The fastest growing segment of the American workforce is a generation that has been discussed, derided and debated perhaps more than any prior age cohort entering the workplace: the millennials.
Nonetheless, today’s businesses need to find the truth beyond the hype, and learn how to effectively manage members of this unique generation effectively as they seek to grow their businesses. Born between approximately 1981 and 1996, the millennial generation is twice the size of its predecessors in Generation X, and most millennials are the children of Baby Boomers. Here are five keys to success in managing millennials effectively in a small business:
1. Market the benefits of being small.
It’s challenging in today’s hiring environment for small businesses to compete for talent. After all, you’re recruiting the same candidates that big companies are seeking to hire in droves, and chances are you can’t complete on the basis of all of the perks that the Fortune 500 will throw at new employees. However, you do have a secret weapon: the opportunity to make an impact.
In a large company, a millennial may be coddled with perks and buried in benefits, but they will quickly realize that they have a relatively small window of opportunity to make a real impact. Making an impact is a high priority for this generation, so being a small business allows you to compete favorably for millennial candidates for whom the opportunity to make a difference or have an impact within your team holds high appeal.
2. Focus on onboarding and mentoring.
One challenge small businesses must address is a lack of infrastructure to bring on new employees. This is an area that warrants your attention, because bringing in any new employee —- and especially one early in their career —- means helping them understand exactly how they should work to be an effective contributor and team player.
That starts with providing a clear position description, a strong set of guidelines for action, and powerful mentoring. Mentoring also allows senior employees to gain knowledge and new perspectives from their junior colleague, so consider the benefits of mentoring to both parties when planning your mentoring efforts.
3. Embrace training as an employee advantage.
Another strong potential value for millennials is training and education. While training and education can be expensive, there are ways to make it cost-effective for your business. For example, an increasing number of employee training programs are now available online at lower costs than traditional in-person workshops.
In addition, more and more business technology vendors are offering free training and certification programs. For example, Hubspot, a provider of sales and marketing software, offers the option of free online training and certifications in field such as sales techniques, business email and content marketing.
In addition, training providers such as the American Management Association offer special small business memberships and subscriptions that can make it cost-effective to send one or a few employees to a wide range of training programs on key subjects from leadership and communication to business strategy and operations management.
4. Give feedback regularly and liberally.
One challenge in managing millennials, particularly if the manager(s) supervising them are from Generation X, is feedback. Members of Gen X generally don’t feel compelled to give much input or feedback on a particular task, assuming that less feedback equals more freedom to ‘just get the job done’.
Unfortunately, for millennials this often feels like abandonment or may lead to assumptions that “the boss isn’t communicating with me because I’ve done something wrong”. When in doubt, communicate more, not less. If you have a process that’s not well-defined or fully written down and a millennial needs to learn that process, considering asking them to document it as part of their work and let them interview relevant staff to learn the ins and outs of the procedure. This will motivate them to not only learn, but also embrace and take responsibility for creating the best possible process for the company.
5. Be clear and up-front about the future.
In large companies, millennials may see a variety of paths for growth into new and more advanced roles. This is a challenge for small businesses since, by their nature, they will not usually scale in a manner that allows as many options. However, the more clear you are about an employee’s future, particularly with a millennial worker, the better your chances of retaining this person or working effectively with them.
One option is to give the new employee a clear path to gain slightly increased responsibilities and more autonomy for specific tasks over time. This may require creating more incremental positions than you had previously utilized, but the advantage is that it sets clear expectations and delivers a sense of progress to the employee.
Another option is to present two possible pathways for an emerging worker to consider. This is helpful in many cases because less experienced personnel may not be sure yet what kinds of work they are best suited for or would enjoy the most. You may hire an employee for a marketing role who discovers they are more suited for sales work, or vice-versa. Consider giving both paths as options for the employee so they can find their best-fit role in your business.
Finally, consider building a clear ‘exit ramp’ into the employee’s career path. Perhaps your business needs a Bookkeeping Specialist but after taking one or two steps and graduating to the position of Staff Accountant, that person may reach the highest role they can inside your business. It’s logical that someone on this path may want to pursue higher positions in the future. If that’s not likely within your firm, be up-front about this and work to plan key steps into the process so that you can keep this employee with your team until that time arrives, and they feel that you’ve done all you can to prepare them for success when the time is right for them to move on to a larger organization.
What all five of these key strategies share in common is a commitment to communication and clarity. Being specific, precise and comprehensive in how you present opportunities, onboard employees, supervise new workers and present options for their growth and development are all essential steps that will make you more successful in managing your entire workforce, while also shaping your workplace culture in a manner that will help make millennials feel welcomed. Work with your leadership team and key partners to sharpen your talent strategy as you prepare for growth with a millennial workforce.