Why Discussion About Millennials Is Irrelevant

Every now and then you can hear discussion about how the “new” generation is different. Ever heard of the Millennials? People born at the end of the 20th century who want everything now, who are smart, technology savvy, impatient, want to live at their terms, are creative, lazy, ambitious, with feeling of entitlement, etc. Depends on who you listen too they are being portrait either as the future of the world better than any previous generation or as the doom of humanity that will never achieve anything. So what does this all means for you as a leader? Well, nothing…

So many Generations

Let us have a quick glimpse into our past and agree on what all these generations actually are:

There might be some disagreements on some of the dates but more or less this is what we are talking about when we discuss “generations”. That’s it, at least in the Western civilization.

Generations versus Culture

Generation Y or Millennials are a construct of Western civilization (mostly the US and the UK) and in Asia or Africa you would find completely different way how to classify the generations. These are terms to describe not so much people but rather different eras of our history. Even within Europe one could find that generations may have different meaning across countries and the dates might be a bit of. For example, since I’m coming from the Czech Republic I would argue that the significant event that splits the generations in the Czech context is the Velvet Revolution in 1989 rather than anything else.

Generations versus Age

So are the Millennials really so different in their ambitions, abilities or dreams than any other person over the history of humankind? I consider myself being born to Generation X and when I was in my early twenties I exhibited the same traits we are today seeing in Millennials. Young people simply act in a certain way regardless of a century.

The one thing that has changed over the last twenty years (in some parts of the world) is our use of technology and incredible amount of information we have to deal with on daily basis. The world is getting faster and faster. This sort of environment impacts mostly our willingness to wait. We as a society (not just the Millennials) want more and want it faster than the previous generations. But the dreams were always there, we just have them bigger today since we have more information about the world around us.

So how do you motivate the young people?

I would argue you motivate young people the same way you motivate anyone else. If you are a manager building a new team or a leader who finds herself in the charge of a big organization comprised of various generations you need to follow couple of basic rules.

  1. Start with business objectives – What is your business model? Who are your customers? At what speed your business runs and how often does it change direction? Answers to these questions give you a framework for everything else starting with what people you need to hire, how you manage them, compensate them, and what sort of culture you create.
  2. Build culture that supports the business needs – What internal culture will support your business? What are the values your employees need to live and breathe to make the company successful? How do you want to be seen by all the stakeholders (customers, partners, employees, potential employees, public)? Identifying the core values of the business and subsequently the culture that would support it is a key to long-term success. Everyone who joins the team needs to understand why the organization exists, needs to understand what you as a leader stand for, what the core values of the team are and how they are being exhibited on daily basis by every single member of the organization.
  3. Hire to fit the culture – Get the people who have the skills and exhibit the traits of the culture you are trying to build. Forget about what generation they are from, forget about they age, gender, religion, even education and focus on what skills they have and what their attitudes and core values are. You may have, in fact, you want to have a variety in the team. You want people with different educational and cultural background, with different experiences that can enrich each other and add something unique to the organization. The only thing you need to watch for is the same core values and dreams that are aligned with the core values of the organization.

If you do this you will automatically ignore any differences in the generations, ages, genders, religions, and will not discriminate against any. The only thing that matters if the person has the right skills and attitudes to fit what you need. This view dramatically simplifies the way how you hire and later on manage your employees. It puts aside any misconceptions or biases and leads to truly motivating environment where everyone feels welcomed regardless whether he is a baby boomer, Gen X or Millennial. So just keep it simple and don’t overthink “how you will manage the Millennials”.

And if you really want to have a discussion on how to motivate Millennials here are some tips

  • Provide a vision, inspire them – we all want to dream and know why we are doing the stuff we are asked to do
  • Treat them with respect and show that you care – everyone wants to feel respected and valued. Regardless of generation or culture keep in mind the basic human needs
  • Be fair – being transparent, unbiased and fair in the sense of treating everyone the same way will go a long way
  • Acknowledge their contribution – we all want to be recognized for our achievements so learn to celebrate even small wins with the team
  • Provide feedback and mentoring – most of us want to learn and grow. That is what we do since birth and having around us people who enable the continuous growth is always appreciated
  • Let them grow and make mistakes – the best way to truly learn is to make mistakes so make sure you build environment where mistakes are allowed though shouldn’t be repeated
  • Make sure their work has meaning – most of us want to work on something bigger than us, we want to leave a legacy and thus giving your team work that brings value to your customers or humanity itself is a key

The conclusion?

You motivate the Millennials exactly the same way you would motivate most of the other generations. The difference is the intensity and speed required. Being patient comes with life experience and it is no surprise that a smart, talented individual fresh out of university and full of energy has no patience to just sit and wait for something to happen.


How do you manage Millennials? In fact, how do you manage different generations? Do you feel it is good to have a team composed of more than one generation? How do you account for different cultures in global teams?

Photo: © vinogradov_il / Dollar Photo Club

Categories: Leadership

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