Talking about our generations

The secret to getting millenials working

Most corporate leaders are smart, logical people, and many of them are Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers, groups characterized by the need for processes learned in a pre-Internet world, where they needed to physically move from place to place to deal with most tasks. When confronted with a problem like lagging innovation, their first reaction is often, "We need to put a process in place to make it happen, and hold our managers accountable for implementing it."

Put those leaders in charge of a workforce vastly populated by Millennials (born 1977 to 2001), a group that grew up at high-speed with multi-social and multi-task at the center of their lives, in which they can access everything at the touch of a button, a collaborating generation that very much lives in the now ... and what do you get?

A massive clash of values.

Look at some of the numbers that came out of a study by Levit and Licina (2011, in Rikleen, n.d.,).

  • Only 12% of managers surveyed valued 'meaningful work' in their job. It was 30% for Millennials
  • 50% of managers valued high pay to just 28% of Millennials
  • Millennials rate a sense of accomplishment at 25%, managers at 12%
  • Amazingly, just 5% of Millennials (to 12% of managers) valued responsibility

In this climate, is it any surprise that there's is a breakdown in communication and, therefore, innovation?

THE TRUTH: Any process for boosting innovation will fail if the employees you expect to follow that process — the Millennials — lack the skills to constructively challenge the ideas that emerge from that process. Instead of simply asking, "How can we put a process in place to get our ideas executed more quickly?" leaders must also ask themselves:

• Are my people willing and able to talk about the downsides of new ideas as well as their benefits?

• Do they have the skills — and courage — to say no when they know a new idea is weak?

• Are my managers leading their teams to encourage constructive challenge to new ideas…or to simply gain silent compliance?

Unfortunately, as the percentage of Millennials and other post-baby-boom employees in the workforce has grown, willingness to courageously take challenging stands has declined. This is the true leadership challenge.

Understanding how to get the best out of Millennials is the best way to ensure innovation doesn't stagnate in a pool of miscomprehension.

So here are a few little nuggets of knowledge to help you better understand the Millennial

Global village: With a childhood molded by a global village, where knowledge and mentoring could as easily come from another continent as from school, friends and family, Millennials look far and wide for collaboration, so define the team's purpose and goal, deadlines and boundaries, especially in terms of sharing ideas publicly.

Grades: Yes, seriously. Most education systems are centrally organized and have strict, clear assessment criteria that Millennials have worked with from elementary school. They are used to and thrive on being assessed and judged (if they consider the judgment to be fair and honest!), so keep consistent, clear assessment metrics.

Guidance: Growing up with constant feedback means Millennials still need reassurance, even if it's just a quick email, chat or text to confirm things are still going as they should be. Help them to keep learning – challenges make them work harder.

Get together: They're social creatures, so they like to feel motivated and that they are part of something bigger. Do lunch with them, give them time off for good work and help them understand their roles and how they fit into the big picture.

Understand your team and your challenge as leader will be much easier. What have you found typical with Millennials? What do you think Millennials offer the world of innovation?

Last Updated: 23 March 2017

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