Managing Millennials

We talk a lot about millennials in the sector. At THINK, we hear about challenges of working with millennials from many charities. Blogs, videos and social commentary often refer to a whole generation as fickle and self-obsessed. When millennials are referred to as the ‘generation that have had everything handed to them’ (Gary Sinek) then we are falling back onto stereotypes that do nothing to improve our organizations, our ways of working, or our relationships with our supporters.

It’s time to talk about millennials using an appreciative and grown-up dialogue.

Millennials are commonly referred to as those born from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties/early 2000s, i.e., those who become adults in the 21st century. This is as good a working definition as any. Take a moment to reflect on this: it means that many millennials are in their mid-thirties, successful, having attained mid-level to senior roles across organizations. A recent straw poll of some of our clients found that 50% of those members’ managers are millennials; and 67% of their fundraisers are.

I spoke to a millennial working in fundraising about what she wanted from her professional life:

‘In my first job, I was excited to suggest improvements to ways of working, but my managers just wanted me to get back to my job; to do the work in hand and not look any further. For me and most millennials, boredom equals death. We won’t stick around in that kind of culture.’

‘I moved into fundraising and, for the first time, I found I was trusted to find the best way to get things done. I worked remotely from my manager and team, managed my own diary, had my income targets to deliver and supporters to develop. I was told what to deliver and was empowered to find the best way to do that.’

‘A few years later, I met the most inspiring manager I’ve ever had. I would have – and would still - run over hot coals for her. What was different? She questioned, she listened, she coached me. She was transparent and I had an opportunity to share my views. I felt valued, heard and involved, even when she couldn’t action my suggestions.’

From this we learned that millennials like:
  • Empowerment and freedom
  • Variety of tasks and space to innovate to improve ways of doing things
  • Being measured on outputs not approach
  • Tapping into and developing their own networks
  • Attaining a good work-life balance
  • Continuous communication and lots of feedback
  • A coaching rather than a top-down management style
What does this mean for our management practices? We need to consider:
  • The listening, coaching and feedback skills of those who are managing millennials
  • The implications for millennials managing non-millennial volunteers or staff and vice versa
  • Career development and ambition. It isn’t just about the next step up; consider how you can offer breadth to your millennials and manage expectations about this from the start
  • How to create a flexible working culture
  • We may not keep people in roles for as long as we’d like as employers, meaning better planning is needed to get the most out of those people. Induction, objective setting and training are all crucial in maximising effort.
‘Yes, I ask for a lot of praise, I’m always looking for the next opportunity, I want everything now. However, I hope that I and other millennials balance this with a strong positive change for the better.’

The challenges of managing millennials are reflective of fundamental shifts towards speed, flexibility and feedback demanded in our digital world. What managing millennials tells us is that we need to adapt our management practices. After all, there is another generation hot on their heels; and, if we haven’t understood how to work with millennials, what on earth is in store for them?

Loretta Bresciani Murray is Head of Fundraising at Abertay University in Scotland and an expert in building high-performing teams. She regularly presents on the subject at conferences around the world. Click here to meet Loretta.