Next-Gen Leaders

Millennial Employees

Organizations need to start grooming top-performing millennials into tomorrow’s leaders.

By Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson

It’s hard to believe but it’s been three years since millennials surpassed Gen-Xers as the largest segment of the workforce. This shift has made a notable impact across the spectrum of employee recruitment, selection, succession planning, and development for leadership roles. As the number of millennials in the workforce rises, baby boomers who still hold many leadership positions are continuing to retire—and there’s a notably smaller cohort of Gen Xers slated to take their place. The result: Millennials may find themselves thrust into leadership and management roles sooner than anticipated.

What does this mean for HR? Shifting demographics present a huge challenge from a leadership development perspective. A 2017 report from Deloitte Consulting shows that the unprecedented rate of change in business is creating a crisis of development. Leaders must look to positively develop individuals within their organizations in order to keep pace with global change as well as technological advancement. Millennial employees are the heart of this developmental need.

So the current million-dollar question is: What do millennials want? To maximize the impact of their leadership development efforts, organizations should consider these three factors:

Talent Shortage1. On-demand information. Millennials grew up with access to the internet, web searching, and then later, social media. As a result, they expect instant access to information as well as on-demand and constant communication. In a professional development context, this expectation translates to a desire for constant feedback. Cultivating a rich and effective feedback cycle can help meet key millennials’ needs around professional growth.

2. A sense of purpose. Attracting and retaining this principled generation to the upper echelons of leadership will take more than enticing compensation. Many millennials started careers in the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched their parents’ retirement savings dwindle in the late 2000s while commuting from their parents’ houses to their first jobs in unpaid internships. This has given many millennial professionals the sense that wealth is never guaranteed and that there are more important things in a career and work life. In order to better connect with millennial employees, organizations will have to provide a stronger culture of social responsibility and communicate that their products and services are making a real difference in the world, not just earning money.

3. Authentic relationships. Millennials value relationships and want to feel connected not only to the work they’re doing, but to the people they work with. As trendy tech firms bring beer taps into the office, the line between friends and coworkers has never been more blurred. At the same time, relationships with managers won’t be successful without mutual respect and mentoring. Millennial loyalty (and the chance for retaining and grooming candidates for leadership roles) is best built with support, integrity, and a personal touch.

Another proven way to cultivate leadership ability in millennial employees is to help them focus on themselves. Millennials seem to have fused many of the qualities of the self-focused “Me Generation” of the 1970s with a 1960s idealism and Depression-era frugality and realism. They seek to know themselves better in order to make the best use of their individual talents in ways that are productive and beneficial to broader society. This self-awareness is key to finding the right role, organization, and ways of contributing. Moreover, it connects to job satisfaction.

For people managers, connecting with millennial talent means offering in-depth and growth-oriented support. Managers can offer to review their work and agree up-front on how the feedback conversation will be structured. They can also talk with millennial professionals about their career goals and customize a development plan that offers access to information, access to mentors, and opportunities to gain experience by solving real-work problems.

The workplace demographics of the next five years make it clear that the kind of organizations millennials want to work for are the kind that will thrive. Companies that offer the type of culture that attracts and retains millennial workers will have greater access to leaders in what will increasingly prove to be a competitive hiring market. As the vast cohort of baby boomers continue to retire, organizations will increasingly need to look across their workforce for new leaders and ensure that millennial employees are ready to lead into the future.


Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson is a senior OD consultant at CPP, The Myers-Briggs Company.

Posted March 22, 2018 in Engaged Workforce

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