How do you manage millennials? Treat them as individuals

by Leadership, Mental health, Recruitment

You’re a winner whatever you do, you can be and have whatever you want no matter what you contribute because you’re special, and yourfeelings and beliefs — rather than objective facts and the consideration of other people around you — are the only guides you need to navigate through life.

This caricature of the snowflake generation may have become cliche, but if you’re a business leader it’s more than an amusing meme. Leaders really are having trouble managing their younger employees. The author Simon Sinek articulated the problem succinctly a couple of years ago in this video. We were reflecting on this with NLP coach Martin Crump and asked him if he had any tips for dental practice owners struggling to manage millennials (born after 1983).

“A lot of millennials wouldn’t be happy to be described like that, and if these things are true, it’s not their fault. I’ve got two millennial daughters who fortunately don’t fit the typical pattern apart from their phone behaviour. But some general themes do match. I remember my 33-year-old daughter being devastated when she won a race in sports day at primary schooland the teacher gave everyone a medal for taking part. What an unhelpful lesson for a young child to be taught.

The world is changing rapidly, and the thing changing most rapidly is the workforce. The new people coming in have expectations, which are driven by the consumer culture they’re part of. When I was at school four or five students had cars. Today, at the same school, they’ve turned two rugby fields into car parks because everyone has cars. It’s the same with TVs, phones, holidays, whatever.

So it’s not just the technology that’s changed people, it’s the expectation of it. Young people are being told by everybody that they’re entitled to have a car, a job and a house. But if you’re going to university, picking up £50k of debt, and then walking into a £17k job, that’s not enough to live on, never mind get a car. People expect to be promoted quickly, they want to make a difference and contribute, but they also need to succeed to fund the lifestyle they feel entitled to. They are impatient and are prepared to move on if it doesn’t happen quickly.

A more stable option for the worker and the employer is for the worker to cut out university and start as an apprentice. The young person starts on a low wage but earn as they learn, and add value to the business. There are many jobs that need doing in dentistry that don’t require university degrees so this is a really good way to go if you are recruiting.

Most popular university degrees are missold. For example, my wife did a psychology degree 15 years ago. There were 300 students at intake and everyone she spoke to wanted to be a forensic psychologist. There are only a couple of forensic psychologists in the UK, and they are part time. It’s the same with most degrees, so we’re producing tens of thousands of graduates each year with no hope of reaching the job or earning potential they feel they deserve and desperately need.

That’s the context of why we’re getting so many hard-to-manage people coming into organisations. The churn rate is huge because people come in, see no way to get a promotion and move elsewhere, thinking they’re going to get in at a higher level. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction around. You can’t avoid this phenomenon, it will be affecting your business soon if it hasn’t already. Millennials with these mindsets are ubiquitous. They’re also very bright and have a lot of potential.

So how do you get the best out of them? The same as with any employee. As a leader you should be focusing on the people not the process, treating people as individuals. It’s helpful to use the situational leadership matrix to stay conscious of where you are best placed in terms of leadership style in relation to each person. Everyone has a natural leadership style — some are more directive and some more supportive. Leaders need to develop a flexible approach depending on the situation and the person. Some people need more direction, others more support.

When someone joins your business you need to be directive because they’ve got no idea what they’re doing. Later you move into a more supportive and less directive phase: now they know the job, you need to say thanks, give feedback and reward them. Eventually they may reach a point where they don’t actually need support or direction, but there are still situations where you could produce better results by consciously supporting or directing them. This process is being used by the military more and more, an officer will say to his men, “Right, we need to get over this river, what do you suggest?” He might be more directive if they are under attack.

One problem is a lot of people don’t expect much out of a job, so they are quite happy to sit in the fourth quadrant, with the least support and direction. They do the job, take the pay and go home, which is quite appealing for their bosses. They’re great people to manage because they don’t need to be managed, but there’s a cost: they won’t develop and neither will the business.

In contrast to fourth quadrant workers, millennials may need more reassurance, support and interaction to find their feet. But the results could be amazing. Try to find out what they like, what they want, what they’re good at, set objectives for them and manage their performance. Where possible it might be helpful to put them on a commission basis, so they can earn more to buy what they feel they’re entitled to. And try to find development opportunities for them, starting with these two things:

  1. Give them mentor
  2. Give them a coach

A mentor should be someone in your business who can show them how to do their job. A coach should be someone outside the business who can help them develop as an individual, so it’s not just about the job they’re doing. They might also help with interpersonal problems, worries like “I’m not feeling fulfilled” or “I don’t feel I’m contributing”. If you don’t provide this support the employee might leave, looking for it elsewhere, but the tragedy is they won’t find it, because everywhere’s pretty much the same.

Here are some NLP principles that can help practice owners manage anyone, not just millennials:

–       Goal setting: using well formed, realistic outcomes is a key NLP tool. It’s about finding out about what individuals want, and it works for individuals but also teams and the whole organisation

–       Pace Pace Lead: this is a leadership technique that 1. builds rapport; 2. demonstrates that you understand what it’s like to be them; 3. leads them to where you want them to be

–       Presuppositions of NLP: one that comes to mind here is that everyone’s doing the best they can with the resources they’ve got. You might feel like they’re not, but actually resources include beliefs, values and skills. If you believe this then you’re more likely to give them more resources if they’re not performing the way you want them to

The bottom line is treat them same as everyone else, and if you’re used to not providing a careful mix of support and direction because you have a business full of fourth quadranters, that isn’t going to end well. Remember even the most challenging employees are just coming from a different standpoint to you. Try your best to treat them as individuals, and once you’ve done everything you can to make it work, if it’s not working, let them go with a clear conscience.”

Martin Crump

“The thing changing most rapidly is the workforce”

Martin Crump, managing director and lead coach at Evolution Development

Author: Zac Fine