Wednesday, September 14, 2011

5 Coaching Suggestions for Engaging Millennials

Millennials, those feedback-driven, inquisitive digital natives born between 1981-1999, expect coaching in many different forms, as they are accustomed to ongoing dialogue. This insight comes from working with a variety of organizations across the country via survey work as well as focus groups involving thousands of Millennials. My agenda when I write, coach and teach workshops about engaging and managing Millennials is that with very few changes, such as asking your Millennial how they like to be coached can be a key relationship changer. When a Baby Boomer manager views their employees as they were viewed when they began their working careers, they are missing SO MUCH about what makes this generation tick. Paying your dues and playing the political games is not how Millennials view the work world, though that is often a Boomers mindset. But, when a manager reaches out to this younger employee and gets to know them a little bit, investing in this working relationship by understanding where they are coming from, the manager will have a much greater chance of having enthusiastic team players who want to commit and contribute. As “Trophy Kids”, so named as Millennials received a trophy for just participating in a sport or activity, they have grown up with positive messaging and are accustomed to and expect ongoing coaching.

In this knowledge economy, Millennials know that learning is currency to be cashed in for other opportunities, whether that is in your company or another organization. Even in this challenging business environment, 56% of Millennials said they would leave a job where the workplace was hostile, even if they did not have a new job lined up (based on The End Result Training Partnerships Inc. Spring 2011 online Millennial survey.) Whether the company was high-tech or customer-centric the results were universal – coaching is essential to engaging Millennials. Coaching does not need to take up much time - in fact most Millennials prefer a quick touch base often, rather than a long conversation. The following five coaching suggestions are focused guidelines to keep this process easy to apply as well as promoting two-way dialogue, a key to engaging and leading Millennials.

1. Millennials respond favorably to encouragement, as they are accustomed to collaborative relationships, from their parents, teachers and sports coaches. Some Millennials have a fear of failure, so they are afraid to stretch out too far as they don’t want to disappoint. Millennials continually ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” They respond favorably when they understand what it takes to meet or exceed the assignment. For example, Quinn is a Millennial who is smart, articulate and, when focused, produces great business results. Quinn’s boss, Joel, values “self-starters” and feels that having to encourage and coddle this generation is indulgent, so he would seldom provide positive coaching and encouragement. During one particularly frustrating day, Joel called Quinn in to his office and asked her what she wanted from him, as her supervisor. Quinn shared that she just needed some feedback once a week or so, and encouragement about the things that are working, as well as those things that are not. Once Joel tried this, he was amazed at how much more productive Quinn was, and really began to value what encouragement and feedback means to this generation. Once Millennials receive consistent encouragement and coaching, the probability that they will become loyal and highly motivated employees increases.

2. Ask - “how do you liked to be coached?” This can save a lot of time in the long run when you understand their perspective. Try not to get hung-up on the “why is it always about THEM” mindset. For example, when Joe (a seasoned manager) asked his Millennial employee Marc how he liked to be coached, Marc responded that what he wanted was a quick email or text back to answer his questions so he could move forward. Marc also asked if he and Joe could have about 15 minutes of focused time every other week to have a more in-depth conversation, an opportunity for Marc to ask questions and check in with Joe. This generation is used to customization in so many aspects of their lives. It’s about picking their ring tone, their wallpaper for their computer, quickly creating playlists that support their favorite artists and songs, having personalized tattoos and piercings. The “customization” Marc is asking for does not need to take up much time, and whether Joe and Marc meet in person, or via Skype, the results of having an engaged employee is good for all. When you consider how they like to be coached and merge that with how you like to communicate, you will come up with a comfortable approach that is mutually beneficial.

3. Declare your intentions. Millennials want to know that you have their best interest at heart, just like their parents, teachers and coaches. This is especially important when you are asking them to do tasks and projects that they may not understand. For example, to help them see how things fit together and what’s in it for them, you could say something such as “my intention is that this project be the best possible, and your ability to develop the client presentation gives YOU good visibility, which is good for our team.” Declaring your intentions in a clear and specific way not only shows your Millennial employees that you are supporting their career, but it supports a relationship-style focus that is appealing to this generation.

4.Clarify boundaries. Millennials have grown up in a world without boundaries. They can connect online with people from all over the planet; they can use the Internet to obtain information on just about anything. They are comfortable asking anyone questions regardless of job title or authority, and they view their world as a woven tapestry, not as time periods divided into work, play, and socializing. The line between work and play is merged for Millennials. In a recent meeting in a traditional Fortune 100 company, a newly-hired Millennial employee asked one of the visiting executives why someone on the team was promoted over someone else. Was this a good question? It may be, depending on the situation, but it was out-of-bounds in that forum. To the executive, this Millennial looked naive and immature. This new hire needs coaching to understand why it was not appropriate. For previous generations, there were very clear social boundaries. There was a rank and file perspective in the workplace and you knew your place, like in the military, where roles are clear and defined. Providing clear expectations is critical. Lay out the rules with regard to Internet and mobile phone usage, dress, office and meeting demeanor, and other business protocols. It will eliminate confusion and frustration.

5. Be Consistent – Millennials pay very close attention to consistency in actions and words in the work environment. For example, if a Millennial was counseled for wearing a too-revealing outfit to the office, but an executive wore that same outfit, that inconsistency will be noted. Inconsistency is also likely to erode credibility and hurt working relationships. One could argue that it’s not just Millennials who spot inconsistencies! However, because they are blind to hierarchy and believe every colleague is basically a peer, they will call out hypocrisy. When this Millennial was taken to task for wearing something that was not business appropriate, but an executive wore the same outfit, it did not add up, as it was not consistent. And unlike previous generations, Millennials can (and do!) broadcast their displeasure via social networks. As the average Millennial has 220+ Facebook friends, they are not the least bit hesitant to share their feelings about injustices or major inconsistencies on their social networks.

Just so you know . . .

It’s interesting that when texting, Millennials use as few words and letters as possible. Their economy of words is amazing, yet they have a need for clear, specific coaching and communication. For example: K (okay), g2g (got to go), IMHO (in my humble opinion), BRB (be right back), and SUP (what’s up?).

Is less really more?