Managing Millennials For Dummies
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To stay competitive, companies have to adapt and adopt a progressive feedback structure. The ones leading the pack are those whose leaders recognize that their talent development strategies need to evolve with the changing demographics of their workforce.

Successful feedback and reviews are absolutely critical. Oftentimes an employee’s exit can be traced back to a poor review session with his manager. If you’re not rethinking your review session to appeal to Millennials’ unique needs, you’re going to slowly (or quickly) see your turnover numbers creep up.

When Baby Boomers entered the workforce, they entered into stiff competition with millions of peers to try and get ahead. In order to better understand how they stacked up with others, Boomers collectively created the annual feedback process. At the time, this yearly review was considered revolutionary.

Fast forward 20 years and you had Gen Xers growing weary of the style and infrequency of the yearly evaluation. It felt too formal, too delayed and, in a way, insincere. Xers had different objectives and priorities from their Boomer predecessors. The old model wasn’t working for them, so they shook things up by asking for more regular and transparent feedback.

Enter Millennials. They’re the first generation in the workforce that grew up with the Internet. It has shaped who they are and what they expect, and they’re bringing those new expectations into the working world.

Don’t be afraid to examine your current review structure and ask questions, such as:

  • Your review policy should be a living, breathing, evolving thing — has it been touched in the last ten years? Five years? Past year?
  • Do your managers give both formal and informal feedback?
  • Is there flexibility in feedback frequency, or is the rate static?
  • Do you customize your approach based on the generation and/or the individual’s preference?
  • Are you staying abreast of what your competitors, as well as the best-of-the-best, are doing?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, read on.

If you make a 180-degree shift in the way things used to be done, you’re going to face an unhappy flood of Xer and Boomer employees. Make sure you’re giving people a few options.

Maybe your Xers don’t want a weekly check-in and once a month serves them just fine. Don’t ever assume; take the time to ask. And always keep in mind that change is hard, and in the workplace, if you’re trying to retain all generations, evolution trumps revolution.

Know what works for Millennials

When strategizing about how to deliver feedback to Millennials, don’t spend sleepless nights daunted by how much you need to change. Yes, Millennials are wired a bit differently, but at the end of the day, they’re just people.

To make things easier for you and more valuable for them, it’s helpful to get a handle on understanding what works for them. Chances are you’ve got a pretty good grasp of how to communicate with Baby Boomer and Gen X employees, but start thinking (or asking!) about what works for Millennials before you sit down for a review.

Ask them to self-evaluate before they pontificate

One of the first steps to make a review session work for Millennials is to give them time to think and evaluate first. This practice is not uncommon to Millennials — they’ve likely been doing it from elementary school all the way through their MBA programs — but that doesn’t mean they do it without prompting.

Sitting down and listing all the things you’ve done right and wrong isn’t necessarily a fun task for any generation, but it certainly is worthwhile. Prior to an informal or formal review session, ask Millennials to reflect on their performance.

Ask yourself whether you know what to say

While it may seem obvious, do your best to think before you speak. Consider phrases/words/thoughts commonly used in the workplace that should be avoided and replace them with something more savory.
Don’t Say Do Say
Three months ago … Last week or a couple of hours ago …
Why do you need so much feedback? How much feedback do you prefer?
What could you have done differently? What did you do well and what would you change?
Back in my day … What has worked for me may or may not work for you …
Let’s talk about your weaknesses … Let’s focus on your strengths …

Ask them

Yup. That is it. Just plain ask them how they like their feedback. In all likelihood they have lots of thoughts on the topic. But you can’t forget that, though they belong to the Millennial generation, each employee is an individual.

Take the time to have a conversation with them about how they prefer to receive feedback. Come to the meeting prepared with a proposed review session and format. Ask them for their thoughts, amend as necessary, and go from there. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask them whether they need anything different from you as a mentor.

How to differentiate between formal and informal feedback

Feedback sessions lie on a moving scale of formality, where all levels are equally important, but knowing when and how to go about each one … well, that requires a dash of experience with a pinch of emotional intelligence. That said, Millennials show a marked preference for the informal end of that scale. They’re an inherently informal generation because they grew up in an environment that allowed for constant and candid communication.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all allow Millennials to give feedback on people’s lives with a thumbs up/heart icon/emoji or comment. An acquaintance might post a recent picture of a vacation in Spain, and the response might be “Whoa, Jordan, those bullfighters are impressive. Looks fun!”

Even if they’ve spoken to Jordan only a handful of times, they’re comfortable commenting (in a way, giving him feedback). They’re so accustomed to constantly giving and delivering feedback via these informal platforms that, to a Millennial, informal is the new normal, to the point that very formal feedback can stir up anxiety and feel a bit uncomfortable.

In stark contrast, other generations grew up in an environment when the norm was being left alone to fend for yourself unless something was going terribly wrong. In the workplace, older employees wait for the formal review process and use it as a scale to track progress over time.

In this format, you condense a half year or year’s worth of comments into a couple-hour time block. The window for feedback is typically opened for that brief period of time before being shut again for all but the most immediate and/or pressing needs. Politically correct language and documentation are standard, as well as professional attire and thorough preparation for every single review session.

There’s clearly quite a difference between the formal standard that Xers and Boomers are accustomed to and the more informal check-in that Millennials hunger for. In all likelihood, all your employees — whether they’re 25 or 68 — prefer a healthy mix of the two (with Millennials tipping the balance in favor of the informal).

To make sure that you deliver, you must first understand what differentiates the formal from the informal.

Formal feedback looks like this:

  • The review is often scheduled months in advance.
  • Pre-work is a prerequisite.
  • The review room is organized in a specific way (for example, the manager deliberately sits across from the employee).
  • The review always takes place in person.
  • It lasts for a set period of time, typically one to two hours.
  • Criticism is carefully couched, using phrases like, “This is an area of opportunity.”
  • Professionalism and polish in communication and dress are expected.
  • The review is meticulously documented.
  • Communication is (mostly) one-directional.
  • Extended periods of time lapse between sessions.
Informal feedback, on the other hand, looks more like this:
  • Feedback is delivered instantly or within a couple hours or days.
  • Little or no pre-work is required.
  • A public place or open office is often preferable to a closed-door office.
  • Virtual communication is an acceptable alternative to meeting in person.
  • Time frames are short and flexible, typically 5–15 minutes.
  • The style of communication is casual and open — direct, but not abrasive.
  • There are no expectations regarding decorum or dress.
  • Documentation is scant, aside from determining next steps.
  • Communication is two-directional.
  • Flexibility is key in finding time that works, which may often be determined on the fly.

Each individual may prefer feedback that is particular to his career and lifestyle, so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. It will take a bit more work upfront, but make sure to curate your approach based on the needs of the individual.

Determine the right frequency for performance reviews

It’s no secret that Millennials want constant feedback. Of course, they do — they’ve grown up in an instant world and know that the sooner they learn something needs fixing, the sooner they’ll be able to fix it. The work environment, however, isn’t necessarily designed to accommodate that model, at least not at the present. HR policies, overscheduling, and lack of resources can all get in the way of instant communication and evaluation.

As a manager, you work with the tools at your disposal. Keep the lines of communication open with both your higher-ups and your direct reports. To ensure that you’re determining the right frequency — one that works for you, your employee, and your organization — follow these three steps:

  1. Ask. Get a gauge of how often the Millennials you’re managing want your thoughts. You will find that it varies from person to person, and you’ll save valuable time that might be lost in making assumptions.
  2. Research. Seek insight from fellow leaders about what works for them. How often do they meet with their teams, and how rigid or flexible is that schedule? You can even take it a step further and track what trends and best-in-class examples are being referenced in the news and apply those concepts to your own practice.
  3. Act. After asking and researching, set a plan into action. Pilot a feedback timeline for a month and then review until you find what works.
The following are signs that the frequency may be too high:
  • When you meet with your direct report, you have trouble coming up with a review topic, whether the feedback is good or bad.
  • You spend all the review session talking about your personal lives.
  • Your own work is suffering.
  • The Millennial keeps cancelling your sessions.
  • There’s not enough time between your conversations to see positive changes in performance.
  • You’re bored.
  • They’re bored.

At most, stick with a default frequency of once a week. Younger generations will favor informal feedback in the moment, but in many cases that just may not be practical. Instead, as a base, schedule one-on-ones regularly for 15–30 minutes.

Set a time and a location, and make it a habit. That way you and your reports will grow accustomed to these check-ins. It’s up to both of you to assess and readjust the necessary frequency from there.

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