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Sep 19, 2018

Dare to Overshare: A guide to Motivating Millennials

By Anton von Rueden, COO, TechStyle Fashion Group

If you manage people, millennials are part of your employee mix. They already represent more than a third of the workforce. By 2025, they’ll be as much as 75%, according to Deloitte.

They take a lot of heat from critics who call them entitled, impatient, and needy. I’ve worked with many millennials and while they have some issues — every generation has — the rap they get is often unjustified.

When looking at our younger workers, I don’t see an entitled generation. I see people who are obsessed with obtaining success. They’ve grown up in a massively competitive, bell-curve, wait-list society. Each of them has had to fight for a spot on the team, in one school after another, for internships, and when looking for a job. And because of this, they offer productivity on a level that we’ve never seen before, if you manage them correctly.

You can get millennials to excel for you and your company if you learn to motivate them based on their abilities and expectations. The following five principles will help (and they even make sense for employees of all ages).

1. Reliable Communication Builds Trust

Trust is a fundamental requirement for any well-functioning team but particularly for the millennial generation. It is the foundation for risk taking, debate and collaboration. Oversharing — only another name for constant and substantive communication — is crucial. We build trust through constant communication. People kept in the loop feel important and safe knowing someone won’t suddenly pull the rug out from under them.

I share senior management communications with my team whenever possible. I value them as important enough to know what is going on at the highest level. Whenever I am in meetings, they know I also represent their interests. I then encourage them to share with their teams, and down the line. As we build a high-trust environment, I don’t have to spend all my time tracking everyone. I can step back and focus on big-picture trends and strategy. Each of them in turn can similarly focus on their duties, knowing they can trust those below them.

2. Transparency Increases Participation

If your younger team members have no role in setting priorities, they have no innate reason to support the results. Discuss strategies and plans with them and, instead, they enter the process and own it. The key is the psychology of recognizing the existence and individuality of people by asking for their opinions. When people have an option to take part, it changes their relationship to the ultimate decision. Even if they don’t like it or have a different opinion, they’ll more accepting of the outcome.

Say people must come in on short notice over a weekend to meet a tight deadline. Ask the team to discuss why it’s necessary and allow them to take part. Now it’s not you who imposes an unpleasant reality. They take on the responsibility of a joint decision.

The result has a lasting positive impact. Not involving them eventually pushes them away. Plus, they may have better ideas of how to solve the problem, improving the ultimate outcome.


3. Solicit Feedback Across Different Communication Channels

Provide a forum for constructive debate and conflict. Conflict is necessary for effective problem solving and functional interpersonal relationships. Don’t fear it. Dedicate time for someone to take the devil’s advocate role before proceeding with consensus decisions on complex topics. Great leaders value the input of their team and many channels can spark important conversations.

Feedback and involvement needn’t happen through a complicated email chain, a circulated paper memo, or a group meeting. Traditional methods can have drawbacks. For example, I prefer in-person meetings but not everyone is comfortable in that format. Groupthink can also take over and become a problem.

Instead, use the miracle of technology. Collaboration apps like Slack and HipChat are for more than micromanaging employees with constant status requests. You can use them to solicit broad feedback and offer opportunity for healthy debate. My employees and I often use WhatsApp, making staying up-to-date on the latest development quick and easy. Provide as many channels as necessary for this important process. Multiple discussion and debate options will improve total interaction and increase the yield of creative ideas.

4. Expedite Buy-in Time

Millennials often complain that things no longer happen fast enough. When they were at a small startup things may have happened ad-hoc but now they are at a larger company where decisions need buy-in. The reason is that organic growth or acquisitions have changed the optimal speed for making decisions. Once everyone worked in the same room, a decision was made and communicated within an hour. Now we have to coordinate with far-flung operations in Marketing, Finance, Product Development and so forth. You have to deal with different time zones, different countries, with different cultural, corporate and legal expectations.

You have to recognize those differences, which affect your organization’s optimal decision-making speed. It is important to define and align around what optimal means relative to size and complexity of the organization. Many times people get hung up on the mere fact that it is no longer hours. Then you need to adapt and create new systems to get everyone the information, or you’ll never get the buy-in you’ll need for long-term success. I see a lot of young companies and young managers struggle with this, particularly as they deal with hyper-growth or acquisitions. I found that this is where networked communication tools really shine if used consistently, as they are excellent for providing access and expediting buy-in time in larger organization.

5. Reinforce Shared Goals & Purpose to Drive Collective Success

With transparency and smart communication, you can build a high-performance work culture by continually reinforcing shared ambitious goals. Use constant communications across all relevant channels to reinforce strategy and help focus everyone on progress as well as the purpose of the work. Incremental success and transparent communications bolsters individual resolve to keep moving forward.

You’ll find that millennials, and people of all other ages, will blossom under the culture you create and reach goals that you thought were only dreams.

Anton von Rueden is Chief Operating Officer of TechStyle Fashion Group, a subscription-based fashion company with 2000 employees and 5 million members, with operations in 12 countries.