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Six Steps to Secure Millennial Leadership Talent


April 19th, 2017

- Updated on

March 21, 2018 - 4:22pm

The Small and Mid-Sized Company Advantage Millennials Will Dominate the Workplace – Soon

By 2020, an estimated 46% of US workers will be millennials. By 2025, estimates indicate that 75% of the global workforce will be of the millennial generation, a cadre of workers 80 million strong. This generation is moving into leadership at a time of great risk and volatility.
CEOs queried for the Conference Board’s CEO Challenge 2017 Report determined that “failure to attract/retain top talent” and “developing ‘Next Gen’ leaders”, are two of the top three hot button issues facing U.S. CEOs today.  Respondents also indicated a “greater reliance on talent and organizational culture as vehicles…” to position their organizations for future success in times of “risk, disruption and transformation”.
Millennials who assume leadership roles will be charged with shepherding their organizations through the transitions of the digital economy and facing and overcoming the constant disruptions and macro-world influences set before them. Do their motivations and skills measure up? Who wins in the competition for their talent?
Millennial Leaders In the Workplace

What Do Millennials Want?

It’s clear that companies across the board will find attracting and retaining millennial talent essential to their future success. What motivates millennial workers? Researchers examining this question challenge common stereotypes.
In his book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and the research supporting his thesis, Daniel H. Pink posits that no matter one’s age or one’s position in society or the workplace, three common elements drive worker motivation. They are:
  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. 

Contrary to common stereotypes, millennials want what we all want.

Top Career Goals By Generation
In Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths. The real story behind Millennials in the workplace, the IBM Institute for Business Value found that millennials have similar career aspirations to those of other generations, as shown in the chart above.
More recently, Gallup, Inc. surveyed close to 200,000 employees in firms across this country, compiling their findings in State of the American Workplace 2017 report. They concluded that millennials seek an opportunity to do what they do best, to balance life and work, and to work in a culture that expresses a purpose beyond themselves. It’s simple when you think about it. They want to get better at what they do, to have a chance to lead and make an impact in the world while having time to nurture their families and personal relationships.  

How To Attract and Retain Millennials

If one accepts the research, what cultural elements might tip the scale in favor of your firm? 
  • An agile learning culture
  • An open, transparent communication style
  • A flatter, less hierarchical structure with a coaching culture rather than a command and control approach
  • A recognition and promotional system based on achievement rather than tenure
  • A decision-making process with authority to act that allows a nimble response close to the issues at hand
  • A flexible, competitive benefit package

What Skills Do Millennial Leaders Need?

With those desirable elements in mind, there are several skills millennials must develop to successfully advance no matter the company size. Non-millennial CEOs and millennial leaders alike agree on basic leadership skills needed to move organizations forward into the future. The following infographic from the report, Divergent Views/Common Ground: The Leadership Perspectives of C-Suite Executives and Millennial Leaders clearly delineates these skills.
Millennial leader skills
In addition to the 8 basic leadership skills outlined in the infographic, both non-millennial and millennial leaders state that “Next Gen” leaders will be judged by their leadership impact, their business management skills, their interpersonal effectiveness and their critical thinking skill.

Small and Mid-Sized Firms – Well Positioned to Attract and Retain Millennial Talent

Leaders of small to mid-sized businesses have several advantages when engaged in the increasingly heated competition for millennial talent. By the nature of a flatter structure, more entrepreneurial culture, and fewer employees, small businesses require nimble employees who can wear several hats and who can adroitly maneuver in close proximity to top decision-makers. Both small and mid-sized businesses may require newer employees to step up to leadership roles sooner than those in larger, more hierarchical firms. Personal alignment with the company mission, and a fast-paced work environment where one is measured based on results, not tenure also beckon “Next Gen” leaders.  
The realities of small and mid-sized firms closely parallel a millennial's interest to seize on-the-job learning opportunities and a perceived reluctance to “wait in line” for more senior employees before assuming leadership roles in a potentially more bureaucratic environment of a larger company. According to the Association for Corporate Growth, “Small to mid-sized businesses that offer millennials hands-on learning opportunities, less structured job roles, more collaborative environments and a stronger reliance on technology to drive results can take a significant lead in attracting and retaining future talent”. 

Six Steps to Create Your Millennial Talent Advantage

How can small to mid-sized firms position themselves to attract millennials, nurture essential leadership skills and retain millennial talent for future advantage? The recent publications cited throughout this article encourage small to mid-level organizations to pay attention to their competitive positioning to the millennial talent pool. Here are six steps we recommend:
  1. Establish corporate-wide leadership norms for transparent communication and knowledge sharing. As a standard operating policy, pair developing leaders with more senior employees. Provide mentoring exchanges and/or joint project leadership options in which newer employees can communicate more directly and collaborate more effectively with senior leaders.
  2. Enhance breadth of millennial knowledge and skill. Provide opportunities for individual and team coaching, assignments, job rotation, cross-training and participation in cross-functional projects. Establish standards for team operations that place millennial workers in team leadership roles. Support team leadership with formal team coaching programs.
  3. Focus on building employee strengths. Evaluate employee strengths and skill gaps. Provide J-I-T training and focused, on-the-job coaching to minimize weaknesses and capitalize on employee strengths.  
  4. Be nimble. Share decision-making and authority. Challenge millennials to critically analyze data, to make reasoned recommendations based on that data, to persuasively communicate their conclusions, then to drive results on projects to impact the bottom line.
  5. Offer a competitive benefit portfolio that supports work/life balance. Base rewards on delivered results. Evaluate and fairly reward employee performance. Select employees for promotional opportunities based upon achievement of desired results, rather than on tenure. Establish flexible work arrangements including telework options, alternate start times, or compressed work weeks where possible.
  6. Establish and actively promote a culture of social responsibility. Clearly articulate a commitment to corporate values. Link corporate vision to a broader, societal mission or purpose. Provide formal initiatives to engage millennial employees in projects with a purpose.
Implement these six steps to grow the skills up-and-coming employees need for future leadership success. Make these policies primary elements of your cultural footprint, then communicate them widely to cement your millennial talent advantage.

Recommended Reading & References

Kathy Flora is a Career and Executive Coach and AJO Blogger who is actively pursuing her life’s passion, helping others find and fulfill theirs. Known as a positive change agent, mentor and guide, she has assisted hundreds of leaders and their teams understand their strengths, collaborate effectively, and drive organizational success. She has a special affinity for working with virtual teams, using webinars, virtual meet-ups, and online collaborative communities to optimize communication and productivity. Her experience spans over 25 years in executive management and leadership, career development, facilitation, and consulting in private firms, state government, and in federal agencies.