Millennials—the largest generation in today’s workforce—are moving into management and are starting to create shifts in corporate culture and leadership styles.
There’s a generational shift taking hold in the workplace. Now that Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, they are making the natural progression into management roles. The result: their much-debated and analyzed attitudes and approaches to work have begun to reshape the workplace.
As Millennials move up the organization chart, companies in virtually every sector are seeing changes in corporate culture, along with new approaches to processes and procedures.
In addition to the increased number of Millennials in the workplace, there is another emerging workplace trend: according to the Washington Post citing Social Security Administration data, Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of approximately 10,000 every day. As the generation that has had a decades-long hold on the “C Suite,” their declining numbers mean Boomers are making room for the next generation of managers—the Millennials. And the two generations could not be more different in their approaches to management.
For many Boomers, the terms “management and leadership” were synonymous with “command and control.” The better they followed rules and policies, the shorter their route to the top of the organization chart.
Millennials tend to take a very different approach. Leadership coach Sonia McDonald identifies the traits of Millennial leaders and says “…for Millennials, their unique leadership style leans toward a socially focused management style.”
McDonald identifies six traits of the “Millennial Manager”:
- Inspirational – inspiring their teams to think out of the box to find unique solutions
- Strategic thinking – always planning beyond the current project
- Interpersonal skills – open lines of dialogue and idea flow
- Vision – a strong focus on the long term and uncovered possibilities
- Passion – succeeding in their positions not because the money is good, but because they truly love their field
- Decisiveness – acting without hesitation
In a previous MB Insights article, read tips for companies aiming to engage Millennials—from recruitment to retention.
While most Millennials are confident their “soft skills” will put them on a direct route to positions of greater authority, they are less confident in their grasp of some important assets, including industry knowledge and technical expertise. And they want help, but aren’t getting it. In a survey by Workplace Trends, an HR consulting firm, more than half of 400+ Millennials surveyed say they aren’t satisfied with leadership development opportunities offered by their companies. CIO Magazine research adds that Millennials “…aren’t getting enough overall leadership training to make a noticeable impact on their careers. Only 38 percent of respondents received between one and 10 hours of training in the last year.” And less than half rated that training as excellent.
For companies aiming to offer Millennials the training they’re in search of, leadership consultant Paul DePalma points out mistakes to avoid: Offering limited content, not explaining how the training is relevant, failure to coach, leaving out a digital component and providing little feedback. “In order for training to have an impact, it has to be tied to relevance and practicality. Millennials want to know how it’s going to impact them and their career and also, altruistically, society in general,” advised DePalma in an interview with Forbes.
Mentoring Can Make a Difference
A Deloitte Millennial Survey provides other hints on successfully preparing Millennials for leadership. They found that while 63 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with their companies’ efforts, the study also pointed out that those who stay with their organizations for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%).
Even proven tactics such as mentoring are being reshaped by Millennials. In another study, the Hartford Millennial Leadership Survey points to inventive approaches such as micro mentoring (providing informal coaching via social media) or group mentoring (leveraging multiple experts and multiple learners in a group setting).
“Reverse Mentoring” is another example. For senior executives who may see the rapid-fire pace of technology advances or the role of social media as potential roadblocks, many now turn to Millennials as mentors and coaches. As Kaytie Zimmerman, a Forbes contributor, points out, “This trend has a double-sided benefit. Executives are able to stay on the pulse of trends that are most important to the elusive Millennial, while the younger participant feels more connected and invested because they are contributing to the improvement of their company at the highest level.”
When the Boss is Younger
The variety and number of industries whose leaders are at the young end of the workforce is growing. Once the stereotype of Silicon Valley, the trend now applies across the country in many service industries and in manufacturing.
Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and coauthor of Managing the Older Worker, offers tips for senior staffers on developing a solid working relationship with a younger manager.
- “Don’t assume he is going to be a bad boss just because he’s younger.” But don’t dismiss your feelings, either. Talk to friends and colleagues who’ve been through something similar.
- “Buy into stereotypes at your peril.” Cappelli’s research shows no real character differences between the generations. Instead, focus on what you have in common.
- “Don’t lecture.” Instead, be concrete and matter-of-fact when you share information and the experience that gives you credibility.
The talent pool that will drive companies in virtually every industry is poised for significant generational shifts. Adapting to current and coming generations, and accommodating the specific styles and needs of each, requires both understanding and a willingness to be nimble. But when there is collaboration between Boomers and Millennials, and when the assets of each are fully leveraged, the prospects for success take on new dimensions.