managing millennials

Why Don’t Millennials Follow Directions?

Often when I’m speaking to managers of Millennial employees, I’m asked, “Why don’t my Millennial employees follow directions?” As a manager, it can be frustrating to give an assignment only to find out a week later that the assignment is not completed, or partially-completed. What’s the deal? There are two things to know about Millennials that can help you with this on-going management challenge: speed and specificity.

Speed

Since childhood, Millennials have been conditioned to receive guidance and feedback at a high degree of frequency.  Instant feedback on their computer-based quizzes and tests, Google searches, texting and Snapchatting with friends has all had a profound influence on the expectations of speed or response. Particularly in school, Millennials were tested, evaluated, graded and given feedback more often than any other generation to date. Older generations indulged in the virtue of patience simply because things took longer to happen back then. Older generations understand waiting. Millennials were not raised in an environment where waiting is a thing. Instant feedback on almost everything is the norm.

As a manager in the workplace,  consider ‘checking-in’ with your millennial employees a few times a day about the assignment that you’ve provided. You might think it is overkill, but to a Millennial, that’s normal. Frequent ‘check-ins’ allow you to assess their ability to stay on task on that assignment you’ve provided them to make sure they understand how to proceed.

Specificity

Accelerating your check-ins is key, but another important element to get Millennials to accomplish their assignments is to provide directions to Millennials with a high level of specificity. Different generations have very different viewpoints on this issue. Boomer and GenXers embrace the notion of doing an assignment their way. They revel in the independence they have—they don’t need a roadmap, they just need a goal and they will likely get it done with little or no supervision. The viewpoint of Millennials is almost exactly the opposite. They are fairly dependent on you as a manager. They want very specific directions on how to do an assignment correctly, and also an explanation for why it is important.

Why is this? It’s because Millennials were raised in a highly planned and structured environment. From childhood, their lives have been heavily managed by their parents. Even their schools advocated a highly planned and structured environment. Free time and play was not something Millennials did—everything was planned for them.  Another contributing factor in their need for specificity is that they hate to take risks and hate to fail. An “opened-ended” assignment for them is viewed as a risk. Their viewpoint is “why should I take a chance on doing an assignment the wrong way when there is probably an already proven way to do it without error”.  Be assured that if there is a YouTube video on how to do something, they are on it.

A LifeCourse Associates survey revealed: “69 percent of Millennials say they like their supervisor to provide them with ‘hands-on guidance and direction.’ Only about 40 percent of Boomers and older Gen Xers said the same.” In response, many companies are doing away with the annual performance review. It is being replaced with more frequent meetings, updates, goal tracking and evaluations with more specificity. Major companies doing this include GE, Accenture, Deloitte and more.

As a manager, make sure to provide instructions that have clear goals and clear process with a roadmap that assures them they are going in the right direction. Providing them with frequent cycles of open and honest feedback will have positive affects — increased loyalty, professional satisfaction and more employee engagement. Millennials will feel valued, cared for and motivated to meet their goals. Incorporating these two simple elements—speed and specificity means they’ll be more likely to stay with the company for the long run, ultimately reducing recruitment and retention costs.

 

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