The Millennial Manager: The Present and the Future

We have all read and heard abut the challenges that Millennials present the business world today. While I have experienced and recognized some of those challenges firsthand, I think we need to stop making such a big deal about them. This new workforce knows it has leverage, because we keep writing and speaking about it. Rather than complaining and getting frustrated, let’s start focusing on strategies to utilize the incredible resource that is the Millennial workforce.

To begin with, we have to stop asking ourselves the question,  “Is it us or them?” Who’s at fault for the misunderstanding and frustrations that seem to constantly occur? The reality is that it does not matter, because we have the responsibility, just as generations before us, to set the next generation up for success. They are the future, and whether we like it or not, that future is now! As the future, they are the managers and leaders of your company tomorrow – potentially even today. So, what are you doing to set them up for success and meet their need for career advancement and growth?

The other argument I hear a lot is that Millennials are not loyal, so why invest in them when they are just going to leave anyway? It is because of this thinking that we have so many young people, especially managers, leaving jobs. In the Harvard Business Review article, “Why Top Young Managers Are in a Nonstop Job Hunt,” a study based on the analysis of a global database of over 1,200 young high achievers and concluded that many of the best and brightest are not receiving the career development they need. The study quotes, “Workers reported that companies generally satisfy their needs for on-the-job development, but they’re not getting much in the way of formal development, such as training, mentoring, and coaching.” We are not fulfilling our responsibility of setting up our future managers for success.

It seems today that the moment someone begins a job and sometimes even during the interview process, young people are already asking when they can be promoted and when they will be a manager.  Whether right or wrong, this situation is real, so we need to be thinking about what we can do now to make their transition into management successful. With some forethought, learning, and processes in place, we could reduce some of the angst and struggles that an inexperienced Millennial manager deals with (and causes), especially when responsible for a multi-generational workforce.  For the future of our businesses, we need to ensure the transition to management is easier than and smoother than ever before.

So, how do we plan for their development and set them up for success? The first idea we need to change is that leadership development and management training begins once you have the leadership title. This is and has always been one of the most redundant practices regardless of the generation. We cannot wait for someone to assume a title before providing relevant leadership and management insights. Think of all the damage that is done while they learn and gain experience, how many people are lost, and how many problems are created for the sake of their learning experience. You need to begin leadership development long before that title is earned.

Now, I know some of you will challenge this thinking with the reasoning that there is a good chance this investment may be lost as they jump from organization to organization in search of their perfect role, but let’s consider the facts. Career development is considered one of the most important drivers for employee tenure and engagement, especially amongst Millennials. So, why you will almost certainly lose people whom you invest time and energy into, the reality is it is also your best opportunity to keep your best and brightest.

At SGEi, we develop a lot of leadership learning libraries for organizations. One best practice we have seen is those organizations allowing front-line staff to access that library and begin understanding what a leadership role entails. Now, this theoretical insight is all well and good, but let’s face it – to be a leader, a manager needs to provide direction, build relationships, coach effectively, and cheer passionately. It is about having tough conversations, dealing with and preparing for busy moments, making decisions faster, and being empathetic. So, we need to move beyond just the theory and begin exposing our team members to real life leadership situations early. You need to create mentoring, shadowing, and situational learning opportunities whereby young staff gain exposure to and experience with leadership a lot earlier.

It all starts with empowerment. Earlier this year I discussed the outdated processes surrounding performance and development in our companies, and the worst of all these is so-called performance management. Instead of simply “managing” the performance of our employees, especially those motivated to learn and grow within our organizations, we need to spend time and energy enabling and empowering their performance by giving them the space to do their jobs and delegating tasks to them when possible.

For example, getting potential managers involved in small groups to work on process improvements, community engagement events, culture initiatives, or even just the next company party empowers them with leadership responsibilities and engages them in group and leadership dynamics. To make this even more effective, strategically set up the groups and assign responsibilities to those individuals you want to give future responsibilities. This is just one way to help develop future leaders. Take the time to consider and choose the methods that would work best within your organization and culture.

For Finnish gaming company Supercell, that method was to implement an upside-down company structure. The “lowest” employees on the totem pole, the creative teams, are the “vision holders,” who make changes as they see fit and then inform their managers, who meet and then tell the executives how to run the company based on what the creative team is doing. The model is unconventional, but effective – the team’s four games have all been in the list of Top 10 grossing mobile games in the world. CEO Ilkka Paananen put it this way: “Everybody under these game teams, their mission is to do whatever it takes to make these guys (the teams) successful. Sometimes I describe my own role as ‘I want to be the least powerful CEO.’ The most decisions they make, the fewer I have to make.”

We need to learn from these modern companies and break out of the mold to build organizations of leaders – people who are ready for the emotional stresses of being responsible for others. Ex-President and CEO of Calico Technology, Alan Nauman said, “As an organization you have to work with less top-down control. The only way to do that, without falling to pieces, is to build a company that is built up 100% of leaders.” So, begin building your future now, invest in your Millennials, and show them that you are committed to their success. And yes, you will lose a few people along the way, but imagine, as that famous line goes, what the outcome would be like if you didn’t invest in your people now.

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