7 Misunderstandings Related to Managing Millennials

Deloitte executive Cathy Benko, author of The Corporate Lattice, laid out some nuances related to managing millennials during a keynote during NSCA’s 19th annual Business & Leadership Conference.

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7 Misunderstandings Related to Managing Millennials

Cathy Benko, vice chairman and managing principal of Deloitte, isn’t a millennial.

Neither are most audience members at NSCA’s 19th annual Business & Leadership Conference audience of 300-plus attendees.

Both Benko and those assembled integration firm leaders manage millennials within their workforces — a task that clearly provides plenty of perceived challenges since a good portion of Benko’s BLC keynote on “Career Customization in Systems Integration” focused extensively on it.

That so many millennial-aged professionals are now in the workforce isn’t the only factor inspiring career customization. In Benko’s book, The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance In the Changing World of Work, she challenges the concept of a working one’s way up the corporate ladder.

It’s an antiquated notion, she told the BLC crowd.  The concept emerged in the late 19th and early 20th century as electricity began surging into factories and production became systemized. That systemization was translated for people in the form of a corporate ladder — first you’re a worker, then you get promoted to become a supervisor, then a manager and so on.

The workforce back then “was very homogenous,” she said. “People looked alike, the work they did looked alike and the assumptions of what success looked like were all tied to the ladder.”

Meanwhile, there weren’t a lot of women in the workforce relative to today, added the former chief talent officer for Deloitte.

“We’ve long since traded our rivets for digits,” she said. “We’re much more in a digital economy. It’s definitely moving further and further in that direction.”

The lattice concept suggests that there are more ways for employees to further their careers versus just moving directly up a ladder. They can also move sideways to pursue opportunities or even down if it puts them in a better position to grow their careers.

“The model gives you more opportunities to manage your workforce and creates more successful people and brand ambassadors. That’s really a good thing,” she said, adding the lattice “provides more ways for people to find their way in.”

Minutia of Managing Millennials

Many of the people finding their way in the corporate lattice are millennials and Benko maintained that the lattice structure lends itself better to how modern workers understand their career paths.

She proceeded to poll the BLC audience on issues and frustrations she learned they have with millennial employees. “Get over it,” she told the crowd, “because it’s not going anywhere.”

Benko spent a good chunk of time describing millennial employees’ ideals and characteristics.

Benko’s book with co-author Molly Anderson, The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance In the Changing World of Work, is available on Amazon.

I am conflicted about this portion of Benko’s presentation. There was too much generalization of a group of people based simply on their ages not just by Benko but by many in the BLC crowd that agreed and echoed those thoughts.

That being said I think that Benko’s assessments of how workers’ attitudes have changed are spot-on not just for millennials but for so many forward-thinking professionals. Not understanding these trends can lead to bad management and loss of good employees.

Understand These Evolving Attitudes about Career Growth

Millennials are influenced by their parents’ grandparents’ careers.

Many perceive millennials and today’s workers in general as being less loyal to their employers. In many case that behavior might be influenced by seeing their parents’ or grandparents’ burned by their loyalty to employees, perhaps losing pensions or otherwise having promises unfulfilled.

“They look at their parents who had that notion of lifetime employment that didn’t work out that way,” Benko said.

Millennials aren’t actually that unique.

Benko put up a slide that listed several priorities and characteristics of a generation of workers, including things like ability to collaborate. The list appeared to describe millennials but Benko said the list was actually compiled generations ago and applied to baby boomers.

However, all the same characteristics also apply to millennials, she added. The only significant difference, she said, are that millennials are obviously technology natives.

Millennials are very loyal.

This one is tricky, according to Benko. She says eight of ten millennials say they’re loyal to their employers, but their human resources manager is likely to tell a different tale. The nuance, she said, is that they are loyal but “what might be different is who they’re loyal to,” suggesting that they’re more loyal to their supervisor and coworkers since those are the individuals that personally invest in them.

Meanwhile, she added, 54 percent of millennials don’t want to job hop.

Millennials view authority and respect differently.

“It used to be that with somebody’s position respect came with it,” Benko recalled, but “with the younger generation you have to earn it.”

You have to admit that’s logical. “They want to see their coaches as advisors and want to work with people who inspire them,” Benko said.

Millennials are rethinking what achievement means.

Many millennial workers are striving for a sense of accomplishment and a sense of purpose, according to Benko. “They keep a scorecard,” she said, “and that scorecard needs to be updated a lot.”

What they’re keeping track of is nuanced. “They think of power differently. Power in many respects is a collective construct versus an individual power. Millennials really, really, really do have the intrinsic drive to do well [and to] achieve and accomplish,” Benko said. “It’s just that it has to be on their terms.”

Millennials want to make an impact on their organizations.

In the old days, you did what you were told to do and kept your mouth shut. That doesn’t seem ideal to many millennials, according to Benko. She said millennials are often a little reticent when asked to do something by somebody they don’t trust or respect.

Who isn’t?

They’re also reluctant when it comes to tasks that they don’t think will make an impact. This, Benko said, is one area in which “meta managers” or individuals that demonstrate an interest in helping them drive their careers and accomplishments “can really make a difference here. There is a lot of pressure on the managers because they connect with the managers more than the brand overall.”

Millennials are stingy with trust.

This is nothing new. Even Vito Corleone in the Godfather was comfortable doing business with Hyman Roth but never trusted Hyman Roth, at least according to Frank Pentangeli.

Millennials, meanwhile, do trust people, according to Benko. It’s just that they verify that trust a lot. “It comes down to who they trust. They trust people they perceive are like themselves more than they trust leaders. They trust likes and comments on sites about a given product more than they would the annual report about a given company.”

So what can managers learn from all of this? Indeed, they may find millennials challenging to manage. It’s difficult to argue that any of the characteristics that Benko listed are illogical.

Maybe it’s not so much that millennials are challenging to manage and more so that it’s challenging for anybody to be managed with outdated approaches.