Four Ways to Challenge Millennial Stereotypes
The non-profit organization I lead, Growing Leaders, is a relatively small team of sixteen staff members, made up largely of twenty-somethings. Everyone who joins our team knows our mission well—we are attempting to develop a generation of young leaders and get Generation iY (those born since 1990) ready for their careers. Each year, we meet thousands of high school and college students who fit the stereotype of Millennials: they’re a bit lazy, they may act entitled, they’re addicted to a smart-phone, they love their selfie on social media, and they’re extremely mobile.
From time to time, however, we find exceptions to this rule—young adults who’re not only willing to jump in and work, but open to being developed as young professionals. Below are four ways we challenge the stereotype and see them break the mold:
- They actually do work hard and even long hours.
We consistently remind our team of the “cause” we’re involved in; it is a mission, not a job, which grips our hearts and pushes us to go beyond a job description. We swap stories regularly of how our work impacts the lives of people globally, showing pictures from the “field” of youth who are “changing the world” using Habitudes®. We remind our team that they’re a part of that. Everyone takes turns going on trips, so we all see our work in action. We also give bonuses in the form of extra time, not just money. We clarify expectations up front, so they know what they’re getting themselves into from the beginning. We focus on the use of technology and social media, which inspires them to problem solve and find new ways to broadcast our mission to the world. Key: If we include what they love, they will love the labor.
- They actually contribute creative ideas.
At first, some of them are slow to jump in, feeling a bit intimidated by our tenured team members. But we communicate that, in every planning meeting, the “best idea wins,” whether it’s from an intern or the president. We include them in almost every meeting, as a learning experience; we share financials with them so they get an idea of the realities we face each quarter; and we reward good ideas. We praise publicly, but confront privately. When appropriate, we emphasize “Intrapreneurship,” which means they enjoy autonomy and can innovate (like an entrepreneur) within the safety of our team. We operate like a healthy family, so everyone feels safe to talk.
- They actually stick around for more than a year.
Many companies complain that Millennials hop from job to job once they graduate. In fact, many hopped from college to college before they graduated. While this may be the norm, we’ve been able to retain young team members by providing an environment that develops them. We hold weekly Lunch and Learn meetings, where they receive leadership training and do book reviews, so they are both giving and receiving. We also try to balance tradition with change. We know it’s important to sustain “customs” that never change, yet at the same time, introduce new offerings to insure “variety” is our constant companion. Millennials tend to stay where they feel they are growing, yet at the same time, feel secure, loved and valued.
- They actually finish what they start.
The stereotype for new professionals is that they are slackers who feel entitled to new opportunities or bonuses just for being on the team. We’ve challenged this image by establishing a system (and constantly communicating this system) that rewards productivity, not presence. We’ve found what gets rewarded gets repeated. We hold a weekly stand-up meeting, where we write every significant project that must get done that week (with a name and deadline next to it) on a large wall. This keeps everyone, including interns, accountable to finish tasks, as everyone knows who’s doing what. If they fail, we do not hesitate to meet with them one-on-one to gently—but clearly—confront the failure and communicate our high expectations of them.
It has been said that employing young people today requires the supervisor to be a coach, a shrink, a parent and a friend, as well as a boss. That may not be too far from the truth—but we have found, if we’re willing to invest in them, that they tend to return the favor and give right back to our mission. Here’s to growing the best generation of young leaders in the history of the world.
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