Managing the Millennials
by Dr. Gregory Stebbins
Independent, tech-savvy, social, and optimistic - why are these "kids" so hard to manage?
The New Millennial's, people born after about 1981, are now entering the work force en masse. Even seasoned sales managers are having challenges helping these people become productive. They have a different approach to life, which greatly impacts their ability to sell effectively. Understanding them and some key events that took place during their youth will help you get a handle on their outlook on life in general and work in particular.
While they were growing up there was a technology explosion. Their every day reality included video on multiple devices, mobile phone, computers, and iPods. They have been bombarded with marketing messages that are constantly changing. School violence and global terrorism (specifically 9-11) have made them wary about the world and helped them develop a global perspective. For the most part, poverty is something that they have seen on television. Watching their parents get downsized in the 80s and 90s has caused them to question loyalty to the company. Reality television, MySpace, Facebook, Second Life and Google have caused them to believe (and experience!) that information is available for the asking so being "transparent" (putting everything out there for all to see) is the way things should be.
While I often hear comments about their lack of work ethic, those are the same comments that were leveled toward Generation X and Baby Boomers when they first entered the work force. Neuro research now tells us that the prefrontal cortex of our brain continues to mature until about the age of twenty-six. So Millennials may continue to be a little irresponsible until they've been on the job for a while. It's neurological, not attitudinal. So make life a little easier on yourself and cut them some slack.
What is different is their work style, motivations and view of the world, especially the corporate world. These individuals do have loyalty, which is focused on their social network and specific managers and members of the team - not on the company.
Generally they have an ability to find information about anything at a rate that far exceeds expectations of management. What they lack is discernment about the accuracy of the information. If it's on the Net they tend to believe it must be accurate. They can instantly communicate this information to their social network via Blogs, Instant Messaging (IM), personal Web pages and cell phones. Some companies have found out the hard way that their management mistakes are common knowledge within days, if not hours.
Many of these people had parents who hovered over them during every waking hour, giving birth to the term "Helicopter Parents." With probably hundreds of possible activities, from soccer to music lessons, Millennials have been over-committed and over-scheduled. They also have been smothered in praise with constant reinforcement about how great they are: blue ribbons for the entire team, there are no losers, etc. They expect recognition for everything, even the most mundane activities. They may not know their own strengths and weaknesses because there have not been many opportunities for self evaluation or honest, constructive criticism.
This creates your greatest management challenge. How do you help them understand that there are indeed losers as well as winners in the sales world? How do you provide constructive criticism without devastating their psyche?
Keep in mind that these people will tend to look at you as a parental substitute. I know that makes most sales managers more than a little uncomfortable. Nonetheless, since their parents didn't wean them, you get to do that. And, generally, this is going to be a shock to the Millennial. You'll need to teach them basic decision making by coaching and guiding them step-by-step, before you tell them, "You decide." Don't be surprised if they're calling you constantly asking the simplest questions.
Here's a four step process that can be helpful in guiding them in decision-making (this process may take two to six months total):
1. The first time they approach you, work with them to think through at least three options. Then make the decision for them. Having them consider options is the first step of developing the ability to reason.
2. After this, when they want your input, make sure they come in with the three options already thought about. Then help them understand the consequences of each option. Add in other options if they haven't considered all of the consequences. Then, you make the decision.
3. The third stage is that they come in with three options, understand the consequences and a recommendation for the course of action. Either agree with their course of action or make suggestions. Essentially they will be making the recommendation which you are approving.
4. The final stage is to cut them loose and have them handle a situation on their own. However, also have them provide a written report (IM or Text message is OK). The report needs to tell you what the situation was, the options they considered and the decision they made. This step won't last that long as their need for independence will kick in and they'll just stop coming to you with every little situation.
Keep in mind that these individuals are going to need much more coaching than their predecessors. The good news is they are used to being coached. After all, many of them have been on soccer teams since they were four or five years old.
Like all previous generations they'll be coming into the work world thinking that they have all the answers and know how to do the job better than you do. Once we turn about 35, we begin to realize that we don't have all the answers and things may not be as they seem. Developing mastery at work requires us to listen intently, understand the history of each situation and gather the different perspectives of each of the players involved. However, growing up protected and interacting with others largely through technology, has created a generation whose people savvy is very limited. Their ability to read a person in a face-to-face situation (and almost all selling is face-to-face) will tend to limit their success, especially when selling to people of a different generation. Help them understand the nuances of body language, the uniqueness of each person's office and what the contents of that office reveals about the customer. (Shameless promotion: Our book, PeopleSavvy for Sales Professionals covers these points in detail.)
In your coaching efforts with Millennials, your focus and approach may need to be different from others you have worked with. You'll need to provide structure and give information in bite-size pieces. Praise for what they do is important to their self-esteem. If they've messed up you'll need to present it as a development opportunity. Course correction instead of scolding or brow-beating is a better approach.
Millennials generally have short attention spans, so keep your coaching sessions short. If you go beyond about 20 minutes you will lose them. Use technology freely before and after the session; they'll come in to the session better prepared and will actually appreciate the follow up. If you're not comfortable using IM, it's time to learn. Their mobile phone is like a third arm and gives you more access to them than you've probably ever had with anyone.
Have frequent coaching sessions. Remember they've been sitting in front of video games knowing instantly what their score is and how they compare with others. Waiting to give them feedback at their annual performance review won't work. In fact, without feedback, they will probably be long gone before that performance review happens.
Provide the rationale behind your coaching. This generation is hungry to learn and if they feel they're learning from you, they will be loyal-to you. If they feel like their skills aren't being developed, they'll leave.
In some ways you'll need to teach them patience. They're used to instant gratification. On the plus side, their impatience for results can be a bonus in the sales world. On the negative, they can be easily frustrated when they don't get immediate results.
Work/life balance is important to Millennials. One of the biggest challenges to Baby Boomer managers is that Millennials don't want the same life style. Many Baby Boomers were brought up in sales to believe that if you were working from 6 AM to 6 PM, you were still only working half days. Millennials want "time and flexibility" often before financial compensation and benefits. No other generation has had "time and flexibility" in their top three drivers.
And finally, transparency or confidentiality is often mismatched between Millennial and manager. It is not unusual that a private discussion between a manager and employee becomes public. You'll need to teach your Millennials why discretion is important, and it may be difficult for them to understand. If your entire life is on the Web for anyone to see-even pictures in a drunken stupor at a college party-they just won't understand why someone wants to keep something private or would be embarrassed about it being public. Be patient and explain why it's to their benefit. In other words, you may need to sell them on the idea.
Smart managers that focus on developing Millennial's people savvy and who understand flexible work roles and effective virtual teams while leveraging technology will help them become a valuable asset sooner rather than later. Managers who meet the challenges of working with, not against, this generation will reap the rewards that come with shorter ramp times and more rapidly gaining some very valuable sales professionals.
Sales Psychology Expert Gregory Stebbins has helped over 20,000 sales professionals become the point of differentiation while their competitors struggle with how to differentiate their product and service. In his book PeopleSavvy for Sales Professionals, he unveils for the first time his simple but groundbreaking plan to win your customers' trust and business forever. Visit his website at http://www.peoplesavvy.com/
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