OMG: The Time to Invest in Millennials is Now

High-Performers Are Far More Effective at Workforce PlanningGenerational conflict--friction between two generations in the workplace--is a well-worn story. Even in the current era of three or sometimes four generations in the workplace, making the dynamic more complicated, it's nothing new. And if the past informs the future, we know that after some jostling and adjusting, the new kids figure out who's in charge (that would be the older folks), settle in, and everyone gets back to work. So the Millennial generation (those born between 1977 and 1997) should be no exception, right? Not so much. Millennials, who will account for 40% of the U.S. workforce by 2020, require more than their predecessors did in terms of investment in development on the part of their employers.

Why perpetuate this annoying idea that Millennials are somehow exceptional and require special consideration and treatment? Because it's true. The argument that Millennials and the generation following them should be integrated into the workforce like all generations before them is illogical--if we take emotion out of it, this becomes clear. While some may be immovable in their disagreement with the notion that the Millennial generation is unique, there's no argument that the circumstances the group faces are.

The dominant factor setting Millennials apart, of course, is technology and their relationship with it. Sure, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) encountered new technologies in the smoke-filled workplace of the 1980s. It came in the forms of the IBM Selectric III, word processors and dot matrix printers. Technology didn't dominate our lives. Stress was also a factor, but not relentlessly so.

Life before cell phones meant going home at the end of the day fully disconnected from work. There were no emails to check, no intrusive BlackBerrys buzzing during little league games. Computers were the size of walk-in freezers, so there were no laptops glowing from the other room while the rest of the family gathered around the TV. When veteran workers stand around the espresso machine and reminisce about stuff like this, Millennials have no idea what we're talking about--it's as if they're hearing about life on another planet. In a way, they are.

Here's the bottom line: The Millennial generation will never, ever experience work in the same way previous generations did, including Gen X (born between 1965 and 1976). This reality requires re-thinking the ways in which we develop up-and-coming leaders.

A recent study undertaken by i4cp in partnership with ASTD, Leadership Development for Millennials: Why it Matters, (non-members, the report can be purchased via the ASTD Store) found that Millennials are entering the workforce without the skills and competencies they need to be successful. Even more alarming, they're moving into management without sufficient preparation. Over half of the 600 business and learning professionals who participated in the survey said that they believe the Millennial generation requires specialized leadership development programs, yet just 15% reported that their companies are focused on developing Millennials to the degree that they've established programs to do so.

The good news is that Millennials are technologically adept and socially networked. They're agile and open to risk-taking. But, participants in the study told us, they're not necessarily socially savvy. They can be clumsy or even clueless when it comes to navigating the nuances of corporate culture, coming off as rude, arrogant, and entitled. They need to work on the development of soft skills, because all the technological acumen in the world will not help if our team members are unwittingly alienating co-workers or insulting customers.

Every new cohort entering the workforce faces challenges and enjoys advantages not presented to their predecessors. The Millennial generation is special. So here are a few things organizations can do about it it:

Mentor - Offer Millennials opportunities to observe diplomacy in action. Set up reverse mentoring opportunities so there's a quid pro-quo proposition built into project work--the younger generation brings technological know-how to the table, and they are matched with seasoned colleagues equipped to model effective communication, listening, patience, and relationship-building skills--it's a win-win.

Coach - Provide Millennials with performance coaching as well as coaching about the company culture, its customers and the nuances of the markets it serves. Weekly or bi-monthly meetings with coaches or mentors can achieve a great deal with high-potential Millennials who the organization wants to develop.

Expose - Introduce Millennials to the leaders across the business, in various functional roles and business units. This will help them build relationships with key personnel as well as learn more about the culture of the organization.

If your organization's leaders aren't talking about strategy for recruiting, developing, and retaining Millennial talent, it's time to sound the alarm. Companies that are invested in developing and preparing the Millennial generation to manage and lead effectively are in effect positioning themselves to lead the pack--with their Millennial talent out front--now and well into the future.

Lorrie Lykins is i4cp's managing editor and co-author of the new ASTD/i4cp partnered report, "Leadership Development for Millennials: Why it Matters," which is available at the ASTD Store. A white paper that summarizes this report is available to i4cp members here.

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrieā€™s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.