Management Advice from a Challenge-the-Process Millennial
9/16/2014 12:00 AM ,
There’s a lot being said about my generation, the so-called Millennials. We are 80 million strong and make up approximately 24% of the U.S. population. And by 2025? The Brookings Institute indicates that number will be 75%! Add to that, a U.S. Chamber Foundation report that suggests we have the ideas and innovative qualities of successful entrepreneurs, and that with more guidance and encouragement “this entrepreneurial spirit may just run free and do its part in creating more jobs and helping rescue the economy.”
So what does that mean for fellow Millennials like me who are just getting to know the world of work through internships and summer jobs? And what does it mean for those who would employ us?
Several years ago, I was introduced to the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge and The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. One of the Practices I have most identified with as a Millennial is Challenge the Process. It seems to me that young professionals like me thrive on experimenting and taking risks, and taking the initiative every chance we get to find innovative ways to improve how things are done. But I know this doesn’t always sit well with many managers in business today. In fact, a 2014 survey of Millennials by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited highlighted the fact that over half of Millennials feel the organizations they work for don’t encourage outside-the-box thinking and 63% of those Millennials blame management. In their opinions, management’s risk-adverse mentality, reluctance to collaborate with third parties, and over-reliance on existing products kills their creative tendencies.
Perhaps my most recent summer internship with one of the world’s largest retailers can offer some worthwhile lessons to today’s managers on how to keep us Millennials engaged. In addition to benefiting from our drive to Challenge the Process, there also are ways managers can incorporate the other Practices of Kouzes and Posner’s model to bring innovation to the workplace.
From the very first day of orientation, I and my fellow interns were introduced to the theme of our brief work stints: innovate. This company wanted us, with our baby-fresh perspectives and empty slates of work experience, to take in-tact systems that senior-level executives had created and bend them until they broke. That was a heady challenge but in a variety of small yet meaningful ways, we took it on. In particular, my experience introducing Prezi to my team’s weekly meetings shows the importance of constant engagement, mixing work and social life, and honest communication in order to create an innovative environment for Millennials.
My team’s weekly meetings were bland to put it nicely. I had heard it described by coworkers as a “necessary evil” with its cluttered PowerPoint® slides and robotic rhythm. I wanted to take the villainy out of our team time, and two weeks into my internship I was given the opportunity to lead the meeting. After talking with my manager, we decided to add some color to the meeting with an interactive Prezi presentation. Prezi is a service that offers an alternative to PowerPoint with playful themes and easy-to-use movement and features. The process of introducing Prezi appealed to me as a Millennial in these ways:
Constant Engagement: Because Prezi was a tool I was unfamiliar with and had to learn quickly, this project kept me constantly engaged. Plus, my manager assigned a number of other projects that gave me a full but manageable work schedule.
Mixing Work and Social Life: As part of my Prezi presentation, I included a montage of pictures of our team members outside of work. We had had a large shareholders’ meeting the week before, and team members submitted photos from that event and others to be included. This glimpse into our teammates’ personal lives was refreshing. With social media like Facebook and LinkedIn blending work and social lives already, Millennials expect that same blend to occur in the workplace itself. It’s important for some Millennials to feel that their coworkers or managers connect with them on a personal level as much as they do on a professional level. For example, my manager really Encouraged the Heart by telling me about trips with her husband to California and texting me during World Cup matches to vent her frustrations about Team USA’s performance. Millennials feel comfortable and motivated in blended work/social environments and can better produce results if their managers create one.
Honest Communication: Before finalizing my Prezi, I ran it by my manager who provided excellent feedback on how to tailor it specifically to the personalities on our team. She truly Modeled the Way, and I appreciated the constructive criticism. It made me even more effective communicating my point during the presentation.
Many Millennials like me crave honest feedback. It helps us develop as leaders. As a manager, don’t be afraid to be (respectfully) blunt with your young employees in order to get the best ideas out of them. However, positive feedback must be made just as loudly as constructive feedback. Some managers can forget to appreciate employees for accomplishments and focus more on the areas for improvement. This may not work well for Millennials who prefer hearing both the good and bad. An example of positive recognition in my office—and a great example of how to Encourage the Heart—was when my team awarded me the “Everything is Awesome” award. This award, a Lego® trophy with a smiling Lego man on it, recognized my work with Prezi and other projects. I was surprised and grateful to receive the award, and I plan on working even harder to keep a high standard of work.
My presentation went very well, thanks to a great team and a manager who effectively engaged in so many of The Five Practices. I’m even slated to present a Prezi on how to use Prezi so that other team members can use it in the future.
Although a small challenge to the status quo, my Prezi “innovation” has helped our team maintain engagement and increase retention during presentations. I hope to contribute more change in the future by staying constantly engaged, feeling comfortable in a blended work/social atmosphere, and receiving honest feedback.
Millennials are a new challenge for management. But as a manager, if you can remember The Five Practices when working with Millennials you can help create a workforce that can change the future of corporate America for the better.
Category: Success Stories