Why "Connector” Millennial Employees Need "Adaptive” Managers In Order To Survive

As originally posted on NDInsights in May 2012

This is part of our “Designed To Win” series on the millennial workforce. Full disclosure: I am a millennial.

Every generation experiences what is known as “shared sense-making.”  It is the process in which individuals within a generation jointly interpret their environment and create collective narratives from which they derive meaning.  This process, through the lens of being in the same generation, moves individual perceptions and feelings to a state of “group knowledge.”  We, as a generation, have some general beliefs about the world and all those other “misguided” generations.  A current example of this is how managers are experiencing millennials in the workplace.  “There is a coherent, if not unified, voice about what millennials are like and constant favorable comparison of themselves to the millennials,” state the authors of Managing the Millennials.  

Over 60% of employers say that they are experiencing tension among employees from different generations.  70% of older employees dismiss younger workers’ talents and capabilities, while 50% of younger employees dismiss the talents and capabilities of their older coworkers.  Those are frightening statistics as organizations are asking every one of their workers to do more with less, and use cost-cutting collaborative measures to be more innovative. The amount of mixed generational workplaces only increases. The simple take-away here is that no one trusts anyone.

However, have you ever come across a millennial who is smart, emotionally intelligent, a hard worker, and perhaps even nice? The ones that stay late, seek feedback and constructive criticism, sit at the front of the meeting fully engaged? They take notes as you talk, and ask thoughtful questions.  They’re like a sponge – they soak up all your mentoring, coaching, tips, and insights.  They want to succeed, and they realize that you’re the ticket to that success. These millennials are promoted into management positions earlier than their peers because they have shown maturity and have separated themselves from the generational norms.  As the Managing the Millennials book points out, “They [engaged millennials] take an interest in their superiors and are able to reach up and make a connection.”  The authors found that 1 out of 5 millennials take the initiative to connect with their superiors.  Do you have “connector millennials” in your organization?

The sad note in this story is that because of the “shared sense-making,” many of the older generation have a tendency to make broad generalizations about “all millennials.” As a result these Connector Millennials have the horrible possibility of going un-mentored, un-appreciated, and un-engaged.  The result could be a mass exodus from organizations because no supervisors stepped up to the plate to coach them.  In Managing the Millennials, the authors studied 6 managers.  Three managers were picked because they were known to have worked well with millennials.  The three others were known to have not worked well with millennials (measured by turnover, complaints, absenteeism, communication and low productivity of the supervised millennial).  The ones that did work well with millennials became known as the Adaptive Managers.  Below are some of the attributes Adaptive Managers exhibited when working with millennials:

1. Initiate the relationship

2. Have patience to set expectations according to where the millennial is, not where the manager wants him or her to be

3. Exhibit the ability to suspend bias towards millennials

4. Have the ability to create environments that allow just enough discomfort so that millennials will feel the need to change but safe enough so that they can change

5. Be adaptable; using the right “bait to suit the fish” in the management style (all fish are different and require different bait – so do people)

6. Allow millennials the empowerment to constructively challenge ideas, process, and the manager

I’ll be the first to say that there are two types of millennials.  There are the ones that fit every negative stereotype that reinforces the “shared-sense making” that occurs.  However, equally, I have run into the same number of innovative, fun, intelligent, passionate millennials that have no issue with authority or loyalty or hard work.  Find those millennials in your organization or in your next interview and begin to coach them to be the worker you need them to be.  With those ‘connector millennials’ in mind, what are you prepared to do to help them win?