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Why Articles On How To Manage Millennials Are A Waste Of Your Time

Why Articles On How To Manage Millennials Are A Waste Of Your Time

A staple of seemingly useful work-related articles is the “How to Manage Millennials” genre. Such articles are worse than useless — they are positively damaging. Here’s why you should not bother reading them and what you should do instead.

Groups Aren’t Coherent or Cohesive

Millennials, Gen X, Boomers — these are categories defined exclusively by age. This is one of the least-useful predictors of a person’s values, traits, or actions, with the sole exceptions of perhaps predicting whether or not they will have children (and how many), what their major purchases in life will be, and how they will die. For example, the vast majority of kids are born to parents between 20 and 40 years of age. Major purchases, like cars or houses, tend to occur around around certain ages.

If you were marketing to them, you’d be deeply interested in the fact that Millennials are more willing to make purchases on their smart phones, or which cultural references will resonate with them (the 9/11 attack but not the collapse of the Iron Curtain).

Other than that, what do Millennials have in common with each other that’s different enough to be useful as guidance for how you should manage them?

Absolutely nothing.

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Bait and Switch

When “How to Manage Millennials” articles do have useful guidance, it’s unrelated to the differences in the generations. Advice to managers like:

  • Create diverse teams
  • Realize different people are motivated differently
  • Celebrate small victories
  • Invest in training

These are all good ideas and are in no way connected to what generation someone is part of. Of course, people with more experience will value experience, while newcomers will want their talents to count for more. That’s true for every generation.

And seriously, do you really need to consult the Barclays 6-Generations Map to figure out that a person with less experience needs more training?

You Don’t Manage Groups

Marketing is a one-to-many activity, and we shouldn’t begrudge marketers their Millennial maunderings. For researchers and demographic planners, studying the generations makes sense. However, you do not manage groups. You manage individuals. The variance between individuals vastly outranks the variance between generations, let alone the similarities within a generation.

Remember, as a manager, you are responsible for making each person who reports to you as effective as possible.

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So, which of these pieces of information will help you better decide whether to give the task of managing the new SharePoint server to Alice or to Bob?

  1. Demographics: Alice is a female and Bob is a male.
  2. Generations: Alice is a Gen-Xer (who are supposed to be moderately tech-savvy) and Bob is a Millennial (reported to be “digital natives”).
  3. Goals: Alice told you in your last one-on-one that she wants to increase her technical expertise. Bob told you in your last one-on-one that he hopes to move into sales in a few years.
  4. Appreciations: Alice values being praised verbally. Bob is more moved by a thoughtful gift.

If you answered anything other than 3, you’re no manager.

Thinking You Manage Groups Distorts Your Thinking

As soon as you start to think you can, or should, manage groups rather than individuals, you’ll give yourself permission to not do the hard work of getting to know each of your direct reports as unique human beings.

When you think of managing groups as a single unit, you’ll start to generalize about motivation, information absorption style, active learning style, and communications style. That thinking will make you a lousy manager. Each of these things varies dramatically from one Millennial to the next, indeed from one human being to the next (also, replacing one set of stereotypes with another isn’t going to help you manage better either).

You don’t have to do appalling things to drive people away — just treat them like indistinguishable demographic entities and your indifference to their individuality will lead them to leave.

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What to Think About Instead

Remember that your job as a manager is to maximize the current and future effectiveness of each person reporting to you.

I teach my CEO and senior executive clients to create a Player Lineup Chart to help them look for and remember a wide range of personal attributes about their people.

As a manager, you should make your own Player Lineup Chart. Include these attributes:

Motivation

  • Personal Goals – helps you connect their personal goals to the team’s tasks. (Have Alice manage the SharePoint server.)
  • Values – helps you help them see how their values are served by the team’s work. (Write Alice a thank-you note, but buy Bob a gift, to show each your appreciation.)

Information Absorption Style

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  • Listener – give this person more verbal briefings. Expect to spend more time in dialog with them.
  • Reader – give this person more background reading. Expect them to read your emails closely.

Active Learning Style

You should be actively managing the growth of each of your directs. Use their innate active learning style to guide you. For example, suppose you’re giving your direct a stretch assignment, and they’ll be working outside their comfort zone. You’ll be checking in with them twice a week to keep them on track and help them succeed. In each case, you’ll get status updates and any open questions. How should you structure that check-in depending on the individual’s approach to learning?

  • Writer – They should give you a brief written summary of status and their questions.
  • Talker – They should give you a brief verbal update.
  • Drawer – They should give you an infographic or concept sketch, or share a one-person Scrum board.
  • Mover – You should go for a walk with them and talk about their status.
  • Silent Thinker – You should ask them to pick one of the above approaches.

Communications Style

Communications style consists of two variables — Introversion vs Extroversion and focus on People vs Tasks. Popularized by William Moulton Marston as the DISC profile, this gives you a quick guide to some common themes you’ll see in your direct reports. I call them the Dominant (task-focused extrovert), the Influencer (people-focused extrovert), the Steady (people-focused introvert) and the Compliant (task-focused introvert). Pay attention to the default style, and the style under stress, of each of your directs.

Conclusion

Never manage a person based on their generation — it’s absurd, impersonal, and demeaning. Manage each person as a unique human being, whose career you are privileged to influence for the better.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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