I recently spoke on the campus of Florida State University and it hit me. I’m a misplaced millennial. I admire this new generation. I think they are getting the chances that we older generations wanted. As in many cases, our children are living the dream we dreamed for them. We wrote the life script they now enjoy.
Millennials go their own way. I do, too. No wonder I’ve been a total misfit as a Gen X’er (something I’m actually proud of!).
As a consultant to corporations, I spend a lot of time untangling frustrations that CEOs feel toward their new crop of workers. What I always say is this: Understand who you are dealing with if you want to get the most productive results out of them — and in case you haven’t noticed, the workplace is now one-third comprised of millennial workers. After all, if you are in a leadership role, your job is to achieve long-term results through employee development. Your job is to pull out the potential in people, no matter the method.
Here’s one of the first things you need to realize about millennials if you are ever going to connect with them and get the results you desire.
Millennials are a generation of specialists.
Think about it. When we grew up as kids, we played three sports, and were taught that if we didn’t play three sports, something was wrong.
Today, in stark contrast, kids are coached in specialized areas. By age 6, kids are asked to specialize. Is it football? Basketball? Baseball? Dance? Cheer? Choose and excel, we say. And they do. Boy, do they. From sports to music to business creation, the millennial generation has done it faster and better than ever before.
Is it any wonder that this specialist’s mindset finds its way into a millennial’s approach to education, careers and, indeed, their lives? And believe me when I say this maxim most certainly plays out in terms of how they work best in an organization. Your organization.
To understand this age of specialization is to better understand how to best engage and motivate these people – your new workforce – and to use that knowledge to accelerate growth in your company.
Hear this: companies that win today put millennials in a position where they can do what they’re best at every day. And those are the companies that will win because that’s what they value.
Start by asking your millennial employees these kinds of questions: What are you happiest doing? What do you want to do? I know it’s hard to turn away from an I’m-the-boss-do-what-I-say attitude. But this is your path to progress.
If you were looking to cultivate an entrepreneurial protégé in the workplace, isn’t this how you would do it? Or would you bog your top talent down with inane tasks and boxes to check off?
Focusing on things they have a passion for is precisely how entrepreneurs operate and create. And as I have already described in previous blog posts, millennials are a generation stamped with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Entrepreneurs delegate everything except their genius. That’s the right approach for dealing with your millennials as well. It works.
A 2016 study of millennials by global data analysis and polling firm Gallup described the millennial generation as “unconstrained.” What this means is that millennials don’t thrive on the idea of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” They don’t understand ‘we’ve done it this way’ because in their day and age of constant technological change and progress, they’ve never existed in an environment that isn’t constantly changing and evolving. For millennials, there is no “way we’ve always done it.” For them, such a way doesn’t exist.
When are we going to get away once and for all from the standard of ‘are you in attendance?’ For some reason, it’s hard for people to shed that mentality. But frankly (and I say this to my millennial students every day) I’m less concerned about perfect attendance than I am in getting the five things I want or need from them. Just deliver.
Building workplaces like that is the future. Stop checking off boxes and start getting actual results.
By operating this way, this generation has finally sent the message that we no longer live in the industrial age. They don’t respond to archaic workplace indoctrinations that emphasize conformist behaviors. They expect to be engaged in a way that speaks to purpose, progress, mastery, and autonomy. Millennials are pulling us (kicking and screaming, in most instances) out of our industrial age mindset. It’s about time.
Believe me, it will feel a little odd at first to feel like you are catering so to this group. It did for me too as a professor with the vested power to dictate from a podium and assign a grade. But the reality is that this is your workforce. And this is my student body. Seizing control of these new protocols will produce fast, motivated workers. Perhaps the fastest and most motivated in history.
Not unlike every other ongoing effort to keep your business healthy and relevant, managing millennials requires re-evaluation and change.
Every generation has searched for success. This generation wants it too. They just want to find it in their own way. Your job is to help them find it. So do it.