Millennials make up over 80 million individuals in the U.S. (nearly 3 billion worldwide). They are the largest generational cohort that range in age from their mid teens to mid 30s. They are ethnically diverse (1 in 3 in America is not Caucasian), globally minded (20 percent in the U.S. have at least one parent who is an immigrant), team oriented, and have greater access to education than any other generation in history.
Even though they are the largest generation in the workforce today, Millennials are also known for leaving millions of organizational leaders perplexed about how best to engage and lead them.
Our team sought to uncover the core competencies needed to manage and engage this next generation of workers more effectively. We interviewed managers from a wide variety of industries, including aerospace, real estate development, resort, retail and professional sports, to name a few.
In multiple industries we asked the HR directors to identify:
- 3 managers who do well managing 20-somethings, and
- 3 managers who struggle managing 20-somethings.
Our team interviewed each of these managers individually, and then pulled them together as study groups for further research.
Going into the study our research team had certain assumptions. We assumed women would be more effective at managing Millennials – but our assumptions were proven wrong. They were, as a whole, no more or less effective than their male counterparts. We also assumed parents would be more effective at managing Millennials. Again, our assumptions were proven wrong. We did find that those who worked in volunteer youth sports and other programs had a better handle on working with Millennials.
What we did discover were striking differences between the perceptions of those who were successful versus those who were challenged when managing Millennials.
It’s important to note that both groups observed the same behaviors and attitudes. Both the successful and challenged managers were faced with identical circumstances. However, their outlook and response varied dramatically in six key ways.
Here are 6 Characteristics of “Successful” vs. “Challenged” Managers of Millennials
- Need for change
Challenged managers believed Millennials needed to change in order to make it in the real world.
Successful managers believed leaders need to change the way they manage in order to be more effective in today’s world. They are learners who believe knowledge can be gained from the Millennials in order to improve their skill.
- Locus of Control
Challenged managers had an external locus of control, believing there is very little they could do about their circumstances. They tended to be stuck with whatever hand life had dealt them.
Successful managers had an internal locus of control, believing there were things they couldn’t control about their circumstances, but there many other things they had control over.
- Response to Ideas
When questioned or otherwise challenged by their subordinates, challenged managers tended to respond with punishment. They shunned or sanctioned 20-somethings who were perceived as being difficult.
When similarly questioned or challenged, successful managers responded to their subordinates’ suggestions with phrases like, “Well… Let’s think about that.” If the idea had merit, successful managers would help implement changes. If not, successful managers use it as a teaching moment, helping Millennials understand why things are done the way they are. There was no dismissal on the part of the manager.
Challenged managers felt that their only authority was a direct result of their position.
Successful managers recognize the power that comes with position, but in addition, establish authority by building relationships with those they lead.
- Age perception
Challenged managers felt that working with 20-somethings made them feel old or stodgy.
Successful managers felt that working with 20-somethings made them feel younger and more energetic.
- Path to Success
Challenged managers viewed Millennials as a roadblock on their pathway to success.
Successful managers saw themselves as key players in the success of the Millennials they lead. Their thinking was, “I can make a difference in these young people’s lives, helping them reach a higher level.”
The Need to Adapt
Our team observed that the characteristics that help a manager succeed in leading Millennials are the same kind of characteristics that all generations like to experience when being lead.
Unlike previous generations, however, Millennials are not willing to settle or wait very long for a workplace situation to improve. They are far more likely to walk, leaving their organization if they feel poorly managed.
If we are to engage and capitalize on the strengths of a growing army of emerging leaders, it’s more important than ever that we learn to adapt to the changing needs of today’s workforce. As we do, we will also be adapting to the workplace of tomorrow.
And it’s good for business!!
Find out more by preordering a copy of Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce, 2nd Edition (Wiley)