My company, RainmakerThinking, has been tracking the great millennial cohort (1978-2000) since the late 1990s, and in recent years we’ve been highly focused on the second-wave millennials (born 1990-2000) who are now entering the workforce in waves. Our research shows: Millennials are NOT a bunch of delicate, lazy, disrespectful, inappropriate slackers with short attention spans.

Millennials want leaders who take them seriously at work and set them up for success in the real world, not leaders who try to humor them. They want strong, highly-engaged managers who establish clear structure and boundaries and provide regular guidance, direction, support and coaching. Millennials need clear expectations, and they need to understand the quid-pro-quo of work every step of the way.

Yes, of course, millennials want more money, more flexibility, more training, more interesting projects and more exposure to decision-makers. But they don’t expect any of it on a silver platter. They want to know, every step of the way, “Exactly what do I need to do to earn that?!”

How can managers prepare for the highly-engaged leadership and coaching necessary for such dynamic management relationships?

These are some of the keys we teach leaders and managers every day:

Give Millennials the Gift of Context

Giving millennials the gift of context means explaining that no matter who that millennial may be, what he wants to achieve, or how he wants to behave, his role in any situation is determined in large part by factors that have nothing to do with him. There are preexisting, independent factors that would be present even if he were not, and they determine the context of any situation. Sometimes it is difficult for millennials in particular to be sensitive to more subtle contexts, particularly when they walk into new situations. Understanding context is about understanding where one fits in the larger picture.

We teach millennials to use a simple brainstorming tool in order to situate themselves in a new context, and you can use it to teach your millennials. We tell them that before they can figure out where they fit in an organization, they need to get a handle on the other pieces of the puzzle. We ask them to think and respond to the following questions:

  • Where am I? What is this place?
  • What is going on here? What is the mission of the group?
  • Why is everybody here? What is at stake for the group and for each person in the group?
  • When did they all get here?
  • Who are all these people? What role does each person play?
  • How are they accustomed to doing things around here? What is standard operating procedure?
  • Why am I here?
  • What is at stake for me?
  • When did I get here?
  • What is my appropriate role in relation to the other people in the group?
  • What is my appropriate role in relation to the mission? Who am I in this context?

Teach Millennials How to Manage Themselves

Millennials are often amazingly advanced in their knowledge and skills at a very young age, yet they often lack maturity when it comes to the old-fashioned basics of professionalism, critical thinking, and followership. So, teach them to fill those gaps:

  • Teach them professionalism: The basics of rigorous self-evaluation, personal responsibility, good work habits, good attitude, and interpersonal skills.
  • Teach them critical thinking: The basics of deep-dive proactive learning (instead of reactive), problem-solving, and decision-making.
  • Teach them followership: The basics of being a good citizen, adopting a service mindset, and practicing good teamwork.

Establish a Regular Routine for One-on-One Meetings

One of the most effective ways to help your young employees (and employees of any age) is to schedule regular discussions with each of them about their work. At first, err on the side of meeting more often with each person—every day, every other day, or once a week.

Like everything else, this dynamic process will change over time, and your approach will have to change with each young employee you meet with regularly. For each of your employees, you’ll have to figure out how often to meet, how much time to spend at each meeting, what format to use and what topics to cover. And remember: you’ll have to make adjustments over time. If things are not going well with a particular millennial, maybe you’ll have to meet longer and more often. And if things are going really well with a millennial, maybe you only need to meet twice a week. No matter how well things seem to be going, you still need to verify that things are indeed going as well as you think. If they are, make sure that millennial knows just how many points she is scoring today.

Never forget that your one-on-ones are your primary method for keeping the lines of communication open. Keep your expectations on the table, and make sure you are showing them exactly how to meet and exceed your expectations. And keep asking, “What do you need from me?”

Establish Clear Boundaries and Structure

Whenever you have a new task, responsibility, or project for one of your very capable young employees, always start by spelling out expectations. Make absolutely sure that person understands exactly what he is expected to do and how he is expected to do it. That’s the only way to get employees to adopt your organization’s best practices and turn them into standard operating procedures. As long as the assignment lasts, you should follow up regularly with one-on-one check-in conversations to review the employee’s progress. In those conversations, you should ask, “What have you already done? What steps did you follow? What step are you going to do next?” Listen carefully to their answers. Make it a habit to wrap up these conversations by deciding on a specific place and time for your next meeting to follow up.