How to Lead and Engage Millennials in the Workplace

A Millennial woman smiling because her leader's management style has her engagedBorn before 1982 and in a leadership or management role?

If yes, you may have asked yourself the question: “How do I motivate and communicate with the Millennials (born 1982 -2000) on my team?”

I’ve been asked this question many times since Millennial values, beliefs, and communication style are perceived as quite different. This is in fact true and below are ways to better lead and engage the Millennials on your team.

Why Are Millennials Perceived As Different?

In short, you.

It may have started with how we raised them with lots of care and cooperation and that the world was always an arm’s length away. This has led to Millennials feeling a sense of entitlement and needing to drive together in order to succeed.

Why? Think back to your childhood. How were you parented and what are the resulting values? Consider the following:

  • We created play beyond a screen and were told to just go outside, make friends and do it. There was a sense of independence and control in how our day unfolded.
  • Our parent(s) worked hard in order to fend for the family. Many of us grew up with a strong work ethic.
  • Turning on the TV maybe exposed three channels if we were lucky. Media and technology was highly limited so in essence, culture was driven from family values and beliefs. We didn’t necessarily have an idea on how others lived.
  • Structure of parental command and control at home forced resilience as we had to deal with what was on our dinner plate, the rules and the consequences. We didn’t necessarily question authority and if we did, authority stood its ground.

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These are some of the reasons why many of us are highly creative, independent, driven, resilient and value hard work. Interestingly enough, many of us didn’t parent our Millennials the same way because we didn’t want to make the same mistakes our parents did — and were they really even mistakes?

Many of us have parented by:

  • Becoming highly involved in our children’s lives. We work hard and carry guilt about that so we spend as much time with them as possible when at home.
  • Empowering our children to believe in themselves, telling them they are great and helping them avoid potential failure so ‘We’ can win.
  • Involving them in decisions like what they eat, how much they eat, what time they go to bed and more. They had a choice and were given some control. They grew up as leaders.
  • Putting a screen in front of them to give us a time out. We bought them cell phones, provided the latest technology and created a tether so we always had access to them. This gave them access to the world and interconnection like never seen before. They know more than we do…at least that is what they think!

Yes, it’s our fault. We may have enabled their positive attributes of free thinking, confidence and interdependence and more. Now we have to work with them.

How to Lead and Engage Millennials

Engaging Millennials is not as hard as it may seem. They really want the same thing we do, but there is a key difference – they are willing to stand for it and may disengage or seem unmotivated when it’s not happening.

I like to think of managing Millennials like being a video game console and they are the player. Think engagement, reward, recognition, constant feedback, interdependence and always involving them in the big picture and how to get there. Here are some ways to engage Millennials which isn’t necessarily limited to their generation:

Coach for Performance
In video games, players are: clear on big picture, empowered to take action, coached in the moment, recognized for their efforts, and working together to achieve the goal. They succeed through experience and a constant feedback loop.

Millennials as a result crave training, mentoring, regular feedback and being part of the big picture. Managers therefore need to dialogue regularly with Millennials rather than follow traditional structures like a yearly performance review. Let them know how they are doing regularly through praising and constructive feedback; be clear and non-ambiguous – to the point. They would rather have you coach and engage than being highly directive.

Create a Social and Sustainable Environment
Making a difference, having a say and doing it in a social and team-oriented way inspires Millennials. They have been taught that it takes collaboration to win in an ever-changing environment. Interconnection is critical and whether it be enabled electronically or through social meeting spots in the office, they become enabled to ask for help, support one another and build respectful and sustainable environments.

[Recommended Read: How Do You Improve Your Candidate Experience? Look At Your Data]

Tweak the Driver Style
Traditional leaders are often Drivers – those firey-red results-oriented people which could potentially derail Millennial engagement efforts. Millennials grew up with no clear lines of authority. Access to information and power is at their fingertips and if leaders are not transparent, good listeners, relationship-oriented and collaborative, engagement and empowerment become at risk.

Millennials grew up being praised and heard. This all means the leaders of tomorrow may have to venture more to an Amiable personality style which can be quite opposite to the Driver.

Freedom and Balance
Many employers don’t allow Facebook, Snapchat and other social media at the office along with structured hours of work. Structure is good and needed; however, flexibility is also important. They grew up distracted with technology that provides connection and instant gratification. If we put them in an environment that limits or eliminates that, it may risk their energy and excitement at work.

Flexibility is important to them both in access to social media, others and hours of work. They will get the job done and want a say in what that looks like.

It’s Time to Adjust Our Beliefs

We all like to share how we walked to school every day and other stories about how tough we had it. Those stories get us nowhere. Our belief that they are the generation of entitlement is true and guess what, we are the root cause. Yes, they have that need of entitlement, however, don’t we all want that?

Millennials are worldly and interconnected. They strive to bond together in order to make this a better place. All they need are what we all need in a great manager: Involve me, coach me and invest in our success; Together, we will succeed; just let me drive with you.

This post first appeared on the Kwela Leadership website. Republished with permission.

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Glen Sollors is a Senior Consultant at Kwela Leadership and Talent Management. His big picture and authentic approach helps leaders uncover possibilities within themselves and others so that they can ...

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