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Career Development and the Millennial: Time to Get Over the Misunderstanding

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I still don’t see profound differences between Millennials and, well, other people. But to fully integrate them into the workplace we’re going to have to get over a major hurdle. American executives often misperceive millennials on issues of engagement and career development. In Oxford Economics’ Workforce 2020 survey, 51 percent of American executives said the influx of millennials was already having an effect on their workplace strategy, but missed the boat in terms of a couple of key questions.

• Asked if millennials are frustrated with manager quality:   

60% of American executives surveyed said yes, while 18% of the millennials surveyed said yes.

• Asked if millennials might consider leaving their jobs due to a lack of learning and development:

62% of American executive surveyed said yes, while 31% of millennials said yes.

The gap reflects perception versus reality, and here’s the rub: Executives, though clearly concerned with engaging and retaining millennials, are misunderstanding the emphasis millennials place on guidance and workplace education (or really, more like the negative reactions millennials might have to poor guidance and a lack of workplace education).  Yet decisions are already being made on how to shift workplace strategy for this new generation. Not so easy to shift strategic direction if your compass is off, right?

Since we’re going to have to bring millennials into the company fray, and position them to rise into managerial and leadership roles, it’s a matter of employee development. So, a few practical suggestions:

Frequent feedback. Not unlike the rest of us, millennials also value frequent feedback. But they may not know enough about the company structure to initiate the conversation. Create ongoing check-ins with managers on everything: skills, performance, goals. Keep the conversation connected and hands-on, and mix it up from casual to more formal. 

Embed company culture. Also not unlike the rest of us, millennials want to be in on the company culture and mission, and want to glean a sense of meaning from their work. A recent study by the Harvard Business Review identified training and development organized around company goals as key driver of employee engagement. Embed company culture goals and values into learning and development components so employees can more quickly and closely connect to them and derive meaning from learning as well as working. Given the rapidity with which millennials communicate, network, and, well, get it, you can’t do this fast enough. 

Offer flexible learning platforms. Operating terms here for any career development software: on-demand. Mobile. Social. Cloud based. Customizable show each employee can work at their own speed, but with plenty of team-building opportunities and group learning components as well. And get those metrics and analytics in: invaluable data to be gleaned here.

Encourage reverse mentoring. Giving millennial employees opportunities to coach their older colleagues on tech skills is a win for everyone, a great way to engage younger employees, get them invested in outcomes, and make them feel valued; it’s a super team builder as well. You’re turning the biggest practical difference between the generations from a perceived minus into a clear plus.

The bottom line? Fear not the millennial, for they are part of the present and future of your company. The sooner you can align learning and career development with their values and capitalize on their strengths, the better you’ll inspire their engagement, performance, and loyalty. You can thank me later.

photo credit: Waag Society via IM Creator cc

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