The New Guard: How to Develop and Retain Millennial Leaders

The New Guard: How to Develop and Retain Millennial Leaders

It’s happened: Millennials (by most definitions, those born between 1980 and the late 1990s) are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. And they’re no longer the generation waiting in the wings to become leaders—they’re already increasingly entering senior and managerial positions.

Along with this influx of young managers comes a shift in the role of manager itself. Managers are no longer only focused on making sure work gets done, but also on how and why it gets done. They are expected to be detail-oriented and strategic, to build culture and ensure productivity. And their position is also pivotal for employee engagement: A recent Gallup poll found that managers accounted for 70% of variance in employee engagement.

The good news? This new generation appears up for the challenge. But companies must also find ways to develop and retain these new managers. Recent data released in the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey points to evidence that companies will have to make significant changes in how they develop this generation to meet the challenges that managers will face in the future.

Millennials are a dynamic generation. They are less likely than their predecessors to remain in one organization for a long period of time. They are looking for more flexible work hours, and look for organizations whose culture reflects caring towards both employees and the world around them. They aren’t afraid to leave a job if they feel their skills are not utilized or their principles are not matched.

The New Guard: How to Develop and Retain Millennial LeadersPreventing this exodus of potential leaders has become a business-critical challenge for organizations. According to the Deloitte survey, of the Millennials likely to leave their organizations in the next two years, 71 percent are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed.

Getting talent development right will be crucial both for retaining this generation of managers and flipping the switch on engagement for the rest of your workforce. Here are the major shifts that need to take place:

1) Deliberately devote more time to developing leadership skills.

Deloitte found that the most loyal Millennials experience high levels of support and/or training for pursuing and managing leadership roles. Take a look at the volume of opportunities available for young managers to develop their leadership skills. Are there programs in place? Are young managers encouraged to pursue these opportunities? Is there explicit encouragement to experiment with new skills once they return from these programs?  Setting aside the time and resources for leadership development shows a commitment to young managers and is likely to get commitment in return.

2) Leadership development programs should reflect the preferences of the generation: more collaborative, team-based, and decentralized.

The Millennial preference for creative, inclusive cultures over authoritarian ones extend from their work days to professional development opportunities themselves. Some development programs rely on the knowledge of a leadership “guru” speaking at the front of the room and passing on knowledge to a captive audience. This generation’s preferences, however, suggest that a program can be designed where participants experience more collaborative problem-solving and autonomy to decide how and what they need to learn.  Even those programs that don’t portend to be spouting knowledge from one single person into the awaiting minds of managers may need to shift in the direction of more flexible and collaborative.

3) Weave mentorship into the fabric of your culture and your development programs.

An oldie but a goodie, mentorship still makes a difference. Not only will Millennial managers need mentorship to learn the skills and political know-how that long years of tenure used to ensure, but they’ll also be more likely to stay with the organization. According to Deloitte, respondents who planned to stay with their companies for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor. Programs and cultures that make mentorship a deliberate and important component have a better chance of retaining this new generation of managers.

4) Social impact activities can become team building opportunities and arenas to practice leadership skills.

Why not combine the Millennial desire to join businesses that understand their impact with their need to develop skills that will help them as leaders? Embed a volunteer experience or an activity that gives back to the community in some way into your company’s strategy to develop young leaders. Not only will you show a commitment to your community (something that this generation looks for), but you will also provide a concrete learning experience for participants to look back on as leaders.

5) Develop skills for dialogue to enable Millennial managers to enact the work culture they seek.

In terms of employee engagement, good communication from managers is essential.   Leaders in talent development are already honing in on communication skills as one of the most important development opportunities for managers of the future. The role of translator and psychologist that middle managers often need to play are well served by a capacity for communicating well with employees. Skills for dialogue – active listening, powerful questioning, and personal engagement – can be developed via collaborative learning experiences and encouraged around the workplace. If dialogue becomes the norm, Millennial managers will start to build the culture they seek and contribute to their organizations in a very meaningful way.

Millennial managers are poised to fill the leadership gap left in the wake of waves of baby boomer retirements, and the impending challenge is to both retain and develop these fresh leaders. Organizations will need to make adjustments for this generation or risk losing talent that no longer accepts the principle of long-held tenure or hierarchical advancement. As this generation ages, we may see just how different leadership looks. For now, it’s crucial to provide the right opportunities and climate for that new style to grow.