Mastering Millennial Leadership Development

Mastering Millennial Leadership Development


By Ann Pace –

According to a recent ASTD-i4cp research report, Millennial employees are in need of leadership development—and are asking for it, too.

With 1 million Millennials entering the workforce each year and nearly 40 percent of the U.S. workforce expected to be comprised of Millennials by 2020, according to U.S. Census data, employers must be prepared to support these young employees as they move into leadership roles.

But are Millennials—sometimes dismissed as the entitled “trophy generation”—truly ready to lead? And if they aren’t fully prepared, what are organizations doing about it?
Introduction to the research

In the recent study Leadership Development for Millennials: Why It Matters, ASTD, in partnership with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), examines how organizations are preparing the Millennial generation to manage and lead effectively now and into the future. Among the questions the March 2013 report explores:

  • Is development of Millennials a priority of most organizations?
  • Are Millennials entering the workforce with sufficient skills?
  • Have organizations made adjustments to training and development specifically for this generation (or do they plan to)?
  • Do organizations have specific developmental competencies for Millennials that address hard and soft skills?

Of the 592 business and learning professionals who participated in the survey for this report, the largest group self-identified as being members of the Baby Boomer generation (45 percent), followed by Gen X (36 percent), Millennials (17 percent), and the Silent Generation (2 percent).

Learning as a talent and business strategy

One of the main themes emerging from the study is that learning and development is nothing short of critical to attracting and retaining Millennial employees.

“Learning in the broad sense is the number one thing that Millennials look for in a place of employment,” says Tammy Erickson, founder and CEO of Tammy Erickson Associates, and an expert on generational differences in the workforce. “They want to learn how to play more influential roles in organizations, which means leadership in some form. It’s not a luxury, but a necessity to have vibrant programs for Millennial employees.”

Learning is a vital business strategy in terms of sustainable leadership development, considering that the majority of Millennial employees do not have the necessary skills to lead effectively. More than one-half of overall respondents indicate that Millennials are entering the workforce lacking these critical competencies.

LykinsSB5-LIn addition, 40 percent of Millennials themselves don’t believe they are entering the workforce equipped with sufficient skills. While they are highly qualified in technical skills, respondents say that this younger generation must work on diplomacy, communication, listening, patience, and relationship building.

Speaking on the topic of Gen Y recruitment and retention at ASTD’s 2013 International Conference & Exposition, Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding and author of the upcoming Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, agrees that soft skills training is critical for the Millennial generation. “Soft skills are more important than hard skills when hiring—companies today are hiring for corporate fit over qualifications. Millennials need to get offline and build relationships and social skills because they’re dealing with different generations in the workforce.”

LykinsSB4-LAlexandra Levit is a speaker, writer, and consultant on generations in the workforce, and author of Success for Hire: Simple Strategies to Find and Keep Outstanding Employees. She says, “Most organizations don’t consider the specialized development of Millennial talent to be a major business priority…. If thinking long term, this is a grievous error. Baby Boomers are only beginning to exit the workforce in droves, and there simply are not enough Generation Xers to replace them. Millennials will be thrust into leadership positions at a much younger age, and right now they are nowhere near ready. Companies that want to succeed in the future must invest now in getting them up to speed quickly.”

Customized development programs

Recognizing the strategic priority of investing in their Millennial talent, some companies are offering specialized programs for Millennials’ specific development needs. While such customized leadership development may be viewed as catering to one group to the exclusion of others, the study finds that higher performing organizations adopt specific measures to invest in Millennials—and are attracting top talent as a result.

LykinsSB3-LFifty-six percent of survey respondents believe Millennials require specialized leadership development programs, but only 15 percent report that their companies currently offer such programs. Sixty-six percent of Millennials agree that they require specialized leadership development. And high-performing organizations are 57 percent more likely than low-performing organizations to offer leadership development programs custom designed for Millennials.

What do these development efforts include? Fifty-nine percent of respondents report that they use on-the-job training as an approach to learning and development for Millennials, followed by setting clear performance expectations (52 percent) and tuition reimbursement for continuing education (39 percent).

Rotational programs are a strategy for both developing and retaining key talent. Sixty-five percent of respondents report that their organizations currently don’t offer rotational programs, but the 28 percent that do are at a clear advantage.

“Rotational programs allow Millennials to experience as many facets of the company as possible so that they learn what they’re really passionate about, what they’re good at, and the intersection of the two,” explains Levit. “In such a program, they would learn how the business works from the ground up and master a variety of critical transferable skills like project and people management.”

For companies interested in more affordable options, Levit suggests implementing a one- or two-day training program for recent college graduates that will lay the groundwork for future leadership development. This program should train Millennials in several basic skills:
Becoming a mature professional. Provide instruction on appropriate dress and appearance, effective on-the-job communication, social behavior, and attitude management.

Establishing profitable relationships. Teach strategies and use mentorship to help Millennials build relationships with new managers, navigate the organization’s social scene, and network.

Demonstrating controlled initiative. Show Millennials how to start small and explore the intersection of their unique talents and the organization’s most valuable needs.
Mastering transferable career skills. Encourage Millennials to de-emphasize quick promotions and instead focus on developing transferable long-term career goals such as problem solving, time management, communication, and risk taking.

Being proactive about career growth. Coach Millennials to approach performance reviews strategically by soliciting feedback from their managers, identifying new goals and growth opportunities, and constructing a long-term promotion plan.

Schawbel believes that leadership development programs should include all employees, but be designed for Millennials’ development needs. These programs would give Millennials access to senior leaders, allow them to participate in projects in other parts of the organization, and enable them to move around the company both functionally and geographically, he says.

Identifying the Generations

For the purposes of the report, the generations are defined by the following age breakdowns.

  • Silent Generation: born 1925-1945
  • Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964
  • Generation X: born 1965-1976
  • Millennial Generation: born 1977-1997

What Are Companies Doing to Invest in Their Millennial Talent?

“The most effective organizations have implemented development programs for their Millennial employees that are geared toward soft skill acquisition (such as communication, client relations, and public speaking), and teach business world and management basics. They hand-hold Millennial employees more closely so that they can protect their investment. After all, Millennials are expensive to hire and much more likely to leave after a short tenure.” —Alexandra Levit, speaker, writer, and consultant on generations

“Millennials also are extremely open to and eager for coaching. Many have grown up in school systems in which they received coaching on a specific task. This ‘try it, learn it, coach it’ approach works well with this younger generation of employees. So the best companies are the ones beginning to embrace such coaching and move away from the formal once-a-year performance evaluation process to one that’s more constant in feedback.” —Tammy Erickson, expert on generational differences in the workforce

“Some companies—such as GE, EMC, Raytheon, and Ernst & Young—are recruiting and investing in Millennials early. They’re looking for college freshmen who could be their next leaders. They take the best talent, invest in them through leadership training programs, and develop them into future leaders. This is an effective way to attract Millennials, too, because young people want to be part of these programs. In fact, the number one reason Millennials leave an organization is because of a lack of career development opportunities.” —Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Brandin


Authored By: Ann Pace
ann-paceAnn Pace is Community of Practice Manager, Human Capital. Prior to this position, Ann worked at ASTD for five years in an editorial capacity, primarily for T+D magazine, and most recently as Senior Writer/Editor. In this role Ann had the privilege to talk to many training and development practitioners, hear from a variety of prominent industry thought leaders, and develop a rich understanding of the profession’s content. Visit the Human Capital Community website here.

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