How to Successfully Manage Younger Generations
The new Millennials, or people born after about 1980, are now entering the workforce en masse. Even seasoned sales managers are challenged by helping this generation become professionally productive.
Millennials differ from previous generations in their work style, motivations and view of the world—especially the corporate world. These young people are capable of loyalty, but they tend to focus it on their social network, specific managers and members of the team, rather than the company as a whole.
Generally, they possess an astonishing ability to track down information about anything at a rate that far exceeds management’s expectations. However, they often lack discernment about the accuracy of all the information that comes to them so easily. If Millennials find data online, they tend to believe it must be accurate. Then they can instantly communicate this information to their social network via blogs, instant messaging (IM), personal Web pages and cell phones. Some company executives have found out the hard way that their mistakes are common knowledge within days, if not hours.
Many members of the Millennial generation had parents who hovered over them during every waking hour, giving birth to the term helicopter parents. With hundreds of possible activities, from soccer to music lessons, Millennials have been overcommitted and overscheduled since childhood. Many have also been smothered in praise, receiving constant reinforcement about how great they are: The whole team gets blue ribbons, and there are no losers. Consequently, they expect recognition for everything, even the most mundane activities. They also may not know their own strengths and weaknesses, because they have not been offered many opportunities for self-evaluation or honest constructive criticism.
This combination of factors creates your greatest management challenge. How do you help the New Millennials understand that there are indeed losers, as well as winners, in the sales world? How do you provide constructive criticism without devastating their delicate psyches?
Consistent Coaching is Key
This four-step process can be helpful in guiding the newest generation of workers in their decision-making. From start to finish, it may take two to six months to complete.
The first time a Millennial colleague approaches you for guidance, work with him to think through at least three options—then make the decision for him. Asking him to consider his options is the first step in developing the ability to reason.
Next time, when that same worker requests your input, make sure he arrives prepared, with three options he has already thought through. Help him understand the consequences of each option, and add other options he hasn’t considered the most viable ones. Then, the same final step: You make the decision.
At the third stage, the worker should know to arrive with three options, understand the consequences and have a solid recommendation for the course of action. Either agree with her course of action or make suggestions. Essentially, she will make the recommendation for you to approve.
The final stage is to cut the worker loose and ask her to handle a situation on her own. However, she should expect to provide you with a written report.
Give Praise and Flex Time
For your coaching efforts with Millennials, your focus and approach may need to differ from the way you work with other colleagues. You’ll need to provide structure and offer information in bite-size, easily digestible pieces. Praising their work is critical for their self-esteem. If a Millennial makes a mistake, present it as a development opportunity. Course correction, instead of scolding or brow-beating, is a better approach.
Millennials generally have short attention spans, so keep your coaching sessions short. If you go beyond about 20 minutes, you will probably lose them. Use technology freely before and after the sessions; they’ll appreciate the follow-up and will come in next time better prepared. If you’re not comfortable using IM, it’s time to learn. For this generation, a cell phone is like a third arm, and it will give you more access to them than you’ve probably ever had with coworkers and direct reports.
Remember, these individuals are used to video games that instantly inform them of their score and how they compare with others. Waiting to give them feedback at an annual performance review won’t work. In fact, without feedback, they will probably be long gone before that performance review happens.
Work/life balance is important to Millennials. They often ask for time and flexibility before financial compensation and benefits. No other generation has listed “time and flexibility” in their top three drivers, but this generation clearly values those benefits, according to a survey by Spherion, a recruiting and staffing firm headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Smart managers who focus on developing the Millennials’ people-savvy—and who encourage flexible work roles and effective virtual teams while leveraging the latest technology—will help these young workers become valuable assets sooner. Managers who meet the challenges of working with this generation, rather than against it, will reap the rewards of shorter ramp-up times and a rapidly expanding crop of seasoned sales professionals.
GREGORY STEBBINS, a sales psychology expert, is a partner with Stebbins Consulting Group (peoplesavvy.com).