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Keep Your Millennial Employees Engaged Through Coaching

4 min read

Recently, I heard a tale of a young direct report coming in for a one-on-one meeting and telling her manager that her one-year plan was, essentially, to take an executive’s job.

Instead of rolling her eyes, the stunned manager took it in stride. She paused, then replied, “What is it about that job that interests you? The title? The money? The position of leadership?”

From there, the two were able to have an honest conversation. The manager explained where this young professional needed to improve to attain her goals, which had been misidentified as “I want to be the boss!” This manager was able to appreciate the employee’s authenticity and earnestness while explaining the depth of the coveted role and the need for years of growth and development to prepare for it.

Of all the difficulties I’ve heard people have with millennials and early career professionals, most boil down to the essence of interactions like this. As a leader, you need to take time to delve deeply into what’s most important to your people to see how their personal values align with your company’s.

The question, however, remains: Do the early career professionals at your company and under your watch have the foundational communication and presence skills to be a part of the leadership pipeline? And as a mentor and leader, what can you do to help them recognize the common obstructions that could be blocking their path? Much like this young professional’s manager, you can take steps to coach them on how to find success.

Problem 1: Not being present in meetings

Nothing is more frustrating to leadership than seeing someone who’s distracted or—worst of all—pulls out a cell phone at a meeting. You may notice this is the same employee who takes your time after a meeting asking for a summary. Lesson? It can wait. Put it away.

How to coach:

Have you ever given someone else advice only to realize you need to take your own advice to heart?

Owning up to problems ourselves makes it an “everyone” issue, not an “us vs. you” issue. Ask other department heads to be mindful of their distracted cell phone use in meetings and see if younger employees will mimic the behavior. Keep yourself in check, too: Are you modeling the type of behavior you’re arguing against by having your computer open during one-on-ones?

Secondly, make sure you are consistently finding ways to engage younger employees in meetings by asking for their input rather than just downloading information to them. Take your time going through the agenda, ask for clarity, and see if there are additional areas where you can provide greater understanding.

Problem 2: Being too quick to respond

Did you actually read the email I sent? It seems like the response only reflected reading the first bullet point, and now I need to email you again.

How to coach:

Your employees want to do a good job. Somewhere, someone gave them the advice that quick responses show that they’re on top of it. A fast worker means a good worker, right?

The reality is that understanding, analyzing, and problem-solving can’t be done in a matter of seconds. In one-on-one meetings, coach your team to slow down before replying to in-person or email requests. Remind them to listen, ask questions, and be thoughtful about what is being asked and how they respond. Help them understand that when the sender has to repeat their original request, that cancels out any points earned for a speedy response—and that there’s nothing wrong with being thoughtful.

Problem 3: Lacking self-awareness

The CEO asks a millennial employee about their weekend. You hear them reply that they drank all night at a pub crawl and still haven’t recovered from a 3 a.m. bedtime. Honesty is the best policy, right?

How to coach:

This conversation can be challenging, but your best bet is, again, leading by example. You can point out that it’s perfectly fine to say you went to a bar with some friends from college, but it’s best to leave the details at the bar.

Remind early career professionals that every moment they are at work, it’s possible they’re being observed—the spotlight is never off! It’s like going for a picnic in the park as opposed to sitting in your own backyard. You’d watch your language a bit more if you noticed a family with young children sitting next to you. Help them remember that no matter how “cool” your leadership team may be, there still needs to be a line for what’s not appropriate to mention at work.

Problem 4: Too much (or too little) confidence

“My idea makes more sense. Let’s do it that way,” or “Oh, you wouldn’t want to hear my idea… it’s terrible.”

How to coach:

When working with the former type of person, remind them that a collaborative attitude is integral to fostering innovation. Even if one team member thinks they have the best idea, they need to be open to the possibility of a better one. They should listen and then say “yes, and” to build on the idea, rather than “no, because” or “yes, but.”

For the latter type, remind them that the best idea is often the last to be voiced—again, collaboration is about the process of sharing and building. As their leader, you need to encourage them by asking for their input and giving them praise when they share it (even if it’s not going to be used). Remind them that you hired them for a reason, and that you value their input, no matter how small.

Most importantly, don’t forget that your team is poised to become your organization’s future leaders. It’s your responsibility to help them get there. Ariel can help, with leadership and communication training that’s tailored to your needs. Contact us today.


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