‘Management Happens on an Individual Level’: Managing Millennials

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ManagementLast summer, the INSEAD Emerging Markets Institute (EMI), the HEAD Foundation, and employer branding firm Universum teamed up to conduct what these groups call “the largest independent study ever conducted on millennials.” Surveying more than 16,000 millennials from across the globe, the study delves into a variety of topics, including millennials’ fears, hopes, beliefs, and desires. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the results of this massive survey in a six-part series. Part four will focus on the fourth piece in this study, “You  Got Us Wrong.” 

If we could boil down the results of EMI, Universum, and the HEAD Foundation’s research thus far to one short, simple phrase, it would be this: millennials are complicated.

And it’s good for us to know that now: so many companies have been treating millennials as if they were some monolithic group of narcissistic automatons pledging their allegiance to smartphones and Twitter.

But it turns out that millennials — much like any other large group of people — can’t truly be reduced to simplistic stereotypes.

For example, let’s look at the ways in which millennials approach management. According to the study, millennials want a lot of different things from their managers, depending on where they’re from. Some want managers who empower their employees; others want managers with technical or functional expertise; others want managers who act as role models; and so on.

“Management happens on an individual level – you can operationalize management processes, but management styles are individual,” says Carly Creighton, Head of Latin America, Universum. 

So, how can companies juggle the competing desires of their millennial employees when it comes to creating effective management structures?

“We believe developing talent should be one of organizations’ key priorities,” Creighton says. “We wouldn’t suggest one management style across these different regions, since the research does show that preferences differ [across geographic locations]. That said, building scale with processes and localizing on a regional level is one way to handle this. For example, managers who act as role models are important in Latin America, whereas North American talent wants managers to empower them. The most important thing is to be aware of these differences so managers can be sensitive to them on an individual level.”

There is one thing millennials tend to agree on when it comes to management, regardless of where they hail from: millennials want feedback from their managers.

“Give feedback early and often,” Creighton says. “The most important thing to do is to set expectations at the beginning of the management relationship — this helps to establish those guidelines. Managers should tell Millennials what feedback looks like and maintain open lines of communication to ensure that the expectations are in line.”

 Millennials Don’t Love Work-Life Balance as Much as You Think They Do

We’ve heard time and again that millennials put work-life balance above all else, but the fourth installment in Universum et al.’s research series complicates that picture of Gen. Y.

Yes, millennials like work-life balance, but 64 percent of them are “willing to work harder and accept more stress to have a shot at leadership.” Millennials know they have to make some sacrifices if they want to climb company ladders, and the majority of them are okay with that fact.

Millennials are complicated,” Creighton says. “It’s also not really about work-life balance — it’s about life, and how work fits into that. What’s key for any organization is to understand what work-life balance actually means inside their organization — e.g., is it flex time, maternity leave, having friends at work, etc. — and then communicating that out to the talent they are trying to attract.”

Employers Should Implement Development Programs That Are All Encompassing, for Each and Every Employee

It sounds daunting, but that is one of the many suggestions offered by Universum et al.’s fourth report. Given that millennials are so varied in their desires, employers will have to be flexible when accommodating them. Luckily for hesitant employers, Creighton has some advice on how to go about doing just that:

“To me, the most important things are: 1.) Creating the structure to facilitate these conversations and opportunities, and 2.) holding individuals accountable and responsible for their own development,” she says. “In order to build a highly productive and motivated organization, leaders should create space and opportunity for these things. But keeping their teams accountable for owning their own careers makes the investment all the richer.”

Next up: Part five: “We Are More Different Than You Think”

By Matthew Kosinski