The Millennial Project: Navigating a Cross-Generational Workforce

Part Three: The Key Strategies to Successfully Managing Millennials and a Generationally Diverse Workforce

To my surprise, the most frequently asked question during Accelerate was, “How do we deal with Millennials?”  On more than one occasion, I found myself considering how I could translate the recurring and comedic mentioning of this ‘tremendously provocative and confounding generation’ into a drinking game.  I quickly realized that I am in fact a millennial which prohibited me from acting on that impulse to avoid affirmation of the stereotype.

Justifiably, the chart below indicates that the majority of the workforce is now occupied by Millenials making the topic all the more important. Despite being a Millenial, my position on the topic comes from a genuine place of objectivity.


I am not ignorant to the fact that there are those in my generation that are guilty of creating the negative connotation that the word ‘Millennial’ carries.  It’s incredibly difficult to handle as a peer and even tougher to navigate as a manager.  That said, I want to bring a few points to light.  Millennials have been labeled as an entitled, needy, and high maintenance generation for a few substantiated and indiscernible reasons. Fortunately, having had the opportunity to manage folks from each of the active workforce generations, I’ve come to the follow conclusions.

When analyzing human behavior, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still universally applicable in noting an individual’s motivation to fulfill psychological and self-fulfilling needs.  At the root of the Millennial behavior lies those exact principles.  The need to achieve self-actualization in the pursuit of happiness and feeling purpose is felt by everyone.  However from generation to generation, the way in which happiness is pursued changes, and in turn, as does the perception of that generation.

Historically speaking, each generation is predisposed to challenge the paradigm of the previous generations ‘establishment’ aka their values and beliefs.  It’s a byproduct of evolution.  Spoiler alert, it’s been happening for thousands of years.  We can attribute meaningful movements in legislation, science, and technology to this type of mentality and for this particular topic, I would clearly identify that evolutionary achievements in technology have reshaped our cultures in unimaginable ways.  This phenomenon appears to be a consequence of new levels of transparency and the instantaneous accessibility to information.  Whether it’s engaging with social media to foster relationships and exercise personal expression or accessing Netflix to consume media in an on-demand fashion, that expectation has carried into the professional landscape.  When insufficient levels of transparency to business process, procedures, or culture interferes with that expectation, the result is friction.  

So as business leaders how do we foster environments that account for this?  Some organizations have reacted in some very creative ways to answer this question. Numerous examples include creating physical environments that are ‘cool.’ Nap pods, open concept desk arrangements, game rooms, endless supplies of snacks, accessibility to TV’s and the latest techs have been thought to be solutions.  I believe wholeheartedly this precedent will eventually become the norm, but at its core, does it actually address the issue?  I see those initiatives more as recruiting tools and a gateway to establishing positive cultures as opposed to the sole way of manufacturing workplace ‘happiness’ on an individual basis.  It’s certainly part of the formula however it should go deeper.  The strategies should be felt in the context of the day to day grind.  As leaders here are some ways to do so:

    1. Active Listening: Listen once, listen twice, then speak.  This is one of my favorite phrases in the pursuit of effective communication.  Its literal and metaphorical meaning are one in the same.  Giving a millennial the opportunity to speak without interruption and a dismissive reaction is tremendously important.  It allows him or her to ‘be heard’ no matter the nature of the dialogue while affording you the opportunity to truly understand the ask and formulate a response that shows consideration and can be framed constructively.
    2. Transparency: This incorporates a number of key principles that begin well before a millennial even steps into the office for the first time.  Delivering a proven and understood path to success/career development is a strategic way to avoid the discontent that can occur when the process is challenged due to its ambiguity.  This is delivered in a documented fashion that clearly articulates the specific milestones and timelines that are needed to be met before moving ‘forward’.
    3. Care: Their success is your success.  Malcolm Gladwell gave an excellent example of this in describing the recent struggles of a famous Harvard professor.  The problem: with an impeccable track record for student success, this professor suddenly found himself with students who were struggling to achieve the types of scores he was accustomed to.  He was dumbfounded in attempting to explain this newly developing trend.  Later in the semester, the professor was on a flight and was seated next to a Native American elder.  They began to speak and the professor described the issue to the elder.  Upon the conclusion of explaining the predicament, the elder responded by saying, “The issue is that you don’t love your students”  A simple yet powerful conclusion.  The students needed to know that he not only cared about their success but that he was personally vested in doing so.  Almost instantaneously, the professor was able to connect with the students and improve their performance to the levels of old.  The same lesson can be learned in dealing with millennials, show that you care and they will respond in turn.
    4. Recognition:  It takes a village to win.  A single contributor can certainly have a large impact on creating positive events but it’s almost always a combination of efforts that does so.  It’s important to recognize all of those involved in whatever context you deem appropriate.  Something as simple as one on one communication or a public gesture can go a long way in allowing a millennial to feel valuable.  A simple thank you is sometimes enough.  Regardless of the format, recognition elicits a feeling that is of great importance to a millennial and when given the opportunity, opt to do so.

If you missed part one or two of this series, check out the links below!

Part One | Part Two

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: