Although already comprising over a third of the American workforce, millennials (people aged 18-35) are still a hotly discussed topic in organizational behavioural trends and research. They continue to be this because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, this generation will become 75% of the American workforce by 2030. Employers big and small are racing to figure out how to best prepare themselves to succeed in this future. With this in mind, Alice Laing, VP of Product, Sales and Operations at Lenda, founder of The Career Beaver and instructor on millennial career development at the University of Victoria offers three ways millennials can be top performing employees…
While preparing for this article, I noticed there is still a lot of hesitant enthusiasm towards hiring millennials. Millennials are still often accused of being difficult hires. The standard response to these accusations is presenting specific characteristics of millennials that make us great employees (i.e. tech savviness, mission driven, global citizen etc.). There is, however, a lack of discussion about what millennials can do to change the preconceptions of being ‘difficult to manage’. Indeed, as a millennial who has been a graduate employee and has since become an employer and manager who has hired and managed many millennials, I can see challenges faced by both sides. I believe one of the biggest obstacles of being new to the workforce is just not knowing how to be a top performer. Here are three ways ways millennials can be more effective team members…
Employers, when hiring you, expect that you’ll learn and grow on the job. However, most of the learning that you do is actually expected to be self taught. When starting a new role, set yourself up for success by expecting very minimal guidance and training from the employer, if at all. Also expect that the higher you rise, the less formal training you will receive when you have onboarded.
The best way to self learn on the job is to pick senior colleagues who have the knowledge to assist you when you get stuck. To identify these colleagues, ask your boss who in the company is the ‘expert’ about these areas where you need assistance. Approach these people and build relationships with them, for example, by inviting them to grab lunch or coffee together. Let them know what projects you are working on and ask if you could ask them for insights when needed. You will find that most people will be open to assisting you because your deliverables will likely impact their work too.
If you cannot find colleagues who can provide you guidance (and this will happen more often as you become more senior) then get good at learning from the internet! It’s very difficult today to find something that you cannot teach yourself using the internet. This is the primary reason why employers expect you to be able to learn things on your own. Resources such as Quora and Youtube are great for self learning on just about any subject.
Millennials are known for wanting to understand the ‘bigger picture’, business goals and wanting to participate in high level business strategy discussions. Employers love that you want to be engaged in the business and are happy to listen to your questions, feedback and suggestions, however, there are more appropriate times than others to open these discussions. Picking the right time to discuss these topics can make or break your boss’s perception of you as a valuable team member.
Avoid questioning your boss’s decisions or making counter suggestions to your boss’s directives in large team meetings. Both you and your boss’s reputation and credibility could be questioned if there is a public disagreement between the two of you. Instead, when you do have questions relating to your boss’s decisions or have alternative suggestions to their directives, schedule a short one-on-one meeting with them to discuss your ideas. Make sure to prepare your questions ahead of time and understand that these meetings must be kept short because your boss will most certainly have many other priorities that require their time and attention.
It may have been okay for assignments to be late in school or you may have been a habitual procrastinator but, generally, it is never okay to be late in the workplace. This is because when you are late in the workplace, whether it is to a meeting or submitting a deliverable, it impacts not only your performance but also the performance of your entire team. When you are late to a meeting, you waste the time of everybody who arrived on time. When you fail to deliver on time, everyone who has projects that are dependent on your deliverables also fall behind schedule. This effect could cascade up to the most senior levels of the company and cause the entire business to fall behind – you do not want to be the one who was responsible for this!
To prevent yourself from being the cause of delays, always arrive on time to meetings and try and be there 2-3 minutes earlier if it is with someone more senior (i.e. your boss’s level and above). When in a meeting, always be prepared to talk about your latest progress on projects and be alert – you may be called upon at anytime. When given new tasks, make sure you fully understand the expectations and ask for clarifications if needed. When in the middle of an assignment and need clarification, ask sooner rather than later. Finally, try your best to always deliver on time. If you can see that you are going to be late, inform your manager as soon as you can. Do not ever let your boss think that things are on track when they are not. Always be transparent and communicate with your manager because when they are made aware of forthcoming delays, they will be able to mitigate the impact of the delays on the team and business.
If you are millennial who is already in a leadership role, I would highly encourage you to mentor and coach your less experienced millennial colleagues. You, better than anyone else in your leadership team, can understand the behaviours and motivations of millennials. Together, we can change the conception that millennials are difficult hires.