Managing Millennials: More Magic Than Myth
We’ve all heard the contradictions about working with the “millennial” generation. Those born somewhere around the early 1980s to the early 2000s are tech-savvy, but self-absorbed. They're highly educated, but entitled. They prioritize social causes, but whine about going into the office.
Too often, the conversation has focused on millennials as a disease rather than them being the future. Time Magazine just dedicated a recent cover to this topic calling millennials the “Me Me Me Generation.”
As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve read plenty about millennial remedies that are frankly all over the map. Treat them with kid gloves. Teach them everything via the computer because that’s the only way they learn. Resist their insatiable drive for fast-track advancement. Muzzle their impulse to treat the office as a playground where the line between fun and work is nonexistent.
Most of it is mythology. As the CEO and co-founder of Spiceworks, a software-development company in Austin, Texas, I’ve learned a few things about hiring and working with millennials. Nearly 40 percent of our current workforce is between the ages of 22 and 30 and we estimate that 50 percent to 60 percent of our new hires will be 30 years old and younger. And what we’ve discovered over the past few years is a management approach that strays from conventional “wisdom.”
Even if you're a millennial yourself, knowing how best to work with your younger employees or even your peers will go far toward helping you build a vibrant culture at your startup. Here are some tips I've learned along the way:
Be honest and inclusive. For starters, I really appreciate millennials’ energy, drive and smarts. In many ways, I’ve probably learned as much about successful strategies for managing them as they’ve learned about working for a baby boomer. In my experience, an important path to managing successful outcomes with millennials starts with the way we communicate instructions more so than the instructions themselves.
The bottom line is that millennials excel in a corporate culture where expectations are managed in an open and honest dialogue that emphasizes personal accountability and precisely defined outcomes. They don’t like not knowing the “why” when it comes to making decisions. What’s more, they measure value by how many of their ideas a manager takes into consideration as part of the thought process.
Keep the communication lines open. My doors are always open and employees can walk into my office and ask tough and sometimes uncomfortable questions. And they do. I get all sorts of questions from Spiceworks employees, ranging from the health of the company to its partners, products and market strategy. No topic is off limits, which can make for some interesting afternoons.
Give them responsibility. When it comes to making decisions, I’ve found the top-down approach -- my way or the highway -- is guaranteed to fail with millennials. It’s vital to cultivate buy-in by sharing responsibility. The lever we use is ownership. It creates a kind of aptitude for success one doesn’t find in a top-down decision-making culture.
For me, managing millennials comes down to staying true to basic principles. My playbook starts with the mandate that employees (even interns) understand they must take responsibility for their work and what they deliver.
And it doesn’t hurt to have a little fun. At Spiceworks, we make a point of getting out of the way by not attempting to drive company activities. We let it happen spontaneously with employees, such as organizing a lunchtime kickball match or other kinds of games. And what’s interesting is we see older baby boomer employees enthusiastically embracing the fun culture just as much (if not more) as their younger coworkers.
We strive to keep Spiceworks fun and informal. When you’re walking around the building you’re likely to hear water-cooler discussions that involve bacon, zombies and online gaming. And all of the fun and intensity comes together in the way that crosses over into our customers’ experience and how they find utilities and solutions to an array of vexing IT problems.
Millenials are an important part of our success, and knowing that we, baby boomers and millenials, make our customers’ work-lives better unites all of us -- whether our favorite playlist is the Rolling Stones “Tattoo You” or the latest Spotify EDM mix.
How would you recommend working optimally with millennials? Let us know in the comments section below.