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How do we prepare millennials for leadership roles?

Generation Y employees, or ‘millennials’ (those born between the early 1980s and 2000), are now starting to move into leadership positions and will eventually outnumber the managers from earlier generations (Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, and the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964). This transition will inevitably lead to a change in the culture of organisations and it’s important to consider now what we can do to prepare these employees for promotion.

Organisational culture and millennial managers

Millennials typically value collaboration and will seek input from all parties. They were raised in a culture where their views were sought and listened to in relation to everything; from the family’s holiday destination, to what they were going to have for lunch.

They have little interest in adhering to a top-down management approach; it’s very much a case of ‘we’re all in this together’. This is likely to result in a more democratic management culture, with much less emphasis on one person’s final say. Our view is that this will eventually be accompanied by a flattening of the corporate structure: leadership skills are likely to be exercised by heading up a project or campaign, and the creation of internal specialist roles, as opposed to occupying a specific management role.

Millennials also want openness and transparency. This is at odds with the traditional approach of allowing access to information on a need to know basis. It’s likely that there will be a greater sharing of management information. This will be accompanied by a much higher level of openness to new approaches: millennials are conscious that good ideas can come from anywhere within an organisation.

The desire for increased collaboration and transparency is supported by their mastery of digital technology which they have been using for a significant portion of their lives. This technology allows them to effortlessly share information and canvas views from colleagues at any time and anywhere. Those unable to adapt to this increasing reliance on technology are likely to struggle in this new environment.

This approach to sharing information and collaborating with others at any time, is also the result of millennials not seeing such a clear divide between home and work life: the two can overlap. This will result in a flexible response if time off for life events, such as medical appointments, is requested during working hours.

Millennial managers are likely to care less about where the work gets done, and more about actual work outputs. This is a much more casual attitude towards work schedules and this approach is set to spread to all areas of management including dress codes and career pathways. Indeed, millennials aren’t interested in working endless hours to work their way up the traditional hierarchy. Instead they want work that is meaningful and fulfilling. This leads to a much greater openness for people to try out different jobs to suit their needs at different points in their lives. We’ll find a lot more people transitioning between a multitude of career pathways which will be supported by the millennial managers.

Millennials are also much more comfortable when handling change than previous generations. They’ve been used to rapid technological change, and will actively seek out new challenges and goals to keep them excited. They won’t be frightened to try out new approaches to work, whereas older generations may be more comfortable with the security offered by proven strategies. This conflicting approach could be a source of tension in the workplace.

The appraisal process as a management tool is also already changing: the traditional semi-annual performance review is far too infrequent for millennials. They want near instant feedback on their performance with clear guidance on how they can improve.

The increased openness and flexibility shown by a millennial manager shouldn’t be perceived as a sign of weakness. They will expect a lot of their employees but are conscious that healthy and happy employees are more likely to be productive and contribute to the success of the company.

Whilst there is a danger in talking about millennials as a homogeneous group, it can be useful to try to predict the changes that organisations may face in the coming years.

In summary, millennial managers are likely to introduce flatter organisational structures where there is an emphasis on collaboration, information sharing and transparency, all supported by an increasing reliance on technology. There’s likely to be much greater flexibility on when and where the work is undertaken and more much more mobility in terms of career pathways. Whether or not this becomes a reality, only time will tell.

How should we prepare millennials for leadership?

1 – Invest in leadership training

Don’t wait until your employees are in management positions to do this. Your rising stars should be in some way prepared for management before they’re promoted.

Some ways you could do this include: inviting employees to attend management team meetings; giving them the opportunity to lead projects; implement an internal leadership development programme; offer mentorship or shadowing opportunities with experienced leaders; and implementing an eLearning solution that enables employees to access management training as and when they need it once promoted.

2. Be clear about what successful management is within your organisation

Identify your top leaders and document what it is that makes them great. This clarity will help you explain to your employees how they make that shift from being a high performing contributor to managing successfully. New managers will need to learn that success in management requires strong communication and project management skills.

3. Create alternative pathways to leadership

Research has shown that millennials are not as interested in traditional career pathways as Gen X and older generations. Being more interested in meaningful and fulfilling work will mean they won’t always be seeking traditional management roles when looking for promotion opportunities. Employers are advised therefore to consider specialist roles that enable employees to achieve increased remuneration and development opportunities, without going into traditional management roles. Specialists can be as valuable leaders in an organisation as traditional managers and this alternative pathway to leadership enables you to retain top talent.

4. Review your performance management scheme

The annual performance review is becoming a thing of the past. Gen Y want continuous feedback about how they’re doing in their careers and a continuous performance management process will keep them engaged as well as prepare them for leadership.

Consider using software, regular “check-ins”, and 360-feedback to keep your employees motivated and ready for promotion.

If we can help with any of the above, please do give us a call on 01271 859 267 or email office@fitzgeraldhr.co.uk.