How Will Millennials Manage?
Gen Yers or "millennials"—those born beginning in the late 1970s—are generally bright, cheery, seemingly well-adjusted, and cooperative, says Jim Heskett. Their work styles are sometimes confounding, though. As managers, how will they shape organizations of the future? Online forum now closed.
Are we approaching a "millennial watershed" in management? The next generation of managers, comprising many "millennials," will be more adept at managing in a changing, global, and networked environment. They will do it with a greater emphasis on teamwork, facility for the use of technology, and sensitivity to needs for work/life balance. This is the predominant collective response from many who responded to this month's topic, "How Will Millennials Manage?" It may be at odds with Michael Norman's observation that "every generation in America seems to look at its successor as beneath their own."
There were a number of suggestions about how millennials might manage differently from their predecessors. For example, Bette Price said, "… this group will be fine managers … we may see more managers/leaders who truly do care about others, thus invigorate their teams and provide cultures that are profitable not because they are forced to, but because they want to." David Mullings added, "We will in fact treat our employees the way we expect to be treated." Phil Clark said, "This generation will not put up with talk and no action." In Diomande Yantoulaye's opinion, "As managers, millennials strongly diffuse responsibility/accountability at individual levels in their organizations … their willingness to continuously acquire knowledge makes them capable people for shaping organizations in turbulent time(s)." August Ray said, "They will work long and hard, provided they care." Phil Dourado suggests that they will reward their subordinates for changing things rather than maintaining the status quo.
At the same time, there were others who find the entire subject overblown. For example, Alice Richmond commented, "Take the label away, and you won't find the trend." Kevin Brady added, "I find such broad generalizations hard to believe." As Susan RoAne put it, "Gen Y and the Millennials will manage to manage just as those who went before them." Pointing out that millennials will come to appreciate their predecessors over time, Fred Olande commented, " … life is just a circle and we all transit from one level to another …." And there were some worries as well. Mike Flanagan fears that because of the emergence of means of communication such as email, among others, that "the new disinterested treatment of our fellow man will be the norm, not the exception."
Just how millennials realize their full potential as managers was a matter of discussion. According to Mou Sengupta, "It is the job of … mentors in terms of how they prepare their leaders for the coming years."
Generational differences related to the development of millennials comprise, according to Muder Chiba, "a global phenomenon." Amy Lynch concurred, saying, "When I talk with recruiters for international firms, they say a lot about how similar Gen Y is around the world." As Siva Subramaniam put it, "The millennials will become to the whole world what the baby boomers (were) to America … but in a more sustainable, emancipating, and humanizing way."
Will all of this happen faster than in the past, given the pace of change and the capabilities combined with the impatience of millennials to which some respondents referred? As one of them, Jesse Shephard, put it, "Will we be great leaders? I can't wait to find out. Can you?" Are we, as Colin Morgan suggested, talking about a generation "somewhat on the hinge"? Are we about to enter a "millennial watershed" in management? And can millennials live up to the high expectations that many of us have for them as managers? What do you think?
Nothing seems to set off managers I talk with more than the topic of managing Gen Yers, otherwise known as "millennials," those born beginning in the late 1970s. Here's what they tell me:
They are generally bright, cheery, seemingly well-adjusted, and cooperative. They'll pull an "all-nighter" for a good reason, but they won't let that kind of thing intrude regularly on their personal lives. Their work styles are sometimes confounding. They need to work in a social environment, often one that would appear to some of us as chaotic. This means, however, that they are very good at working in teams. They are good at multi-tasking, understand how to employ technology productively, and as a result can often produce good work at what appears to be the last minute. They are focused on their own personal development. They want an accelerated path to success, often exaggerate the impact of their own contributions, are not willing "to pay the price," and have little fear of authority. As a result, they are often not a good bet for long-term employment, because they are quite willing to seek other employment (or no employment) rather than remain in a job in which they are not growing. They want their managers to understand their needs and lay out career options. As the authors of a recent book, Managing the Generation Mix, put it, they demand "the immediate gratification of making an immediate impact by doing meaningful work immediately." In short, they are high maintenance, high risk, and often high output employees.
The millennials with whom I work constantly are an exceptional subset of this group. While they exhibit some of the characteristics described above, they are incredibly bright and willing to do what it takes to get something accomplished, global in their outlook, and deeply concerned about social issues. In short, they are challenging and highly stimulating. So I may have an admittedly warped view of the generation.
A great deal has been written about how millennials got that way. Of course, the rise of the Internet has influenced their outlook, behaviors, and skills. Some think it is a product of the affluence of their childhood. Others attribute it to Baby Boomer parents more devoted to their children than those of other generations, with children who regard them as "pals" as well as parents. Some ascribe it to a society in which children are taught to believe that there are no winners or losers. As one friend puts it, "They have a closet full of trophies without ever having won anything." Yet others talk about their having observed the way the rest of us have lived our lives (two jobs, too much time away from home, ironically perhaps to provide for their needs) and vowing that they will not live their lives that way.
There seems to a fixation these days on millennials as employees. But what kind of managers will they make? Given the earlier reflections, one might conclude that they will never make it into the ranks of management. Of course many will.
This raises a number of questions: Will they be as sensitive to the needs of those in their employ as they want their managers to be with them? Will they open up their organizations more widely to global opportunities? Will they create work environments in which jobs fit into personal life styles rather than vice-versa? Will they encourage mobility in their employees? Or will they express the same concerns as those for whom they currently work? What do you think?
To read more:
Carolyn Martin and Bruce Tulgan, Managing the Generation Mix, 2nd Edition (HRD Press, 2006).