Mentoring Gets Millennials on Board

Research suggests that millennials thrive on structure and guidance because they were highly scheduled growing up, running from school to ballet, soccer, tutoring or a variety of other after-school programs. To them, jobs and work are simply one aspect of life, not a single element that defines it.

By 2020, government data projects the generation will make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, so talent leaders will need to assess how best to work with this cohort.

For instance, millennials require different techniques to empower, engage and develop them for leadership positions. To prepare them for roles down the road, talent leaders must understand how to manage Gen Y, and creating Gen Y-specific on-boarding programs is one place to start.

On-Board for Retention
The first day of employment can make or break a new hire’s perspective of a company. While rare, some employees may be so unsatisfied with their first-day experience that they quit.

According to research by performance improvement firm Avatar Solutions, 59 percent of new hires report their orientation to be adequate. How new team members are treated from the beginning is important to establish a long-term relationship.

And since talent managers have taken the time to find new employees, losing them as a result of an on-boarding process can be frustrating — time, money and effort is essentially thrown out the window.

When on-boarding millennials, it is important to design programs that meet their needs. Millennials expect to be told exactly what to do and how to do it from their very first day on the job.

They want a schedule and structured plan for their first days and weeks. Down the road, managers can expect millennials to take more ownership of their time and not need as much structure.

However, during the initial employment period, when these members of the workforce need more training to complete tasks, additional guidance is necessary.

Beyond simply providing a structured plan, managers also should schedule occasional “check-ins” to ensure millennials are learning the appropriate information and feel comfortable with their initial experience on the job.
One creative and engaging way to do this is to provide “job buddies.”

Job buddies can help meet millennials’ need for guidance and structure. They also can assist new hires during the training and on-boarding stage, providing them with someone they can turn to with questions or concerns.

Job buddies should be highly engaged employees who are passionate and understand their roles and that of a new hire. They also should serve as role models and advocates for the organization.

Beyond the on-boarding stage, job buddies also can also act as mentors. Given millennials’ reliance on superiors to guide and help them develop, having someone fill a mentor role from the beginning can accelerate time to productivity, identify appropriate resources and point out some of the unwritten cultural norms that can make it difficult to navigate an organization.

Millennials’ first impression of their boss is also very important. Although these new hires will likely have interacted with their boss during the interview process, an enduring impression of a manager can be made on the first day. Millennials want to work for a boss who is collaborative and accepting; they do not prefer bosses who are authoritative.

Millennials desire a manager they can approach with ideas and thoughts, and who will listen to their opinions. Managers should make an effort to establish a rapport with new hires on the first day.

For instance, meeting new employees at the door shows these employees are valued and respected — two key aspects of a productive and collaborative relationship.

Being open and welcoming from the beginning will highlight the fact that leaders are willing to work with the team and develop a lasting relationship, rather than simply manage workers. Employees will likely feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas with someone who is open and accepting from the start.

Finally, some millennials may conform to stereotypes and expect instant gratification. With the Internet at their fingertips and mobile devices constantly within reach, these workers are less accustomed to waiting for responses or information than other generations.

Given their experience with such instant results, millennials often expect to be promoted quickly. During the recruiting and on-boarding phases, the organization could provide a tentative time line for career advancement.

The time line should include both the expected duration of a certain position and the skills necessary for advancement. Employees of all generations will be more apt to wait a little longer before jumping ship if they have a general idea of what is needed and when advancement is likely to occur.

Don’t Retain Them; Evolve Them
Millennials are the fastest-growing generation in the workplace. Given their ardor for guidance and mentoring, this generation can be especially malleable. A successful strategy to create leaders goes beyond retention and focuses on evolving these individuals by honing leadership skills from the start.

Once on-boarding is complete, managers should establish a conversation with millennial employees about how much future direction they want. This often requires talent leaders to find a suitable balance between offering enough guidance and permitting millennials to take ownership of projects and make decisions independently.

By opening up a dialogue about millennials’ desired guidance, talent leaders can provide the appropriate level of support while also encouraging employees to think critically about their work and future role with a company.

Brad Karsh and Courtney Templin, leaders at JB Training Solutions and co-authors of Manager 3.0: A Millennial’s Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management, write that managers should push, challenge, mentor and ask critical questions to encourage employees to think on their own and make independent choices.

Ask millennials what they think about various projects or challenges. Encourage them to think like their bosses might. Karsh and Templin advocate for the youngest generation to think of three possible solutions for any questions they have.

By anticipating their boss’s questions and needs, and thinking critically about their projects, employees can better prepare for leadership roles where they have to make independent decisions daily.

Beyond thinking critically, Karsh and Templin said millennials should be encouraged to act as CEOs of their positions. By becoming a knowledge base for a particular project, millennials often will have to communicate the logistics and background to others on the team who may need to contribute.

Thus, giving millennials ownership of smaller projects will allow them to sharpen communication, training and management skills needed in a leadership position. Allowing employees to develop these skills on a smaller scale, as CEOs of their position, will better prepare them for leadership down the road.

Managers also can help foster leadership skills by understanding which projects team members most value and enjoy. Employees can then be assigned leadership roles for these types of projects. Also, talent leaders can ask people if there are ways they think they could contribute to business success beyond what they are doing.

For example, consider a millennial employee who mentions his interest in social media during a conversation. The manager can then consult this person when developing a Twitter strategy.

Not only will the organization benefit from the employee’s skill set and expertise — and uncovering a hidden resource it can use to facilitate business success — the individual and his co-workers will recognize that their thoughts, opinions and contributions are heard.

Another leadership skill many millennials need to hone is effective communication. Murat Philippe, director of workforce consulting services at Avatar Solutions, said millennials must be coached to advance their level of proficiency.

“Oftentimes, millennials are very comfortable communicating electronically but have opportunities to become more skilled and nuanced in their person-to-person communication,” Philippe said.

To evolve the youngest cohort’s personal communication skills, encourage them to take public speaking courses, engage in networking or simply approach co-workers with a brief question rather than writing an email.

Pushing employees to communicate in person rather than relying on email will not only help develop a necessary leadership skill, it could lead to increased productivity if questions are addressed more quickly.

Millennials also may need to acquire a more professional tone in their writing. With Twitter, Facebook and text messaging, the generation is used to staying in touch via short messages. To communicate in business, millennials may need help delivering clear messages and understanding the nuances of communication etiquette.

Providing training classes to help employees understand differences in communication may help to alleviate problems. Training also will help millennials recognize that their method of communicating is not always effective, and that they must understand other methods to accomplish tasks and manage others.

Developing millennials as leaders boils down to the “golden rule of business,” according to Templin and Karsh. In the working world, instead of treating others as you want to be treated, you must treat them as they want to be treated.

By being sympathetic to others — and understanding each generation may view work differently and want different things from a leader — organizations can prepare millennials — or any group — to be successful.

Melissa Herrett is a project manager at Avatar Solutions, a performance improvement firm. She can be reached at