How to Lead Millennials, the Future Leaders of Industry

March 26, 2018
Like it or not, the millennial generation is large and someday will be in charge. And you have to prepare them. Here are some answers to the questions you're probably asking yourself and staff.

What the heck is the problem with kids today? That’s the question Baby Boomers would like to know about millennials, the generation set to outnumber them next year. And it’s thinking like this that may be part of the problem. Millennials aren’t kids anymore, all grown up and entrenched in every aspect of your business. They want respect and responsibility, as well as more time off and job satisfaction. How do you lead a group like this?  Why are they always texting? Can you even generalize 71 million people?

Our recent webinar Millennials Will Inherit the Earth — How to Master the Multigenerational Workforce, hosted by Salesforce, tackled a lot of the uncertainty and challenged several stereotypes, but one hour is not enough time to answer all the question on the hot button issue.  Presenter, Brent Robertson, a partner at Fathom, gathered the webinar’s remaining queries and answers them below.

Q: How did you define the generations, what sources? 

A: The Pew Research Center, which defines millennials as anyone between the ages of 20 to 35 in 2016, and Baby Boomers as ages 52 to 70 over the same period.

Q: Do you think the millennial generation will think that tenure matters when they actually have some?

A: I’d imagine, as with all of us, once we have something, we tend to become afraid of losing it.

Q: Feedback I received from millennials was I gave them too much responsibility. Any suggestions?

A: Some things to make sure is clear for anyone you are working with is:

No. 1: Objectives are clear for everyone
No. 2: There are explicit accountabilities agreed to
No. 3: There is trust that there is a “sponsor” who will be there to provide guidance and resources to the team as needed (a place to ask for help)

Q: What about a common understanding and value for loyalty, experience, commitment? I see both sides but wonder how we get millennials to meet in the middle?

A: I have found that if you lay out a clear plan, for how you get from this role to the next level of advancement, and have loyalty, experience and commitment be part of that plan, it helps a lot. But you need to be specific, not just say experience for example, lay out what do you mean by experience. What does the person need to do to get it, how will you measure that they have it. Then if so, make sure you follow through with the advancement as promised.

Q: What are your thoughts on how to be sure what I am saying and what they are actually hearing are in sync? What specific questions should I be asking to be sure?

A: It’s not enough to present an assignment and assume everyone understood what you meant. Try presenting an assignment, then having the team respond to you with a written brief that outlines the intention, objectives, deliverables, etc, as they understand them. Then you can review with them to see if they understood. As a bonus, with this brief, now you have something to reference as you work with this team.

Q: Do you think this is a global perspective on millennials or USA based facts mostly?

A: This presentation was absolutely focused on experiences of businesses in the US. However, in my travels around the globe, they tend to hold up more often than not when it comes to countries with advanced economies and technology.

Q: Is this guidance bi-directional when the millennials are THE leaders and managers in the organization?  Would you offer any other thoughts?

A: I think this guidance (or the core message here) is useful no matter what generation, or if you are in a position of authority now, or will be in the future.

Q: I'm technically part of the millennial generation, but on the earlier side, and I don't feel like I fit in either generation. I think this is a common experience, but I think those born in the early ’80s millennials don't really fit the definition and don't understand the early ’90s millenials.

A: Exactly the point, and why these labels don’t hold up (if we associate attributes to them) and why we need to get past them and focus on the person as an individual capable of contributing in all kinds of ways.

Q: Is face-to-face communication dead? How can that be developed?

A: Boy I hope not! What is dead is wasting time in face-to-face meetings doing things that could be done online. (Like presentations, videos, etc.)

Q: I manage an aging manufacturing workforce and would love to bring on younger employees. Just having a challenge attracting them especially for the manufacturing positions? What first steps would you take?

A: Best place to start is to examine what kind of experience will an employee have with your company. What about that experience is remarkable, what isn’t. What opportunities will a person have with your company. Once you get a handle on the reality of this, use that as your way of attracting talent. If it doesn’t work, best to improve the experience, and try again.

Q: I'm a millennial working for the federal government which is extremely structured and doesn't make changes quickly.  How do I broach change in a structure like this?  I'm a mid-level professional.

A: This is a great question. The way to begin the conversation is to meet those you need to sponsor your ideas where they are. Find out what concerns them, what keeps them up at night, what they aspire to accomplish. Then make the connection between any of these ideas that struck you, as a vehicle to allow them to meet their priorities, or unravel their concerns.

Q: How can we prepare the younger (current college age) to work for the "millennial" generation who don't have the same standards we are raising our kids with?

A: Best thing I can think of is to suggest that they approach people of different generations not as a category, but as individuals, each with a unique set of experiences and abilities. And the more information they can have about the world they are interacting with, the better. (Just never assume everyone who is of millennial age, fits the descriptions we hear about all the time)

Q: Do you have this session in video? I would love to pass on to our managers.

A: Yes, please visit:

Brent Robertson works with leaders to design futures worth fighting for. A partner at Fathom, he champions an approach to strategic planning, employee engagement, leadership succession and market differentiation that prioritizes people and relationships. As a result, his clients don’t simply plan their futures, they bring them to life through the energy of organization-wide involvement in, and commitment to, generating valuable businesses that matter. 

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