Coach’s Corner Blog

Motivating Millennials in the Workplace

June 3, 2016 by 1 Comment

Motivating Millennials in the Workplace

I was recently conducting an interview as part of a 360° feedback exercise for a client who is the CEO of a one-year-old startup business incubator with a focus on healthcare.

The organization is off to a good start with a solid Board, a wide variety of funding partners, a great media buzz and lots of frenetic but purposeful activity.

The CEO has assembled a very good team and asked for my help in getting an accurate picture of how he is perceived, what’s working and what’s not.

This is a wise and brave choice for a first-time CEO.

One of the persons I interviewed was a very bright young woman for whom this role was her first foray into the business world. She has a strong educational background from top-tier universities and a very engaging personal style. She’s been with this organization for about six months.

During my interview the conversation veered off into a focus on her career issues rather than the CEO. I listened empathically, but had to steer the conversation back to the CEO several times.

This experience caused me to reflect on the career aspirations of millennials and the challenges of career development facing this generation and in particular a newer company like this.

What Do Millennials Want?

Price Waters Cooper, the consulting firm, published a white paper on what Millennials are seeking in their careers and had some interesting insights on what they are striving for in their work world:

  • Moving up the ladder faster: Career progression is the top priority for millennials who expect to rise rapidly through the organization. 52% said this was the main attraction in an employer, coming ahead of competitive salaries in second place (44%).
  • Which of the following factors most influenced your decision to accept your current job? Opportunities for Personal Development: 40%, Reputation of the Firm: 36%, The Role itself: 24%.
  • Which three benefits would you most value from an employer? The top three were: Training & Development 22%; Flexible Working Hours 19%; Cash bonuses 14%.

In suggesting things employers can do to proactively assist Millennials, this paper stated:

  1. Help millennials grow: Managers need to really understand the personal and professional goals of millennials. Put them on special rotational assignments more frequently to give them a sense that they are moving toward something and gaining a variety of experiences. Challenge them to come up with new ways to streamline processes and to exercise creativity.
  2. Feedback, feedback and more feedback: Millennials want and value frequent feedback. Unlike the past where people received annual reviews, millennials want to know how they’re doing much more regularly. Give honest feedback in real time — and highlight positive contributions or improvements on key competencies.
  3. Allow faster advancement: Historically, career advancement was built upon seniority and time of service. Millennials don’t think that way. They value results over tenure and are sometimes frustrated with the amount of time it takes to work up the career ladder. They want career advancement much quicker than older generations are accustomed to.

These are all valuable insights in dealing with this new generation which in 2015 became an even bigger slice of the working population than the Boomers who are running the show now and the Millennials are eager to displace.

But there are some other challenges, especially in younger organizations, that are in their early stages of development.

For instance, they may have no budget for training or are creating policies for various practices as they mature and get a footing in their markets.

In such situations, I think leaders must assert themselves. Make sure you get things “right” about the deal you are making with the employees up front. Be as specific as possible in helping them understand what you are offering, what you are not and, very importantly, what you expect in return.

Time vs. Money

The Latin phrase “Quid Pro Quo” means “something for something” or “this for that”. It reflects the fact that there are expectations on both sides of a transaction about the rewards that will be earned with certain performance.

As it relates to career development in a small or embryonic organization, this equation is often incomplete. That’s not due to negligence or lack of concern, but survival is more critical in early stage companies.

If someone performs a key task well, this quid pro quo will not necessarily include additional titles, extra pay or broader responsibility – at least not at this time.

It’s better to be clear about this, but there is plenty you can do that does take time but does not cost money. I would argue this is more valuable as well.

Here are some ideas:

  • Each leader in the company should be a mentor to certain younger staffers, whether it’s a direct report or not. Make this clear to all concerned. Set expectations for this relationship as well. What makes a good mentor?
  • Provide the staffer time to discuss their career interests on an ongoing basis as they evolve. Keep an eye out for projects that can assist their growth.
  • Commit time to providing regular, ongoing feedback. Emphasize what they have done well, not just what can be improved. Be sure all those who are providing the feedback are specific, candid and constructive with their comments. Don’t sugar coat things, but be kind.
  • In a networked world, exposure to the right people, challenging assignments and connections are all critical. They are not titles or raises, but help them connect the dots to show how each is part of their growth.

Lastly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average young adult has held an average of 6.2 jobs by the time they are 26. You will probably lose them sooner or later, so reinforce your concern for their development and that a productive relationship with you will pave the way to a good referral and continued connections.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I willing and able to spend the time to invest in being actively involved in the development of my younger team?
  • Can I provide candid, constructive feedback when asked that facilitates learning?
  • Am I willing to set expectations about what I can and can’t do for my staff and follow through on my promises?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

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    Virginia Raymond June 4, 2016, 6:07 am

    This gave me food for thought particularly as my interest is in developing young adults for the challenges they will face in today’s workplace, it was useful to get insight into their perspective and how employers need to be as prepared to meet the challenges this generation present as they are to meet theirs.


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