Business leaders need to tap into the questioning approach of younger staff members, and adapt the way they set tasks, if they are to thrive in the future.
That’s according to Peter Pearce, owner of Pearce Learning and Development and former training manager for the Chartered Institute of Banking.
Pearce was speaking at the Women’s Executive Finance Forum (WEFF) leadership event at Quaglino’s, which was themed around the challenges managers face when getting the most out of millennial staff.
Pearce highlighted that millennial workers can be “irreverent”, in that they challenge the accepted way of doing things within the workplace, but argued that this is actually a positive characteristic which can help businesses grow.
“If we had no irreverence, if we had no questioning of the way things have always been done, we’d be stuck with the status quo and we’d never improve,” he continued.
Getting younger staff members to ‘buy in’ to your aims
He added that in order to get the most out of younger staff members, it’s important for managers to move away from briefing staff on what to do, and instead tell them what they need to accomplish.
He continued: “If you tell people what to do, you will get what you’ve always had. It puts enormous pressure on you as a leader and a manager to know what to do. I would suggest to you that your job as a leader is not to know what to do; your role as a leader is to know where you’re going.
“Your role as a manager is to get things done but not to do them.”
This approach can get younger staff members to ‘buy in’ to the company overall, as they need to understand not just what needs to be achieved but why.
“I think if you present things to people not so much as tasks but as problems to be solved, or objectives to be reached, I think you get that buy-in,” he continued.
Without that buy in, you risk millennial staff members leaving very quickly, at great cost to the business, Pearce noted.
Managing by expectation
Pearce also highlighted that a common trait among millennial workers is to look for regular affirmation, notifying their line managers when they fulfil a small task, in the hope of recognition of that achievement.
He noted that while managers might want to indulge this and provide that affirmation, it can “devastate” a manager’s time management, and so suggested that business leaders instead focus on ‘managing by expectation’.
This means establishing with the employee at the outset what the key milestones for the task are, and making clear that you only need to hear from them if they haven’t hit one, or if they realise they are not going to.
“In those cases I can intervene and help you get back on track,” he added, “I’m keeping control of what’s going on because I’m putting in place a monitoring regime but I’m also empowering my millennial at exactly the same time.”
One member of the audience revealed she had changed the way she communicated with her team because of her employees’ need for constant affirmation.
She said: “I’ve actually changed it to WhatsApp because then I can decide when I read it. I don’t need to know but they like to do it.”
Tapping into the ‘friendship network’
There was some debate during the session over the value of the potential ‘friendship network’ that a millennial may have at their disposal.
Pearce’s suggestion that “millennials are indisputably better connected than other people” provoked some disagreement, with one attendee arguing that while young people may have breadth in terms of the number of connections they have, that doesn’t translate into any depth to those relationships.
Another agreed, stating “They’re not friends, they are acquaintances.”
Pearce accepted that these relationships may not always have depth, but argued that nonetheless those connections can prove useful to businesses, adding “we don’t exploit that as much as we should”.
He also suggested that on technology, firms may benefit from adopting a ‘bottom up’ approach, organising programmes where the millennials coach the older people on the use of technology.
“Give them areas to work in where they can exploit those networks and where that irreverence is a really good thing, when you want new ways of working,” he concluded.