Millennials Need Managers Who Can Listen

The Millennial Mentality

Millennials often find themselves on the receiving end of criticism for being difficult to manage and quick to leave jobs. What most people don’t realize is that Millennials, when managed correctly, can be among the greatest over-achievers on one’s team.

Why? Because they bring fresh ideas and perspectives to their roles which can help teams to find new solutions to problems and engage in innovative ways to grow a business.

While Baby Boomers were concerned primarily with ensuring that they could put food on the table and take care of their dependents, Millennials seem to focus on more existential questions.

They want to feel that they are doing things that matter, are part of an organization with strong values, and that their skills are in alignment with their role in the company.

If you understand and respect these goals, Millennials will be your most highly-motivated employees. If you want to unlock their potential, you need to completely master this one skill: listening.

How Listening Makes Millennials Feel Valuable

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, famously said: “Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying, ‘Make me feel important’.”

This is especially true of Millennials.

If you want to successfully engage with Millennials, you must think of yourself as more of a coach than a boss. You’re there to understand their preferences and ambitions, and to focus those, both to the benefit of the whole company, and their personal career goals.

The new CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, does this especially well by encouraging employees to use Microsoft as their own “personal platform” for career growth and development.

Instead of seeing the needs of the company as primary, Satya invites Millennials to see the organization as a place where they can hone their abilities and develop their career; activities that ultimately have enormous benefits both for them and for the company as a whole.

To manage Millennials well, you must understand the distinction between listening with an agenda and listening with a curiosity to understand, a technique Edgar Schein described as “pure inquiry.”

When you listen with an agenda, you cannot give the person you are connecting with 100% of your attention, and you cannot be fully focused on what is best for them. When you engage in pure inquiry, you allow your natural curiosity to shape the direction of your questions.

When you listen well, people feel respected, and that respect forms the basis of a strong relationship. It’s a profound and powerful method, and it can be used to generate extraordinary levels of trust among colleagues.

You may be worried that employees will perceive you as “soft” if you take this approach. In the vast majority of cases, the opposite is true. When members of your team feel that you understand them, their loyalty and motivation will skyrocket.

Import Anxiety, Export Energy

As the executive sponsor of MACH (Microsoft Academy of College Hires) I regularly connect with a lot of employees on a one-to-one basis. My aim is always to import their anxiety, and to export energy.

What does this mean? It means that I take the time to understand and address their concerns, before supporting them to find the tools they need to be successful.

It’s key to recognize that I don’t simply solve their problems for them. My aim is always to guide them towards an understanding of how they can improve their performance.

This has several advantages:

1. It gives team members the sense that they are capable of growing and learning.

2. It increases the overall skill level and autonomy of team members.

3. People transmit their energy to the rest of the team.

This frees me up to focus more on forming new partnerships and identifying new ways of growing the business, while empowering my team members to influence each other in a positive way.

When they leave a one-to-one with their sense of possibility transformed, they carry that into the rest of their day, positively affecting everyone they interact with.

Millennials Can’t Work Without Alignment

Millennials respond to the belief that they are doing things that have an impact in the world, in a role that suits their abilities and temperament.

They are much less interested than previous generations in working to eliminate their weaknesses. They much prefer to focus on the things they are already good at, and to become even better.

This preference stems not from a fear of leaving their comfort zone, but from a desire to create an impact in their work. It’s much easier for Millennials to have an impact in roles that they are good at, and which they find meaningful.

There are two main sources of alignment: alignment with your company, and alignment with your role.

Millennials respond especially well to the belief that the company they work for is a positive force, and love to feel that they are playing an active role in the betterment of the planet.

On the other hand, a Millennial employee who doesn’t believe in the mission of your company, or isn’t enjoying their job, can become a toxic presence, poisoning the atmosphere and damaging the morale of an entire team.

In these cases, it’s probable that they are not a good fit and that everyone involved will benefit from them finding a role somewhere else.

Millennials also need to feel aligned with their role. If you have an employee who believes in your company but doesn’t seem to be excelling in their current position, you may be able to fix the problem by understanding their skills and altering their responsibilities.

For Millennials, Loyalty Starts with Listening

When employees feel listened to, they feel understood. When they feel understood, they feel respected. When they feel respected, they produce their best work and develop a sense of loyalty to their managers and leaders.

This is true for members of any generation, but is particularly acute in Millennials. When managers treat them as disposable, ignoring their concerns and values, they respond by meeting that expectation and leaving the company as soon as possible.

Listen to your Millennial employees, however, and you may find that you can tap into reserves of loyalty and productivity you never imagined were available.

Originally published at