I was surprised last week at the degree to which participants in an upper management level leadership course I was training wanted to talk about their continuing difficulty in working with Millennials. Not that we have completely cracked the code on this issue, but the depth of their angst was attention getting. After a good discussion among the 20 or so leaders in the class it became obvious that the issue was that the leaders interpreted the Millennials pushing back on the ways of working as a miss in cultural fit; a perspective that would create a barrier for their success. We were able to shift the conversation to solution seeking and we reinforced the need for the following 5 sets of behaviors that would work to increase the likelihood of success:
- The need to increase buy in. Connecting folks to a bigger issue and purpose to their activities is a vital success behavior in working with Millennials. This effort may be met with critique, and that is good, it means that there is a genuine interest in applying their own judgement to the work.
- Move from a company loyalty focus to a social group/team focus. For my group this represented a big shift in work values. For many Millennials they know they will not have an extended career in the company they currently work in. Their sense of connection and loyalty will more likely be with their “Team”. Buy in and motivation then should use the team as a focus rather than the organization.
- The need to be aware of what work/life balance means. For many of the Boomers in my class they define work life balance as a unicorn, something beautiful and rare but a fantasy in reality. There is work to do. For Millennials work life balance may be interpreted more accurately as work-me balance. Does my job help me grow, am I given opportunity to develop me, am I treated with respect; respect for my skills my hobbies my priorities.
- Tell folks what they are doing right, not just things to improve As the generation where everyone gets a trophy, Millennials expect to win. Because of this, there is a need for positive affirmation for the things they are doing well, not just the areas for improvement. Millennials aren’t opposed to your feedback, maybe just the way you share it.
- Help folks learn how to think as opposed to telling them what to do. Millennials realize that there is a lot to learn. At the same time, doing things because “that’s the way we’ve always done them” doesn’t resonate. Millennials recognize that work will look completely different in 10 years than it does today. One of the most valuable things you can do as a leader is instill principles to help folks think through the challenges and obstacles we face. That will require more coaching, more development, and more trust from leaders.