Will Millennials Save the World?

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A recent NPR story described the current generation of young people as one of the most compassionate, ecologically-minded, progressive thinkers ever born. They keep in contact with each other every minute. They are more globally aware, and they are incredibly tolerant of other human beings. They don’t use natural resources wastefully, and they aren’t afraid of change. They may actually be the first generation to reverse the destructive environmental path we’re on.

Rich Lucas is a recruiting expert with over 10 years of full-cycle hiring experience. His expertise is in discovering young, Gen Y and Millennial talent. Rich is also a career coach in Philadelphia and helps his clients transition and connect with meaningful, successful employment. We asked Rich to share some of his insights about managing Millennials.

What are the most common misconceptions about Millennials?

Complaints I hear from managers include the use of personal technology in the workplace.  We’re all trying to find that balance of professionalism, innovation, and productivity.

Another is that “they’re not competitive.” False. I think the “everyone gets a trophy concept” is way overblown. They might just want different “rewards” than past generations.

Millennials have a reputation for being truculent and work-shy. What are some hiring strategies to find the Millennials who debunk that reputation?

The approaches will be somewhat different if they’re already in the work force vs. just graduating. But I would use social media and LinkedIn for job postings, and write your ads in a realistic way. Sell the sizzle, but don’t over-promise.  Millennials have been bombarded by pop culture portraying work as “fun,” but not every company is going to be Snapchat or Google.  Wearing jeans to work doesn’t necessarily guarantee better output! While looking at potential employees, dig deep into their resume to see which experiences could have provided growth through facing challenges or problem-solving situations. Then, zone-in. Ask about the emotional side of staring down a crisis or what they got out of a demanding volunteer assignment. There are tons of hard working Millennials out there who lack the coaching or guidance to articulate their problem-solving experiences in a way that matches the established-generation’s mindset.

What do companies have to do to attract top performing Millennials?

I would suggest that your recruiting or HR staff utilize all forms of social media, pick and choose which benefits information are appealing (hint: not medical benefits). Employers have to manage their online reputations, be more flexible with their ideas of “culture,” and promote themselves like never before. What kind of perks can you work into the job, within budget parameters, such as travel, variety of projects, cross-training, latest tech tools, and other incentives? There was a great study done by Experience that ranks the top things Millennials look for in a new job…the standard answers like money and medical benefits were lower on the list.

How do Millennials work in a way that is different from their older counter parts? How do they affect team dynamics?

The phrases “headless or leaderless teams” have been used. This issue is something I’m researching more now. I believe it has to do with the “social learning” aspect…they have grown up in a culture that devalues expertise.  Again, not their fault or good/bad. Just the way technology has changed the world.  Also, they may possess unfamiliarity with hierarchy and process. As the job gets more complicated, focus on teaching and discussing the process. As they on-board, focus on explaining the value in the company’s structure and hierarchy.

Social learning leads Gen Y to think in ways that no other generation has before. They’ll Google anything and trust the source. They won’t hesitate to use social media at work or text their boss – it’s their norm. Many parts of their lives are integrated through technology.  They don’t have those walls when it comes to work. Not yet, at least. Truly, they’re socialized to use the tools at hand. And if the tool isn’t there, get it for free on the internet and download it! Millennials don’t use encyclopedias; they turn to Wikipedia (on their phones). You don’t pay a music teacher to learn guitar; just watch the YouTube video. As their careers go on, how will Millennials become experts? I hear a lot of friction from older managers on this topic.

Millennials want to understand the impact of their work. What strategies can companies use to give Millennials a sense of purpose?

Communication. I call it “micro-feedback.” They don’t have to know necessarily “why” you’re communicating this way, but give them small bursts of tidbits. The days of talking to an employee once a year for their review or a quarterly meeting are over (if you want to survive)! Schedule daily talks, emails, texts, IMs — whatever you need to do to keep them engaged. Even if some of the chats are casual. Engage through communication.

Also, show them the P&L or fiscal impact of their work, decisions, or projects. I see tons of Gen Y workers who have little knowledge of the “cost” of doing business on topics such as business travel, events, buying new tech tools, or even the cost of employee benefits. Educate them.

Employee engagement is a top driver of productivity. And Millennials need to feel engaged or else they’ll find meaningful work somewhere else. What are some of the most effective strategies to engage Millennials?

Give them Micro-feedback.  Assign them unrelated work projects for variety; package it in a way that you’re asking for their input, or you’re rewarding them, or you’re involving them. I don’t suggest you be disingenuous; but if you can assign them a little project to provide variety and engage them, do the results really matter? If you can get great results on top of the engagement, then all the better!

Millennials are adept at social media and have created a new style of communication. How have Millennials changed the way companies communicate internally?

I see much more use of instant messaging programs and Wikis.  And the mobile device transformation is phenomenal. Millennials seem okay with taking their work home with them on their phones. The time they spend on Facebook in the afternoon in the office is swapped for them taking care of a client request at 8 PM, probably while out with friends. They’re dedicated and hard-working, just in a different way. The older generation sees it as a negative to be tethered to your phone. It’s a chore. Millennials see it as just another piece of the puzzle, a puzzle with blurred lines — and millions of pieces if you add in work, life, love, Facebook, etc.!

Millennials are being promoted above Boomers because of their superior technological skills, creating tension between the two generations. How are companies managing this tension?

I think many companies are failing at this now. And it’s urgent that action is taken. The Boomers will be around for another fifteen years as senior leaders. Companies need to get their older workers more and better training. And companies cannot rely on promoting younger workers solely based on tech skills. Younger workers need management training.

What skills do Millennials need to develop to become effective leaders?

I would suggest that they understand how to deal with interpersonal conflict, learn how to negotiate in person, acquire problem-solving strategies, value expertise and gain a familiarity with hierarchy and process.

I heard Malcolm Gladwell speak about how Apple utilized social learning (open sourcing, sharing, stealing) on the bottom end to boost creativity. But as the product ascended up the development ladder, Steve Jobs created a funnel where he was in control of the final product, image, and marketing. A very interesting interpretation by Gladwell of a company that utilized much of today’s Millennial culture (30 years ago) to create products, but used proven traditional business hierarchy to manage the product’s release and sale.

Do not let technology define you as a leader. Utilize it as a tool. As a leader in the workplace, you are not your Facebook profile or Instagram account. The younger end of the Millennial spectrum will have grown up with nothing but touch pads and their lives captured online. Is there a way to harness that powerful framing of life in the business world?