Millennials Bring New Perspectives to Leadership

April 10, 2018

Millennials Bring New Perspectives to Leadership

It’s no secret that millennials have been redefining the workplace since they first joined the ranks nearly 15 years ago. Now, this young generation is having an even greater impact at work as they take on more responsibility and move into leadership positions. From utilizing new means of communication to creating more flexibility and mapping out clear career paths, millennial bosses are coming into their own in the workplace with a different approach to management.

Instead of fighting all of these dynamic changes, companies should focus on embracing and adapting to the new methodologies and perspectives that millennial managers bring to the table.

Online Messaging
Long gone are the days of lengthy email chains and endless rounds of phone tag. Millennial managers favor a new form of communication—online messaging.

According to a recent Korn Ferry survey on millennial bosses, 55 percent of professionals said online messaging is the most common way for millennial managers to communicate with their direct reports. Only 14 percent said millennials prefer to communicate in person and, surprisingly, only 3 percent said via phone. This is a dramatic shift from the traditional and rather time-consuming method of blocking off time for in-person meetings and phone calls.

The way bosses communicate with their staff has a significant impact on organizational culture. Looking forward, older generations need to understand the value of digital communication tools—such as Slack and Basecamp—and feel empowered to not only respond to online messages, but to initiate them as well.

However, it’s important to note that while online messaging and email are efficient and effective tools, face-to-face communication is also needed to create an inclusive and collaborative culture. The key will be to understand which communication vehicle is best suited for the task at hand. For example, if a team needs to have a strategic brainstorm, an in-person meeting may be best. On the other hand, if an employee has a question that warrants a yes or no response, online messaging is the perfect solution.

A Clear Career Path
Upon starting his first role with a company, a recent graduate of Korn Ferry’s talent delivery program walked into the office of his boss—a market leader with 20 years of experience running a multimillion dollar business—and said, “I don’t want to do this job. I want to do your job.”

Stories like this are not uncommon—now more than ever, companies are hiring millennials who have an overwhelming sense of ambition and drive. Millennial workers want to have a well laid out career path; they want to know what’s coming next. In fact, the Korn Ferry survey indicated that 74 percent of professionals believe that seeing a clear advancement path is very important to millennial bosses.

Older generations, like Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, believed that if they did great work in their current roles they would eventually get promoted. On the other hand, millennials have a fairly different approach: first, they want the promotion and then they will prove themselves.

Business leaders need to embrace this ambition and recognize that there is nothing wrong with asking questions about professional growth. Instead of feeling threatened or intimidated by their drive, senior leaders and HR executives should motivate and empower millennials to clearly map out their career goals and learn exactly what it takes to advance into senior leadership.

Team Accountability
Oftentimes, the managerial differences that millennials exhibit in the workplace can result in multigenerational tension. For example, according to the survey, 70 percent of professionals say Gen X and Baby Boomer bosses believe they work harder than their millennial counterparts.

In actuality, it’s not that millennial managers are slacking off at work. They simply have different means of achieving results.

In order to solve for this multigenerational misunderstanding, businesses must prioritize accountability. By clearly defining what is expected of employees, teams can focus on outcomes rather than the different approaches and methodologies.

A Flexible Environment
When asked what millennial bosses do best, 65 percent of professionals said creating flexibility in the workplace. In the past, it was assumed that if you weren’t at your desk, you weren’t working. Nowadays, millennial bosses have scrapped the traditional nine-to-five model and replaced it with a flexible work-life framework.

They believe that productivity is not measured by the number of hours spent at the office, but rather by the work that is delivered. There is, of course, a healthy balance. Flexibility, to an extent, is going to create the best outcome. Too much flexibility, however, can result in an imbalance of productivity and resource allocation.

Again, it all comes back to accountability and outcomes. As long as employees understand what is expected of them, they can continue to perform at a high level.

As millennials climb the ranks and take on more responsibility at work, it’s inevitable that they will continue to shape and reinvent the workplace. Resistance to change is futile. Adapting to and shaping change in the workplace so that it’s creating efficiencies and driving outcomes that teams and customers need—that’s the real opportunity.

The Authors: 

Samantha Wallace is the Technology Market Leader for North America at Korn Ferry Futurestep. She focuses on innovative search solutions for emerging leaders in technology, enabling her clients to harness emerging talent into progressive leadership roles.