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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