Managing Millennials

Agencies, ad tech firms, and start-ups tend to be staffed by younger people. The hours are long, the problems are complex and the technology is constantly changing. As a result, high growth companies are now mostly comprised of Millennials, the massive generation of Americans born after the year 1980.

I sometimes hear my fellow Gen-X managers complaining about this younger generation. They feel that Millennials, after years of schooling and parents who doted on them, have an outsize sense of entitlement. This is in contrast to the broken homes and harder path that many Gen-Xers experienced.

But after getting to know the Millennials, I’ve come to appreciate their unique qualities. Sure, they can be self-absorbed at times. But they also work great in groups, are open-minded and respectful of others. Here’s how they’re different, and how I have responded as a manager:

They’re team-oriented. Unlike Gen-Xers, who celebrate self-reliance, Millennials are a generation that prefers to work together. Their Baby Boomer parents enrolled them in an endless number of after-school sports and other activities. As a result, Millennials prefer flat organizations where everyone works together as a team to achieve a goal. The quickest way to demoralize a great Millennial employee is to put a lousy player on his team.



My approach: We’ve created a very flat org structure and encourage people to speak their mind. Also, because of how they were raised, Millennials like to check in and receive encouragement, so I do a lot of that -- often electronically.

They’re impatient. Millennials are used to getting awards just for participating. As a result, many of them aren’t willing toil for years without recognition or a promotion. This generation grew up digital and expects immediate feedback.

My approach: Since we’re a start-up, impatience is a virtue -- we need to move fast! As a result, I like to promote promising Millennials quickly. Also, when it comes to technology, I’m always on and respond to employee emails and texts instantly.

They’re altruistic. For some Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, making money is the whole point of business. For Millennials, that’s less true. What they want is to be part of a great team and work on something meaningful. Building a product the “right” way is more important than doing it the wrong way just to make money.

My approach: When recruiting Millennials, I spend a lot of time talking about the company vision and our long-term goals. Money, while still important, is usually a secondary concern to them.

They’re optimistic. Because many Millennials grew up in a positive environment, they tend to be less jaded than my Gen-X brethren. They believe that they can change the world.

My approach: Startups have their ups and downs but I always try to remain a consistent and positive leader. While Gen-Xers appreciate sarcasm, Millennials prefer a sunny day.

In the book “Generations: The History of America’s Future,” the authors postulate that American generations occur in cycles of four. If that’s the case, then the Millennial generation has a lot in common with the now-departing World War II “Greatest Generation.” Like that generation, Millennials believe that they can achieve great things by working together as a team. In return, they expect their institutions to protect and care for them.

Appreciating these values as a manager is the key to motivating the Millennials, a generation that now dominates the media, advertising and technology industry.

5 comments about "Managing Millennials".
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  1. Greg Davis from MBMG Media Group, November 26, 2012 at 3:13 p.m.

    Great, succinct article. Really liked the specific contrast between Millennials and their predecessors. Ive noticed Millenials are also less beholden to title/rank. In this new order Ive learned the best way to build rapport is by proving merit (typically showing technical knowledge of the subordinate's work process), which ultimately earns respect.

  2. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, November 26, 2012 at 3:58 p.m.

    Great post Matt. Too often, and I am as guilty as many, we only focus on their sense of entitlement (which can be infuriating). But... they have so many other valuable qualities, so we need to look past the entitlement and focus/leverage their many strengths which you outline here. I have come to realize that the entitlement tends to become irrelevant as they come to grips with the real world.

  3. Sherwin Su from AMP Agency, November 26, 2012 at 5:01 p.m.

    This is such a great read, in the sense that finally, someone understands how Millennials are. Perhaps you could provide some insight on a blog post I recently wrote about millennials too:

    I would love to work for a company that embodies everything that is mentioned above, most especially the part where a company works for something that is meaningful.

  4. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 27, 2012 at 8:46 a.m.

    Young people - of all generations - have always been relatively team-orientated, impatient, altruistic and optimistic. One other point, about your statement, "I’m always on and respond to employee emails and texts instantly". You realise that can be a very bad thing, right? Good strategy is not made instantly.

  5. Walter Sabo from SABO media, December 7, 2012 at 8:58 p.m.

    In 1975 there were many many articles about Baby Boomers entering the work force. If you replaced the word Millenial with "baby boomer" the behaviors would be almost identical. Many of these characteristics fall under the broad category of "youth."

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