Managing Millennials

Organizational Culture

Whether you call them Millennials or Gen Y or the Echo generation, they are under 35, they are the future of our work force and they are likely the headache you’re experiencing in your HR efforts. I’ve heard comments from other business owners that this generation feels entitled, unable to deal with conflict, to dependent on friends, have poor work ethic and so on.

Just because this generation is different, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. They can actually be extremely impressive if you can engage them correctly.

As an owner of a marketing agency, 75% of my employees fall into the Millennials category and so I find myself pretty dialed into finding the best ways to manage, lead, and nurture this generation. A recent guest speaker at our Executives Association addressed this subject and the conversation afterwards inspired me to write down some management techniques we’ve had success with. We’re not perfect by any means but here are a few things we’ve successfully implemented to build a great culture and engage this next generation:

1. Notice things going right. In his book, Whale Done by Ken Blanchard, he talks about the techniques animal trainers use to teach the right behaviours. The basic premise is that you reward the behaviour and actions you want repeated. These rewards can be as small as verbal encouragement, an “all-staff” or “all department” email for a project well done, or even a Starbucks latte for completing a small goal. Managers can often form bad habits of becoming a home inspector and always looking for something wrong or a deficiency to nip-in-the-bud. Keep reminding yourself, and your managers, to create a positive environment that encourages, rewards, and reinforces.

2. Be more transparent. Millennials like to be in the know and to understand the big picture. I took a gamble a number of years ago to have complete open-book management. Every month we have an all-staff meeting where we show the details of the financial performance of the company. Our whole team sees everything. I was nervous at first as there are a lot of numbers that some people don’t totally understand or have the right context for. However, to my surprise it’s been a great step. It leads to better decision making, shows how each role contributes to the health and performance of the company, and enables management to have more objective criteria in their decisions vs. just saying “the budget doesn’t allow it”.

3. Focus on results not on structure. Baby Boomers love structure, hierarchy, and work-life balance. There’s a clear chain of command with the right titles, and if you work hard you can move up the corporate ladder and retire early. That’s the not the dream for the average Millennial. Two years ago, we stopped telling people what time they should be at the office or what the dress code is, or how they work. Instead we focused on results and culture. We use a robust project management system to track hours, efficiency and profitability. We also crafted and reinforced our core values to ensure that people knew the behaviours that were acceptable and which would lead to the best culture. We value, and have a high accountability to, results but we allow our team to live, work, and function in the best way for them. As long as it fits our values it’s fair game.

4. Build a greater purpose into the work. Millennials have a greater sensitivity for the needs of the world than most generations. They want to know their company is a good corporate citizen and will often work harder and longer knowing their contributions are making a difference. I personally love this. Every company should find ways to support, incorporate, and engage their staff in meaningful causes. This can be done by choosing charities to give to, incorporating a charitable component into marketing plans and campaigns, or even creating team building exercises that have a cause attached to them.

There’s more that has been written and will be written on managing this next generation. Every industry and situation is different and what has worked for us may not be the right solution for you. Don’t give up. Success often follows the persistent and this generation is worth it.

Have a great day!