Teach Millennials How to Be Managed By You

This article is the fifth in a series of six. It is excerpted from Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage the Millennials by Bruce Tulgan

Set Clear Ground Rules Up Front

Managers tell me every day that Millennials fail to meet a lot of unspoken expectations about behavior in the workplace. I have an idea: Speak them!
One credit union manager was telling me about a young employee who routinely came to work late and then made lots of personal calls on his cell phone throughout the workday. “Do I really need to tell him, ‘Come to work on time, and it’s not good to make so many personal calls all day long’?” Yes! You have to tell him, up front and every step of the way.
You have to figure out what your expectations are and then speak up. Set ground rules. Maybe there are corporate policies in place already. But often there are no concrete policies to regulate important intangibles like attitude, tone of voice, and other subtleties of professionalism in the workplace. You may need to figure out these ground rules on your own. You may need to say, “Whenever you are working with me, on any task, for any period of time, these are MY ground rules.” Then lay out your ground rules in no uncertain terms, and make it clear they are deal breakers for you: you can’t work with someone who doesn’t follow these ground rules.

Leverage the Power of High-Structure, One-on-One Meetings

Remember that Millennials have grown up hyper-scheduled. They thrive on that kind of structure, and they thrive on one-on-one attention. One of the most effective ways to help your young employees learn to be managed by you is to schedule regular discussions with each of them about their work.
At first, err on the side of meeting more often with each person—every day, every other day, or once a week. Start by evaluating what time will best work for you: What time will fit your regular schedule and needs? Then communicate with each Millennial the expectation that you will meet regularly one-on-one at a regular time.
Making a plan with your young employee to meet one-on-one at a regular time and place is a huge commitment for both of you. It is a powerful statement that you care enough to spend time setting this person up for success. When you follow through and spend that time, you are creating a constant feedback loop for ongoing short-term goal setting, performance evaluation, coaching, troubleshooting, and regular course correction.
Spell out how long you expect each meeting to last (my advice is to keep them to fifteen or twenty minutes). Don’t ever let these meetings become long or convoluted. Make it clear that your meetings will follow a fast and tidy agenda, preferably the same basic format every time. Start each meeting by reviewing the agenda. Whenever possible, present an agenda in writing that you can both follow. These meetings should be cordial but all business. This is not the time for chitchat.
Like everything else, this dynamic process will change over time, and your approach will have to change with each young employee you meet with regularly. For each of your employees, you’ll have to figure out how often to meet, how much time to spend at each meeting, what format to use, and what topics to cover. And remember: you’ll have to make adjustments over time.
No matter how well things seem to be going, you still need to verify that things are indeed going as well as you think. If they are, make sure that Millennial knows just how many points she is scoring today.

Create an Upward Spiral of Continuous Improvement

Managers often tell me they have a hard time talking to Millennials about failures great and small. “When they make a mistake, you hesitate to tell them because they take it so hard,” I was told by a partner at a prestigious law firm. “They seem to take it personally, like you are breaking their heart. I want to say, ‘Don’t feel bad. Just go back and make these changes, and then next time try to remember to do it properly in the first place.’ That seems pretty basic.” It is pretty basic.
When it comes to addressing Millennials’ performance problems, the most common mistake managers make is soft-pedaling honest feedback or withholding it altogether. Sometimes managers take back incomplete work and finish it themselves or reassign it. Other times the problems are not addressed at all, and the work product remains substandard. Millennials are left to fail unwittingly or improve on their own impulse and initiative. As one Millennial put it, “What do you want me to do, scream it? Beg for it? Help! Help me get it right. Help me do it faster. Help me do it better. Help me improve.”


About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]; you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website.