Have you noticed that you’re supervising more closely, giving more direction, or spending more time with your millennial employees?
It may be that in your efforts to support them, you are providing too much. You may be unconsciously continuing the kind of environment they grew up in – over-structured and over-protected, where failure is not an option – an environment that perpetuates dependency.
A World Where Everyone’s a Winner.
According to Joanie Connell, millennial worker expert and author of Flying Without a Helicopter, many Millennials are the product of an upbringing that focused on creating a sense of self-worth through success. She shares this example of how it works, “When my daughter was eight, we signed her up for recreational soccer. The registration form said: ‘All players will receive a uniform, pictures, and a trophy.’ I wondered, Why would everyone get a trophy? Don’t they just give those out to the winners? The answer was they don’t keep score at the games, so ‘Everyone’s a Winner.’“
Dr. Connell says the unintended consequence is that many Millennials “lack important life skills like resilience and independence, have unrealistic expectations about what it takes to succeed, and are unable to cope with criticism and rejection.”
Continually Propping Them Up. Ken Blanchard tells a story about how he got into trouble when he was a college professor for passing out the final at the beginning of the semester. His response was, “Not only am I passing out the exam, but I then intend to spend the entire semester teaching them everything on it.” He believed it’s the job of a teacher to teach students what they need to learn, and not worry about evaluating them according to a distribution curve. If they did the work and learned the content, they should all be able to get A’s. An appealing idea.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, the idea that “everyone should be able to get A’s” got distorted to “everyone should get A’s” regardless.
And many parents, teachers and coaches began to think it was their responsibility to make sure children were winners, sometimes even doing the work for them. The focus shifted away from the philosophy of educators like Carl Rogers (emphasis on “learning how to learn”) and toward achievement (emphasis on “what they learn”). These Millennials never learned to face the consequences of their actions, were deprived of the opportunity to learn from their failures, and developed a sense of entitlement.
In a guest post on Jon Mertz’s Thin Difference Blog, millennial Scott Savage reflects, “I wonder, what if we were conditioned to feel entitled? Every time we competed, we earned a trophy. We grew up in a world where seemingly everyone had cable TV, internet access and a cell phone. By the time we got to college we had five graduations and their subsequent parties! Think about it—preschool, kindergarten, 5th grade, 8th grade, and high school. There is a reason we think we’re awesome!
Dr. Connell points out, “When kids don’t know how to lose, they lack resilience. And if they are always a winner, they don’t receive useful feedback on their skills and abilities. They grow up thinking they are great at everything.”
It’s Not Too Late for Them to Grow Up
You can support your millennial employees in becoming real “winners” – engaged employees who are successful in their work and experience personal satisfaction – by not getting sucked into micromanaging them.
A recent large-scale study of millennial attitudes and actions and the implications for employers, conducted by INSEAD’s Emerging Markets Institute, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation, suggests their greatest contributions will come when you provide opportunities for meaning, growth, and relationships.
1. Meaning –Provide the “why” but not the “way.” Millennials want you to explain why a project or task is important and how it fits with the big picture, and then to give them the freedom to execute their own way.
Dr. Connell suggests “instead of hovering over them, build a relationship of trust and accountability. Give them responsibility and clear expectations. Explain when it needs to be done, what the results should look like and why it is important. But only loosely guide them on the ‘how.’ Let them figure that out on their own.”
They might have an unrealistic view of their ability to figure out the best way to achieve the goal. If that’s the case, instead of jumping in and telling them what to do, or standing back and letting them fail, Dr. Connell suggests, “Ask them the questions they need to ask themselves to effectively plan their work. What are the potential barriers and how will you handle them? What are the possible outcomes? What information do you need to know to move forward? Who can you get to help you? What resources do you need? How long will it take?”
2. Growth – Provide feedback and the opportunity to learn from experience.
Millennials want the opportunity to develop new skills and to grow. Give them stretch assignments, and don’t hover to make sure they succeed. They can learn as much from failure as from success.
Dr. Connell says “Accept that someone else’s work may not be as good as yours, but it’s still good enough. Maybe it’s perfectly good, but just not the way you’d do it. That’s okay too. And maybe you know it’s going to create a problem, but one that you and your company can live with and it’s worth the lesson to the employee. That’s when you can be there for them to help them learn.”
We need feedback to learn. But evaluative feedback (e.g. good, great, terrible, lousy) does not provide useful information. Instead provide specific and descriptive feedback on what they did that worked or what they did that tripped them up. Preface advice with “Here’s another approach” or “Here’s what worked for me” instead of micromanaging by telling them they should do it a specific way.
3. Relationships – Create connection and provide opportunity to make a contribution. Millennials want to feel respected, valued, and heard. And they want to know you care about them. Doing too much for them, micromanaging them, or preventing failure does not show you care about them because it keeps them dependent.
They want to have a say in how things are done. Show you care about them and respect them by considering their suggestions seriously. Have a conversation about what they are thinking. They just might have a good solution you never considered.
Too Much Work for You?
You might be saying to yourself that it’s not worth all this work. But the reality is, if you invest in your millennial employees now, it will be less work for you later as they begin to fulfill their potential and develop into peak performers.
Millennial expert Dan Schawbel says, “Millennials are the most educated, most diverse and the most connected generation of our lifetime, and they are poised to make a major impact on corporate America. Most companies aren’t ready and don’t understand the impact that this generation will have.”
One more reason it’s worth your effort to understand and invest in Millennials: They are currently the largest generation in the workforce – which means that soon, one of them may become your boss.
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Thanks to Joanie Connell, Ph.D., of Flexible Work Solutions for sharing her expertise on Millennials in the workforce.
Flying Without A Helicopter focuses on what it takes to be successful in the workplace and how to get there. It is about parenting, educating, and managing to help young adults build skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive world, and offers advice to parents, educators, and managers, as well as young adults, on what is needed to help produce healthy, independent, self-reliant employees who will thrive on their own.
Very key points, Jesse. When I was 20-something, I was lucky. My bosses always gave me space to pursue initiatives. There wasn’t much guidance, other than “go.” They were there when I had questions, but I had freedom and responsibility. Somehow, we are missing this today.
In some cases, I think some leaders are afraid to let go. Some want to drive. Some just don’t trust others well. Leaders need to step up and step aside and provide the space for Millennials and others to grow, learn, and pursue.
You make a excellent point about the need to let go of control and allow the youngers to have the same freedom to make mistakes and grow that we had. Thanks for sharing your insights here, Jon. Your blog at Thin Difference and your book Activate Leadership are a real contribution to supporting Millennials.
Interesting. Your post made me stop and consider what I teach. Now I think we are both wrong. I think many smart young workers have been sheltered. And many of them have not been, as in any age group. I do think leaders should take time to see, understand, and value all their employees. They should make sure they balance this time so they aren’t giving too much to any generation, but it is more important to tailor their conversations to the needs of the person in front of them, whether they are supporting or challenging them to do more.
I like so many of the Millennials I have met around the world and hoping they are changing things for the better. AND, I think leaders need to consider your points and make sure they aren’t creating dependencies. Thank you for making me think, and adding to what I do for leaders.
I should have said AND,, we are both right!
Indeed. I avoided making generalizations about all Millennials in this post because those subjected to over-parenting belong mostly to a certain class and there are many that did not have that experience. And even those who did don’t all feel the same way or want the same thing. The INSEAD et.al. study was a comprehensive, global study that challenges many stereotypes. http://universumglobal.com/insights/stereotypes-millennials/ I appreciate your emphasizing the importance of taking time to see, understand and value each individual for who they are. On the other hand, at a big picture level, it can be helpful to see patterns of generations and how their values shaped our history and how they affect us now. Patterns, like theory and models, can be helpful in opening up perspective, but should never be confused with the whole truth.
Much thanks for your thought-provoking comments, Marcia!
Jesse – I loved your post. Thanks for sharing my trophy rant! I enjoyed this piece. You articulated a tension I think we all need to maintain – challenging those we lead to stretch and grow without being unhealthily dependent and simultaneously equipping and empowering them to succeed. Great job!
And being aware of the importance of this tension is the place to start. You remind me that it’s not just up to leaders to provide this tension. Millennials who want to grow up can participate in creating it. (ps. I thought your entire post was excellent and hope readers will click on the link I provided to read it.)
Another excellent post! From above: “everyone should be able to get A’s” got distorted to “everyone should get A’s” regardless. Couldn’t agree more… In my years facilitating effective learning by college students, for all too many of them, they never said directly but gave me the strong impression that they were really wanting us faculty to “tell me what to do so I can be successful (wealthy)” – as if ‘of course you know what that is!!!’ Too many of them never figured out my reply that they were going to be paid to address situations successfully for which there was no known ‘what to do.’ There responsibility was to understand the real issues, build upon their learning to be able to develop a plan of action, to do or oversee (or both) the efforts to address the situation, and finally to reflect on the entire effort and document what was accomplished and learned AND what might work even better next time. NO STOCK BEST APPROACH KNOWN!!!
the three opportunities listed and discussed are so great!!! Hope to check out the book…
Sounds like good advice, John. I suspect many understood your reply. You remind me that learning to think and learning how to learn are as important, if not more, than what you learn. I wonder how well we are teaching that these days.
Very clear and concise post. I particularly like the emphasis on Why vs. how. This is true for all of us. At the same time, there must be space for trying, missing the mark, and trying again . Likewise, millenials have much to teach us. I believe mutual respect can go a long way in generating relationships and performance
There is much to learn from each other. The world has shifted from being hierarchical to networked. No one understands that better than the Millennials, a generation that doesn’t remember a time before the Internet.
I enjoyed your post, Jesse. Today a friend of mine said of her high school age grandson, “He was born on third base and every time he gets a hit, he thinks he hit a home run.” And that is true of so many kids born with great advantages. But not every kid in the US is born with so many much help. Do their bosses need a different set of guide lines? They may be managing young adults who graduated high school when their peers didn’t, went to local community colleges while living at home and may have finished an undergraduate degree but with huge debts. Will it take a different approach to help them make their full contribution in the workforce?
Thanks for the laugh! – “He was born on third base and every time he gets a hit, he thinks he hit a home run.”
And appreciate your emphasizing the importance of taking time to see, understand and value each individual for who they are.
Am I just ahead of my time? Funny thing I notice about meaning, growth and relationships that the INSEAD indicated Millennials want. Its what I want and what (I believe) most human beings want. (P.S. I am not a Millennial).
You’re a Millennial at heart, MJ! And you’re right, any manager who provides for everyone what Millennials need and want will be a better manager all the way around.