Managing Your Millennials … and Beyond

By Robin Barbacane

The topic of managing “Millennials” in the workplace is at the top of most CEOs’ list of things to better understand and leverage. It’s being discussed in almost every organization right now, and the smart companies are beginning to realize that, when it comes to the youngest generation of professionals, the traditional ways of managing and communicating may need to change.

Simply put, the traditional hierarchy and management style does not work with Millennials. I’ve had clients say to me that they don’t have time for this “touchy, feely stuff.” Fair enough. But, I would argue that failing to tap into and properly manage your Millennials will become a detrimental oversight and could have devastating effects on your long-term business strategy.

Defining the Millennial Generation

Before discussing HOW to manage Millennials ( … and beyond), let’s explore WHO they are and the world that has shaped them.

Millennials are employees born between 1980 and the year 2000; some define it as 1981 thru 1999, but, regardless, the individuals you’re trying to better understand are your “20- to 30-somethings.” They grew up with structure and doting parents focused on:

  • Shaping self esteem,
  • Learning that working together is better than working individually, and
  • Diversity is not a corporate buzzword … it’s a way of life.

Millennials want to work with people from different backgrounds and different ways of thinking. They were told by parents, teachers and coaches that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. They are opinionated, they are comfortable in their own skin, they are confident, AND what makes them even MORE unique is that they are the FIRST generation to grow up with technology as a way of life. They are the “always-on” generation … connected at all times!

Honesty and Communication: Managing the Millennials …

Everyone sees that this new generation of workers is different. Some see this as a liability; some see it as a challenge. I suggest that you see them as an asset and spend time understanding how they can provide opportunity for you and your organization to transform! Obviously, they have A LOT to learn from you, but if you also realize that YOU can learn a lot from THEM, things will start to become much clearer. Find out who they really are, what they’re looking for and learn how to maximize their workforce potential.

Many of you have “grown up” in your professional lives managing according to the “Golden Rule: Treat others as you’d want to be treated.” That’s the first thing that needs to change. Begin managing according to the “Platinum Rule: Treat Millennials the way THEY want to be treated.” That’s it! That’s the answer. I’ve handed you the secret decoder ring! (You’re welcome!)

Seriously, though … treat this emerging workforce the way that THEY want to be treated. They want to provide input, they want to understand the bigger picture, they want a clear line of sight to understand where their career can progress, and they want FEEDBACK — and lots of it. On a regular basis … sometimes DAILY! They want to be challenged; provide them with a variety of tasks. They don’t like to be bored. Remember, they’ve been told their whole lives they can accomplish anything they put their minds to … and they CAN!

Simply put, Millennials need to be managed differently. They don’t respond to the traditional management style and they DO NOT like to be micromanaged. You’ll get the best results when the management style is more cooperative, casual, flat, and focused on results. Assign them a task, tell them when it’s due, be available to answer questions — and get out of their way.

You might argue that this style is good for managing any professional. True enough, but the point is, any other style may not work with Millennials and other upcoming generations. Additionally, with the added twist of technology and the fact that they seek a true “work/life balance,” you may find that many of them do best when given a laptop, cell phone, Internet connection, and the ability to work remotely. They like casual, flexible, team-oriented environments. They work well individually, but prefer working in collaborative, team-based environments and seek both individual and team-based recognition.

This is the generation of kids that grew up playing sports without a score, where everyone got a trophy and the focus wasn’t on whether you win or lose, but HOW you play the game! Think about that. Now, I know some of you uber-competitive types are out there grumbling under your breath, but think about that. This is who works for you! They want structure, leadership and guidance, feedback or coaching, communication, authenticity, and the ability to be part of the team. They seek to be challenged, they are self-motivated and have a drive to be successful — and they DO NOT like boredom.

Communication is a crucial element of managing Millennials. I’m talking about AUTHENTIC communication. That’s important to explore further. Many companies say they are “transparent.” But are they really? In my experience, companies that say they’re transparent never truly are. They’re kind of … opaque, maybe. But it isn’t as sexy for a CEO to stand on stage and say, “We are OPAQUE! We let you see only what we want you to see.” That may not sound as good, but it’s true. Companies in many circumstances simply CANNOT be transparent. By saying it, then, they’re just setting themselves up. Especially with this group of employees, it’s much better to be honest.

Be careful with what you say to this generation. If you say, “We have an open door policy; you can come talk to the CEO any time you want,” you should realize that you’ll soon have a line of people coming to talk to you. Which I believe is a good thing, but you have to be ready for it. Because as much as Millennials SEEK feedback, they’re also prepared to GIVE feedback. Will be professionally delivered? I know from my own experience that it’ll be raw, unfiltered, and extremely to the point!

For example, if you invite a group of Millennials to a “CEO Forum,” or “breakfast with the executive team” in an effort to “open up the lines of communication,” and you ask them to submit their questions beforehand or their direct manager meets with them to coach them on what not to say … you’ve lost them. That flies in the face of the message, “We are transparent.”

So watch what you say to this group of employees, and choose your words carefully — they will hold you to them. You have to be honest. An honest message that delivers bad news is actually better than a corporate spin message telling them the stinky fish is yummy sushi.

… and Beyond

Remember, Millennials are the most connected generation in history and they will “tweet” and “LinkedIn” their way right out of their current workplace in a nanosecond if their needs are not met. Along the way, the collateral damage is risk to your company’s reputation and ability to attract, retain and develop future workers … the Millennials, as well as Generations X and Y.

Here’s the good news: We haven’t been invaded by aliens. In fact, we’re actually in a very exciting time for business in this country! Times are changing. We have to learn to adjust and adapt. And our talent pools are changing. Business leaders that understand and see this as an opportunity will ride out a wave of continued prosperity, and maybe even learn a thing or two along the way! And those that resist the change are in for a bumpy ride.

Robin Barbacane is the president at BlueHawk Associates and a SHRM Certified human resources executive with more than 20 years of hands-on experience in HR. You can e-mail Robin at
Originally published: Nov 7, 2011

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