular feedback acknowledging their contribution, they also want to be challenged in the work they do.

Previously I wrote about Millennials as Managers with regard to how these younger workers show up as leaders and how they can best manage others. In this post, I’d like to address how those of older generations can best manage Millennials.

The generations are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely, and this impacts how to best manage them.

One methodology for managing will not necessarily work for an entire generation of people, of course. Workers are individuals and a method that works for one person, won’t necessarily work for another—even if they happen to be born within a similar timeframe.

Nevertheless, there are some common characteristics Millennials may share due to the timeframe in which they were raised, and it is therefore useful to consider how this shared perspective may require managing them differently than those who were born earlier.

Millennial workers may be misunderstood by those of other generations. According to research discussed in their book Managing the Millennials, authors Chip Espinoza, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch found the perceptions managers have working with Millennial employees can also be viewed as the Millennial’s intrinsic values. For example:

Manager’s PerceptionMillennial’s Intrinsic Value
AutonomousWork-life fusion – It’s about getting work done; not punching a clock to satisfy office processes.
EntitledReward – Being recognized and rewarded for their contribution; Millennials want more than just an opportunity. They want a guarantee their performance will count for something.
ImaginativeSelf-expression – Offering a fresh perspective that they want to be heard and their ideas taken into consideration.
Self-absorbedAttention – In search of trust, encouragement and praise for how they individually are contributing to the whole of the group.
DefensiveAchievement – They are more interested in how to focus on building their strengths than having their weaknesses pointed out.
AbrasiveInformality – Though their behavior may be interpreted as disrespectful, their casual communication style is simply how they grew up learning to express themselves.
MyopicSimplicity – They may see their own individual task as essential without fully appreciating other tasks around it.
UnfocusedMultitasking – If they have always juggled several tasks at a time, they may find it difficult to really appreciate the benefit of full focused attention on one thing at a time.
IndifferentMeaning – They can’t care about their contribution unless they know the meaning behind it.

This difference between a manager’s perception and the Millennial worker’s intrinsic values can lead to a great deal of conflict unless the manager is aware of it. This doesn’t mean managers should abdicate all responsibility from workers because they hold these intrinsic values. Instead, they could seek to find mutual understanding in the difference.

Ideally, this would take place in the normal course of working together and not held off until that dreaded and often detrimental annual performance review. By then, it is often too late.

Authors Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch further outlined nine managerial competencies that can be essential to managing Millennials effectively. These competencies may both reduce tension and create an environment in which both the manager and the employee can thrive.

  1. Be Flexible – to enable the autonomous, work-life fusion
  2. Create the Right Rewards – to engage them; often simply through verbal recognition
  3. Put Their Imagination to Work – allow for their self-expression to be incorporated
  4. Build a Relationship – listen to what they have to say and encourage their development
  5. Be Positive When Correcting – focus on strengths to build up their confidence
  6. Don’t Take Things Personally – don’t mistake their informality as an affront to you
  7. Show the Big Picture – help them see how their contribution connects to others
  8. Include the Details – spell out expectations until you are certain they are clear
  9. Make it Matter to Them – connect their aspirations to the organization’s objectives

None of these are necessarily revolutionary nor would they be less useful when managing Gen Xers or Boomers. However, it is important to consider that the Millennial worker may be especially predisposed to function at a higher level when working in an environment where these competencies are demonstrated by those who manage them.

And managers who seek to fully appreciate their workers’ unique perspectives will find a way to engage them and bring out their best.

Millennials as Managers

February 4, 2016

Millennials now represent the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. These digital natives are often described as confident and tolerant as well as entitled and narcissistic. What does this mean in terms of their effectiveness as managers in the workplace?

Stereotypes of the 54 million working Millennials include: lack of experience, immaturity, no long-term vision, too focused on their next career step, and they struggle with people skills. These were no doubt similar to the stereotypes associated with Generation X, Baby Boomers and even Traditionalists when they first entered the workforce.

People born into each generation are roughly sorted as: Traditionalists or Silent Generation (1927-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1963), Generation X (1964-1979) and Millennials or Generation Y (1980-1999). The values and work ethic of each can vary immensely.

Every generation seems to have an opinion about those who follow or preceded them. Baby Boomers were born at a time when the economy was booming after World War II. No surprise then that those of Generation X often describe Baby Boomers as optimistic and workaholics. And Boomers describe Gen Xers as skeptical and self-reliant.

Typically, the previous generation believes the up and coming generation has it so much easier than they did, though it could be argued just the opposite.

The reality is that the members of each generation continue to evolve both as individuals and as a group. And all the generations need to learn to coexist—rather than discount each others’ differences, find ways to complement these unique perspectives.

Like the generations that preceded them, Millennials face challenges in being seen as competent managers of other people. In their book Millennials Who Manage, Chip Espinoza and Joel Schwarzbart conducted research to determine the biggest challenges Millennials face in the workplace. These challenges are listed from most to least frequently mentioned.

  • Lack of experience
  • Not being taken seriously
  • Not getting respect
  • Being perceived as “entitled”
  • Lack of patience
  • Getting helpful feedback
  • Understanding expectations
  • Miscommunication with older workers
  • Rigid processes
  • Proving value
  • Understanding corporate culture

Though this is a long list, it hasn’t prohibited Millennials from becoming competent workers and effective managers. In fact, as the Traditionalist and Baby Boomer generations move further into retirement, Millennials will be taking on more and more management opportunities.

So what can Millennials do to further overcome these challenges and become better at managing people older and more experienced than themselves?

Espinoza and Schwarzbart provide a number of recommendations. Though I can see all of these being useful in any management scenario, they may be especially suitable for Millennials managing workers who are older and more experienced. When managing workers older than themselves, Millennials should:

  • Know What They Don’t Like
    Demotivating factors are not necessarily the opposite of motivating factors. For example, a demotivating factor could be a manager who micromanages others, which may very well trump a number of motivating factors meant to encourage engagement.
  • Understand What Does Motivate Them
    Though it’s dangerous to link everyone within a certain generational category, keep in mind that what motivates one employee is not true for all others. For instance, a Gen X employee may more likely have an independent streak and be not nearly as interested in team building events as Baby Boomers or Millennials.
  • Seek Their Input, Learn from Them, and Encourage Mentoring
    The lack of experience in Millennial managers can be offset somewhat by showing reverence to the wisdom of other generations. This doesn’t mean capitulating authority as the boss, but simply encouraging a dialogue for you to learn and others to feel respected and valued in their respective roles.
  • Communicate
    An open channel for communication is essential in any successful business. Though Millennials may seek more frequent feedback than other generations, it is important to maintain a regular practice of give and take rather than await the dreaded and oftentimes detrimental annual performance review.
  • Be a Leader, but Don’t Overdo the “Boss” Thing
    Just because you have the job title, doesn’t mean you can bully others or force your employees to do their work effectively. True leadership is your ability to inspire and influence others so people you manage choose to follow your direction.

A multigenerational workplace has many challenges, and yet every generation seems to be especially challenged by both effectively listening and sharing information. Perhaps these two areas are where the focus for growth and learning can be best accomplished.

And when you think about listening and sharing information, it’s clear that trust is inherent in both. Perhaps building trust among the generations will see the widest and most effective intervention for helping them all to work together better.

As a Millennial manager, you have the opportunity to effectively lead your team by making a concerted effort to foster trusting relationships where listening and sharing information is both modeled and rewarded. Appeal to all the generations and be the change agent to lead us in the 21st Century.