Three Tips for Engaging Your Millennial Employees

In my work with organizations of all sizes, from the four-person startup to the global Fortune 100 businesses, I’ve found there is one common theme which predicts an employee’s engagement. It’s not the pop-a-shot tournaments at lunch, the employee incentive plan, the fridge of unlimited La Croix® or the flexible work schedule. It’s much simpler; it’s your relationship with your employees.

Gallup data shows at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement is attributed to the manager alone. As a manager, you were likely promoted because you are great at your job, you’re a top performer, or you are experienced and know the role like the back of your hand. However, taking on a leadership role is tough. You are suddenly given two jobs, the one you signed up for and one that is infinitely more complex and confusing; leading people. In addition, you’re being asked to engage the most disengaged of all in the workforce, millennials. Millennials, as a generation, are turning over at 3x the rate of all other generations.

Here are a few tips that will go a long way for engaging with millennials:

1) Take a new perspective

One of my clients, Craig, is in the first leadership role of his career. He’s spent the past 12 years as a top performer, and now he’s taken the next step, the responsibility of leading not just his performance but the performance of his entire team. In his first few weeks on the job, Craig saw a gap in the team’s sales process. The team was not tracking crucial prospect information and was losing potential clients because of it. Noticing the opportunity, Craig spent the time to draft a new process for addressing the gap. He scheduled a meeting with his team and rolled out the plan.

When he pulled the first months’ report on the usage of the new process, he found half of his team hadn’t used it at all.

Instead of sitting each of them down and berating the offenders for not following his instructions, Craig got curious; he asked them what about the process wasn’t working. In listening to his teams’ answers, Craig quickly saw the error in his ways. He realized he had lumped together several steps that had taken him years to master and expected his team to run with it after a one-hour presentation. It was only when Craig pulled back and took a new perspective did he end up discovering how to unlock his teams’ engagement.

To avoid Craig’s errors, step into your teams’ shoes. Work to understand their position, experiences, and resources and take a new perspective. Instead of creating a process FOR them, help them see the outcome, include them in the discussion and engage them in determining how to achieve success.

Tip: One easy way to do this is to ask, how do you currently accomplish x? What about it works for you? What doesn’t? What would you do to improve the process?

If you are genuinely open to what your team says, you’ll gain incredible insights in how to create a change that works for others. More importantly, you’ll gain your people’s buy-in for the new initiative, because you’ve included them in the process.

2) Open the lines of communication

Harvard Business Review reports 69% of managers are uncomfortable communicating with their employees.

One very simple and often missed component of leading a team is taking the time to connect with each of your employees. Open the lines of communication by spending time getting to know each of your employees.

Tip: Take your employee to coffee or lunch – somewhere outside of the office – and have a conversation about life, not work.

For a quick guide, ask these four questions:

–    What do you do in your free time? 

–    What inspires you?

–    Where are you looking to grow?

–    How can I support you and your growth?

When you take time to get to know your employee on a personal level, you express appreciation for more than just her numbers. You let her know you care about her as a person and you create the space to share honest and open feedback.

3) Help them grow

In a poll of millennials in the workplace, Gallup found only 39% of millennials strongly agreed they learned something new on the job in the past 30 days.

As a manager, you likely hear cries from your millennials; for a promotion, a raise or simply a new title. Yes, millennials will ask for a new title even if you’re not giving them a promotion or raise.

Why is this happening and what can you do about it?

If you take a deep dive below the surface of these requests, you’ll see that each of these; a promotion, a raise or even a title change, are all external symbols of growth. They are all ways of telling the outside world, I’ve arrived, I’ve grown and in turn, for millennials, it’s their way of knowing they are continuing to grow.

By understanding the root cause of an employee’s request, you can serve them better. You might not be able to give them a promotion or raise, and I don’t suggest changing their title just for the sake of it, but what you can do is challenge them.

Tip: Your millennials want to grow, so give them the opportunity by challenging them to take on new projects, to work on developing new skills and to be owners of their own development. Entrust them with more responsibility and you’ll see the benefits.

When you open their world to new possibilities of growth, you’ll find your millennials have a new vigor for their work.

By embracing the millennial perspective, making the choice to engage vs disengage your people, you’ll not only be a better leader, you’ll unlock the powerful potential of your people.

This guest post is by Aaron Levy, the Founder and CEO of Raise The Bar Consulting. Raise The Bar helps companies retain their millennial talent by empowering managers with the tools, skills and training to be better leaders of people.

You can find out more about Aaron and his work at www.raisebar.co or by emailing him at aaron@raisebar.co.

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