In previous blogs, we’ve talked about the relationships between Gen-Xers and millennials. We have also covered what truly motivates and inspires millennials. This week, we’re going to discuss how those concepts apply in a real-world work environment.

If you missed last week’s post, where we talk about why millennials are motivated differently than previous generations, you can read it here. Understanding what millennials prioritize, and what they’re working for, makes an enormous difference when you’re managing them in the workplace.

Quality of life overrides the importance of salary for millennials, every time. A millennial isn’t going to sit in a seat that they don’t care about for twenty years, just so that they can get a paycheck. As a business leader, what this means is that if you need millennials, you need to lead them carefully. This isn’t kidding around; it means stepping up to the plate and out of your comfort zone to really learn what they need. When you can create that environment, and then retain your staff, every employee comes ready to work and wanting to kick ass.

 The secret that nobody wants to talk about is that millennials are probably brighter than we are, and willing to work hard and have a pride in ownership, all the stuff that as leaders, we really want our teams to have. But, it’s up to us to figure out how to adapt our management techniques and how we work with them.

When I owned a social media company, the key employee that I had was right out of college. He worked his tail off. He did a great job. But for him, and for all of my other employees, I had to learn to set expectations, but without putting them in a box in how and why they would achieve those. Yes, that guy I see in the mirror every morning had the biggest impact on those team members. I discovered that if I gave them clear guidelines, yet free rein, and coached them on how to be great, they would work far harder than I would have even asked for.

When I tried to pin them into my idea of a traditional environment, they whined and worked the system. For example, if I told people what to wear, they’d hate it. If they came in looking like an unmade bed and I didn’t say anything, they’d be fine and do their jobs happily and really, really well. If we had to meet with a client face-to-face, I would ask them what they thought, and they always adjusted for the occasion.

I set times for specific meetings, but the rest of the time, their hours were flexible as long as they succeeded in finishing all of their work—if they wanted to go golfing at 2:00 on a Wednesday, they could do that. In other words, I set expectations, but I also empowered them to be great by finding what it was they truly wanted to do, placing them where they felt meaningful and as if they were making a contribution. One day, I realized that as I looked back at my 30 years of work lie, I wish I had been treated the same way. It would have been much more fun. Once I started adopting this approach, I never went more than forty-five minutes with a vacancy, because I always had a long list of people who wanted to work with me, even though we didn’t pay the most in that industry.

Understanding that their motivations are different, even if they don’t seem like the right ones to you, will help you motivate bright, hard-working employees to achieve great results. Especially with millennials, it’s really important to make sure you have the right people in the right seats, now more than ever. When you can, they’ll kick ass and be spectacular.

If you think this article could have value for someone in your network, please share it with them. As always, I’m here to help, first and foremost. Check back next week for more thoughts on managing millennials in our current academic environment.

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