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How to lead millennials into management


Many leaders today face the issue of how to lead millennials who feel they’re ready for management roles – but aren’t yet.

But there’s real danger in tossing an inexperienced employee into a management role. Studies show that 50 percent of first-time managers fail in the first year. However, as baby boomers retire at an ever-increasing speed, businesses need to prepare their millennial employees to catch the ball and run.

How can you improve the chances of success for your hard-charging millennial employees? You must learn how to lead millennials.

Here’s a five-step process to channel the raw talent and energy of the millennial workforce and help transform them into the leaders of tomorrow.

1. Identify company needs, match those needs to the person’s interests and make a plan.

Young employees tend to want to rush into management and learn by trial and error. It’s your job as their leader to explain that, while this technique may work well in a solitary endeavor, it can be problematic in a team setting or managerial role.

The millennial future leader may not understand that trial-and-error management frustrates employees, undermines their confidence in the business and their manager, and can cost the company money.

Would-be managers are likely to need education, as well as on-the-job experience, to develop judgement and business acumen. They also may not be accustomed to thinking of how to match their needs with those of the organization.

Make sure your potential managers understand the responsibilities of the type of job they’re pursuing. Inexperienced employees may see people management as the only path forward when individual leadership as a project manager may be better suited to their temperament and skills.

Here’s where a development plan becomes your ally. Many people think of an employee development plan as something formal that must be written down. If that’s not your company’s culture, that’s fine. But you do need to communicate to your aspiring manager how a set of new assignments and online learning will put him or her on the path to long-term success.

For instance, Taylor is chomping at the bit to lead the marketing department. While she’s an ace on the company’s social media platforms, she’s never managed vendors. You might explain that managing outside partners and the budget associated with those vendors will prepare her to manage another section of marketing, and then possibly the department as a whole.

2. Communicate why stretch assignments are needed and how new tasks are designed to address skill gaps.

Don’t assume that inexperienced employees will understand the rationale behind assignments that stretch them to learn something new or how doing well at this step can lead to more responsibilities.

Explain why Amber has been asked to develop a new report, or why Michael has been asked to lead a new team project. Spell out why rotating through a series of jobs will expose Henry to different departments and further his ability to understand each area of the company.

This is a good time for informal leadership, such as acting as a team lead, a temporary project lead or a stand-in for the regular manager when that person is out. Identify the new skills you want your employees to learn, the experience you hope they’ll gain and how this all prepares them for future opportunities.

3. Create a system for regular feedback.

The once-a-year feedback inherent in annual reviews doesn’t work for millennials any better than it worked for past generations. Millennials are just the big demographic finally forcing much-needed change.

Translated into the workplace, this means you need to schedule times for feedback. Depending on the newness of the project, you may want to set up a brief daily status update or a weekly one-hour sit down. Your goal during these feedback sessions is to help your employees identify roadblocks and paths forward, so that they build confidence and experience.

Remember, all adult learners perform better with regular feedback, not just millennials. But for your young employees who don’t know what they don’t know, coaching can mitigate any frustration at not being promoted fast enough.

4. Emphasize collaboration.

It’s vital that you emphasize collaboration with your ambitious young employees by offering support when and where it’s needed. You don’t want or expect them to go off on their own and handle everything without support.

Make sure your learners know that you will check-in regularly to help keep them on track, remove roadblocks and offer a sounding board. You’re not there to do the work for them.

Coach them through decisions by asking open-ended questions such as, “What was your reasoning behind that decision? Do you think it worked? Why or why not?”

The good news is that millennials generally like, and may even prefer, collaboration and find it a natural way to work.

5. Explain the purpose and impact of their work.

Millennials are driven by the need to feel a purpose in their work. They care more about that than the bottom line. They want to feel like they’re doing something for their community, their co-workers and their families.

Explain what’s valuable about their individual contributions and how they impact the business’s overall success. Such discussions not only show appreciation for these employees’ contributions, they also promote esprit de corps.

Want more tips on how to lead millennials and other employees within your workforce? Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.