How To Manage Millennials

Short Answer: Don’t.

Last November, I delivered a TEDx talk titled “Stop Managing, Start Leading” in which I explored the following management paradox:

Organizations that are growing and achieving scale require management, however people (especially millennials) don’t like to be managed.

According to a recent study by PwC, millennials will account for 50% of the global workforce by 2020. To effectively manage this dynamic demographic cohort, we’ll need to adapt our management style to fit both the way they work, as well as why they work. Below is a 10-step overview of how I’ve managed led 3 award-winning teams and built up a successful marketing agency, all comprised of people between the ages of 18-30:

  1. Start from a place of 100% trust. Provide your teams with well-defined areas of responsibilities – determine their parameters, establish their goals, and provide them with deadlines. Most importantly, assume that they are here for the right reasons (and that they want to work, and that they will do good work).
  2. Create adequate space (physical and otherwise). Offices are great. But the insistence on being there from 9-5 every day? Not so much. Why is your organization really expecting millennials to work rigid hours? Is it because they don’t trust them to get work done otherwise? Is it because they’re trying to justify the rent? Is it because they believe that physical proximity will prompt magical moments of collaboration? Is it because they believe face-time is significantly more effective than FaceTime? If you’re in the knowledge business, then it’s highly likely that your team can accomplish their goals (with arguably fewer distractions) from anywhere with a fast internet connection. Establish a results-only work environment in which the focus is on getting work done on-time and to a high degree of quality. Where and how the work gets done should largely be the worker’s prerogative.
  3. Stop hoarding, start co-creating. Fighting to “own” projects and creating fortresses around portfolios are counter-productive. Instead, build things together. And don’t simply assign something and expect people to do it (let alone do a good job). Rather, invest your team emotionally in the process of producing value through the organization.
  4. Invest in culture. People want to show up to a workplace that doesn’t feel like a workplace, that feels more like a community — where they can be among peers that they enjoy working with, where they can bring their “whole selves” to work. Now, culture doesn’t mean beer-o-clock and ping-pong tables. Where a lot of organizations (especially startups) miss the mark is that culture begins with a foundation of equity, diversity, and inclusion. From there, add an expectation of excellence, the permission to fail, and the invitation for candor. Only then should you bother with trinkets, entertainment, and rituals.
  5. Raise the bar very, very high. If you want your team to do their best work, you first have to bring out the best in yourself. Don’t stand behind your team and say “Go!” Instead, stand in front of them and say, “Let’s go!”
  6. Go to bat for your team. When people work with you, they want to know that they are working with somebody that has their back, that’s going to go to bat for them no matter what. If you’re inclined to throw someone under the bus in order to solve a problem, then please excuse my French: your sh*t is broken.
  7. Prioritize training & mentorship. If you’re not learning, you’re stagnating. Be on your team’s case to develop themselves personally, professionally, and academically. If they somehow outshine the master, don’t get territorial about it. In fact, recognize that you’ve wildly succeeded as a leader. Then, push them in the right direction – help them seek out other mentors as well as other opportunities to grow (even if this means that they leave your organization).
  8. Give them time, space and resources. Millennials’ best work tends to happen when they’ve got reasonable deadlines, the space to be creative, tools-of-the-trade, and no managers breathing down their necks.
  9. Provide stretch projects. These are the big, audacious projects that scare people, that push them outside of their comfort zone. That’s where the real growth – the real magic – will happen for them. Give your millennial staff a seemingly insurmountable problem to solve during their downtime, and watch what happens.
  10. Get out of the way. This is perhaps the hardest thing for a manager to do, as our instinct is to roll up our sleeves and do the work in tandem (or sometimes, ourselves). If you’re this hands-on with your team, you run the risk of disabling them. Balancing challenge and support is tricky, but always strive for a tip in the scales towards the former. Once you’ve empowered and motivated your team, take a step back and watch them take flight.

Don’t try to manage millennials. They are (for the most part) fully functioning adults who are perfectly capable of managing themselves. Instead, lead them and guide them. Relegate your management simply to the realms of workflow & priorities. As far as your team’s day-to-day is concerned, adopt the approach of a coach:

Coaches don’t play ball. They motivate and empower their teams to win championships, and then they take a step back and watch them do it.

Don’t manage. Lead.

Because you manage things, and you lead people.

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more from me, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter. And if you feel so inclined, please watch my TEDx talk below:

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.