Last week we had a lot of great discussion in the comments of an article I wrote on Leading Millennials. I really enjoyed getting to hear your perspectives and experiences with this subject. In light of the comments and suggestions, and because I just like to talk about this stuff, I decided to write another article about the kids who are taking over the workplace (who are not exactly kids anymore and would like to be seen as colleagues)!
As you can glean from the title, I’m covering motivation today. Shout out to Christopher Greene who asked for some more information on motivating and developing millennials. His suggestion got me really excited thinking about the ways that we can motivate millennials and take full advantage of their eager to please attitude. And if you’re thinking, “but I don’t have a budget for motivating people,” the stuff I am suggesting is free or low cost.
1. Give them praise for a job well done
Millennials tend to like to be praised, they grew up in the everyone gets a trophy generation, and this is a part of their eco or ego system now. Before the commenters go crazy on me...I’m NOT suggesting everyone gets a trophy at work. I am however saying that being aware of this higher need for praise is something that leaders can use to motivate their millennial employees. In fact, good leaders are praising everyone who is doing a good job, and doing it on a regular basis, regardless of generational differences...
I know the traditional no news is good news, or only give feedback when you’re “in trouble” (I hate that term) is easier. It takes time and to actually be looking for and to make note of the good stuff people are doing and not just notice when they mess things up! It also helps if you do it more timely than once a year at a formal evaluation. Giving praise and corrective feedback (which they want as well, but that’s another post) closely after the fact will definitely work in your benefit.
Most people like to be told when they are doing a good job, but especially millennials, and millennials will respond with putting forth extra effort and more motivation to receive additional praise. And positive reinforcement actually works better on people than nagging or complaining about someone never getting something right. Letting them know they did something well leads to more of the desired behavior. Also, when you see a positive behavior change, point that out as well! As leaders, we should be lifting up all of our employees with our words, encouraging their positive behaviors and praising good work. (Anyone ever tried this at home with your husband, wife, kids?? What works better there? Probably not the nagging, only pointing out flaws bit!)
2. Ask for their help with innovation, make it a little competitive and fun
Millennials like to come up with new ways of doing things, and they like to win at games and science fairs, and score well on tests and show they are smart and capable. And guess what? They really are pretty freaking smart and capable! This is one of the most educated generations to date and they have and an innate curiosity and a ‘let’s figure this outness’ to them that can be a huge asset to an organization. They are questioning the status quo anyway, so why not use it to your advantage!
If you are looking to develop some new ways of doing things, put out a hip new innovative service, find a way to use technology better in a certain area, look for ways to become more efficient, or ways to save money, put some millennials on it. And make it fun! Create a competition, let them name their teams, let them wear whatever they want, order in takeout, give them a space to relax, create and see what they come up with. Talk about motivation! These millennials will light up with excitement at the chance to be given the opportunity to show you what they got, contribute to the organization in a meaningful way and have fun with each other while doing it - they also enjoy collaboration. Let the winning team present it to the top leaders, this opportunity for face time with them will be seen as a reward in itself, but you should also throw in some sort of actual prize as well...
A good leader would provide this opportunity with a clear vision and purpose in mind for the organization, what outcomes they are looking for and then set them loose with some boundaries and parameters in place. It would also be beneficial to put someone more seasoned with the company on each team or at least at their disposal to ask questions and for some guidance regarding institutional history and a little supervision, BUT not to run the show or stifle the creativity!!
Even if it isn’t a big project or you’re not that brave, millennials are motivated by being given opportunities to have their ideas heard so any small opportunities to do so are motivating. They like to solve problems and contribute to the greater good of the organization in ways that are beyond the scope of work in their position of just delivering the mail, or being the receptionist... At my old job, many of the suggestions we received through our employee suggestion program, and most of the ones that were accepted and implemented came from millennials!
P.S. There are a lot of people in your company that have good ideas and would like opportunity to be heard as well, not just the millennials. Good leaders are always asking great questions, listening to what their people say and providing avenues for them to share their feedback, suggestions and ideas with upper management. The people closest to the work are usually pretty knowledgeable about how to make improvements or implement a change! Open doors and open ears policies are good to have as a leader.
3. Give them some flexibility
I saved the controversial one for last! This is one that I know is going to get some pushback. But please hear me out first... Millennials live pretty active lives and they have many interests and commitments outside of their job. Even if their commitments don’t seem as important as yours, they are still important to them. Their plans are always changing and they thrive on it and enjoy the opportunity to live a flexible lifestyle. They don't want to put in a vacation day four weeks in advance in order to leave early on Friday and go to the beach for the weekend with friends, be at their daughter’s Valentine’s day party, or leave work early one afternoon to go volunteer feeding the homeless.
Even though we all secretly want it, this generation more than any other has stepped up and demanded a work life balance. However, it does not mean that they do not still have a strong work ethic or desire to work hard and make a contribution to the company. They just want to do it from their laptops at night after the 4pm yoga class or their kid’s soccer game and on Sunday afternoon when they have some down time. These millennials will actually put more work hours in when they are not constricted to a Monday through Friday, must have butt in cubicle to be seen as working, 9 to 5 environment. If there is any opportunity at all in your organization to allow for flexible work hours, this is one of the ways to get the most out of and motivate your millennial employees. I understand that this does not work in every business model and it is not possible for some industries to do it at all, but there are ways to take baby steps.
Good leaders will have measures in place to make sure that the work is being accomplished and that there are accountability and communication processes that make it possible to work remotely. I worked for a boss once who was more focused on outcomes than when and how the work got done, and it made me appreciate her trust in my abilities and me. It was very motivating and I worked extra hard and much more than if I was locked into my desk all day and only working 9-5. Millennials have a work hard, play hard mentality and if you allow them some flexibility, the ‘work hard’ part of them will work in your favor!
Again, this is not just good advice for leading millennials, it’s a good leadership practice that all employees will appreciate and it is the way our world is moving to a more flexible, global way of operating. In the past two weeks, I have met with people over Skype in South Africa, France, Australia, and the US, all from my spot on the beach in Puerto Rico. Most people like being able to have the freedom to work from wherever. I know I sure do! But it doesn’t have to be as extreme as my example, many employees would appreciate just being able to go to a doctor’s appointment during the day without putting in for one hour of sick or vacation, and then going back to work for one hour before fighting traffic... They could just go home, make up the work there and then go about their business. You get the point!
So this turned long again...and I didn’t even cover everything that I could have. I will have to write motivating millennials part two. Sorry, Joan! I still have not gotten that good at using economy of language that my professor in grad school used to ask me for so often.
If you noticed from my not so subtle hints, these suggestions really don’t just apply to millennials, sure they have opened up the conversation for us, but people tend to be motivated by more than just money or power or some of the stereotypical things we think. Don’t believe me, check out this video by Dan Pink that talks about what economists at MIT and other smart people found really motivates people is autonomy, mastery and purpose.
If you got to the end of this and you would like to learn more about Leadership for the Next Generation, I am hosting a free webinar, where I talk and you don’t have to read all these words. I’d love it if you join us on Monday, October 27th at 1pm EST. We will be covering hiring, training, culture and of course, leadership! This is for you if you’re leading millennials or if you are a millennial. If you want to attend, but already have plans at that time, go ahead and sign up and you will receive the replay link in your email.
Full disclosure, I will also be providing a short overview of an eight week online course that goes much deeper into these topics. But the webinar is NOT a sales pitch! I will be sharing valuable, actionable steps totally for free, and at the end give you a short, 2 minute explanation of the course. (Before you get mad that I am teaching a class for money, please understand that I am still running a business and like to eat - a lot - and pay my bills on time). If you don’t want to join us for the free webinar or paid class, it’s cool, we can still be friends, and you can still read my blogs and articles and get plenty of value for free.
Tell me if you like these tips, found them helpful, agree as a millennial, think I’m crazy or have a difference of opinion! Also, add to the list if you'd like and I will include your advice in part two.
When I was doing leadership development at my old job, one of the courses I taught was titled 'Managing Millennials' and it was one of the most popular. It was always full and the participants were the most engaged and talkative group. Why? Because they were struggling! Some of the issues they came to me with were - these kids don't get that they can't climb the ladder overnight, they need to wear suits and ties, they should get here early and stay late, they should pay their dues like I did, they are too casual and not 'professional', they are always asking me questions, they have tattoos, they want to know if they can do some work from home at night so they can take two hours in the day for a yoga class, they are always making suggestions for new things to do or change something old, they always want feedback....I could go on. I understand the frustration these leaders had with the differences in belief systems about life and work and the overall boldness of the millennials they managed, but the truth is, this is who is going to be running the show and are in many cases already. So, what can you do to keep your sanity and to develop these kids into great leaders?
The good news is, there is hope and this is an exciting time full of possibilities. The bad news is, it will take some adjustments on your part. You see, the 'old school' styles of managing are just not working in today's world. Leaders are what is really needed, not just managers. And leaders invest in growing other leaders. Managers manage things and tasks and policies, leaders influence people. There is a lot of opportunity to mentor and to grow our organizational cultures and businesses with employees who we see have potential, but may need some grooming, like the millennials. Like it or not these kids are here to stay and we can choose to invest in growing them and teaching them, while holding them accountable, or complain about them and fire them without trying to train first. Many times they don't know what they don't know. I know I wasn't the most professional doctor's assistant starting out back in the day, I was late and I called my boss "dude" a few times (on accident, slipped out) when I was 18, and she was a well respected surgeon...fortunately she didn't fire me! I worked there for 7 years, and I could do every job in the place, except surgery. She taught me a lot and we are friends to this day. Blame parents (some of you are those parents), blame technology, blame youth (regardless of the decade), but the reality is they are here to stay, and many do have some amazing talent and qualities that we can develop and truly benefit and learn from.
Some of the issues managers brought up to me about their 'kids' could be answered with the same advice: First, ask A LOT of questions! Why does she want to work there? Why was he late? What is her philosophy around time? What are his career goals? Why did she address her boss that way? What was her thinking behind this suggestion? What was his decision making process behind that 'mistake'? Get super curious about where they are coming from. Listen, then, give them your feedback. In instances where there is a correction that needs to be made, first ask questions, then give them your assessment of the situation. If there are some things she is doing well, compliment her skills and give her the praise she needs and deserves (this is a high need for millennials). Then explain in detail the specific actions and observations that you have made so far and how they were in violation of your standards. Then explain the 'why' for the standards that you expect, explain what is the impact that it has on the rest of the team, work getting done, culture, etc when he is late (or whatever the case is) and why it is important. Also, maybe have a discussion around time and working hours. If the issue is around time and there are flexible options, discuss those and the accountability measures and communication practices that need to be in place to make sure that the work gets done. And for some of the work practices that are in place, I usually advise leaders to really ask themselves why we have this policy in the first place, and if there is room for improvement, elimination or more flexibility. Many times policies, procedures and cultural norms are in place in organizations just because 'that's the way we've always done it' or because it was developed as a reaction to a one time offense many years ago. And that just doesn't cut it in today's world!
Please don't misunderstand, I do not condone coddling and I have fired people and recommended many people get fired, that used to be part of my job. What I am saying is that we need to lead, train and mentor people who have potential. And many millennials have loads of potential, but need some good mentoring and training! Not everyone worked in high school and college or was taught professionalism at home. I do know there are some people, millennials and more mature employees alike, who do not do their jobs, do not pull their weight, do not have good work ethic and cause trouble within the group. To those who are leading this type of employee I say cut them out of your team like a cancer! Their attitude will spread and infect others or cause resentment. And many times the manager who isn't paying attention, letting this employee slide and not taking care of other team members who end up doing all the work, needs to go be let go too. I used get called the Bobs from Office Space when I was in OD because I recommended a lot of people 'find their happiness elsewhere.' Ultimately it is always a leadership issue. If your employee had a bad attitude, bad work ethic or doesn't have the skills needed, I would say cut your losses now and find someone else. But for the most part, we will serve our organizations well if we invest the time to mentor and develop these millennials.
I was just at an event where my mentor John Maxwell spoke about his new book 'Good Leaders Ask Great Questions' and I came away with the inspiration to write on this subject in regards to mentoring and how we all can use continuous mentoring, regardless of where we are in our careers. I recorded a short video below with some questions to ask a mentor and I would encourage you to invite someone you admire to lunch very soon and ask them these questions. Also, share it with a millennial you work with and maybe even offer to be the person they as these questions of over lunch sometime!
But let’s back up just a minute and talk about hiring the right person to begin with! Hiring for cultural fit, growth potential, behavioral attributes and passion for the mission of the company are in my opinion more important than hiring for skills. I can think of a personal example when I made the mistake of hiring someone who didn’t “get it” and wasn’t passionate about our purpose and it was one of my biggest leadership mistakes to date. And I fully expect to make more, it is the nature of being human. Despite the bad hire, I learned a valuable lesson, so it wasn’t a failure! This is a much larger topic and I will save it for a blog post at another time.
Tell me your stories about millennials, experiences as a millennial, ask questions and share advice in the comments! I would love to hear from you!
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