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The Art of Managing Millennials

Millennials are a constant topic of conversation in my business, and lately I have been getting asked to give my thoughts on how best to manage millennials, or as I like to refer to them, as Generation Re-coursed.  Re-course is a military term that is used when putting soldiers through training and while the solider displays skills, he or she has not met the minimum standard to advance in training.  They have demonstrated that they are giving it their all, but not enough to pass; therefore, they are re-coursed to a platoon that is just starting training so that they can continue to improve their skills and meet the standard to pass and advance.

Millennials were not raised with any standards to meet, for the most part, they received a trophy just for doing “their best”. They are the product of over protective parents who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that their children never have a negative experience.  These parents have essentially stunted their children’s natural growth pattern by removing all obstacles that life throws at them and limiting their ability to develop problem solving skills.

Millennials by definition are often generalized as problematic, demanding, spoiled brats who continue to live in their parents’ basement and have mom make their lunch.  They feel that they are entitled to everything because that is how it was at home, and they are looking for the same type of relationship with their boss.  Make no mistake, millennials are coming to your office very soon, so how do managers integrate these coddled individuals into your workforce?

Integrating someone new into an existing team is always challenging, and now managers have to integrate someone into their team who has a dramatically different work ethic than the rest of the team. Millennials typically don’t want to adapt to “fit in” with an existing team, they want the team to adapt to them and their expectations.  They have an aversion to 9 to 5, and demand a dramatically different understanding of what “work-life” balance is.  Given this information, how do managers cope?

As most of us born into Generation x (1961-1981) tend to do, we adapt and overcome.  We use the skills that we were taught by our parents back in the days when we rode bikes without helmets, and ate hamburgers out of Styrofoam containers- we engage with them!

Here are some tricks that I have used to help build teams with millennials on them:

The need to Listen to them– Millennials want to feel that they are contributing constantly, so as managers, we need to adopt a “no idea is a bad idea” attitude.  Effective communication is always an essential management skill, but it is critical in managing millennials in time of change, negotiation and conflict.

Yes! You need to show up on time– Being on time is a real issue for me.  I was always taught to show up 15 minutes early for any timing.  Millennials feel that advances in technology should be able to let them “choose” where and when to start work.  They can work from home, or Starbucks, essentially anywhere that have a Wi-Fi connection.  At Q College, we were running our Web Development and Digital Marketing Certificate course and we had one student who always can in to class at least 45 minutes late. The issue of the student being late was making me crazy, and when I finally confronted him about his inability to respect that he is disturbing class for the other students by being late, his answer was that he was a Millennial and he will start class when he wants to.

I was completely shocked. He had no concept that he was disturbing class by being late.  It was simply his right as a Millennial to come and go as he pleased.  His work was excellent, but the sense of entitlement was completely jaw dropping to me.

What I have learned from this is that as a manager I have to set extremely clear goals, set deadlines, and insist on a level of consistent productivity and checking in routinely. I need to accept that the world is no longer 9-5, and that I can increase productivity by embracing flexible work options.

Managing people who are not always around is challenging, but I have found that using tools like SLACK, and Skype have given me the ability to increase productivity with the Millennials I use as contractors through consistent engagement.  The downside is being glued to my phone 24/7, but we adapt and overcome to get the job done.

They will leave you-  I have learned over the last few years that when you hire a millennial they will only be with you for 1-2 years before they find another job.  I’ve had people leave saying they want new experiences, or that it was just time to go.  They were not unhappy working for me, they simply have this vision of a dream job that probably does not exist. Millennials are around for a good time, and not a long time.

Giving Constructive Criticism-  This is the most difficult management skill that I have had to develop working with millennials.  I have seen that this is where the “everyone gets a trophy for just tying your best ethic” bites you every time.  It is not a fact of millennials not working hard, it is a question of handling them when their best just is not good enough.  Business is business and sometime the presentation does not go well.  The proposal was not up to the client’s satisfaction.  Things happen in business and we don’t win every time. It is a challenge teaching millennials that failures have consequences and that sometimes “sorry” or “I did my best” just does not cut it.  They really have a hard time with failure, and that has been challenging to overcome.

As Generation X we failed all the time, and it was called learning. (I still have the scars from the Evel Knievel ramps that I built as a kid). Now we are presented with a generation where there were no real consequences when something did not go right. Mom and Dad will fix it, or they’ll just re-spawn in their video game.

I think of myself as more of a leader than a manager with my teams.  I lead by example, and have found that millennials perform better when they are presented with the “big picture” of the company’s strategy and where they fit in it.  They feel more invested, and they are less likely to become demanding and bitter when they understand that things are happening for a reason.

Millennials are the most diverse workforce in our history and they want to make a difference in the world.  I like to think of the millennials on my team as a link to an unlimited pool of millennials with new ideas, concepts and opinions.  I am thinking that if I can create a working environment that has a clear vision, an open idea policy (I want the best idea going out the door, not necessarily mine), and that hard work has rewards, I should be able to be able to take advantage of the free viral marketing from the greatest PR team I could get-my own team.

14 Responses

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