Managing Millennials in the 21st Century

By Kris Senanu Managing Director, Enterprise Division, Telkom Kenya.

In every workplace, the million dollar question for leaders is retaining top talent. Losing top talent is costly, detrimental to the chances of a company reaching its business goals, and likely to result in losing ground to competitors, particularly if that is where ex-employees are headed.

Unfortunately, the millennial generation that we distrust is increasingly filling the Kenyan workforce which is quite necessary and timely for the economy’s next horizon, the knowledge-based economy.

More so, they are now entering employment in vast numbers, and are predicted to   shape the world of work for years to come. Their career aspirations, attitudes about work, and knowledge of new technologies, are defining the culture of the 21st century workplace.

Attracting the best of these millennial workers is critical to the future of our businesses, but leading, managing and retaining them is every leader and talent strategist’s newfangled challenge. Having been born in a different generation, they cannot be managed the way other generations have been managed.

While it is easy to loosely translate the behavior we see in university students as wayward and spoilt, while clamoring for their issues, it provides for a perfect opportunity to understand how they view and express themselves.

In my interaction with this generation and as backed by numerous surveys, millennials believe they can change the world.  There’s a sense of optimism about the world they live in, about the values of society in the future and their ability to make an impact in the world they live in.

They do not take ‘no’ for an answer and value open lines of communications to express their issues. It explains why they thrive in organisations with an open-door-policy or no doors at all.

As matter of fact, most research findings, millennials define their rules of engagement. They expect communication with them to be wrapped in respect. You must act with respect. You must show them respect. You must truly respect them. In general, they deserve your respect because they have knowledge and skills those other generations can learn from.

Unlike the older generation that would stick to a job for years, they are labeled the ‘microwave’ generation that wants instant success.

This is their quest for change and insatiable appetite for personal achievement results in bouncing from company to company. But this is not exactly a bad trait. Managed effectively, it’s possible that the distinct characteristics of this generation may also help them be better workers.

In actual fact they have shown vastly different expectations from leadership and how they want to be led, managed and trained as future leaders.

Millenials value transformational leadership

In trying to establish how this new school of workforce interpret corporate leadership, “The Millennial Leadership Study”, by an American training and consultancy firm Virtuali,   found out that 91 percent of Millennials aspire to be a leader and out of that, 52 percent were women.

Almost half of Millennials describe leadership as “empowering others to succeed” and 43 percent of them are highly motivated by leaders that “empower others.”

When enquired about the form of leader they desire to be, 63 percent indicated “transformational”, which means they seek to challenge and inspire their followers with a sense of purpose and excitement.

Other findings in the survey find out that the Millennials want to learn online and have mentors. When asked what type of training would be most effective for their development as a leader, 68 percent said online classes and 53 percent said mentoring. Only 4 percent of Millennials said University courses.

Millennials prefer to have less management. 83 percent of Millennials said they would prefer to work for a company with fewer layers of management.

Millennials view that the biggest problems with their company’s leaders are their ability to develop others and communication.

Lead, don’t Manage Generation Y’ers

It’s a no-brainer therefore that the younger generation obviously wants a management style and corporate culture that is significantly different from anything that many leaders from other generations have to offer. They want a leadership and management culture that meets their ‘microwave’ needs.

With a more focused response mechanism from their leadership, coupled with regular feedback and encouragement, millennials will be more amenable to consider longer term engagement with their current employer rather than move on quickly if their expectations are not met.

The biggest leadership challenge therefore rests in the innovation with which we recruit, manage and retain the ‘microwave’ generation. One’s ability to attract and retain top talent will solely depend on their engagement model. No engagement – no ‘millennial longevity’ in the work place.

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