Managing Millennials

Optimizing the talents and negating the drawbacks of this quirky cohort requires a different set of managerial skills.
Managing Millennials
Amy Hirsh Robinson

There’s no question that so-called Millennials – the demographic cohort that’s generally defined as those born between 1980 and 1995 – get a bad rap as a self-indulgent lot with a high sense of entitlement, short attention spans and a greater sense of loyalty to iPhones and social media than any employer or organization.

On the other hand, they’re also a self-confident, tech-savvy, goal- and structure-oriented bunch that excels at multitasking. Moreover, they’re generally more inclined to volunteer and get involved in civic work than their demographic predecessors, the Baby Boomers. And in their defense, the lack of loyalty is justified; they grew up watching their parents lose jobs, many after years of employment at one firm, and their own work aspirations have been hampered if not downright cratered by a long-running job malaise.

Like ’em or revile ’em, one thing is certain: Even though the economy has forced many Boomers to postpone retirement plans, retire they will at some point. And when they do, your GenX managers will come face to face with this 75-million-people-strong cohort and its baffling, Jekyll-and-Hyde dichotomy. How will your managers go about training and retaining these Millennials, much less communicate effectively and keep them engaged?

Amy Hirsh Robinson, a business consultant and principal at the Interchange Group (, has some answers. Hirsh Robinson – who specializes in developing workforce strategies for the new economy – notes that Millennials will play a significant role in tomorrow’s workforce. Whether or not your organization can effectively marshal their unique skills and blunt their less beneficial tendencies may well depend on following her seven pointers for managers and supervisors.

1. Stay connected. Thanks to technology such as smartphones, texting, the Internet and social media, Millennials seem to be in touch with everyone, including helicopter parents who hover around them even into their career years (enabled quite nicely by the very same technology their children are loath to turn off). As such, they’ll expect the same from you.

Fulfill their needs by connecting daily, either by scheduling short meetings or via quick email check-ins. In addition, offer ongoing mentoring and coaching opportunities and take time to mention them by name on a daily basis, she advises. Sounds odd and even high maintenance? Well, it’s not weird if it works, right?

2. Keep it meaningful. Despite their rep as a self-indulgent group, Millennials like to feel they’re a part of something bigger than themselves, or of something that’s meaningful and contributes to the greater good. “That means you must go out of your way to explain how their work benefits customers and others,” she notes. Moreover, organize team volunteer opportunities and publicize the team’s efforts corporatewide.

3. Develop goals jointly. Millennials have goal development in their DNA, thanks to their highly involved, ever-coaching parents. So they’ll want the same type of support from your organization. How do you accomplish this? “Incorporate their professional goals with your organization’s long-term goals through formal performance-management plans and career-development programs,” she suggests.

In addition, don’t make them fend for themselves, Hirsh Robinson emphasizes; take time to explain how the company’s promotional track works and point out what skills and experience they’ll need to advance to the next level. “Also consider including them when developing benchmarks and targets for particular projects so they feel they’re an important part of the goal-setting process,” she says.

4. Be flexible. Tech-savvy Millennials are used to instant communication and push-button, on-demand media access; it’s estimated they can consume 31 hours of media in a 24-hour period. As such, they’re easily bored. So how do you keep them engaged?

Hirsh Robinson says Millennials typically fare better tackling two projects at a time, as long as you provide specific guidelines and deadlines. “Also, create flexible work schedules that leverage multitasking and focus on results,” she suggests.

5. Keep raising the bar. Scoff at over-bearing parents if you will, but acknowledge this much: They’ve instilled in Millennials a drive to excel and participate. They consider knowledge a lifelong pursuit and crave new skills and training.

Some of that training will likely need to focus on some soft-skills development (communication, business and email etiquette, etc.) that they often lack, Hirsh Robinson points out. “You also should consider catering to different learning styles by offering multiple training formats, including downloadable modules, interactive group sessions and mentor pairing,” she says. “Also, consider creating a learning culture by offering incentives for participating in training programs.”

6. Encourage teamwork. Peer-oriented Millennials love to work in groups; without a structured peer network, they often feel isolated and disengaged. To avoid this, promote cross-functional teamwork and communication to complete projects, provide technology that can keep remote employees connected 24/7 and offer conflict-resolution and project-management training to ensure productivity, Hirsh Robinson says.

7. Recognize success. Yes, it’s easy to mock the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality that pervades the Millennial mindset. But the fact remains that to get the most from this group, they need a little stroking now and then.

“Acknowledge Millennials for their work, especially if it’s significant to an overall project,” she says. “You also should offer small but frequent rewards [gift cards for dinner or movies, for example] to recognize key milestones achieved, and communicate how important they are to your company’s strategy and success.”

Sure, it may take a little more effort to manage and retain Millennials. But remember they have a lot to offer in return. And effectively integrating them into your organization will take planning, patience and a readiness to think differently about recruitment and retention programs, she notes. Companies and organizations that are willing to do this will see their attrition rates drop and they’ll gain a sustainable competitive advantage in the years to come.


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