Leading Millennials: Growth Opportunities

The oldest of the Millennials is 30 now, and are beginning to enter middle management and/or professional positions. As the Millennials grow in prominence and influence in the workforce, leading them will require new and adapted strategies to harness their influence and talents.

Millennials want the ability to be promoted and rewarded on their merit, not on years of service. In their lifetimes, they watched from afar as many of their twentysomething counterparts rode ideas to fame and fortune (See Zuckerberg, Mark). They use the Internet as a means to connect, and the most influential Internet users are those that have merit to their opinions, not those who have been on the Internet the longest.

Millennials will probably not stick around an organization long if they find out they must put in XX years of service before being provided with growth opportunities. They view lifetime employment as a myth, and will not reward a company with years of service if that company will not reward them with growth opportunities. They will have difficulties in strongly unionized environments that only reward on seniority. Organizations that find ways to provide growth opportunities to Millennials, will reap the benefits of their techno-wizardry, eclectic but hard working hours, and strong social networks. As Bruce Tulgan wrote, they may become “the most high-performing workforce in history”. It is up to leaders whether that performance will be for you or for another organization.

These opportunities might be promotions, and some organizations may revert back to a hierarchical structure to find ways to award promotions since it is hard to promote within a flat organization. Organizations will also need to adapt their reward systems, on macro and minor scales to reward exceptional work. The Millennials after all, were given “trophies” for everything they did growing up (even for finishing last in the race), and expect those trophies from the workplace.

Bottom line: Organizations that ignore the Millenials’ innate need and quest for growth opportunities will struggle to retain and engage them. Organizations that do, may end up reaping the benefits of Tulgan’s prediction. Organizations that ignore this need, will see their workforce continue to age, and will miss out on the global talents and energy of the Millennials.

Over the next while I will be posting excerpts of a presentation on Millennials by David Burkus and myself at the April 2011 Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) Conference in Edmonton, Alberta.

Burkus, D. (2010). Developing the next generation of leaders: How to engage Millennials in the workplace. Leadership Advance Online, 14. Download here.

Tulgan, B. (2009). Not everyone gets a trophy: How to manage Generation Y. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.