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How to work with millennials

Bonnie Gardiner | March 27, 2015
Millennials – they're disobedient, they ask too many questions and I can't relate to them. Does this sound like you? If so, it's high time you made working with this fearless, tech-savvy age group a top priority, because if they're not working with you, they're with your competitors, and you're going to lose valuable competitive advantage.

A sense of purpose

Millennials, like all demographics, need to be kept engaged to produce real value for the company.

Explaining the specifics of a certain goal they are working towards can help create a sense of ownership and purpose — something millennials crave.

"They don't just follow direction because you tell them to... If you just work to deadlines and you're just like, 'okay guys let's go, you do this, you do that,' without painting a picture or playing to everyone's unique strengths, it just doesn't work," says Gray.

"That openness is quite confronting for some people too ... they think, 'I wouldn't have said that to my boss', or 'I wouldn't have thought that was my place after working somewhere for just three weeks'.

Millennials are on a maturity learning curve, but at the same time if you want to be a traditional command and control CIO, there are probably companies that can accommodate that, but I don't think that's the future of the CIO."

Engagement can also increase if they have a role model closer to their age group who they aspire to emulate. Occasionally promoting a couple of millennials into leadership roles will help lift the others up and relate to their working methods more closely, says Doughty, in particular young women, who he claims are "amazing leaders" due to their enhanced emotional intelligence.

Real leadership

One major pitfall that Gen X and baby boomer CIOs often fall into is trying to be 'cool' to attract and inspire younger workers. Often this muddies the waters between IT leaders and their employees who would prefer clear direction.

"I think all millennials want is authenticity, and they're craving the traditional values of a good leader, being really transparent, being a good communicator," says Gray.

"Millennials do actually have a huge amount of respect for CIOs in their 40s and 50s, they appreciate that generation. It's okay to be old school - it's about being a mixture of old and new, by being open to the new ideas but still being able to leverage that experience."

The same goes for the working environment, where too often CIOs and CEOs feel that adding a pool table or foosball stand and a beach hut will demonstrate a 'cool' approach to work.

"No amount of beach chair lounging or pool playing is going to make up for poor vision and bad executions, so while I still think it's an attraction, don't rely on it," advises Gray. A better approach, says Ferguson, is to be direct, take on projects that are interesting and disruptive, and celebrate success.

Retaining talent

Employing engagement strategies is a great means of retaining talent, but millennials generally don't follow traditional structure, and their display of company loyalty will be no exception.


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