To Recruit and Engage Millennials, First Stop Stereotyping Them as ‘Deluded Narcissists'

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Sept. 12 — The “millennial” generation of 18-to-30-year olds that is frequently stereotyped as consisting of “deluded narcissists” is nothing of the kind, and employers must adjust their management style to take full advantage of this young, skilled and eager workforce, according to Mark Murphy, CEO of Atlanta-based consulting firm LeadershipIQ.

The millennials who make up the famous Navy SEALs and form such a vital part of tech companies like Google obviously didn't get there by being self-involved and unrealistic, Murphy observed in a Sept. 12 webinar his company sponsored, titled “The Science of Managing Millennials.”

There's hard proof that the stereotype is wrong, Murphy said, citing surveys his company conducted among adults of different ages that found millennials' self-rating of their own communication skills, writing skills and comfort level discussing long-term compensation goals with a supervisor are lower on average than any other age groups' self-ratings.

Many Generational Strengths

Millennials have many strengths, Murphy said; for example, “this was the first generation that really had market purchasing power—commercials aimed at kids to have them influence their parents.” They also display a kind of “technological authority” that older adults tend to defer to, he said. “If the CEOs are having problems with their iPhones, they don't turn to their 50-year-old CIO, they turn to the 23-year-old assistant they just hired,” Murphy said.

The fact that millennials are used to getting products and services immediately over the Internet, that they “grew up in an era where they can customize” many products and that they have a facility with multitasking can all be turned to advantage in the workplace, Murphy argued.

Even the millennials' much-derided self-esteem can be a strength, he said, as when a young salesperson isn't afraid to call up the CEO of another company and try to sell him or her something. Besides, he argued, “when you think what they paid for college, and how much college debt they have, shouldn't they think they're worth something?”

Drivers of Success

Research from LeadershipIQ shows that the three main motivators for millennials at work are, in decreasing order of importance:

• whether or not they believe that the quality of the work this organization provides is excellent,

• whether they're learning at work, and

• whether they feel their work is valued by company leadership.

Millennials are good at sniffing out whether employers “are sincere about quality,” Murphy asserted. If your managers disparage the customer, he said, “millennials, at least the good ones, won't come work for you.”

Employee learning is another area where many organizations fall short, Murphy said. LeadershipIQ data show that 40 percent of millennials believe they never or rarely learn something new at work, and another 19 percent think they learn something only “occasionally.” To remedy this, Murphy suggested training supervisors to ask four questions at monthly meetings with millennial employees:

• “What's something you're better at now than you were last month?”

• “What things would you like to get better at this month?”

• “What's your plan for developing these skills?”

• “What resources can I help you with?”

If millennial employees aren't learning all sorts of new skills, then “your goals are probably not hard enough,” Murphy said, adding that in such a case one should try making the goals 30 percent harder and then evaluate again in three months.

As for the third driver of millennials' performance, Murphy said that “making them feel valued is not a pat on their head. That's not what millennials are after.” What it boils down to is what the organization's culture is like, he said. Stereotypes might suggest that millennials would be most excited about working in an informal, socially oriented organization, but in fact they prefer meritocratic organizations over the alternatives, he said.

For example, at Google, technical employees are required to spend “80 percent of their time on the core search and advertising businesses and 20 percent on technical projects of their own choosing,” Murphy said. That 20 percent of their time has helped lead to the creation of successful Google products such as Gmail, AdSense and Google News, he said. Success like that is what younger employees can help bring to an organization, Murphy said, if they're given the right kind of environment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com