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Dear Millennial, you're driving me crazy

Dear Millennial, you're driving me crazy

November 09, 2017

Do you feel like millennials just don’t get it?

You’re doing all of the “right things”- publicly recognizing their success, giving away free food, providing more meaningful work, giving more and faster feedback. But it’s kind of falling flat.

They’re still not the responsible, hard-workers you and your colleagues were and are. They’re not taking ownership the way you’d like. They’re still inconsistent and needy. You feel like you’re fighting an upward battle and making little, if any real progress.

Millennials are a hot topic, and for good reason. You can’t get around it: they’re the next generation of leadership. By 2025 they will comprise over 75% of the workforce. That’s in just 8 years.

If you fail in reaching, training and transitioning to Millennials, your company is on track to bite the dust in 8 years. Ouch.

Now here’s one of the roots of this burning issue.

Millennials are not Boomers. (Surprise!) One of the highest values and desires for Millennials is to “pave their own path”. They want to travel their way to the top of the company, oh, and on their terms.

They’re not interested in the formal ascension that their predecessors, I’m talking to you Boomers, so devotedly subscribed to. They want to use their skills, their experiences, do it “their way,” and did I mention, quickly?

Now, let’s be fair. This isn’t coming from a bad place. They’re seeking purpose. They want to contribute using their unique talents. They want to overcome challenge and make an impact. They were told they could “do anything” and they’re going for it.

But it’s driving you, a Boomer, CRAZY. It brings up that big buzz word: entitlement.

And the biggest issue is that it simply doesn’t work. Ownership can’t be achieved overnight.

There are two problems with bequeathing ownership and having an employee jump the company ranks too quickly. This applies to ownership over a project, department or even the whole company.

Problem #1. It’s bad for them.

Problem #2. It’s bad for you.

It’s bad for them because as much as they might want it, they’re really not ready for it. They need experience, trial and error, and time. They’ll actually end up resenting ownership if they’re given it before they’re ready for it. They’re not set up for success and it’s not fair.

It’s bad for you. See, it’s not just Millennials who love quick-fixes. We’re all looking for an easy way out, and at first glance “bequeathing” ownership seems like a great idea. It’s much easier to throw someone into a leadership role and hope that they’ll just figure it out than to take the time to train them thoroughly. Afterall, as an entrepreneur, you probably figured a lot out yourself and just made things happen without any formal training. Subconsciously, you may expect others to do the same.

But if you simply hand over ownership before the next generation is ready for it, you’ll end up wasting everyone’s time, energy and money. You’ll find yourself constantly fixing their mistakes, training and retraining them. It’s not worth it.

So… what’s the solution? A ladder. A real one.

I’m not talking about a silly, bureaucratic corporate ladder. I’m not talking about meaningless titles. I’m talking about a real, effective ladder that ensures success.

Here’s what the real ladder looks like: Responsibility > Authority > Ownership.

1. Responsibility.

First step is giving your employee responsibility, enough that he or she can truly accomplish something. Make their decisions mean something. Create KPIs. Give them enough responsibility that their actions matter, but not too much responsibility that a mistake can sink the company. Let them demonstrate their abilities.

Think of it like rock climbing.

In rock climbing there’s the climber and the guide. The guide's job is to give the climber enough rope that he or she can climb freely and independently, but not too much rope that he or she will get seriously injured in a fall. The climber is firmly attached to the guide, preventing a free fall.

2. Authority.

Now here’s the catch and this is where teams often get stuck. The leader gives the trainee responsibility, but not enough authority.

Let’s say you’re promoting an employee to Marketing Director. You give them the responsibility of generating X number of leads a month, but don’t give them a say on how the marketing budget should be spent. You’ve given them responsibility, but not authority.

This is particularly difficult for Millennials who often feel that their supervisors don’t trust them. It creates a sense of lack of empowerment and sets them up to spin their wheels without getting anywhere. Give them KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that they can control. If every decision has to be okayed by you, they can’t do their job.

Yes, it requires trust. Not blind faith (after all, they’ve already demonstrated their responsibilities already), but trust. Without handing over authority everyone will stay frustratingly stagnant.

3. Ownership.

Last in the ladder comes ownership. Only after they’ve demonstrated responsibility with authority, they achieve owner status.

Now they’re ready for ownership of a project, department, or even the whole company. No leaps of faith, no hopeful promotions. You’ve created an environment where true achievement is rewarded.

Millennials aren’t a problem, they’re an opportunity. They’re an opportunity for Boomers to move outside of their comfort zone. They’re an opportunity for owners to create a Path of Ascension where everyone wins. They’re an opportunity to build trust, promote smartly and build a company that thrives.

Are you going to seize the opportunity?

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be,

Jon