I lead a company of approximately 100 employees. Many are Millennials. I, as a Baby Boomer leader, am not. Many of the articles I read on managing Millennial employees, however, strike me as flawed in the most fundamental respect. Too many leaders and so-called experts aren’t willing to treat Millennials like Millennials. They’re treating them as if they were… me.
So before we label or judge Millennials (narcissistic, ego-driven, selfish, entitled, etc.), think about this: They didn’t grow up in the environment we did. They grew up in the environment that we, the generations before them, created. So who’s to blame? And why blame anybody?
I am far from alone. As I look around our company and others, I see cubical walls and oversized boardroom tables being replaced by open workspaces and ping pong or foosball tables. Power suits and briefcases are at the back of the closet, replaced by cargo shorts and messenger bags.
Like me, many leaders who might be classified as Baby Boomers or Gen X are discovering that managing and working with Millennials may challenge our traditional leadership style. Punching a clock, time-consuming meetings, busywork and strict dress codes may be what we’ve been accustomed to in our own careers. But this is a new generation that has new expectations.
“With 75 million Millennials entering the workplace, organizations have no choice but to learn how to recruit, grow and retain these workers,” said Terri Klass and Judy Lindenberger, experts in managing Millennials.
This growing workforce may throw wrenches in your management style and work environment, but when you adapt, you will realize these individuals are exceptionally creative and smart. These incredibly bright, highly tech-savvy, conscientious men and women will quickly become your strongest, most reliable employees. To get the very best from your Millennial employees, I suggest that you embrace their autonomy, lead by mentoring (instead of managing), and learn to accept, and perhaps even adopt, informal communications (you may even learn to like emojis).
Want happy employees? Create an environment that embraces autonomy. By trusting your employees, you instill a sense of freedom. Yes, they may goof around a bit. But then they’ll turn around and knock their work objectives out of the park. The freedom you extend will translate to increased productivity, deadlines being met, expanded creativity and more.
If you give Millennials freedom to do their job responsibilities, and,most importantly, if they feel supported, not judged, they will exceed your expectations. Will you catch them texting friends, playing Candy Crush, or even wandering around the parking lot seeking Pokemon? Yes. But when the deadline approaches, after that needed “brain break,” they will surprise you with the quality of their work.
“Millennials have a reputation for ‘crowdsourcing,’ and they often do tend to want to work in groups. But don’t let that make you think that they are unable to make decisions on their own,” said Chad Halvorson, founder and CEO of When I Work. “While they value the input of a diverse group, they are still able to make decisions at work without the constant input of others.”
Mentor, don’t manage
Much of what succeeds in the world of Millennials boils down to leadership versus management, I believe. Because Millennials are known for their sense of entitlement, narcissism, and confidence, they don’t like to be managed. But they love to be led. They are tech-savvy and love to expand their knowledge. They want inspiring leaders they can learn from. In a nutshell, they are looking for mentors, not managers.
Additionally, Millennials need consistent, frequent feedback. “They want feedback on how they are doing, they want that feedback often, and they want it right now,” Halvorson said.
If you lead Millennials—through deadlines, goals and boundaries—you must tell them something that will inspire or get them fired up. They are adept at working the sidelines, the end zones. Like Peyton Manning, they prefer to be calling the plays rather than being told what to do. Give them that liberty and they’ll score wins for your company.
Drop the formalities
Gone are the days of formal memos, long, wordy emails and, in some cases, lengthy meetings or conference calls. Most communication, whether you are in the office or at the gym, can occur via instant message or text. Take, for example, a busy newsroom that just received a breaking news tip. Just a couple of years ago, those reporters would have to rely on emails and phone calls to update their editors.
Now, when breaking news hits, a reporter can jump into an instant message chat window and quickly update the editor with all the details instantly. The breaking news can now appear even faster. “While I’ll continue to counsel people of all ages to use formal language and stay away from ‘text speak,’ informal message systems are here to stay,” said Suzanne Lucas in her article How Millennials Are Changing the Rules at Work. “And it’s not only informal forms of delivery, it’s also the emoji. Seventy-six percent of Americans use emojis in their professional communication.”
“Business deals can be closed through a series of text messages at 9 p.m. or later,” she added. “You can know how your coworker feels about a particular project by the little face she’s added at the end of her email. The informality is here to stay.”
Ten years ago I could not have succeeded in this style of leadership. I’d have expected my Millennial employees to change. As it turned out, they don’t need to change (and probably won’t). So I’ve changed. I have come to embrace this new leadership style and these new ways of communicating and empowering my employees. I’ve learned that you don’t get what your company needs by clipping their wings. I would advise anybody who is leading Millennials to provide them with the freedom they require, to adopt a mentoring (instead of commanding) style of leadership, and to accept and adopt informal styles of communication to create a comfortable and creative environment that allows your Millennial workforce to thrive. In turn, you will reap the rewards of happy, productive employees.