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This is what I learned as a millennial managing other millennials

GoldieBlox founder Debbie Sterling says she actually found it hardest to manage millennials at the beginning of her career or even identify with them at all.

This is what I learned as a millennial managing other millennials
[Photo: Mikaala Shackelford/Unsplash]

When you picture the people who have a tough time managing millennials, another millennial probably doesn’t come to mind. But as someone who is a part of that generation, I actually found it hardest to manage millennials at the beginning of my career, or even identify with them at all. Some of the millennials I’ve managed felt like they deserved my job. Others want the same autonomy I have. And some of them are the nightmare the media has painted them to be: lazy, entitled, and demanding.

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At first, my knee-jerk reaction was to quickly write off annoying behavior as something wrong with an entire generation (of which I was clearly the outlier). But when I took the time to understand why an employee acts a certain way, I usually discovered someone extremely motivated and hard-working. The trick is learning how to channel millennials’ strengths toward better results, so it’s a win-win for everybody.

Listen to the reasoning behind the demand

Sometimes, the requests millennials make aren’t about the specific demand but a signal that they’re ready for something bigger.

For example, I had a team member complain that our open office environment was making it impossible for her to get her work done and that she needed her own private space to work. Though I was reluctant at first (I designed an open office for a reason), I did something that felt counterintuitive at the time but now seems obvious. I seriously considered her request and her feelings. I let her move into a private room that wasn’t being used, and I also assigned her as the leader of an important project. What followed was pretty amazing. She sunk her teeth into that project like nothing I’d ever seen from her before and ended up spending 90% of her time out in the open area collaborating with others. Mission accomplished.

Before you jump to a conclusion, take a minute to understand the reason for the ask. Meeting their demand–within reason, of course–can send a message that they are understood, valued, and respected at the company, which, in turn, can make them more motivated to do great work.

Show them their impact

It’s critical to make sure the company’s impact is visible to employees by creating opportunities for them to see their contributions.

GoldieBlox’s mission is getting girls into STEM, and it is a big part of what attracts millennials to work with us. Every employee at GoldieBlox, regardless of their role, is encouraged to participate in various activities with kids, from running our booth at VidCon to getting feedback from our Kid Council. It’s these moments of getting to see how our work lights up a kid’s face that reminds everyone, in the most visceral way, why we show up to work every day.

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Help them make an impact

In addition to a company mission, many millennials have personal missions they want to put into action at their jobs. If you find a positive way to engage these and give millennials the opportunity to lead a charge, above and beyond their normal work duties, they will be happier and more motivated overall.

One member of my team was really passionate about the environment and wanted to encourage composting at the office. When she asked how we could get bins for the office, I told her to reach out to businesses in the community that could help with this. She not only got the bins for our office but created signs and sent out emails to our office about the right way to compost. She helped us become a greener office, educated our team, and felt heard in her desire to carry out her environmental mission.

When you support millennials in their inclination to make an impact, big or small, it ultimately benefits the company and the culture. Highlight the impact they’re making on behalf of your company, and enable them to make an impact on your employees.

Create a roadmap to success for each employee

When employees seem unmotivated or ask for a pay raise that seems to come out of nowhere when they’ve only been working at the company for a month (yes, this is something that has happened repeatedly), this may be because they are unsure of where they stand in the company and what comes next for them. When I work with them to create a career roadmap with a clear set of key performance metrics to establish success, they work harder to achieve the next milestone because they know we’ll both view that as a huge success.

Success anywhere is built on a desire to learn and grow. I’ve seen how hungry and hard-working millennials can be (something I really identify with), and when that is channeled into something, the impact is tremendously powerful.

Debbie Sterling is the CEO and founder of GoldieBlox.

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