SINGAPORE, MONDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2018 – From climbing Mt Everest to winning the World Cup to discovering America to putting a man on the moon, the success of humankind’s ventures have always depended on the ability of the teams involved.
It’s the same in business. How many of today’s biggest startups succeeded because they assembled the correct team, and how many more failed to take off the ground because they could not.
Yet entrepreneurs today face a rather unique problem when it comes to filling the team roster. How do you hope to build a high-powered team when the vast majority of your candidates will come from a generation known to be self-absorbed, unmotivated and entitled?
Actually, it turns out, your prospects aren’t as dim as they seem. Yes, never has a generation inspired as much hand-wringing, but millennials may yet prove to be the aces up your sleeve.
Who exactly are millennials?
Despite the reams of articles and papers published about millennials, nobody actually seems to agree on who they are, exactly. Taking the broadest definitions, anyone born between the late 1970’s all the way to 2004 is a millennial. That’s a range of over 30 years!
In practical terms, this means that leadership and human resource skills should still be exercised judiciously. For example, by definition, both a 35 year old and a 25 year old are millennials. But because life experience and maturity still counts for something, it would be a mistake to consider both of them the same, just because they share the label.
Similarly, although ‘flat’ hierarchies are all the rage these days, recognise that a clearly defined reporting structure is still necessary to help your millennial team members organise work and unleash their best.
Follow these three tips to build a team of engaged, motivated, millennials that will bring your business to the next level.
Tip 1: Give them freedom, but guide them
One of the most commonly cited findings about millennials is that they demand work that is meaningful – according to their own definitions. However, companies may not always be able to tailor-fit a job scope exactly to their millennial candidates.
It’s actually an age-old problem – finding the fit between the job and the employee – given new voice by millennials, who are not afraid to leave if they can’t satisfy their interest. (Incidentally, this could be how millennials earned a reputation for being lazy and unmotivated.)
Try giving your millennial employees a greater degree of freedom in their daily duties. Essentially, millennials are trying to find meaning in their work. With every task, they are trying to figure out how what they do contributes to the company’s overall state.
How to keep millennials engaged
Gather your millennials, define the problem (the scope of work that needs to be done and the associated tasks), and invite them to contribute how best they think the problem can be solved, and where they see themselves contributing the most.
Be open to the flow of the discussion and the ideas generated (you could wind up pleasantly surprised). Your job is to steer the conversation so that it stays on point. But more importantly, you, as the boss, will be expected to provide insight and guidance.
That last point bears repeating. Millennials are highly intelligent, and come into the workforce with the largest array of skills employees have seen. That, however, doesn’t mean you should throw them to the wolves and leave them to figure things out for themselves. It’s ok if you don’t have the all the answers all the time (an expected situation, especially when you’re still figuring out how to build your business), but you should never leave your team members feeling like they’ve been left in the lurch.
Tip 2: Recognise and reward their efforts
You know the meme about millennials and their participation ribbons? Yeah, that isn’t true. C’mon, nobody – not even millennials – really expect to be rewarded just for showing up to work. Millennials are a lot more grounded and sensible than that.
However, millennials do indeed seek recognition for their efforts, but it’s not simply a case of them feeling entitled. Understand that millennials grew up in one of the most advanced and affluent cities in the modern world; they simply have no idea what it’s like being grateful just to have a job to go to.
How to keep millennials motivated
But that’s not to say you have to buy rainbow cupcakes for the team every Friday afternoon. A simple and effective way to temper expectations is to clearly lay out personal and team goals, and when your millennials reach these goals, recognise and reward them.
You don’t have to make a big show of it, just bring the team out for dinner and drinks. Or better yet, let them choose how to celebrate. Your millennials might want just a nibble of the latest rainbow/galaxy themed dessert, and then get right back to work.
One note on birthday celebrations though. Millennials are not afraid to call out acts that they find meaningless or insincere. So if you insist on holding a birthday celebration for your team members, make sure it’s actually wanted. Avoid doing something just because you once read about it in an outdated management book.
With millennials, sincerity is much more valued. Offer to upgrade their computer, for instance, or get them a gift voucher for their favourite brands. Or simply give them the day off, so they can spend their birthday with family and friends instead of the colleagues.
Thoughtful gestures like these will gain you far better mileage with your millennial team members.
Tip 3: Encourage them to take time off
Here’s another stereotype that recent findings have destroyed. The stereotypes go that millennials are lazy, and would rather avoid work when they can.
Actually, it’s not that millennials are avoiding work, they are avoiding boring work. When millennials settle into an engaging job or company, they actually have problems taking a break from work.
Millennials are ambitious, and are willing to make sacrifices for what they want. However, as they are also young (and therefore feel invincible), they have trouble understanding that burnout is a real risk.
How to keep millennials at their best
The remedy here is appropriate amounts of rest. In other words, encourage your millennials to to take time off from work.
Given their neurotic obsession with performance, you may encounter some resistance. Try incentivising your employees to take breaks by instituting a free-flowing leave policy. Also, support them to go on their breaks without having to worry about work, or fear being swamped upon return.
This could take the form of a buddy system, where a qualified colleague takes over their work while on holiday. Another idea is to practise a strict no-email policy while on vacation.