This is how I learned to get Millennials to stop asking about promotions

When Millennials arrived at my company a decade ago, they fussed over promotions, pay, and responsibilities. They demanded work far out of line with what their capabilities and experiences qualified them for. And they wanted quick wins instead of settling for hard-won rewards.

At that time, we had a two-year program that resulted in a promotion to Senior Associate. To our Gen X way of thinking, this was much more fair than what the Baby Boomers put us through — it was twice as fast!

But to our Millennials, it was a slow passing of years with nothing to show for it on their resumes.

We tried to negotiate and browbeat our younger colleagues into seeing things our way. But that didn’t really put a stop to their demands.

Eventually, after a lot of discussion, spinner fidgeting, and commiserating — we caved.

We split our program into six promotions over two years — with performance hurdles, title increases and pay bumps every step of the way.

We kept the same performance standards, the same final pay rate and the same progression towards expertise over time, but the outcome was completely different.

We learned that more frequent feedback, better chances for getting ahead, and allowing some self-direction were actually very effective tools for building morale and contributing to the success of our company.

Our Millennial employees took each promotion seriously. Graduating from Junior Analyst to Analyst after four months was met with celebration, calls to Mom and Dad, and fist bumps all around.

And the truth dawned on us that the accomplishments of each new level of achievement, along with the recognition from their peers, were not, in fact, empty “air quote” promotions, but real markers of success on their career journey. It’s a truism that you get the behavior you reward, and we found that rewarding this tight focus on accomplishing specific levels of mastery, led to a more capable workforce.

We learned that our Millennials loved feedback — so long as it was positive, warm, and etched on the trophy we had just handed to them.

To older generations, this may seem like delusional coddling, but to psychology professionals, it is the most effective type of feedback: feedback that encourages — and delivers — higher performance.

Professionally, stressing about your weaknesses rarely pays off — it’s far better to augment and maximize your strengths.

As one Millennial explained to me, video games taught this new generation to always be trying to get to the next level. Find the coin, jump the chasm, scoop the reward, and hit a new high score. It’s the focusing on the positive things that you need to learn or do to get to the next level that is a lot more fun than slogging through the drudgery of what you’re bad at.

By focusing on what actually works, perhaps Millennials are teaching us something about what really matters in delivering superior performance.

Anyway, that was our actual experience — by pushing us to provide more frequent feedback, communicate our expectations more clearly, and closely match positive feedback to the behavior desired, our Millennials made us a better company.

And taught us something about the art of management to boot.

Have a great week, Readers!

I’m rooting for you!