What You Should Know When Managing Millennials

July 16, 2013

Up until 2 years ago, I’d always been the manager of very experienced professionals and teams. Then, I decided to take on the head role in leading LinkedIn’s new Campus Recruiting team.

As we were building up the team, over 50% of the staff turned out to be recent college grads or “millennials.” It didn’t occur to me then, but what I was doing was exactly what I was asking the business to do -- hire in junior level talent and groom them from the very beginning of their careers.

Since then, I’ve learned that managing millennials can be incredibly fun and rewarding but also very challenging. New grads not only bring in tremendous talent and energy, but also the necessity for change in culture, attitude, and management style. Any company in hyper-growth stage and using junior talent as a talent strategy should have a plan in place to ensure the absorption of the talent goes well.

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4 Lessons for Managing Millennials

Here are the four lessons I have learned while managing this incredible team over the past couple of years. This is advice I always give hiring managers when considering new grads and I think it would be useful to anybody building out a team:

1. For them teamwork is often a solo sport:

Millennials (those born between 1980-2000) are very motivated. They will literally do anything for a manager they respect. They will work outlandish hours and put in the time. But, to them, “team” is often a solo sport.

So, lesson #1 is to recognize them as individuals first. This should go without saying, but while many of us want to foster a team environment, we might alienate a top performer because we simply refused (or overlooked) to acknowledge what role they played in the team’s success.

It is as simple as: “thank you for all your hard work and a special shout out to XYZ for making sure all these pieces came together- great job XYZ!” This common sense concept goes a long way toward making sure millennials feel valued and appreciated as individuals.

2. Be prepared! They will test your basic knowledge and fortitude and they will demand you to be a great manager and leader:

These guys and gals get a LOT done.

Given the right direction, freedom, and latitude, they will over-deliver for you and then ask for more. As great as this sounds (wow, a team that works hard, executes, and raises their hand for more work!) it means that you have to be ready to give them more work and invest time in teaching them the ropes and be prepared for mistakes.

In particular, make sure you lay out the work to them in a succinct manner. Quantifiable goals definitely help.

The ability to keep challenging them and giving them more and more responsibility is key. Don’t be afraid they aren’t senior enough to handle it. The more I freed up my thinking and started to rely on my millennial team for challenging project , the more they rose to the challenge…every time.

3. Set the right expectations about the pace of career growth and promotions:

Millennials are not only hard workers but have high expectations about moving up the ladder. They may see someone in the same job but one level up and they ask “why am I not there?”

It behooves us all as mentors and managers to this generation to be honest with them. Tell them that as good as they are, there are advantages to having years of experience or varied roles under your belt.

Patience (and sometimes reality) is something this generation lacks so managers should give them a plan on how to get to the next step AND give them a timeline. Then, live up to your word and make it happen. If they’ve got a plan in front of them, nobody will work harder to live up to your expectation than them!

4. Feedback is a gift AND it should go both ways:

One of the biggest eye-openers for me in managing my team is the fact that they always ask for feedback. Not the “pat me on the back and praise me” sort of feedback but, real, quality, deep (good and bad) feedback in the spirit of self-improvement.

On the flip side, they also call ME out. Meaning, if I’m not on my game or don’t have all the answers, they will poke holes and ask questions and give me feedback. The key is mutual respect. I never treat them like “kids” (well, OK- some of the random conversations do need to be cut off sometimes!) but, rather as respected, quality coworkers.

The bottom line is -- there are many, many reasons why I love this generation. They are whip smart and energetic people and ready to be groomed to be the future leaders of business units and companies.

Yes, they are sometimes too impatient and expect to be a VP by 30, but with common sense management, coaching and mentorship they often become the best employees and the most loyal supporters of the company vision.

Take the time and invest in them and you will witness the future leaders of your teams and company in the making -- nothing could be more gratifying as a manager. If you are considering working with a team of millennials or hiring interns or new college grads, I strongly recommend you plunge right in with no fear.

Want to boost your millennial workforce? Check out our 5 tips to engage entry level talent on LinkedIn.

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