Make way for the millennials

Grooming today's young professionals to become tomorrow's leaders requires managers to go that extra mile, reports Simon Nias.

Millennials (Credit: Thinkstock)
Millennials (Credit: Thinkstock)

Confident, creative and uber-connected, or cocky, conformist and cosseted, "millennials" - typically defined as those who came of age around the turn of the millennium - are in many ways the antithesis of their Generation X managers.

If Generation X were the "latchkey kids", Thatcher and the Sex Pistols, then millennials are the nanny state, Blair and Britain's Got Talent. Not so much a generation gap as a culture clash.

This makes managing millennials a potentially challenging experience, but one that promises great rewards for those who can get to grips with what motivates, engages and inspires this new generation.

"Millennials offer boundless enthusiasm, curiosity, ambition and energy," says Man Bites Dog MD Claire Mason. "What we are looking at is a generation of hard-working, intelligent young people who are carving out careers in a really tough labour market and who value meaning and lifestyle, not just money."

Matt Carter, founder of Message House and former CEO of Burson-Marsteller, sees millennials as "more connected via technology, more globally networked and travelled, less wedded to a career and more demanding of employers and life in general" than previous generations.

This demanding nature can come across as entitlement and is no doubt influenced by the fact that millennials have grown up in one of the most child-centric periods in history.

This has made them "confident in their own worth and direct about what they want", in Mason's view. "They expect meaningful and interesting work - not unreasonably - and to be given a forum to express their views and be listened to," she adds.

At the same time their immersion in the internet and technology has made millennials both tech-savvy and open-minded, but unused to delayed gratification.

"They will be more demanding of immediate benefits and less willing to defer progress," says Carter. "You need to make sure you give them a clear sense of where they are going."

Meanwhile, their affinity with the internet can be both an advantage and a challenge for employers.

"Millennials spend on average six hours each day online, so don't be surprised if that includes office hours," warns Carter. "That is a challenge for employers, but it is also a major opportunity and can create fantastic advocates for your business.

They can act as recruitment sergeants and brand ambassadors on social media."

To try to ban Facebook or external email, as some firms do, is "massively counterproductive" in Capstone Hill Search MD Jamie McLaughlin's opinion. "Millennials need to be switched on and tuned in to get their creative juices flowing," he argues.

"If you can put those traditional notions to one side, you might find you get more out of them."

The flipside of millennials' need to express their views and confidence in doing so is the risk that those opinions are becoming homogeneous.

Lansons Communications CEO Tony Langham questions their willingness to be bold: "They are so used to people commenting on everything they do via social media that it has tended to smooth off the edges and led to conformity and a slight tendency to avoid being outlandish."

McLaughlin adds that in spite of their confidence, millennials lack the independence of Generation X and require more support from line managers. "They need teams around them - I don't think their education and the way they were raised supports independent decision-making," he says.

This is the main challenge in Langham's view: the switch to "coaching and encouraging rather than telling". Mason agrees that managers have had to adapt from "managing performance in a particular role" to mentoring.

"Line managers to millennials are increasingly becoming career mentors," she says. "As a result, they need to listen more and appreciate that appraisals and development meetings are a two-way conversation."

The consensus is that while they may be more challenging than their forebears, millennials have the social connections and personal optimism to be great advocates for their employers.

This makes them worth the extra effort that comes with managing them.

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