5 secrets to working with millennials

Many leaders today face an important question: how can they build trust and inspire millennials in their workplace?

Here are some suggestions for leadership tactics that address specific challenges millennials face and will help everyone in an organization grow.

Keep conference rooms free of cell phones

It seems like something small and insignificant. The same can be said for brushing our teeth for two minutes. It is useless un-less we do it consistently.

Every time we interact with each other at work, it is an opportunity to connect as human beings and slowly build trusting relationships. When we are on our phones before meetings, we take away opportunities to simply chat. Whether we talk about work, ask about each other’s week- ends . . . or even sit in silence together . . . we are doing little things that go a long way over time.

If companies simply ban cellphones in all conference rooms, in time they will start to feel improvements in the quality of relationships their people enjoy.

Encourage note-taking on paper instead of computers

According to a study published in Psychological Science, those who take notes on paper are better at processing and retaining information. Though computer note takers may capture more data, those who use paper are forced to discern which information is more important.

This learnable, practicable skill significantly impacts critical thinking and decision making. And for those who have to have notes captured digitally, then assign one person to take digital notes or simply transcribe the handwritten notes after the meeting.

Teach leadership

I visited a large bank and asked if they had a leadership training program. “We do,” the executive answered excitedly. When I probed for specific courses they teach, I was told they teach compliance. “That’s not leadership training,” I said, “that’s how to follow the law.” He continued to share more of the courses on offer, but there wasn’t a single class on actual leadership.

How can we expect people to lead if we don’t teach them how to do it? The best companies I know have a robust curriculum to include human skills like effective confrontation, active listening and communication skills. 

Teach how to give and receive feedback

Many millennials in the workforce say they want more feedback. In practice, I’ve learned that what they seem to want is more positive feedback, more affirmation when they do well. Stories abound that too many of them aren’t actually that good at receiving negative feedback.

Giving and receiving feedback are learnable, practicable skills. Getting better at giving feedback is not simply about giving more feedback, it’s learning how to give it, positive and negative.

Similarly, receiving feedback is not simply about demanding feedback, it’s learning how to receive it, positive and negative, then knowing how to act on that feedback when it’s offered.

There are many ways to do this. For example, our company has developed its own 360 review system. Once a year, each person on a team is asked to write down their top three strengths or areas they believe they’ve most improved and their three biggest weaknesses or areas they feel they need the most growth. Everyone’s answers are consolidated into one document and shared with every member of their team.We then take whatever time it takes—half a day or a full day, depending on the size of the team—to go through it all.

Each person must first read their weaknesses. Then anyone who wants to can add to or comment on that list. At this time, the person sharing their list may not speak. They are prohibited from defending themselves or offering excuses. Their job is to listen. Immediately after, the person reads their strengths. And again, anyone else can add to or comment on the list. Again, the person being reviewed may only listen. At most, we allow clarifying questions. Someone takes responsibility to run the meeting to ensure that anything outside these parameters is quickly shut down.

It is an amazing experience. The most junior person on my team had the opportunity to tell me how I let her down and how I make her feel when I say or do certain things. It was completely eye-opening form, and it was empowering for her to feel heard. We don’t use this process as part of our formal evaluations but rather as a growth tool.

We are all also members of smaller coaching pods that meet for an hour once a week or once every other week throughout the year to help each other build on what we learned in the review session.

Take advantage of your millennials

More companies would benefit directly by taking advantage of the unique skills and perspectives millennials bring to the table thanks to their upbringing. For example, millennials grew up on social media. They have literally spent their entire lives curating their personal brands. They intuitively understand how branding works. Take advantage of it!

Instead of complaining that millennials aren’t showing up or aren’t engaged, use them as a barometer of how you are doing as a leader or to gauge the kind of culture the company is building.

Consider that older generations may not, in fact, be more engaged in their work (the data supports this), but rather that they are just better at faking it. Use the fact that millennials are more willing to speak out when they are feeling uninspired, disengaged or dissatisfied as an accurate accounting of how everyone in the company feels.

If given something that inspires them to engage or stick around, millennials will fully engage for a long, long time.

Excerpted from Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2014, 2017 by SinekPartners LLC.