De-mystifying Millennials

Picture4How many of you are growing weary of pundits and advice-givers obsessing over Millennials taking over the workplace?

You can put your hands down. Me too.

And we Boomers and Gen Xers aren’t the only ones. A very unscientific poll of 100% of the Millennials in my immediate family reveals that they’re both sick and tired of being stereotyped with the Millennial label as one big spoiled, needy, homogeneous cliché. Their reasons are valid: they’re not all the same, and they generally want the same things from work that generations before them have wanted.

Whaaaat?? How can that be after all the experts have written about how to manage them in the workplace? After all, we all raised our Playdate Generation kids the same, didn’t we?

Actually, no we didn’t.

Okay, you say, but they’ve experienced an unprecedented rate of social, political, and technological changes since they came into the world. Myth buster: you can say the same thing about every generation born in the last 125 years.

And they have more choices in the career landscape than ever before… with more evolving every day! Spoiler alert: so did we – and our parents, too, for that matter.

In the past few years, just short of a gozillion dollars has been spent surveying what Millennials want from the workplace experience, creating a new breed of entrepreneurs uncreatively called Millennial Consultants. And they’ve brilliantly ascertained that Millennials want meaningful, impactful work in a respectful and appreciative workplace, and a competent boss who has integrity and shows compassion once in a while.

Sound familiar? It does to me, because that’s what I wanted when I joined the workforce four decades ago. (Oh yeah, and to make money so I could afford gas and beer.)

Put another way, they want to be part of a well-led organization. They have high expectations, because we raised them that way. And they’re not going to put up with an abusive, controlling micromanager just for the promise of a pension and gold watch after 20 years.

So what does that mean to you leaders out there? Being a leader in today’s climate means tapping into what motivates personal and organizational performance, same as it did several millennia ago.

First, make sure you are clear on, and can clearly articulate where you’re leading your part of the organization and why… and then make sure everyone who works for you knows it (your boss might appreciate knowing as well).

And then get them with you – play to their strengths and make them part of the success, recognize their contributions, be approachable and open to feedback. Build a more trusting relationship with more open communication. In short… lead them.

Now it’s your turn to say, “Kevin, get off your high horse; I’m already doing all of that.”

To which I reply, “Great, now make sure the leaders who work for you are, too.”

Notice I haven’t mentioned Millennials in several paragraphs.  That’s because Leadership 101 tell us that regardless of what generation they belong to, everyone who works for you is unique. They came to work for you for different reasons, they’re motivated differently, and they stay for different reasons. The one common reason they’ll leave? Their boss.

I firmly believe that the key to leading Millennials – or anyone in any generation – is to get to know them as individuals. Understand their values and motivations. Learn whether they do better working independently or in teams. Know how to give them effective feedback that doesn’t feel like a brow beating. Match their individual strengths to developmental opportunities that set them up for success. Leaders who don’t get to know their people simply aren’t as effective as those who do.

And how do we learn all of that about them? Of course… ask them. But don’t wait until they’re “settled in” to start; a third of employees decide whether to stay with a company long term within a week or less of starting, and nearly two thirds within the first month.

Last word: whatever you do, don’t manage them. Your Millennials don’t want to be managed any more than you do.

I just hope we can stop the obsession with Millennials before the Edgers take over the workplace… I bet they’re completely different.

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