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Beyond Training: Creative Thoughts on Developing Millennials
Beyond Training: Creative Thoughts on Developing Millennials

Millennials will make up 35 percent of the global workforce by 2020, so there’s never been a better time to discuss how to develop their talent as leaders.

As more and more Baby Boomers retire and more Generation Xers assume their final career roles, it’s time to look at the next generation of leaders:  millennials. Millennials will make up 35 percent of the global workforce by 2020, so there’s never been a better time to discuss how to develop their talent as leaders.
Unfortunately, the buzz around millennials includes several myths that must be dispelled before discussing leadership development.  These include:
  • Laziness:  Millennials are working as hard if not harder than other generations! In a global study of 19,000 millennials and 1500 managers, more than 73 percent report working more than 40 hours a week.  
  • Retiring Young:  Most millennials know they’ll work longer than the generations before them. Globally, over half expect to work past age 65. 
  • Working “Gigs” Only:  Gig work may dominate the media, but almost three-quarters of working millennials are in full-time jobs. Even in the US, only 3 percent of millennials work in the gig economy.
What Millennials Want
Millennials prioritize three things when choosing where and how they work: money, security and time off. They want to be rewarded for their effort, feel secure in their employment, and still have the freedom to stop and refuel once in a while. They also value working with great people and enjoying the time they spend on the job, together with the opportunity to work flexibly and develop new skills as priorities.
The vast majority of millennials—93 percent—see ongoing skills development as an important part of their future careers. They would pay for it personally and give up their own time to do it. Only seven percent of millennials have no interest in training. 
Developing Leadership in the Millennial Population
Millennials are becoming known as the “Can Do, Will Do” generation.   As potential leaders, they are optimistic, hardworking, flexible and humanistic—aware of the critical importance of work-life balance.  When designing development programs for them, consider:
  • Learning opportunities, not just training – Millennials welcome meaningful learning opportunities on the job that provide resume-worthy experience.  These can include leading visible projects, speaking in both small and large groups or collaborating across silos or geographical boundaries on stretch assignments. When making these assignments, connect likely learning outcomes to career progression. While classroom training is helpful, hands-on learning with methods for capturing learning gains is most important.  
  • Leveraging technology – Millennials are sometimes known as “Gen Net” or the “I-Generation,” as in “Internet” Generation. They are completely comfortable with technology and expect its use in any formalized learning. Micro-learning reinforcements such as Mindmarker can deepen classroom learning. Social media chat forums allow real-time peer discussions to address challenges. E-learning, videos, and gamification are all options for engaging the millennial learner. Apps that include all of the material of your learning programs are preferable to random links. All of this ensures that learning can take place anywhere, anytime—critical for this generation.
  • Mentoring and sponsorships – Millennials are hungry for meaningful relationships and guidance. They not only want mentoring from leaders; they are also capable of providing mentoring to others as subject matter experts. Mentoring in two directions also allows for both transfer and exchange of responsibility and knowledge in a structured way. Depending on the size of the organization, software may help (e.g., iMentor) to match mentors and mentees. However, what really makes a difference is providing structure and training to both groups. Consider assigning high-potential millennials to sponsors in senior leadership who can be true champions of their careers and help secure key assignments for the millennial leader to ensure guided growth.  
  • Focused coaching wrapped around training – For high-potential millennial leaders, planned training combined with expert coaching can accelerate their growth in a short period. Millennials want things fast; a six-to-twelve-week leadership development program works well for this generation. The most common challenges addressed in these kinds of programs include developing leadership presence, communication skills, strategic thinking and influence skills .  Be sure to tie competencies to organizational strategies and priorities.  
Like the generations before them, millennial leaders want to make a positive contribution and work with great people. The power of connection benefits their development, and the more impactful the assignment, the better. The difference is that leadership development has to happen consistently, as millennials expect to stay in a role for approximately two years.  Creating a “culture of continuous development” is one way to ensure agile talent to meet the workforce challenges in a volatile global marketplace. 
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