She walked into the office for the interview. No suit like a Gen-Xer would wear, but business casual at least, and with a smile full of potential. Nonchalant in tone; smart; not enthusiastic, yet happy for the opportunity. “You’re hired,” said the CEO (me). “I could use you at the company. You don’t have the experience, but I’m willing to take the chance.”
Over the year, she worked hard, she earned what I thought was a decent salary for her limited experience, and two years later, she gave me her you-know-what-to-kiss—well, not exactly, but basically. I wish I could say this was just one employee, but it actually represents many millennials we’ve worked with over the years, and we’re not alone. This saga plays out every day in countless organizations: the mixed emotions experienced by upper management—the excitement of potential and the painful frustration that both come with young professionals known as millennials.
IGS, the company I lead, was recently awarded position #871 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately owned companies—a milestone for a small, growing business and a personal accomplishment for me, as you can imagine. My business partner and I flew to Arizona for the awards conference and swapped stories with our C-Suite counterparts. Throughout the week, the famous M word surfaced time and time again as leaders asked one another, “How do I deal with millennials?” I felt their pain.
For more than four years, we’ve worked closely with millennials.
We’ve trained, molded, supported, encouraged, and taken a chance on them. In one case, our millennial hire had promise. But twenty-four months later, she had opinions; she wanted input, she wanted more money and a new title, and she felt she was equally as qualified as her manager who had eight years’ experience. This scenario plays out constantly in large and small businesses alike. From my friends at Fortune 100 companies to peers at small businesses, the question I hear most among Generation Xers is about how to manage millennials.
First, it’s important to note that mastering millennial workforce takes patience. As a CEO, I place millennials in two groups—junior millennials (early to mid-20s) and senior millennials (late 20s to early 30s). I find that most of my colleagues’ concerns are reserved for junior millennials. Senior millennials fall on the heels of Gen Xers and are often themselves frustrated with their junior counterparts as well.
Top 3 Tips
Hopefully, my Top 3 Tips (there are many more) will help you master the patience to manage these dynamic young professionals, knowing that, yes, there is a role for them in your organization.
• Outline the timeframe and process for promotion: In my experience, the worst thing is when someone with little to no experience complains about their lack of opportunity and money after only 18 months with your company. We Generation Xers don’t expect the gold watch or the pension plan like our parents did, but we do expect an employee to last more than three years before making demands.
• Consider implementing a Millennial mentor program as a job perk. Make sure to follow best practices and include senior management and executives as you plan and implement: At IGS, I meet with my Millennial mentees at least once a month to discuss progress toward their specific career goals at IGS. It’s proven to be a great source of inspiration and innovation for me as well as the employees.
• They are not like us. The biggest obstacle Generation Xers have is getting over the idea that millennials should think and perform like Generation Xers. It’s never going to happen. We have distinct ideas; we Gen Xers believe you pay your dues, while millennials believe there are no dues to pay.
That’s why it is important to Educate your young professional Millennials that thoughts, ideas, and opinions should be handled as follows:
• Thought—We are flooded with thoughts all the time, but a thought must be filtered through the organization’s culture, internal climate, resources, and politics before it can become a proper idea.
• Idea—An idea must be scrubbed to meet the organization’s resources before it can take full-blown form to benefit the organization. For example, an idea for a large business may not work for a small business. This is why I often tell Millennials to spend their first six months listening to suggestions made by others and feedback from management on whether the idea someone suggested was good or bad before offering bad ideas.
• Opinion—Once you have your pulse on management likes and dislikes, you are well positioned to bring forth an opinion that is strong and brings value to the organization. An opinion should be supported by the experience of previous events and opportunities to bring value to the organization.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all, but owning and running a business where 50% of employees are millennials is a perfect learning experience in organizational development and transformational leadership. And their energy and insight can be contagious and fun. I’ve even found myself doing crazy things like riding a Big Wheel in the office while wearing stilettos!