Communication, HR Management, Strategic HR

To Solve Millennial Misconceptions, Work Together at All Levels of the Organization

by Jayne Mattson, Senior Vice President of Keystone Associates

There is so much written about Millennials and their supposed character traits: a sense of entitlement (e.g., expecting a promotion without “paying their dues”), a questionable work ethic (e.g., coming in late and leaving early), and a lack of loyalty (i.e., being job hoppers).  Not all organizations are actually having these experiences with Millennial employees. However, I suspect that some hiring managers have a misconception about Millennials based on what they are reading versus actually experiencing it for themselves.

Organizations know there are challenges and misconceptions working with the Millennial generation. They have been advised to find out what motivates them, maximize their strengths, match them with a mentor, give them constant feedback etc.

Why wait until there is a problem before implementing programs, processes, and practices to help retain and engage employees? Organizations need to find a balance of being “proactive versus reactive.”  They should also embrace the challenges of working with Millennials as an opportunity to learn how they think, what they want from a manager, and what really does motivate them as individuals, not as a generalization.

First Action Step:  Get Commitment Starting at The Top!

Companies need to eliminate any preconceived notions about younger workers and learn from experiences to find a “common ground” for success.  All levels of the organization need to be involved in finding a solution. Are the leaders of the organization such as the CEO, President, and senior leaders of HR aware there is a problem and how it has affected the business? Is the right business language being used when communicating to upper management on whether the company is losing revenue, talent, customers, goodwill, or market share? And if so, to what extent and are they coming up with solutions?

Create a role (can be committee driven) within the organization with Millennial in the title i.e.; Millennial Spokesperson, to show the company supports the careers of new employees.

Second Action Step: Define Company Culture

Organizations need to ask themselves, have defined what they want the company culture to be?  Will it support Millennials being successful?

Organizations must ask when was the last time they assessed their own culture of values, work norms, beliefs, and—most importantly—behaviors that support the values. They must ask, at each level of the organization, “How would you define our company’s culture”? And they should provide specific examples that demonstrate the values.  From there, organizations can identify what consistent questions managers need to ask new employees during the interview process to help them determine cultural fit. They should also do the following:

  • Assess existing culture to determine if all generations will succeed. What is and is not working, and why? Find the common ground with Millennials to help develop a solution to the problems.
  • From the results of the assessment, develop a consistent set of one to three questions for HR and managers everyone asks each new potential hire.
  • Ask for specific examples where the person was successful and share similarities.

Since “how would you define the company culture” is a very common question interviewees ask during the interview, having common language and specific examples will help Millennials determine if the culture will be a fit where they can be successful.  There could be a mismatch of employee and cultural fit if the right questions aren’t being asked.

Third Action Step: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Millennials want to be heard and feel like they are part of the organization.  Organizations should show genuine interest in what people are doing; provide positive feedback and constructive feedback, e.g., “Would you be willing to hear a different way of approaching the situation”? “I really liked how you …. .” “Have you thought of looking at it this way”?

If Millennials are hearing from Baby Boomers, “this is the way we do it”, “that won’t work, we’ve tried it before,” and/or “when I was your age” it could demotivate them and shut down open communication.

Baby Boomers need to acknowledge the conditions of life were very different than they are today, so what worked years ago, does not necessarily work today.

Fourth Action Step: Shift The Focus to Them!

Millennials want to meet with their managers on a routine basis to set the stage for continued success. Organizations should set up mutual expectations, so when something goes off track, they have something to go back to for support. Too often the focus is on what is not working, versus what is working well. Setting up forums, town hall meetings, and providing ways to share stories of success via newsletters are all great ways to create an environment of support and recognitions.

It’s important to get ahead of the challenges and demonstrate to Millennials they are an integral part of the company being successful.  This also includes implementing a corporate wide “sacred cow” onboarding process that brings new employees up to speed with role responsibilities, company processes and practices, and connects them to a point person who will take them for coffee, lunch, and to meet other employees.

Fifth Action Step: Celebrate Your Success!

Find ways to celebrate when Millennials play an important part in the success of a project, initiative, cost saving, or idea. Since they were part of the perceived problem, make them part of the solution as well.

Jayne Mattson is Senior Vice President of Keystone Associates and site lead for the Southborough, MA office. In her role at Keystone, Jayne consults with professionals and executives from a diverse range of industries, functions, and organizational levels, and specializes in mid-career change, preretirement planning, and career self-assessment.