Embracing Millennials in Your Organization

For the past 6 months, I have been coaching millennials that are 1-5 years removed from undergrad or graduate school, on uncovering new ways that they can build a more purpose-driven career.

The topics I coached on included:

  • Finding more value in their 9 to 5
  • Designing thinking exercises on how to develop clarity on what brings them alive, and then finding a way to get paid for it
  • Identifying how they can regain control of their career
  • Finding options to bridge the gap between where they are presently in their careers, and how to get where they want to be in the next 5 years
  • Developing an in-depth job search strategy that included:
    • Researching careers of interest, reaching out to complete strangers who are presently in those careers, and scheduling a time to speak with them to seek their advice
    • Finding creative, and attention-grabbing alternatives to the traditional resume
    • Participating in intensive interviewing practice
    • Getting interviews scheduled with hiring managers who were not looking to add any headcount, for jobs that were not approved (or created), at companies that weren’t hiring (this one took serious guts)

I learned 6 key characteristics of how millennials (including myself) approach their careers, relative to previous generations. If employers do not invest more time in understanding the personal and professional aspirations of millennials, then there is going to be a strenuous disconnect between the managers of yesterday’s generation, and the future leaders of our world. This will thus continue to perpetuate the very behaviors that drive today’s managers crazy. Like most things that drive us crazy, the solution is to find a way to comprehend what may, at first, seem incomprehensible.

1. Millennials are NOT Entitled – Or as Adam Smiley Poswolsky (Author of, ‘The Quarter Life Breakthrough’) puts it, “they aren’t the me, me, me generation.” This seems to be biggest stigma surrounding 20-and-early-30 somethings. This could be the furthest from the truth. It’s not that they are entitled, rather they are anxious to get things done. They were born into a generation of having everything they ever wanted, right at their finger-tips. Their ambitious thinking, and desire for wanting to impact change is not a sign of entitlement. It’s a key indicator that they are here to help solve their organization’s largest problems, in the most efficient way possible. They are not the baby-boomer generation; they cannot stand red-tape, bureaucratic, hierarchies in the workplace. Simply put, they don’t want to waste time. Sarah O’ Connor, a writer for the Financial Times, said it best: “The real worry about millennials is not that they are entitled, but that they aren’t entitled enough.”1

2. Millennials are Audacious – This is my most favorite characteristic. Most people who live on the planet today are sleepwalking. I’ve been guilty of this at one point in my life as well. Most people do the same things every day – day in and day out – over and over. They allow fear and worry to imprison their creativity, their passions, and their ability to take a bet on themselves. Millennials see things differently. They want to create a lasting impact, and they understand that it’s easier today, than ever before to do that. They have the audacity to question the status quo, be adventurous, inquisitive, to have a broader perspective, and most importantly, they want to step up and do something about this.

If you have an employee like this, you need to tap into their potential. You need to find a way to support this individual and provide them the guidance to pursue some of their audacious goals. They are desperate to learn, and hungry to find a better, faster, and ultimately, cost-effective way to do what they are doing. If mentored correctly, this person will pay exponential dividends for your company.

3. Millennials are Purpose-Driven – Through my experience, I’ve found their focus isn’t money, it is meaning. Millennials grew up in an environment where they could focus on self-actualization, being more confident, and less about keeping up with the Joneses. The common theme here is that they want to make a difference in other people’s lives. They want to feel like they are working on projects that are bigger than themselves.

The best way to take advantage of this characteristic is to start by giving them smaller tasks outside of their scope of work. Once you’ve seen that they are capable of delivering, continue to increase the scope, and visibility of their side project. You can also provide them a dedicated amount of time to pursue their passion project that also directly impacts the company.

4. Millennials are Relationship Driven – Millennials thrive on having positive, and collaborative relationships with their boss, and their colleagues. Full transparency between a boss, and their subordinates is the one thing that corporations lack the most. Withholding information, seclusion from the decision making process, and managing from top down, are sure ways to demotivate good talent. Some advice:

  • Explain what they can expect from you as their manager, and mentor
  • Ask them about their short-term and long-term career aspirations, and offer advice on how they can achieve them
  • Include them in the decision making process
  • Keep them abreast with any company news that is relevant
  • Have their backs, and when they are sharing and implementing new ideas

5. Millennials are Confident, NOT Cocky – I’ve found that 70% of managers who have early 20 somethings on their team have said that millennials have the innovation gene. They are always looking at ways to think different. They love to share ideas, they love to volunteer to take on new projects, and they are great about building the skills they need to be successful.

This can seem threating or intimidating, for older colleagues, if viewed as a threat. But it’s time to challenge that thinking and take it as an opportunity to collectively get better as a group. Remember millennials don’t like winning for the sake of winning. It’s much more meaningful if the group in its entirety can win.

6. Millennials Appreciate Constructive Criticism – It’s a fact that 42% of millennials appreciate feedback every week2. That’s more than twice the percentage of every other generation. Keep in mind that millennials approached the workforce at its worst time since the Great Depression. The recession crippled hopes of a successful career, and couple that with the fact that there were fewer jobs, and lower salaries, it created anxiety. Thus, they developed a desire to be aware of their performance every step of the way.

It’s important to not mistake constant feedback, for constant praise or narcissism. It’s standard practice for millennials to seek constructive criticism, and look for ways they can improve what they are doing. In their minds, their managers aren’t “just bosses,” they are their career coaches. Millennials relate more to missions, and causes, and they see their manager as the person to push them to succeed. Their ideal manager is authentic, transparent, and approachable.

Millennials in the workplace have their own set of expectations, just like every generation before them. Leveraging these tips, will make working, leading, and grooming the largest generation ever to become our future leaders of tomorrow. So remember:

  • Over-communicate
  • Be clear with expectations
  • Work with them to develop a purpose in their 9 to 5
  • They don’t seek a work-life balance, but rather a work-life integration; let them pursue a passion project or two, even if it is during work hours
  • Equip them with the tools they need to lead one day. Start small. Allow them to take the lead on a project, or lead a few meetings. These small steps, and ultimately small wins will build up their confidence, and they will develop invaluable skills that will ultimately benefit the organization.


1 http://www.ft.com/cms/s/ab749c5a-c357-11e5-b3b1-7b2481276e45,Authorised=false.html?siteedition=uk&_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2Fab749c5a-c357-11e5-b3b1-7b2481276e45.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&_i_referer=&classification=conditional_standard&iab=barrier-app#axzz48EBotFMn

2 https://hbr.org/2016/02/motivating-millennials-takes-more-than-flexible-work-policies

Related Reading