Contrary to popular belief, I actually think that millennials aren’t that different from the rest of the workforce. The things that they supposedly uniquely want and expect – flexible working hours, pay for performance, recognition, and so on – are actually not different from the desires of other generations in the workplace today.
However, speaking from my own experience, I do think there is one popular point that is not a misconception: Millennials love to get feedback. In fact, they want lots of it, frequently. They want this because they are curious and hungry to learn and they want to find out how they are doing. A reasonable request. And while I do think that more experienced professionals want feedback too, there is a difference here in the need for quantity and frequency in that a more experienced person simply does not want this constant attention.
The advantage for millennials and career starters is that because they are new, it’s OK and almost expected for them to make mistakes (and then learn from them). However, they can only learn if someone – a manager or mentor – reflects with them: What went wrong, how would you do it next time? They need to be able to trust the manager to be receptive to failure too.
So, we need to take the fear of failure away and celebrate it as a learning opportunity. This is true of the older generations too of course, but I find as you get more experienced, tolerance by your environment for mistakes goes down and there is an expectation to perform more perfectly with less guidance.
As a manager of a purely millennial team consisting of 15 early talents located across the globe, I see there is a need to constantly give constructive feedback and continually be on the look-out for opportunities to provide coaching. In my experience, this not only holds true for certain cultures but ongoing performance feedback is actually a hot topic for all millennials across the globe with few local differences. I strive to fulfill this expectation by giving very timely feedback: practically as it happens and while it’s fresh. Is it draining (sometimes a complaint of managers of millennials)? No, it’s my job.
When I asked individual team members for feedback about my own leadership behavior, one of the things that came up is that I am quick to praise but that what they really want is more feedback about what they can do better. That’s a hard one because you want to nurture them and reinforce good performance rather than demotivate with criticism. But with millennials, you can “tell it like it is,” of course in a respectful and constructive way. They want the truth and they don’t want it wrapped up in a sandwich of praise at the beginning or end of what you really want to say. They can take it. They have grown up with the “like” button. They are used to and expect spontaneous feedback. If someone doesn’t “like” what they do, they are keen to learn why and then act on that.
I think the formal performance review – something that happens once or twice a year – is not what millennials need. Reviewing their performance has to be ongoing, regular, timely and often. If you do that, you will have satisfied young talents who continue to grow and develop as they move along in their careers, and they will continuously raise their game.
Top tips for performance management of millennials:
- Give frequent, regular and timely feedback.
- Do give praise where it’s due, saying what specifically was good and recognize achievements in a timely way.
- Make the feedback as constructive as possible.
- Celebrate perceived failures as an opportunity to coach them to perform better next time.
The time to think about your millennials’ performance is today and every day. Invest in them, and they will do what it takes to win and get that “like.”