In today’s working environment, you often hear the term millennials. Let’s start off to understand what a “millennial” actually means. Millennial is used to describe a group of people that were born around the change of the millennium.
This group of people grew up with internet, satellite tv, Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Uber, Whatsapp and the list goes on. They have been exposed to world-wide communication and online platforms from a very young age. They probably received their first cell phone before they mastered the art of riding a bike or fishing. But if they wanted to, they could probably teach themselves to ride a bike using Youtube in one afternoon.
They have friends all over the world and can communicate to these friends any time of the day from any location and on multiple devices. Having knowledge at their fingertips, they can research a topic to the nth degree and get a number of different views from experts all over the world.
This environment that millennials have grown up with, has created a culture where people make their own decisions backed by research. They don’t like to be micro managed or told what to do. They also don’t like to be limited by location or sector or rules that does not add value to their lives. They probably cannot understand why people travel to work every day in the traffic, sit in meetings and then travel back in traffic. Working hours make no sense to them as they want to work when they feel like it and not when you tell them to work.
In contrast with this culture, many older employees are used to a very rigid work environment. You do not move up in the ranks at the company before you have got the right amount of experience working under somebody that has many years’ experience in a certain field. Working hours are strictly from 7am to 5pm and when you need leave you have to jump through hoops to get approval from your seniors. The more hours you spend at work, the harder you are working and the more value you are adding to the company. Nothing should change without a very formal change management process and most of the decisions should be taken by top level management.
When these two cultures are combined, you get something similar to the big bang. The older employees get frustrated with the millennials that do not want to work. The millennials get frustrated with the older crowd that works the whole time and achieves nothing.
Although both these cultures have merit to a certain extend and one can argue for both cases, the reality is that millennials are here to stay. They will be the majority of the work force in the coming years, will make most of the major decisions and lead us into the future.
For companies to survive, they need to adapt. Employing millennials is no different than adding a new technology to your company. You have to understand how the system works and once you get the hang of it, you will get far better results than ever before.
Organisations need to start focussing on outcomes and results rather than micro managing the way they get the results. If your millennial wants to work from Kilimanjaro for the week and he or she commits to still produce what you need from them, let them.
When you have a new employee that you want to onboard or a complex problem that needs solving, don’t tell the millennial how to figure it out or a step by step guide how your company does things. Ask them for the answer to the problem and leave them to explore the way they feel most comfortable in obtaining the info they need to give you the answer.
This does not take away the need for mentoring young employees and managing their performance. You will still find that the employees ask you for certain guidance but it’s an informed discussion where the millennial has already explored other avenues. Millennials will make a lot of mistakes, but they will learn from each one. It’s your responsibility to catch them when they fall and to let them know its ok to make mistakes.
Another very important lesson that millennials need to understand is that they can get the work done in any way they want, but it’s their responsibility to get the work done and up to standard. They should take full accountability for their work and not make excuses why it’s not done, or the quality is not up to standard.
Like any trust relationship, the relationship with your millennial workforce will take time to build. It’s also a give and take from both sides to make it work. This trust relationship should be cherished and protected by both parties as it’s something that is very difficult to repair once its broken.
Communication is probably the most important part of any business. This is also the part where most of the companies battle. When you have a workforce with a mixed culture, it needs a lot of hard work. Like anything in life, you need to read your customer. When you want to communicate with millennials, please don’t set up formal meetings with formal communication channels and next steps. They probably won’t even pitch for the meeting and you will feel very sorry for yourself. Phoning the millennial every few minutes or hours to find out what’s happening will also frustrate them as they have to leave what they are busy with to communicate with you. The best way to communicate with millennials is to use the platforms they are used to. Millennials actually have way better communication channels than any of the older generations combined. They know about something in real time and can action a response immediately. By making use of Whatsapp for instance, you can ask the millennial or a group of millennials a question and they can respond when they are ready to do so. If its urgent and you indicate that to them, you could have the response to your question in a few seconds.
Setting up communication groups that focus on certain areas of your business and adding the relevant people to the group is a great tool to use when managing millennials. They will be responsive, and you will get the interaction you need to manage them. With the turn of the millennium e-mails were the new way of communication and everybody was e-mailing each other each time they wanted to communicate.
Although e-mails are still very widely used and very relevant, millennials tend to use e-mails for formal communication and to transmit large amounts of data, but use other platforms like Whatsapp, Slack or WeChat to communicate with each other on a daily basis.
When an important topic needs a face to face discussion, video call facilities works very well and talks to the millennials urge to use technology to make their lives easier. Google hangouts or Skype works very well and can also be set up to work on a smartphone.
Motivation is a major driver for millennials, they will probably not even execute a task if you cannot get them motivated. You have many different ways of motivating people, but the major way to motivate millennials is to remove their shackles and let them grow. Let them develop and take as much responsibility as they feel comfortable with. Don’t confine them into boxes and years of experience but rather measure their performance and output. When you have millennials that perform, add fuel to the fire and support them to grow as quickly as possible.
Management is an iterative process, it’s not to say you will hit the spot from day one or your first management style will work. But if you continually get feedback from your millennial workforce and actually listen to their needs, you will be able to build a strong relationship with them and manage them to perform for many years to come.
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