Manage Millennials

Want to manage millennials? First learn how they tick…

This post was also published on TechInAsia on 31 Aug 2016.

Last updated: 11 Aug 2016

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It isn’t easy to manage millennials.

I’m a millennial myself. And I know what I look for in a job. A great boss, who can push and challenge me in exactly the right way. Also, I look for flexible arrangements, so I don’t feel I’ve got chains attaching me to my desk at work.

Hear it from the men who coined the word ‘millennials’. The term was meant to depict a generation different from the previous one: raised differently, under different circumstances and with different goals, ambitions and motivations.

Much research has been done to understand this generation. They’re a generation that continues to expand, with some now holding middle and sometimes senior management roles across many industries.

So how exactly does this generation think? What are their hot buttons? And how exactly does one manage millennials?

Lesson 1: They are loyal…not

To manage millennials, you need to understand that they are great lovers of social media. Almost narcissistic.  Always on. Preening, clicking, talking, connecting…

A work environment which can mimic that free-wheeling social aspect would be highly attractive to a millennial. Open offices can be an answer. Collaborative work environments are another. If you’re not able to provide this type of work environment or cultural setting to a millennial, there’s a good chance they will leave sooner rather than later.

Companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook are at the top of their game, because they have been able to harness the raw energy and spirit of the millennials. Other ways to do this are with the extensive use of humanistic and engaging office spaces, and flat structures of reporting.

Lesson 2: Ditch the performance appraisal

        There’s a good reason to do this. Millennials hate them. And they don’t work. Performance appraisals simply do not improve work performance. The Bell Curve is demeaning.

And let’s face it, performance appraisals are going extinct. If there was a good time to scrap performance appraisals, it would be now.  Chances are, you will manage millennials more successfully if you did. Radical, yes… but necessary.

        Carrying this out however, requires a certain degree of courage. If your organisation is of any substantial size, there’s a good chance, there will be significant pushback on this idea. Performance appraisals are an extremely entrenched way of looking at performance.

Thankfully, the wave has already begun. Companies such as Adobe, General Electric and Accenture have already scrapped appraisals.  About 6 percent of Fortune 500 companies have put a stop to performance appraisals. Isn’t it time you did, too?  

performance review

Isn’t it time to ditch the performance review?

Lesson 3: Manage millennials by giving them a vision

        This sounds a little clichéd. But the proof is in the pudding. It actually works. Millennials care about causes. Nothing whets their motivation engines as much as a meaty cause.

You can do this by closely mapping organization values and direction in accordance with a larger vision. And really meaning it. This is imbibing corporate social responsibility deep in your business.  This is not window dressing.

Companies who have successfully had great CSR are as diverse as Google, Disney, BMW and Microsoft. And they also usually have excellent employee engagement all round.

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Lesson 4: Have quality managers

        It goes without saying managers can make or break your organization.  It’s a known fact that employees leave because of bad bosses.  Increasingly, managers must be trained to handle in-coming millennials, and not feel threatened by them.

Millennials seem to enjoy being mentored.  A mentoring program must be carried out with finesse. A few less orthodox thoughts for mentoring are: reverse mentoring, calling more senior executives to mentor junior staff, and providing membership to external accrediting organizations which help develop the skills a millennial employee needs.

        Although technology seems to be attractive to millennials and they seem to consume vast amounts of digital information on a daily basis, millennials do value face-to-face interaction over pure technology interactions.

Cornerstone OnDemand, released its survey of three generations’ views of workplace technology in November 2014. There were some interesting findings as quoted in this release.

  • 60 percent of millennials would prefer to collaborate in person vs. online (34 percent) or via phone or videoconference (6 percent).
  • 38 percent said they’ve been subjected to “technology overload” on the job, and 41 percent encountered an “information overload.”
  • 66 percent said they would be willing to use wearable technology to help them do their jobs vs. 34 percent who would not.

A good manager in this case, needs to be comfortable with new technology as well as be approachable and available to his or her millennial employees.

Lesson 5: Build a legacy of millennial leadership

        Millennials will be leading the companies of the future, if they are not already.  It’s interesting to know that these young people will become the decision makers in a very near future. What kind of senior decision makers will they be? And how does one manage succession effectively with this generation?

        The answer lies in tapping one of their biggest strengths. Their capacity for influencing on a large scale, or behaving as influencers. A large body of young people today are participating in various channels of blogging and YouTube and the number is staggering and set to grow. They seem to be pulled to this space much more than the previous generations, and more so because of technology as an enabler.

        While the CEOs of the 90’s were many times charismatic leaders, I do believe the future generations will be natural influencers and thought leaders. They will work towards shaping opinions on causes they truly care about and lead companies with a greater sense of ownership, ethics and transparency.

It’s a very bright future, and it might be highly idealised, but it is probable that the leader of tomorrow genuinely functions as an influencer beyond company walls as well. A non-millennial example to illustrate this phenomenon is the Lean In program developed by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.

Millennials do a have different worldview and they will help create a different world for the next generations. And understanding and deciphering them in a time of rapid change and growth, by giving them an empowering set of priorities and expectations which are different from previous generations, will help companies harness millennials’ true and lasting potential as both employees and managers. That, and offering unlimited vacation time.


By Marian Jacob: Marian is a writer and communications specialist with broad multinational experience, and is a regular contributor to the EngageRocket blog.

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