May 152011


Leadership: Posted on 05.12.11, Ira Woods, executive Producer, – “thanks to for permission to reprint this article”.

Hearing a common theme come up in conversations with her clients, Judith Lindenberger, President of the Lindenberger Group, LLC, a company that provides talent management consulting, conducted a survey to better understand Millennials in the workplace.  As the Baby Boomers are retiring from leadership and management positions, the need for qualified replacements is escalating.  The Millennials are currently the youngest group in the workforce and are just now starting to take on management roles and creating new businesses. I was interested to learn about Lindenberger’s work and conducted the following interview.

————————————————————————————  Can you tell us a little about the survey you did on Millennials?

JL:  We interviewed a number of Millennials and their managers by conducting face to face and telephone interviews that took about twenty minutes each. The people that we interviewed were from a number of different organizations and industries, mostly Fortune 500 companies but some were from smaller companies as well.  Our survey spanned different industries including the drug industry, engineering, biotechnology and financial services.  What prompted you to do this survey?

JL:  I’ve been doing training and development, coaching and human resources for the last 20 years. Not too long ago, one of my colleagues and I were talking about the kinds of issues that we’d been hearing from our clients and discovered that we had similar issues come up in our leadership development training and coaching.  We found that a lot of our clients are struggling with how to integrate our newest generation into the workplace. This conversation prompted the two of us to start working on the idea of finding out what was happening with Millennials and their managers in the workplace.  In addition, I happened to have a Millennial intern working with me who became really excited about the project. And so, the three of us, because we saw a need and were all very personally interested in the topic, started developing a set of questions, identifying people that we could interview and looked at how we could help our clients in the process.  I’ve heard the word Millennial defined in a number of ways so I’m curious to know how you define it.

JL:  The number one thing is the age. Millennials are typically born between the years of 1977 – 1997.  Also in the workplace are “Generation X’ers” who were born between 1965 – 1976,  Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 – 1964 and then the “Traditionalists” born between 1900 -1945.  The Millennials  are the youngest generation to enter the workplace.  This is a generation that encountered some very unique life and world events as they were growing up.  They grew up with laptops, digital media, school shootings, terrorist attacks, AIDS, and the Exxon Valdez spill.  Many Millennials were children of divorced parents and they were one of the first generation of children to have a schedule (the child being given a schedule of activites to do). What are the general distinguishing characteristics that resulted from these experiences?

JL: There are a number of things that we found from our research. In terms of careers, what differentiates the Millennials  is that they  believe that they can pursue more than one line of work, which corresponds to other research that I’ve read. So rather than thinking they have to have the same career throughout their lives or pursuing career security or trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up, Millennials believe that they can have more than one line of work.

Some other things that we found are that Millennials grew up in a world in which most everyone got an award for playing sports. As children, gold stars were handed out freely. Consequently, Millennials want frequent feedback and want to know how they are doing. Millennials grew up with Baby Boomer parents, many who are self-professed workaholics. To their credit Millennials are saying “We don’t want a life that’s going to be one in which we continuously work.” They want more time for other things in their lives and are looking for more flexibility in the workplace.

Millennials watch much less television than older generations. They read fewer newspapers. They use cell phones more and text more than older generations. They tend to be more comfortable with people marrying different races than older generations. Many more of them have a tattoo or a piercing than other generations. So those are some of the internal and external things about them.  But one of the big highlights is that they are very technologically savvy.

They have a lot of gifts that they can bring to the workplace. They can multi-task. They can Google, email and write a report at the same time; they can comfortably find information through the Internet. They are very interested in coaching and mentoring. They want to learn and get ahead. Those are some of the things that we found that are similar to research that others have found as well. In your interviews were any of the Millennials you spoke to from countries other than the United States?

JL: Yes.  There were a number of people that we interviewed who comprised our survey who were from other countries and working here in the United States, including some of the managers.  Did you find that the Millennials from other countries fit the same profile as those from the United States?

JL:  That’s a very interesting question but we didn’t get enough data for me to give a good answer. That would be very interesting to follow up on.  So what do you see that the Millennials are bringing to the table as their presence is increasing in the workforce?

JL:  A lot of self-confidence. They are bringing a desire to make an immediate impact in the workplace, the ability to multi-task and an affinity for social networking.  They are very comfortable with interacting with people from all over the world since they are just a Skype call or email away. They are much more global in their perspective of the world and see the world being much bigger than their neighborhood or their country.

Millennials have a real desire to learn and grow, which is a good thing because as the Baby Boomers and others are retiring from the workplace there will be a need for Millennials to take over leadership positions perhaps more quickly than any other generation before them.  There’s a perfect marriage between the Millennial’s desire to make an immediate contribution, to be leaders, and to learn and grow in their organizations and the need for them to quickly take over some of the leadership roles. So what this means is that within organizations mentoring programs, coaching and development is really going to be helpful for growth and sustaining leadership.  Let’s take that thought a little further. As Millennials move into management and leadership positions, how do you think they are going to shape those areas?

JL:  If I had to predict based on what I’ve now learned, I think that there will be a real emphasis on asking everyone for their opinions as opposed to “it’s my way or the highway”.  There will be a lot of respect for different points of view and different opinions. There will be greater teamwork, a lot of creativity and a lot of having fun as well as working hard. So I think those are some of the things that we’ll see.  In your research were you able to get some insight for how companies are responding to Millennials coming into the workforce?

JL:  I think they are confused. A lot of the managers that we spoke to are seeing that Millennials have a lot of enthusiasm and are very motivated but we heard some frustrations and challenges as well.

I’ll share with you a couple of quotes that will highlight some of the really interesting things we heard. One quote is, “They are highly ambitious, but they have short term goals. They want to reach management quickly and they need to be managed very carefully with career paths that keep them in companies.”  Another person that we spoke to said, “They need to understand company policies and work within them as opposed to making up their own rules.” And a third sample comment was that “They are distracted by technologies and social media.” So there’s a lot of stress that we’re hearing and some frustrations in terms of how do to deal with this new generation and make it work.  So, based on your research, if you had a group of Millennials that you were training and preparing for management positions how would you approach it?

JL:  I think there are a lot of great ways to approach doing that.  One idea might be to give them a case study scenario with a typical issue that they might encounter, and then have them work in a group to come up with their approach.  Have them discuss how not to get in trouble and successfully sail through the company.  I think it’s also very important to provide Millennials someone that they can talk to at a moment’s notice. Having a mentor or a coach within the organization would be really helpful. Millennials are not interested in sitting all day long in a training class -nor are other generations so much anymore. Offering chunks of learning that are specific to what they need to learn and do, so they can take it and immediately move on, such as learning through webinars, would be very helpful.  What was an area that you found really interesting and unexpected from your survey?

JL:  Something that really struck me was how many Millennials are interested in working for an employer whose corporate ethics match their own.  This attitude that, “I want to work for a company that has the same kinds of values that I do.” Or,  “I would like to work in a company helps the world and has green technologies”,  I find personally thrilling. It’s a very nice surprise for me to hear and see that in our newest generation.

One other thing stood out for me as well. There is a book called the “The 2020 Workplace”  written by Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd in which they reported that the top three things that Millennials want from their bosses are: straight feedback, coaching and mentoring, and personal development.  This is something we heard over and over again in talking with Millennials. They want to hear the truth from their bosses, they want feedback and they want it right away.

I’ve been doing this kind of work – leadership development – for the last 20 years and I find it’s often very difficult for managers to give straight, honest feedback. I think that this is going to be something that some companies are going to struggle with because it is intrinsically hard for managers to tell someone the truth if they are not doing well. I think that is going to be required more and more. With the Millennials we are going to have to move more quickly, give people specific and honest feedback and let them know how they are doing to bring out the best in them.

Judith Lindenberger is the president of The Lindenberger Group an award-winning human resources consulting firm located near Princeton, NJ. The Lindenberger Group is made up of experts in career coaching, customized training workshops, e-learning, sexual harassment, mentoring, 360-degree assessment and feedback, HR audits, employee handbooks, and more.   Bio


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