Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reality Bites: Nurturing and Keeping Your Talented Millenials

We’ve all read far too much information about the 80 million strong Millenial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000. Those of us who have worked with them know they are different than past generations entering the workforce.

They’ve been coddled, gotten pretty much whatever they wanted, and have a sense of entitlement more likely to be found in prep school and Ivy League grads than in someone with a few years of college that expects a signing bonus.

Why are they like this? Many reasons, among them they:

Played in little league with no winners or losers, where everyone got a medal.

Have no loyalty to companies because there were so many jobs they could just pick up and leave.

Only take "yes" for an answer.

Are tech savvy multi-taskers who talk, walk, listen and type, and text.

Have a simple set of priorities – It’s all about me.

Entire companies were created to teach people like me how to work with this generation. Some of the things these Millenial experts preach:

Coach rather than direct

Let them have a life, they’ll get the work done too

Feed into their sense of social responsibility

Remember when they care and are motivated they can get a new president elected.

Guess What Kids, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

But times have changed and the Millenials are going to have to change with it. They’ve never been through a recession. They don’t remember anyone getting laid off. And because they never knew anything but economic security, the world as it stands now is a rude awakening. Many don’t have the skills needed to compete in a cutthroat job market. What are their weaknesses?

They’re not used to interviewing – they grew up communicating by computer and cell phone not in person.

They’re used to getting handed professional development as a perk – and there are no more employer sponsored MBAs, or courses, period.

They can no longer make their own schedules and they must prove they are worth keeping.

They can’t get mentored because middle management has its own problems, if they’re still around at all.

So how can you help the bright young people you want to keep?

Tell them the truth with an optimistic voice – Yes times are tough but those of us who are older know that it won’t last forever. Economic downturns do eventually turn around. Yes it’s an absolute mess, but without optimism you’ve got nothing. And eventually it will get better.

Teach them how to network – Help them learn to get out and talk to people as well as use social media professionally, not just personally. Take them to industry events. Show them how it’s done. Let them learn more about your business. Have them give reports when they come back if they go alone. Make them feel valued.

Teach them how to use the old media. Help them link to other industry resources such as no don’t say it . . . print magazines and newspapers and academic journals and books. . . other than just reading things on line. Help them get more depth from information about your industry. Tell them to start watching the evening news.

Develop mentoring programs for young professionals. You may not have time but make the investment anyway. Take young staff under your wing and help them figure out how to get ahead in your company. Ask what they want from your company and try to help them get it.

Help them learn to work as a team. This is very 1980s, but put your young people on cross functional teams with a range of staff from VPs to assistants and let them figure out how to address organizational and industry issues.

Prove that you are listening. I used to work for a company where the top management would ask me what I thought, nod and ask questions and then completely ignore it. It made me feel like an idiot and I stopped caring. Demonstrate that you’ve taken your young professionals' advice under advisement and if you don’t use it tell them why. Let them help you navigate the social media world professionally, they know how to do it for themselves, let them help you do it for your company.

Thank them. There are many tales of millenials who take the money they’ve got, sublet the apartment and decide to just travel or drift around rather than stay in a place of enormous pressure. Or they go home and live with parents and go back to school. If you want to keep yours, let them know how much you value them. And let them move ahead, because they’ve earned it.

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