Getting the most from a Millenial – Part 1

Millenials have developed a significant reputation in the workplace often through no fault of their own. Rather than harm on the challenges of working with Millenials, this series is going to focus on ways to successfully work with Millenials. Now to level set, I’m not a part of the Millenial generation, but rather Generation X, a.k.a. the MTV Generation. Being part of this generation we’re starting to see men and women entering the workforce placing us in an awkward position since they are of the age, for many of us, of our own children. How do you work with men and women without adopting a parental mindset?

Experience wanted

There is the general assumption Millenials do not have much to contribute due to their lack of experience in the workplace. Aside from resisting reinforcement of this ageism stereotype, this is a chance to change the conversation right away and leverage that “lack of experience” when it comes to work. Most Millenials are coming to the workplace having learned the popular “best practices” in college, something that can be a reminder and level set for those working on long established processes.  While there are always reasons for processes to be what they are, taking advantage of the new eyes of Millenials can help in providing a reset perspective when evaluating how things operate.  The most important thing is to level set how their provided insights will be used from the beginning.

Take me seriously

One of the common complaints of Millenials is that their ideas aren’t taken seriously. This perception is created as a  reaction to three things: their perceived lack of experience, their lack of business knowledge for existing systems, and our natural resistance to change. If you’re going to learn to leverage a Millenial to provide a new set of eyes you both need clear understanding from the beginning that just because insights are made it doesn’t mean changes will also be made. Communicating and helping them understand the value of critical evaluation and researching all aspects of a problem rather than locking into the “obvious” answer goes a long way towards keeping them engaged without undue effort on your part. Many of these men and women grew up in a time when their parents demanded they be acknowledged just for showing up, a.k.a. “The Participation Trophy”. We’ve come to associate that with Millenials and assume if they don’t get acknowledged for everything they do they won’t be happy.  This so often is not the case.  Usually the last thing they want is a participation trophy. What they really want is opportunities to contribute, make a difference, and THEN be recognized for their contributions.  When you look at it that way it doesn’t sound all that unreasonable now does it?

Find common ground

Another way to battle the “lack of experience” label is to take a little time to learn about where they do have experience.  While they may not  have your years in the field, they may have participated in activities in college or early in their career that you can leverage as part of the process.  Millenials want to contribute.  They want to feel like they are making a difference (don’t we all). What they aren’t normally willing to do is to wait quietly until their contributions are recognized.  It is still common for members of our generation to be in roles lasting for years; the “company man/woman” has not gone by the wayside just yet.  Part of this comes with the shifting mindsets around risk and stability as we age, but assigning those same mindsets to someone not at the same stage of life is a critical mistake on our part. Mentoring them on how to self-actualize their contributions rather than relying on affirmations through business channels goes a long way in helping them fit into the up and down environment of most traditional businesses. Recognize though if you personally, professionally, or organizationally are unable to move beyond the traditional “cog-in-the-machine” mindset, you will always struggle for common ground with a Millenial.

When I was your age

Those of us not of the Millenial generation have to accept some blame for aspects of the mindset Millenials are commonly stereotyped with such as not appreciating experience. For the past 20 years we have idolized the “startup” mentality, whether it’s from the Dot Com era of IPO millionaires or or the social media moguls who accomplished all their goals before 30 after dropping out of college.  What we haven’t done is reinforced the understanding these are the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy winner who then wins the Super Bowl in his rookie year.  They’re feel good stories but they’re not reality.  Unfortunately we tend to take a small bit of perverse joy when we see someone we think feels they are “entitled” to success we ourselves would love to have accomplished but have not gotten even through all our hard work. Their “lack of experience” is our excuse to dismiss them and go back to work.

Things change and things stay the same

Don’t spend your time trying to change their thinking to your way of thinking.  They grew up in a different time with different rules and goals.  Rather, look for the commonalities you share and the aspects of their personalities that offset or strengthen weaknesses in your own and you’ll find a Millenial need not be the problem the media and blogosphere would have you fear.