The Real Problem With Millennial Employees

Much has been written about the differences between the Millennial generation and other generations. It’s true that there are differences and some of those differences are substantial. 

 

It’s also true that there are more similarities between Millennials and other generations than there are differences. Millennials have similar career goals. They share many of the same values especially when it comes to leadership values.  They change jobs for many of the same reasons as their parents and grandparents did. 

 

Despite an opinion that is way too popular, Millennials are not slackers. Far from it actually. They work as hard and long as most baby boomers. They care just as much, they are as passionate or even more passionate about what they do and how they do it than the average baby boomer. 

 

One key difference is a desire for more flexibility. They don’t want flexibility in order to do less work. In fact it’s the contrary; they want more flexibility to be able to weave their work and personal lives together. They are willing to work long hours, they just want a little more freedom to choose which hours they work. 

 

This presents challenges for organizations that have Millennials in customer facing positions. But the reality is that too many baby boomer leaders/managers simply want to control which hours their people work. They feel that way because when they were rising through the ranks their work hours were determined for them. That’s old thinking. That’s expensive thinking too!

 

Here is some more old thinking and it’s even more expensive thinking. 

 

Most companies encourage their new employees to spend their first few years in the organization learning the ropes. It makes perfect sense because very few entry level employees know how to apply their “school knowledge” to real life work situations. 

 

The problem with that mindset of allowing  less experienced employees time to learn the ropes leads many managers/leaders to assume that their Millennial employees have too little to offer when compared to more experienced employees. 

 

But Millennials have much to offer. They are technologically savvy. They are nonlinear thinkers who don’t know that “something has always been done that way.” Millennials are willing to try new technology and are particularly adapt at exposing “group think.” I have to admit “group think” is often prevalent with my baby boomer generation. 

 

If you’re a leader of Millennials today you must be willing to risk allowing them more input into as many areas of your organization as possible. Yes, they have a lot of growing to do but that doesn’t mean they can’t help more experienced people grow in new areas at the same time.

 

People like me can learn so much from Millennials that sometimes I wish I was one. (But then I come to my senses) 


It turns out that the real problem with Millennials is more a of problem FOR Millennials. They have the ability to move slower companies into the future at a much faster pace. They only need to be given the chance. 

Different Leadership

Much has been written about the differences in various generational groups. Especially the vast differences when it comes to leading Millennials. 

 

But new information has recently come to light that reveals some surprising insights into who this mysterious demographic actually is. As it turns out, they are people! And they are people who have more in common with other age groups than you might think. 

 

If you’re leading Millennials it might be good if you knew something about them, something that’s actually true. 

 

Millennials now make up the largest generation in the workforce. They are beginning to assume leadership roles of their own within organizations. Their impact grows by the day. 

 

Millennials’ goals are surprisingly similar to older generations. 25% want to make a positive impact on their organization verses 23% of Boomers. 22% of Millennials want to help solve social and environmental challenges vs 24% of Boomers.

 

Most older generations assume that Millennials want to do everything online yet when surveyed Millennials say their top three preferences for learning new skills at work are physical, not virtual. They would prefer to attend a third-party sponsored conference, attend in-person classroom training or work alongside knowledgeable colleagues. 

 

Everybody knows that Millennials want constant acclaim and they think everyone on the team should get a trophy. Everybody knows that except Millennials. 

 

The facts say that 35% of Millennials simply want fair and ethical treatment. 35% want to work in a transparent environment where relevant information is willingly shared and 29% want to work in an environment where their actual accomplishments are recognized. That sounds an awful lot like Boomers to me!

 

You need to be careful when investing in Millennials because they are more likely to jump ship if a position doesn’t fulfill their needs, right? Well, not exactly. 

 

Employees of each generation share the same reasons for changing organizations. 47% of Gen X’ers leave a company for more money or a more creative environment. That number is 42% for Boomers and …. are you ready for it…. 42% for Millennials. 

 

There are obviously differences between the generations but there always has been. This is nothing new. As a leader you must educate yourself on what those differences mean to your organization and understand how you can actually use those differences to build a stronger team. You must also realize that overall, there are more commonalities than differences.

 

Millennials aren’t lazy, they aren’t disloyal, they aren’t any needier when it comes to recognition than any other age group. If you focus on the differences between groups of people you’ll find them. If you view “different” as bad it will be bad, if you view different as an opportunity then that’s what it will be.

 

While you should be aware of the differences between generations what you really need to be aware of are the differences within the generations. Lumping all Millennials into one group and trying to lead every member of that group the same way is a huge mistake. Just as it would be to lead every member of any generation exactly the same. 

 

You cannot lead everyone the same because everyone is different…even within generational groups. You need different leadership for different people.

 

The most effective leaders talk with their people often enough to truly understand their differences, they ask questions until they grasp what makes each person unique. Then they lead them in such as way as to help them succeed. 


It’s a lot of work to lead everyone differently but it’s really the only way to lead authentically. If your people aren’t worth the time it takes to truly get to know them then I’m sorry to say that you may not have time to lead. 

The Evolution of Leadership

Geez, I’ve seen a bunch of posts and articles lately on the “evolution of leadership.” It seems a fair number of people are falling into the trap of believing that leadership needs to “adapt” to the “times.” 

Well, that just ain’t so!

Certainly some, just some, of the tactics of leadership change through the years. The well documented generational differences dictate that change. Generally speaking, very generally speaking, the motivational triggers of the different generations vary, but not as much as many  people think. 

Given those variances good leaders adjust. But they don’t adjust to trick or manipulate, they adjust to deliver motivation, discipline, and vision in the manor in which it is best received. 

While some leadership tactics change the core leadership principles and strategies do not. 

They don’t change because leadership is about people and people haven’t really changed….ever.

The basic human needs, as described by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have never really changed. Humans as it turns out are human. It doesn’t make a difference when they were born, where they where born, what sex they are, what color they are, or if they are rich or poor, humans are human. Every single one of them.

Leaders don’t lead businesses, (businesses are managed) leaders don’t lead countries, (countries are governed) leaders lead people, nothing more and nothing less. Those people also happen to be human.

Leaders get in trouble when they forget that very basic fact. 

One of the biggest reasons that people dislike change is because they see change as a threat to one or more of their basic human needs. A leader understands that just because it might not make sense to the leader doesn’t mean it isn’t very real to the person they are leading. 

Here’s another thing that can cause challenges for a leader. While human beings basic needs are much the same no two people are exactly identical. Even identical twins would be better described as “more similar” than most people. Understanding the differences of the people you lead is what makes leading so interesting and a constant learning experience.

Great leaders understand the sameness of their people’s basic needs to develop leadership strategies and learn the unique aspects of their people’s personalities to develop the tactics of successful leadership. In both cases they never forget that they are leading people not things.

That’s why the most important skills for a leader to have are people skills. They always have been most important and they will always be most important. Because leadership is about people! 

That’s never changed and it never will.

Leadership for the Ages – Conclusion

Not admitting to the differences between generations will not make the differences go away. 

If you’re going to do more than just occupy a leadership position, if you’re going to actually lead, then you’ll have to understand and use those differences.

One of the challenges in writing a series like this is that in the interest of time you almost have to use some generalities in your writing. When I finally get around to writing my book on leadership I promise I’ll add more specific detail.

If it is true that each generation is different, and it is true, then it is also true that there are differences within each generation as well. So many differences in fact that I couldn’t list them all, even in a book.

As a leader it is incumbent upon you to know those differences in your people. The fact that they come from a particular generation can give you some idea as how to lead them but it is a picture  painted in shades of gray. To truly lead you must have a picture of your people painted in vivid color.

This is a picture not painted with a brush but with information. It requires information to truly know your people. To acquire the type of information needed for this picture you’ll have to talk WITH your people, not TO them. It will help immeasurably if you’ll listen too.

I frequently recommend to leaders that they periodically conduct innerviews with their people. No, I didn’t misspell that… I mean innerview, not interview. An interview  is something you do when hiring someone. An innerview is something you do when you really want to know them.   

It is maybe a five minute conversation about the person you’re innerviewing; it gives you the opportunity to discover what’s important to them, what motivates them, what their goals and objectives are. You’ll better understand their specific values and background. You’ll know how they want to be led and they will know that they and their ideas matter to you and their organization.

If you can invest 5 or 10 minutes a day to talk with the people of your organization, everyday, with all generations, you’ll lead more effectively than you ever thought possible.

The number one concern I hear from leaders when I share the “Innerview” concept is the time required to do it. 5 or 10 minutes a day, everyday. I’m amazed by the number of “leaders” who tell me they can’t afford the time. 

Really?

If you don’t have the time to invest in your people then you simply don’t have the time to lead. You may need to move out of the way and let a “Kid” take over. I’d rather have an experienced leader who truly leads than an experienced person who merely occupies a leadership position.

So, feel like leading today? Then go do an innerview.

Leadership for the Ages – Part Five

The future is a pretty sneaky thing. It just kind of creeps up on you and before you know it you’re actually living in it. Except that it’s not the future anymore, it has become the present.

Thirty years ago when I was preparing to write a workshop on cold-calling it occurred to me that I didn’t know that much about the subject. So I took a 3 month part-time job selling cellphones because at the time cellphones were selling for $3000 and up and most sales were the result of a cold call. I figured to learn cold calling in a hurry by selling phones. (I did)

The visionary owner of the company I was selling for predicted a day when people would be able to call you anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world, whether they knew where you were or not. Just by having one phone number for you they could reach you anywhere. I have thought for years how amazing that would be if his vision ever became reality.

In January I received a phone call on my cell. It was from a friend from Minnesota who was in Phoenix for the winter. He was wondering if I could fill a tee time on the following Friday if I was going to be in town. I told him I was not going to be in town, in fact, I was standing in the middle of the ancient city of Pompeii. He called my Minnesota phone number, from Phoenix and reached me, instantly, in Pompeii. Italy.

The future had snuck up on me. I never saw it coming.

So it is with many of my “Middle” friends, the “Kids” generation has snuck up on us, they have arrived and are ready, well maybe not ready, but certainly willing, to take over and lead us all into the future. 

And one day, in the future, they most certainly will.

The “Kids” generation or as most people call them the “Millennials” are the group born after 1980. The “Kids” are the first global-centric generation, having grown up during the brisk growth of the Internet and the expansion of global terrorism. They are absolutely the most resilient in navigating change and they have a deep appreciation for diversity and inclusion. 

With remarkable gains in technology and an increase in educational opportunities during the 1990s, the “Kids” are also the most educated generation of workers today. They also represent the most team-centric generation since the “Dads,” as they have grown up at a time where parents scheduled much of their lives with sports and recreational activities to keep them occupied while their “Middles” parents focused on work. 

One of the characteristics of “Kids,” besides the fact that they are masters of digital communication, is that they are prepared to do well by doing good. Almost 70 percent say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities.

The “Kids” are not the most patient of the generations and are often surprised, disappointed, and even annoyed when the older generations, the “higher ups” don’t act on their ideas because they haven’t figured out that the “model is changing.”

The “Kids” NEED feedback, and whether positive or negative, the feedback needs to be structured in a way that leaves no room for misunderstanding. Feedback needs to be clear and specific in order to be effective with this group. 

To be productive they need to know and buy into their organization’s vision. To feel valued, they need to know their role in achieving that vision. 

More than the “Middles” and “Changers” the “Kids” are especially eager to progress in their careers and are seldom willing to wait three to five years for a promotion. Organizations and companies that want to develop this next generation of leaders need to develop in-between steps and titles, so “Kids” can meet their need for career advancement.

According to a 2012 survey by staffing agency Adecco, 68% of recent graduates identified good opportunities for growth and development as one of their top professional priorities. Assigning challenging projects and sending “Kids” to training conferences will be especially helpful for those “Kids” workers interested in learning and growing their skills.

This generation, more than any other, needs flexibility. With their technology skills they are essentially able to work anytime from anywhere. Let them! Let them if you expect to keep them. A 2012 study of this generation by Griffith Insurance Education Foundation discovered that “Kids” will sacrifice pay for increased vacation time and the ability to work outside the office.

To my fellow “Middles” leaders and even leaders from the “Changers” generation you should know that the future is upon us. The “future” looks pretty darn young, too young to be serving us hamburgers much less occupying the office next door. But nevertheless, the future is here. These “Kids” happen to make the future look pretty good too!

Leaders of today can work against the future and lose or work with the future and succeed beyond their time. It is a choice all leaders will have to make. Choose well!

Leadership for the Ages – Part Four of Some

No generation has a monopoly on what’s right. It would behove leaders from every generation to keep that in mind. 

The generation I call “The Changers,” the ones born between 1964 and 1980, were shaped by the fall of the Berlin Wall, Watergate, Desert Storm, the energy crisis, technology, and the internet. As the first generation of kids where both parents were likely to work they are more independent than the generations before them. They have seen their parents down-sized, right-sized and let go after sacrificing everything for their company. They’re less loyal to their employers and expect to change jobs. Sometimes often.

They expect fast gratification, and they’re technically savvy. They need feedback and recognition, but don’t want a lot of rules. The “Changers” want flexibility and freedom at work. They’ve seen a ton of corporate and political corruption, which has left them pretty skeptical. While for a time “The Middles” generation didn’t trust anyone over 30, this generation has some issues trusting anyone over 50. 

Because “Changers” naturally place a lower priority on work, many leaders from the “Middles” generation think that these workers are not as dedicated. There is no real evidence of that, in fact, the research would simply show they are dedicated differently. They are more willing to take on challenges and are known to be highly adaptive to job instability in the post-downsizing era.

They were also the first generation to grow up with technology. That seems to be why this generation cares more about productivity and less about the number of hours spent on the job. Because they best understand how to maximize and leverage the new technology, they value a balanced lifestyle and equality on the job.

This generation isn’t better or worse than the ones that came before. They aren’t better workers or worse. They are just different. Their life experiences have provided them with a different set of values. 

These different values can cause conflict. When one generation attempts to lead another their value systems influence and guide their leadership style. The values they have built throughout their lives can make it tough to be objective. As humans, we are biased towards our own values, that isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way it is.

As a leader, when conflict does arise, you need to put your biases aside. So if a “Middle” and a “Changer” are having conflicts with each other, and you’re a “Middle” leader, you can’t naturally side with your fellow “Middler,” just because you share similar values. You need to be objective, understand the differing values of each person involved, and lead according to the circumstances and the people involved.

Leaders adjust, the great ones have different “styles” and methods. Just remember, leaders adjust themselves, not rules or principles. 

If you’re going to lead cross generationally then you need to understand this: if you’re in a conflict with someone from a different generation it’s very possible that they are not fighting you. It might be you fighting them. You’re trying to change their values, trying to make them into something or someone that they simply can’t be. It’s a fight that Authentic Servant Leaders know they cannot and should not win. 

Improve your leadership by using who and what your people are to their advantage and to yours. You’ll grow, they will grow and your organization will grow as well.

Leadership for the Ages – Part Three of Some

In my last post we looked at the leadership you’ll find from the “Dad’s” generation. In this third of what’s likely to be a five post series we’ll look at the group best known as the “Baby Boomers” or as I call them “The Middles.” This is the group born between 1946 and 1964, I was born right in the middle of those years, hence the name “middles.”

This generation, my generation, was the first to actively declare a higher priority for work over personal life.  The “Middles” generally distrust authority and large “systems.” Our values were shaped by the civil rights movement, Viet Nam, and for a time, run away inflation. We are mostly more optimistic and willing to change than “Dad’s” generation.

We’re also known to some however as the “Me Generation” and that moniker is probably well deserved. If the “Dad’s” invented Minute Rice then it was the “Middles” who decided that a minute was way too long a time to wait for rice, or nearly anything else for that matter. We do tend to want everything NOW. That need for instant gratification can sometimes show up as a sense of entitlement. It is never good for someone in a leadership position to have any kind of sense of entitlement, it tends to send followers running for the door. 

My generation, “The Middles” have had their retirement plans changed, not really changed, more like ripped from them. The dot.com slaughter and the Great Recession have caused many of my generation to consider when and even if they will retire. 63% now say they will work at least part-time in retirement to replace lost savings. 

That can make a person a bit bitter and a bitter leader is a bad leader. A very bad leader. 

My generation embraced the value of having to sacrifice to get ahead. All that sacrifice makes us very loyal to one another. We’ve seemingly always understood the value of a solid effort and have had no issue with working to earn everything we receive. 

All of this has shaped our values into what they are. I believe “The Middles” are a great generation in their own way. But too many leaders from my generation also believe that “our way” is the only way and that can make it very difficult to lead. 

Authentic Servant Leaders to not apply their values and their value system to those they lead. To be an effective leader in 2014 you must lead people according to their value system, not yours. 

Leading others according to their values is not a sign of weakness on the part of the leader, it is a sign of caring and intelligence. 

Let’s say that you have a team member, someone you lead, from the “Changers” or “Kids” generation, and their work hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm. Each day you watch them turn off their lights and pack-up to head home at 5:00pm. Their work for the day is done, no big projects due or deadlines approaching but you question their loyalty and work ethic anyway. 

Your question doesn’t stem from their lack of performance, it stems from you applying your values to them. Remember, for us “middles” “work” is a place to go, for “Changers” and “Kids” it is something they do. 

The “problem” here really lays with the leader, not the follower. 

Authentic Servant Leaders seek first to understand and know their people. They know they can’t truly lead a person until they know the person they are leading. 

On another note, to my fellow “Middles,” maybe we can learn something from the “Changers” and “Kids,” go home and see what you’re missing. These youngsters just might be on to something. We’ll find out in the next post of this series!