You may have read several interesting articles about the difficulty some managers have with Millennials. They say Millennials lack focus, discipline and communication skills. They give several reasons for this and often suggest it relates to essential skills (some call these soft skills) not taught in their early school years (see : Trevor Muir)
Here’s my take:
Frankly, I wonder whether the problem is with the new batch of workers we call the Millennials, or with the managers who have difficulty adjusting to the new challenges they present. I also have difficulty placing people in 25-year chunks as if all people who were born during those years act in the same way. I don’t think they do but there does seem to be a few common traits among those born in each generation. So my advice is don’t lump all young people in the same category but treat them as individuals with strengths and weaknesses in the same way we treat others who have strengths and weaknesses.
Given the above rider here are some suggestions that may help you relate to Millennials and everyone else in the workforce:
Engage Workers in Strategic Thinking. Help people understand the big company picture through small group discussions. Give them meaningful issues to resolve that relate to the vision of the company. This means you don’t tell them what you want to hear but listen to their suggestions for improvement. By taking the time to paint the big picture, not in some esoteric frame but in real practical terms, will help people link their everyday work to the overall vision. If people don’t see the link between what they do and why they should do it, they won’t become fully engaged in your company.
Shift Your Power Structure. If you operate from a command and control, hierarchical structure, you will have difficulty with most workers these days. This will be a harder adjustment for the leader/manager than the worker. The leader/manager needs to understand that his power comes through others and not through his own ego, or some hierarchical structure. There are still too many mangers and leaders who want to do things there way, as if there is only one way to do them. Often managers diminish employee morale and weaken long-term results when they consistently operate from a command and control stance. When leaders find ways to shift appropriate power, and hence decision-making, to the lowest level within an organization they will achieve a more efficient and satisfied organization.
Develop Face-to-Face Essential Skills Learning. Many companies are moving to a more technological approach to staff development. As a result several training and development firms are developing more and more on-line courses for those in the workplace. Companies have bought into this method, not because it is always the best teaching method, but because it is a cheaper alternative to face-to-face learning, can be accessed at any time including after hours, and allows leaders and managers to easily check off staff training from their list. However, this may be a short-sighted approach particularly when it comes to essential skill development.
Essential skills are those which are often considered soft skills such as influencing, communication, time management, decision-making and critical thinking. My experience is that these skills are best learned through face-to-face teaching methods. Take communication for example. We don’t need to teach young people how to use social media or email. They already know how to use them, probably better than most managers. What we need to teach them is how to communicate effectively using the social technological medium, but more importantly how to communicate face-to-face using techniques that are designed to improve skills for listening, paraphrasing, understanding non-verbal language, questioning, dealing with different personalities and profiles and customer service. These skills are best learned through face-to-face facilitation methods. By the way they are also skills that many managers and leaders have told me young people lack.
Improve Self-Discipline Techniques. Self-discipline is best taught from a young age, but frequently it isn’t. Consequently young people entering the workforce are required to learn the skill, often the hard way. Many leader/managers find their employees have too many distractions at their fingertips – literally, their fingers pound the keyboards on their computers and Smart phones.
Self-discipline is an individual skill, but managers can suggest a couple of strategies to help improve self-discipline:
Manage Self-Accountability. This is another skill that should be taught early in life, where parents need to take corrective action when they hear excuses, or when children place blame on others and shift responsibility for their poor behavior onto others. If you find the lack of accountability is an issue for an individual, try this five-point approach.
Thanks for Reading,
Richard P. Fontanie MSW
See also my article on Leadermanagers encourage self-directed, accountable and an engaged workforce here: