Managing the Millennials

Date:   Thursday , May 01, 2008

We have been discussing since some time about the demographic changes impacting the workforce, changing the color and complexion of the people we are required to manage. Just when most of the baby-boomer managers thought they began to understand the psyche of the Gen-X workforce and came to terms with it, a quite transformation happened with the entry of Gen-Y, referred differently as Millennial generation, into the workforce. And believe me, managing Gen-Y implies an altogether new learning curve for people managers at work. Welcome to yet another challenging but interesting time of managing the Millennials! For the yet-to-be initiated, Millennial refers to the twenty-somethings that have joined the workforce in recent times.

Worldview is very different
Basically, the Millennials' view of the world is very different from the way Gen-X looked at it, and perhaps way apart from what the world was for baby boomers. With baby boomers in the managers' saddle and Millennial as the workforce 'being managed', the difference in their perception of the world is one of a day and night difference. Neither is patently wrong, but successful management of the Millennials demands a different level of breadth and depth in understanding. Here are some illustrative perspectives to this difference:

* The Millennials hate the 'either or' choices at work. Say, either work or gym, either work or early to home, either overseas assignment or promotion offshore.
* They also do not see value in 'butt-on-seat' work demands, as they believe productivity is all that matters and not the face time.
* They value jobs that offer unambiguous opportunities for self-development rather than some vague development potential.
* And, just because they think they know a lot and are knowledgeable, it does not mean they are not! Chances are they do know a lot, given their exposure and experimentation.
* The Millennials do not fit into any single mould. Each of them may have much in common, but are also very individual in their motivations and aspirations.
* They don't like the job just because the paycheck is good. They look for a whole bunch of things. Please do not be surprised if the Millennial candidate you are considering for a job wants you to walk him to your cafeteria, gym, library, and indoor stadium before he lets you interview him on technologies.
* They do not like the term 'work/life' as it denotes a dichotomy! Instead, they prefer the phrase 'blended life'.

The reality is that the Millennials constitute the emerging talent pool, and if you do not learn to manage and motivate them you will be branded ineffective and perhaps may lose out on being an effective people manager.

Implication for baby boomer people managers
It means many things for yesteryears' mangers. First, these managers will need a new set of leadership competencies. They must unlearn their past frames of reference. They need to invest in changing their perspectives and paradigms. They may perhaps learn a leaf out of managing their kids at home (if at all they have figured out how to do that!). Everything about the way work was organized, managed, and delivered will need a close scrutiny. I see a huge opportunity for the HR folks to work with the people managers in helping them go through this change process. The assumption here is that the HR Managers themselves understand this well enough to be able to advise the line managers! The reality may be, they are themselves not ready!

The Millennials do not believe in shoehorning their lives into a nine-to-five work routine. Managers need to figure out how to make the best use of telecommuting and working-from-home policies. They prefer more of hands-on managing and mentoring. Therefore, managers better find time for it, rather than referring them to HR or any other designated mentors in the company. They would like to learn more about the background of the project, before they consent to dive into it for the next 6 months. They are very comfortable communicating through internal messenger while you may, as a manager, like to summon them as often to your office as you want to talk to them. They want to work in the corridor or out in the garden around your company (if you have one!) when you, as their manager, may be looking for them in their 'cubicle-hell', as they call it.

At the end of the day, it is all about ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) for the Millennials, while the baby boomer managers may view this as 'Rebellious and Outrageous Work Expectations'! In the end, the reality is that managing the Millennials offers tremendous learning opportunity to the baby boomer managers. Absurd, as it may sound, that is the reality. You have a choice to learn or become irrelevant! Is there a choice really?