3 truths about millennials that will change the way you manage them – Emily Disston

1. Asking “why?”

Picture this: Two direct reports — one a Gen Xer and the other a Millennial — meet with their boss. The boss introduces a project and gives few specifics. What happens next? In my experience, the Gen X employee says “yes” without questioning the manager’s decision process or the suggested approach (planning to figure it out as she goes). The recent grad, however, wants to understand “why” before getting to work, and a slew of questions ensue.

This contrast can make the Millennial look disrespectful or like a know-it-all. But that’s not the case. Pivotal events like Woodstock and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Sexual Revolution and the Cold War had profound effects on Millennials’ parents and fostered inquisitive children who were often asked for their opinion.

So what does this mean for you, the manager?

Often, the best approach is to contextualize your decisions — for all of your employees. For starters, you never know when they might have good suggestions or input. Moreover, clueing your employees into your decision-making will help them think through their own contributions and projects in light of the company’s bigger picture.

2. Envying startup culture

Traditional workplaces thrive on structure. Far fewer Boomers have come to me to discuss eagerness to move beyond their cubicles than some of their younger colleagues. I’ve found that pre-Millennial employees, while certainly daydreaming as much as any other generation of striking it rich and living a life of luxury, are relatively more at peace with high cubicle walls. Certainly, ping-pong tables, unlimited vacation days, and the option to set your own schedule are fairly recent additions to workplace culture.

When you think of Millennials, you might think “startups.” Beyond the free snacks and blue jeans, startups can be smaller, take an all-hands-on-deck approach, and allow people with less experience to experiment with more prestigious roles. Millennials don’t have to wait as long to be the director of a department and manage a team because the ladder is shorter, the learning curve is higher, and the achievement of status and impact is much faster. This enables staff to feel more impactful and see how they’re contributing to the company’s mission.

So what does this mean for you, the manager?

Do your employees have a stake in the company? Not the stock options kind of stake — though, that works, too — but I’d suggest empowering everyone. In my experience, Millennials want to own a project, run with it, and make a real, measurable difference.

3. Desiring feedback (early and often)

As a Millennial, I like to generate ideas, flesh out part of my plan, and then get feedback from my manager. It’s against my nature to do something methodically (and patiently!) and then present him with one final, polished product. Why? Because I desperately want to get feedback (OK, also praise), along the way for motivation — and so I can integrate that feedback into the final product.

I work best with this cycle of prototyping, getting feedback, and repeating. I like to work independently, but I also want to check in to make sure I’m on track.

So what does this mean for you, the manager?

My supervisor strikes a balance of managing collaboratively and granting autonomy. He knows I respond better to a coach than I do to a director. So, instead of telling your employees to “figure it out” and come back with a final product, consider building in additional sessions for brainstorming and feedback.

Today’s younger workers are here to stay. And if you can manage to tap into the Millennial talent market (which is massive, of course), your company will have a serious competitive advantage. If you’re willing to be flexible and supportive, you’ll be amazed at what your Millennial employees will achieve.

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