Doing Business | HR

April 22, 2013

5 Tricks for Working With Millennials

Your youngest employees are creative, bright, and a complete disaster to manage. Here's how to turn the mess around.

Just before a recent staff meeting, I overheard one of my Millennial employees ask another, "How crazy is Kim Jong-un?" Her peer looked puzzled and replied, "Who's that, one of your friends?"

Another time, I was copied on an e-mail from a Millennial client who asked why there had been so much "rigor morale" involved in obtaining legal clearance of a press release. She quickly apologized, though, in case her note had been "too couth."

Just a few weeks ago, while waiting for the elevator in our building lobby, I overheard a mother at the security desk, telling her daughter, "Be confident, polished, and poised; they need you just as much as you need them. I'll be waiting here when you come down."

I entered the elevator and was quickly joined by the Millennial, who pushed the number for my floor. "Going to Peppercomm?" I asked. She nodded. "Me, too," I added. Seconds later, she gasped, "Oh, my God. You're the owner. You're…you're…" I told her my name and wished her luck. I later asked a few employees how the helicopter daughter had performed. "She didn't ask a single question and couldn't explain why she wanted a career in public relations," they responded.

Though every entrepreneur has his or her share of Millennial horror stories, the good news is there are some amazingly talented twentysomethings. The key to attracting and retaining them, though, is providing an empathetic culture that places equal importance on empathy and accountability. That's how Peppercomm was able to attract the likes of Lauren Begley and Laura Bedrossian. Begley created her own blog, The Innovation Mill, which has become a must-read for our clients, prospects, and employees alike. Bedrossian, meanwhile, was named one of PR Week's Young PR Professionals of the Year. We couldn't be luckier to have them around.

So, how does one attract and retain the best and the brightest Millennials? I don’t have all the answers, but I've been hiring bright young employees for many years now, and I can offer the following five suggestions:

1. Overcommunicate. All the time.

Most Millennials grew up in a warm, supportive environment in which they were constantly told they were the best or brightest--regardless of the facts. As a result, their thirst for immediate feedback is never-ending. Accept this reality and overcommunicate. Hold regular all-hands meetings. Provide feedback, good, bad, or otherwise, in the moment. Shine the spotlight on those who truly deserve it, and should you need to terminate an underperforming Millennial, offer thorough clarity on why and how that's being done. There can never be enough clarity when it comes to communicating with Millennials. Give them an opportunity to speculate on any decision you make, and you'll experience a hellish version of the corporate grapevine 2.0 run amok.

2. Go heavy on the rewards--and the punishments.

Millennials are very clubby and cliquey. They run in packs inside and outside the office. So, they'll celebrate one another's success while at the same time complain why it was Shannon who received the promotion and not Dakota. Smart entrepreneurs should provide clear, written guidelines that detail the career path to success within the organization and, when Shannon is promoted, explain in writing why she is moving to the next level. At the same time, be open and transparent as to the reasons why Dakota didn't measure up. Though they may have seen their parents downsized, the younger Millennials really haven't experienced job loss before. So, when a trophy kid is overlooked for promotion, the entire group feels her pain. The best way to reenergize and refocus the workplace is through open, honest, and written communications.

3. Set the quality bar high.

There is almost universal consensus among baby boomer and Generation X managers alike that many Millennials' writing skills are beyond abysmal. If your firm, like mine, happens to be in the communications business, poor writing is not only unacceptable, it's grounds for dismissal. So we've instituted ongoing writing workshops in which we partner with consultants who specialize in dealing with a workplace generation that has grown up with iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, texting, and instant messaging. We also insist our people live, eat, and breathe current events, so, after overhearing the Kim Jong-un conversation at the staff meeting, I pulled the clueless Millennial aside and suggested she wake up fast and start following the news. She got the hint.

4. Keep accountability consistent and crystal clear.

We hold annual performance reviews for each and every employee. These are 360-degree reviews in which peers, subordinates, and bosses evaluate the employee in such areas as strategy, creativity, written and oral skills, leadership abilities, etc. If one area (or more) is found wanting, the employee (and his direct report) are then responsible for creating a six-month plan to correct the deficiency. If the deficiency should rear its ugly head in the next six-month review, the executive is given 30 days to get his act together. If that doesn't occur, he's terminated. We then revert to Tip One and Tip Two in terms of clear, consistent, and timely communications to the remaining employees as to why Derek was asked to clear off his desk and leave the premises.

5. Be willing to meet halfway.

I believe every generation has had its issues. One need only look at Shakespeare to find passages quoting an older generation bemoaning the weaknesses of the newer one. My firm is blessed with many incredibly gifted and talented Millennials such as Begley and Bedrossian. And, I must say that my partners and I have learned many, many things from our Millennial employees (for example, best practices for engaging in social media; important breaking trends in the blogosphere that might impact our client base or our firm; or, simply, what’s new and hot). I meet our Millennials halfway by participating in as many nonworkplace events with them as possible. So I'll run alongside them in our Uncorporate Challenge Race, exercise with them in our Peppercomm-only Kangoo dance sessions, and, yes, Virginia, even go out on the town with them for a night of karaoke singing.

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can provide you is this: Display your vulnerability and own up to your own mistakes. It's one thing to hold Millennials accountable for their misdeeds and misspellings. It's quite another to stand in front of scores of young, impressionable employees and admit that you, the CEO, were solely responsible for a mistake. Being authentic with a generation that prizes authenticity above all else is probably the single best way to manage the unmanageable.


Text by Inc.

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