The blogosphere has been rife with experts, many of them Millennials, advising people about how to manage . . . Millennials. As with the Baby Boomers of fifty years ago, they’ve been hailed as “the next great generation.” But in spite of their demographic size, the Millennials are no more special than any other group. As with each cohort, they’re just products of the times in which they’ve come of age. So rather than the five things you should do when managing Millennials, how about the five things you shouldn’t do? Here goes:
Number one, stop thinking of them that way! They are not the next great generation. I don’t say this to disparage them. I’ve been researching and writing about Millennials since the leading edge entered the workplace in 1998. But I’ve always tried to keep all the generations in perspective. Each has its own proclivities, its biases, and makes contributions that the others have not. The big difference now is technology. The Millennials have had a digital bullhorn. The Xers, Boomers, and those that came before did not give advice about how they should be managed. They just worked and learned how to fit in. Did they force transition? Of course. But employers didn’t have twenty-somethings trying to advise them how to manage . . . twenty-somethings. Maintain your perspective.
Number two, stop assuming that they know how to think on the job. This may sound harsh, but consistently more than half of surveyed employers say many Millennials have trouble with critical thinking. I could spend ten paragraphs postulating why, but that’s not the point. The key here is to assess problem solving during selection. Assign tasks. Place them in uncomfortable situations. Pose problems that require judgment and see how each applicant comes to resolution. I may still hire newly minted college graduates who don’t possess work smarts. I just want to know before they come on board.
Number three, stop comparing them to your kids. Most people don’t do this consciously. But when the teenager behind your counter behaves the same as your teenager at home, it’s tempting lump them together. We want to assume that the values will be similar, the family structure the same, the beliefs about money, faith, politics, entertainment, and social issues on the same plane as ours. And when they’re not, we instinctively think “Why not?” Countless employers have complained to me over the past several years that “These kids have no common sense.” The first thing I do is remind them that they’re not kids. They are the people upon whom we depend for our livelihoods.
Number four, stop lumping them all together. In recent decades, one in four workers has graduated with a four-year degree. Yet those are the only ones studied and surveyed for the most part. What about the other 75%? Do you manage the 27-year-old engineer who’s earning $52,000 a year the same way you manage the 27-year-old tradesman who’s earning exactly the same thing? Do you inspire the middle class clerk from Minnesota the same way as you inspire the first-generation clerk from Ecuador? Today’s Millennials are extraordinarily diverse, even compared to those coming of age 15 years ago. When some Millennial expert says “always” do this or “never” do that, ignore them. Take time to examine the bigger picture. There’s so much more to each one than just age.
Number five, stop getting angry, frustrated or indignant about the time being consumed by managing and leading these eager young contributors. Instead, shape them. Show them how the firm really makes money. Be specific. Explain the organizational structure and it’s reasoning. Explain your firm’s role in the marketplace and industry. Introduce them to mentors who will light the way but also help them understand that promotions don’t happen every six months. Encouraging their passion is good, but so is finding ways to help them channel it so that both they and the firm thrive.
These are not the rantings of a bitter Boomer, just observations of someone who talks day in and day out with employers who are struggling to manage the ongoing transition within their workforce. The Millennials are here, but so are the rest of us. Let’s learn, grow and thrive together.