What Are They Thinking? Leading a Rockstar Team - of Millennials

Many millennials see themselves as part of a generation of pioneers, rather than rebels. That isn’t a revelation; After all, millennials have inspired and created some of the decade’s most disruptive companies. However, for department leaders and the managers that work with this generation on a daily basis, this new world and work-view can create frustration when it comes to managing workplace expectations and outcomes.

Ready or not, the future starts now, and millennials are it: they’re your audience, creatives, and your human resource pool.

Understand What Drives Them

According to a recent study by Goldman Sachs, millennials are marrying and having children later, eating more healthily, and exercising more than any preceding generation.

The reason (and why this matters to you)? They want to feel good as much as they want to do well; their chief concerns - after immediate financial security - are longevity and maintaining a sense of well-being. They won’t enter a life transition before they’re ready and they aren’t afraid to buck tradition.

This translates into the workplace as them being invested in working toward careers, not jobs. Their work - like their lifestyle - is meant to be an expression of themselves, an extension of what they love and care about most. That means their loyalty is both very strong and often based on whatever is “right-for-me-right-now.” More than other generations, millennials may leave coveted jobs - even when it means sacrificing short-term financial security - to find that role that aligns with their personal values and desire to do more in the world. The flip side of this is that they will also take lesser-paying positions that are a better fit for them personally.

Just (Don’t) Do It: Understanding the Millennial Work Ethic

As Digital Natives, millennials were raised in the long shadow of Silicon Valley culture: for them, innovation is the norm. What was forward-thinking a decade ago - cross-platform storytelling, leveraging social conversations - is now just common sense for this generation’s marketers.

That startup mentality goes well beyond adopting the bootstrapping ideals enshrined by entrepreneurs and economists alike in the early 2000s. Millennials aren’t questioning whether they should climb the corporate ladder: they’re questioning the idea of a ladder itself. They don’t see the value of working an 18-hour-day if the point is merely showing their boss a willingness to pay their dues. They are, however, happy to be seen as “work martyrs” if there is a point beyond currying favor: they’ll work endless hours if it means establishing their expertise or status as irreplaceable.

That said, this generation has one of the highest rates of leaving jobs voluntarily after less than two years. It isn’t laziness; It’s long-term strategy. Unlike young GenXers decades ago, millennials believe that entrepreneurship and new models of employment - like co-working - are viable career options alongside traditional roles. However, they ARE quick to dedicate themselves to a role when they perceive the company to be as innovative and passion-inspiring as something they would dream up themselves (or have the opportunity within the role to dream up such things). 

Tip: In hiring, underscore how your brand has implemented a “lean” outlook on everything from martech to media buying. Verbalize that you are seeking an “out-of-the-box” worker who thinks - and bootstraps - like an entrepreneur, connecting with your brand’s values, team culture and projected plans for innovating.

Not Another “Whatever” Job: Understanding Millennial Loyalties

According to a recent survey by Price Waterhouse Cooper, millennials will work much harder if they believe they are creating something, rather than merely supporting an employer. This isn’t narcissism, say researchers, but this generation’s overwhelming desire to make the world - and by extension your brand - a better place to live, even if it means starting over from scratch.

Having grown up in an era in which institutions, business practices, and even cultural icons have been openly questioned and turned on their heads, they’ve been taught to question the status quo. This is a highly-coveted skill for marketers, but also means that millennial loyalties are won based on real-world value that is being provided, not a sense of tradition. They are thinking about their career arc early and building their working lives around a model of well-being as a continuum of choices. If they choose to work for you, they’re also choosing work that is significant to their career and personal values. As a member of a team, that means they’ll want to know how they are contributing on an individual level, as well as on a team level.

Tip: Aligned values and purpose are key for millennials. Don’t try to lean-in on them with a story about the decade it took you to get to where you are now. For kids growing up in an age when many critical functions are automated and driven by algorithms, almost everything offline seems too slow - including the way many older companies are run. When recruiting top performers, show them the “value-for-them” trajectory: here is what you want, here are the steps to get there. Match brand needs with their ambitions to create a legacy of input on innovative strategies.

That “I” in Team: Understanding the Millennial Careerist

Millennials love standing out, and their influencers are visionaries who actually did reinvent the wheel (think of how Snapchat reimagined social, or Apple the entire communications industry) and made it go faster, longer, and with less friction.

Of course, a new hire - however talented - is unlikely to have a starring role in strategy building (and they understand that), but they’ll still want upfront evidence that their contributions to the team are significant, not cursory. Millennial team members pride themselves on standing out in memorable ways and that “special snowflake” or “hero” outlook can be leveraged to push brand innovation in brainstorm sessions or by carving out a space for open collaboration with team members throughout the organization.

Tip: Make your brand’s challenges your millennial’s challenges by unpacking your "big picture” strategy and closing in on individual challenges and friction points. For stand-out team members, allow them to tackle challenges that connect new tasks to a clear role with mounting productivity and allow the teachable moments to emerge organically. Accountability should be group-focused - give your team enough autonomy to work out the kinks in communication styles without you discreetly bringing in a slang dictionary.

At it’s best, a millennial workforce is creative, inventive, tech-savvy and fiercely loyal. At it’s worse, managers struggle to understand what drives them professionally and personally in order to get even sub-par deliverables. But it’s important to remember that millennials still very much think of themselves as innovators – even when on a larger team. This can translate to them not feeling the need to even acknowledge, “the way things were,” especially if they consider those old ways now obsolete. For today’s marketing leaders, this presents perhaps the greatest opportunity of leading a millennial workforce: to activates their team's loyalty and innovation in order to breath new life into the company’s brand and marketing efforts.