It’s Time to Prime the Millennial Generation for Managerial Success

Article main image
Oct 27, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

New generations entering the workforce may never experience work as we’ve known it.

In fact, some are worried that work itself will soon disappear, leading to a “social transformation” that would overturn the economy and make jobs obsolete.

Workplaces may not be gone yet, but they certainly don’t resemble what we used to know. Employees view wearable devices as an office perk. Nearly a quarter of U.S. workers telecommute. And organizations are transcending borders — more than 34 million employees worldwide work for U.S. multinational companies.

We’re also seeing a change in the makeup of the workplace. The youngest Baby Boomers are in their 50s, and the oldest are retiring at an alarming pace. With 10,000 of them leaving the workforce every day, they’re creating an enormous organizational vacuum.

In the midst of this mass exodus, we have to ask how this trend will affect management.

Priming the next generation for managerial success

For many companies, senior leadership is comprised of loyal, experienced Boomers with a wealth of institutional knowledge and managerial ability. As they enter retirement, Millennials are stepping in to fill this void, with 28 percent already in managerial roles and two-thirds expecting to become leaders by 2024.

Experienced professionals tend to think these young workers aren’t properly equipped to lead, but due to the sheer volume of Millennials in the workforce, they don’t have much choice.

Millennials will soon become the largest living age group, and by 2025, they’ll make up three-quarters of the world’s workforce.

But older generations are undervaluing Millennials’ abilities and contributions. In a recent survey of more than 1,200 multigenerational workers, Millennials scored the lowest in leadership skills, executive presence, strategic vision, and decision-making abilities.

On the bright side, the same professionals who rated Millennials low on leadership qualities gave them high marks for their enthusiasm, tech savvy, adaptability, and entrepreneurship. However, these attributes make great employees, not great managers.

“Millennials are not being adequately prepared for management positions,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Workplace Trends. “Existing managers will have to motivate and work side by side with a generation that is radically different. Companies — and their managers — will have to adjust.”

It’s in every organization’s best interests to rewrite the management handbook to prime Millennials for success.

1. Provide clear communication guidelines

Millennials have grown up with more communication tools than any other generation in the workforce. As a result, they favor frequent feedback and transparent communication.

However, with so many tools at their fingertips, they may not deliver high-stakes messages through an appropriate medium. Imagine getting fired via email or receiving a performance review over Slack. If this sounds outlandish, remember AOL CEO Tim Armstrong once fired an employee on a conference call in front of 1,000 employees.

To avoid morale-crushing faux pas, establish clear guidelines about how certain types of news should be delivered and what appropriate communication looks like.

2. Make unwritten rules explicit

Census data shows that Millennials aren’t job-hopping any more than previous generations did, but young people seem especially eager to change jobs frequently and climb the corporate ladder. With that in mind, most Millennials haven’t had much time to immerse themselves in a company’s culture and absorb its unique approach to leadership.

Every organization has unwritten rules for getting things done, but the companies with the best leaders explicitly define their approach and include cultural assimilation in their managerial onboarding.

For instance, when Toyota expanded overseas, it struggled to translate its management philosophy to non-Japanese leaders. To avoid diluting its values, Toyota created an institute to teach its management philosophy. Its “Toyota Way” manual highlights some of the principles Toyota teaches all its leaders, such as the Japanese ethos of “mutual ownership of problems” and the idea that “right processes will produce right results.”

To ensure the organization’s culture is passed on, write down the company’s management philosophy, and make it required reading for every new leader.

3. Teach Millennials how to build real-world relationships

Because Millennials are so collaborative, there’s a common misconception that they’re natural-born networkers.

However, only 13 percent of professionals feel like Millennials are good relationship builders. Growing up in the digital age means many lack the confidence to pick up the phone, and employers often complain that Millennials are awkward or informal in their face-to-face interactions.

Millennial managers need guidance on face-to-face communication and forming real-world relationships — both externally and internally. Teach them to ask questions such as:

  • “Who else is impacted?”
  • Who else might need to know?” and,
  • Who else might have valuable input here?”

Companies are finding that it’s do-or-die when it comes to adjusting to the shifting workplace. With Boomers on their way out and a tidal wave of 18- to 34-year-olds entering the workforce, Millennial managers are an inevitability we need to embrace.

Rather than fight the takeover, be proactive in rewriting the management handbook to cultivate the crucial skills young managers need to lead effectively.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.