As the CEO of a global digital business, a large majority of my employees are millennials. And I love it – and them. Yes, love. They are the future of business. In 2015, they passed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. They will make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025. That’s just seven years away.
So why is there so much negativity towards them? Why do so many non-millennials – and even some traditionally minded millennials I know – complain about this generation instead of seeing them in a positive light? We want them to be motivated and set up for success. We would like them to be committed and not just leave the second the next opportunity presents itself. So how do we create a self-regulating and self-encouraging environments that allow millennials to thrive? How do we use positive reinforcement and provide the opportunities millennials need and expect without compromising the need to deliver results? Here are 3 strategies I have used to help motivate millennials that work!
1. Give them a growth plan for today
According to recent research, millennials want to be promoted fast, demand development opportunities, and leave jobs quickly when they don’t find those things. All true. But why are those things negatives in so many people’s minds? Business today demands speed, seizing opportunities, and the ability to adapt when something isn’t working. I think it’s great millennials expect the same things for themselves. I love that millennials want to take on new responsibilities, take on new roles, even move to new locations. I don’t see that their acting entitled but a chance to push them to do all they can – to find a growth plan that gets them inspired and motivated.
Simply put, millennials want the opportunities to do something great. Don’t we all want to do something great? In fact, when millennials do that the U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that they are just as loyal as the previous generation: they stay in their jobs as long as Generation Xers. Forget about the idea that if you want to move up you have to serve time. Show them where they can be in months. Give them constant feedback. Stop holding them accountable to inflexible job descriptions that read like a criminal sentence. Work isn’t a punishment. I love what I do, and I want my people to love it too! Instead of a list of general responsibilities and complaining when they fall short, understand their strengths and leverage them, empowering them to be better at what they do well and own it. Treat them like valued individuals who can be themselves and achieve the goals of the organization.
2. Create “intrapreneurial” work environments
Today I work for one of the largest telecommunications company’s in Asia but I still call myself an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is someone who identifies new business opportunity, pushes boundaries and is willing to take risks. I expect this same entrepreneurial spirit from the people who work for me. Bottom to top, I don’t want my people confined to a box – they can’t just do what they’re told. So I’m naturally more hands off and expect my leaders to be the same way. There are opportunities to create opportunities 24/7.
By creating autonomous work environments that allow millennials to be what I call “intrapreneurs.” Intrapreneurs are entrepreneurs within the walls of the company they work for. They get job security but the opportunity to work as individuals to create, innovate, and start new opportunities in addition to maintaining and growing the ones already identified. Millennials see things non-millennials don’t, why confine them? We’ve done the same thing when it comes to diversity in the workplace: try and make people conform to one way of doing things. What does that get you? One way of doing things. Allow them to teach you and create, innovate and imagine of any idea possible and be open to it.
When I started my first company, there weren’t social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter yet today we have partnerships with all of them. Today our social success is a direct a result of my talented team identifying new marketing opportunities in social media and being given the autonomy to create new business lines for advertisers to work with them.
3. Demand and reward for performance
There’s a myth out there that millennials are not as competitive as previous generations – that they would rather collaborate than compete. From my experience at a company driven by millennials I know that is false. In fact, research shows millennials are more likely than any previous generation to measure their success by comparing their performance to their peers. So expect results and reward them regularly when they perform.
Millennials grew up in a world with trophies for participation and helicopter parents who solved everything for them. Let them break free from all that and thrive. Recognize them for results, not just showing up – and celebrate performance wins small and big regularly! Balance their entrepreneurial drives with real expectations for measurable results. Be clear what they are and demand it! They will respond, because they want to deliver for you – to show their value.
But when you do, please don’t judge how millennials deliver those results. If they are delivering results, why does how they work make us uncomfortable? We want them to love what they do authentically and genuinely! Yet too often we judge them without any attempt to understand or accommodate their differences.
The fact is millennials didn’t grow up like non-millennials did and we shouldn’t expect them to change. We want them to use their strengths to build us a bigger, brighter future! Millennials understand that work-life separation is often impossible these days. It’s about work-life integration. If you truly love what you do, it’s not a chore to take a 7 a.m. call on the weekend or devote some of your vacation time to business. If your business allows a millennial who wants to kick ass on the weekend so he or she can surf on a Monday? Go for it! Just make sure they prioritize correctly so that their energy and quality time always goes in the right direction in work and life. They must always know you expect accountability to those results – but that if they deliver you will give them that space.
In the end, motivating millennials is letting go of how things should be and opening up to how they could be. Keep them engaged, provide the value they need, and make sure they are recognized and rewarded when they deliver. Bridge your old school mindset with the demands of millennials today. Understanding how to motivate them is about letting go of the past and evolving together for mutual success in the future.