Engaging and Building Millennial Leadership

  • November 10, 2017

Millennials are lambasted by their older peers. This generation—the group of individuals born between 1981 and 1996—is often called entitled and narcissistic. They’re written off as overly ambitious and idealistic. It’s been a trend in recent years to point fingers at this generation, which is blamed for everything from killing the golf industry and J. Crew to eschewing  cereal and vacations.

It’s time to change the way we talk about millennials and start talking about how to prepare them for leadership, as they exist in an entirely different world than their older peers. As Crystal Kadakia illustrates in her book, The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs, the perception of productivity has traditionally been influenced by correlating “time” with “effort.” This outdated model—along with the 40-hour workweek—has its roots in the early 1900s when manufacturing jobs were prevalent.

As many millennials are now in highly cognitive roles, the perception of productivity has changed. “[Millennials] are charged with being creative, innovative, and strategic—all while balancing a nearly impossible home life influenced by egalitarian needs, recession, and inflation,” writes Kadakia. “As a result, focusing on results—what the goal is—rather than how, when, and where it gets done, takes on greater importance.”

The key to building millennial leaders, Kadakia claims, is reframing the  productivity paradigm by focusing on “meeting goals” in the workplace with flexibility in three areas: work hours, work environment, and access to resources. As more and more millennials begin to transition into senior roles, it’s important for organizations to reconsider how they prepare this generation for the future.

Looking to Engage Millennials in the Workplace?

It turns out it’s not that difficult. It just takes a recalibration of sorts. However, as a Forbes article suggests, perhaps “engage” isn’t the right word in the first place. According to Anthony Lye, the term is a vague, loaded buzzword. Instead, he says it’s all about attracting, motivating, and retaining top talent. What’s in it for your organization, you ask? Lye claims that millennials can be motivated, productive, and insightful when you empower them with creative freedom.

To do so successfully, it’s important to understand this generation’s habits and desires. A recent Deloitte survey found that 86 percent of millennials think the success of a business should be expressed in terms of more than just its financial performance and that “education, skills, and training” are just as important. Millennials desire training that’s relevant, personable, and customized. This means developing programs aligned around their values.

Coaching, Mentorship, and the Power of Development

Investing in one-on-one coaching and mentoring programs goes a long way with this generation. However, another Deloitte survey shows that 63 percent of millennials say their leadership skills aren’t being developed fully. Although millennials crave advice from senior leadership, the Brandon Hall Group’s 2015 State of Leadership Development study found that only 7 percent of organizations say they offer coaching, mentoring, and dedicated time with senior management.

Not every millennial employee expects a trophy. However, because they react positively to praise and personal attention—especially from senior leaders—coaching programs provide the continual reinforcement that millennials crave. “Asking for feedback is a way to get around the limited time and availability of training resources,” says  Kadakia. “It is a way to learn, learn fast, and grow your expertise.”

Implementing coaching programs can help develop critical skills in potential leaders. These programs should be designed to train employees on teamwork, communication, and conflict management. Equipping employees with relevant skills not only helps them become stronger, more productive employees today—but it also prepares them for future leadership roles.

Harness the Power of Technology

Because these individuals are digital natives, effective training programs for building millennial leaders should include technology. In the age of social media and interconnectivity, millennials are used to interacting with others at all times—even in the workplace. Transparent communication is important for this demographic, and internal social media and communication platforms should be leveraged to disseminate information and solicit real-time feedback.

If social platforms and online forums support leadership training, then gamification takes things a step further. Augmenting training and development programs with digital games creates competition and encourages cooperation. “Organizations aligned with technology that provide searchable, instantaneous connections to the right data, relationship, or training eliminate hours of wasted time,” says Kadakia. Learning game mechanics can include reward systems that are tangible and designed to mimic the real world. For example, if an organization is leveraging a game to increase product knowledge, it can build it so that employees must “sell” a certain amount to “win” at a particular level.

Eighty-seven percent of millennials in the workplace say that career growth and development opportunities are essential. As we’ve reviewed, they prefer structured programs that culminate in leadership development. “As boomers retire, gen Xers will be taking on an increased workload if millennials haven’t been adequately prepared to step in,” says Kadakia. “Organizations that currently lack mentoring and have unstructured training programs will find they have a hard time accelerating development compared to those that do.”

Creating a path to leadership with clear milestones demonstrates that your organization offers career advancement for building millennial leaders. Milestones benchmark stages of career growth and set clear goals and structured training programs demonstrate your commitment to your workforce. Not only does this create strong leaders for the future, but it guarantees that they stick around—which can help millennials shake that job-hopping misconception once and for all.

→Be sure to check out The Millennial Myth by Crystal Kadakia

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