With millennial consultants making headlines and the New York Times producing what seem to be monthly thinkpieces on the role of the workforce’s newest generation, it’s increasingly obvious that industry leaders are looking for reliable sources to help them work with their younger counterparts. Negative stereotypes abound in these kinds of conversations, so we took an episode of In Process last year to catch up with two consultants who set the record straight: Ann Marie Sabath, founder of At Ease, Inc. and author of two books on business etiquette; and Jamie Notter, founding partner of Culture That Works, LLC and author of When Millennials Take Over.
“Just remember, we always hate the youngest generation when they come into the work force,” says Notter with a laugh as the conversation begins. “You can probably find ‘kids these days’ quotes dating back to Cicero.”
Jokes aside, many managers are trying to strike a balance between the expectations of their new hires and the way things have always been done. Check out a few points below from the conversation, and revisit the episode in full in the player at the bottom of the page.
On the boundaries between millennials and their supervisors:
While previous generations have been very guarded with the way they approached a boss or supervisor—“You can’t just talk to him in the hallway!”—millennials are more likely to approach those kinds of interactions casually.
“They’ve always had access to people who are clearly higher than them in the hierarchy,” says Notter. “It’s not a question of whether they’re spoiled: they’re responding to the environment that they grew up in. They had access, so they come into the organization and they expect access—except traditional management doesn’t operate that way.”
On dealing with feedback:
“[Millennials] like to be coached; they don’t like to be managed,” says Sabath. “Getting feedback little by little, versus in one bite, is much more palatable for them.”
Notter notes that traditional management techniques can be a shock for these new hires. “I don’t think that they can’t take negative feedback, but I also think that we put too much emphasis on whether the boss approves of you,” he says. “They don’t want criticism—they want to solve problems. [Rather than] dealing with this criticism, they would actually rather just get to work solving the problem and doing the work better.”
On dealing with generational differences in the workplace:
“[I tell millennials that they] want to adapt to the person who is writing the check,” says Sabath. “The Golden Rule is out—Do unto others as you want them to do unto you? That is gone. Delete it. Now, it’s The Platinum Rule: Do unto others as they would want you to do unto them. You need to be able to gain the confidence of your managers so you, in turn, can be respected and start doing things your way. It’s a step-by-step process.”
That said, business leaders can’t expect for the newcomers to adapt alone.
“I think the basic rule, for anyone, is to understand the other generation. That will help you build the relationship and get more done,” says Notter. He says that’s true for anyone: Millennials need to understand Gen Xers and Boomers; Boomers need to understand Gen Xers and Millennials. But when it comes to who should change? “Well, if you don’t adapt your culture to the way millennials are working, they will leave.”
On accommodating new ideas:
Notter references a piece of advice he gives millennials: “Proceed until apprehended.”
“Do things differently until someone stops you,” he says. “And then when they stop you, say, ‘Well—we did things differently and we got results.’” As a business owner or manager, being receptive to ideas that are producing results allows you to retain the members of your staff—millennial or otherwise—who are innovating in your field.