The M-factor

How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace


Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman

Harper Business, 2010, 292 pp.  ISBN 978-0-06-176931-3


This is a positive, practical book on integrating millennials into the workplace.  The book addresses characteristics of the generation, transitioning to worklife, managing, and collaborating.  Subsections address parenting, entitlement, meaning, expectations, speed, social networking, and collaboration.  It includes suggestions for millennials too. The authors are generational experts, cofounders of a training company focused on the generations, and authors of When Generations Collide. 


Part One - Here Come the Millennials

1. Millennial Nation - How a Whole New Generation is Colliding, Clashing, and Clicking with Traditionalists, Boomers, and Generation Xers

Entering the workforce, millennials will challenge the way we do things.  And they will be tested as they adapt to established work cultures.  It's not right vs. wrong, but different - and the differences provide great opportunities.  The book builds on case studies, stories, in-depth interviews, and surveys.  "When a generation is new, they threaten us because we don't know them yet." (13)


Part Two - The Transition from Life to Worklife

2. Parenting - Connected Via the Cordless Umbilical

Work with a millennial and sooner or later you'll find yourself working with their parents too. Parents have taken the role of collaborators and are considered best friends and trusted advisors.  Parents have viewed their children less as kids and more as their greatest achievement, protégés.  Parents don't give orders, they consult.  Some college students text their parents multiple times a day. 


A survey of 2009 U.S. college graduates showed 80% moved back home with their parents after graduation.  (30)  Some companies put together a newsletter for the parents!  With so much parental feedback, they expect much more feedback from the boss, and they may be hypersensitive to criticism and easily discouraged by failure.  (32)  So be specific about boundaries (for example, for their parents and the internet).  Many have great life experiences but little work experience.  They've been coached and need and want coaching, lots of it.  Invite in the parents where you can.  Best to have them on your side.  Tips for parents on pp. 45ff. 


3. Entitlement - A Generation on a Silver Platter

It's a source of resentment.  They're restless.  They have always had alternatives.  If it doesn't work out quickly, they move on.  They had leadership roles in extracurricular activities and expect them on the job.  They have also had great experience working in teams.  They want to be acknowledged for what they know and we can applaud their desire to make a contribution.  Older generations are concerned about their overconfidence and lack of loyalty.  They want jobs where they can express themselves and use their gifts. 


Many have either too little to do or they're bored with the work, feeling their capacity is wasted.  So delegate some of your work.  The happiest ones are learning a lot, are challenged, and are coached and mentored.  They are used to constant feedback.  Share their dreams to change the world and talk to them about how their work fits with the company vision and values.  They need rewards.  They don't have to be big but generationally appropriate.  See tips on p. 73.  Many have not learned tact or company etiquette so their straightforward questions often seem offensive.  Talk it out.  Show respect - both ways.  If they are badgering you for feedback, advice, or input, consider it as eagerness, a desire for engagement. 


4. Meaning - Who Am I, and Why Am I Here?

For many of us, work is more than what we do; it's who we are.  Their parents told them to find work that has meaning for you.  It may not cost a lot to help them find the meaning in their work.  It may be the easiest way to inspire them.  They want to help people, to make a difference in the world.  A good manager helps employees see the vision and values.  They want to hear how their aspirations will come true in a shared vision. 


Show off about how your organization is giving back to the community or making a difference in the world.  Provide opportunities for your workers to give back through volunteer programs.  Think like a non-profit: that's what the youth do.  Show the potential big impact of your organization.  Remind them of the 'cause.' 


They want to be innovators and they may have the ability to find creative solutions to problems.  The best are tech savvy, creative, energetic, and innovative.  Find opportunities to include them, ask their opinions, and let them help identify, analyze and solve problems.  Show them the ballpark, the parameters, and give them the ball.  Outline your expectations.  Hold them accountability, checking in to be sure they're on the right track and teaching them the discipline of completing projects. 


They want to be heard, regular opportunities to give ideas and input.    They want to know they are succeeding so give small personalized rewards, praise them with specifics, and catch them in the small mistakes before they make big ones.  They have a hard time with negative feedback, so ease into it, perhaps with having them do a self-evaluation to see how far apart you are.  You must point out what is not wonderful so they can learn from it.  Allow creativity where you can.  They want to express creativity, taste and freedom.  They will see more meaning in their jobs if they can become specialists in one or two areas unique to them. 


Part Three - Managing Day-to-Day

5. Great Expectations - Is What You See What You Will Get?

Expectations about work get shaken up with each new generation.  Ask successful millennials how their expectations were, and were not met, what helped them the most, and how the company could do better.  A perfectly good hire may still lack some skills needed to succeed.  They may have robust life experiences but be lacking in work experience. 


Communicate baseline expectations, including etiquette, how to treat clients, what written communications should look like, and how mistakes are handled.  Communicate the unwritten rules.  Don't assume.  Be concrete, specific.  Coach rather than blame.  Provide specific procedures where needed.  Treat them as valued team members.  They will criticize a lot of procedures and practices.  Give up the outmoded stuff and figure out what is important. 


6.  The Need for Speed - Managing Worklife in the Fast Lane

Millennials are increasing the speed of doing things and they expect fast communication, feedback, and promotions.  They are impatient with the slow pace of change in corporations.  They are ready to install the new shared calendar system today - not realizing how much time and energy it will require for overworked managers to learn how to use it.  Teach them to make the case for change and help them work around the bumps in the road. 


Pick up the pace of communication with them.  They want feedback from everyone, not just their boss, right now.  Since this is one of their biggest frustrations, find ways to communicate frequently.  Walk around. Stop by each desk.  Excuse yourself if you need to move on. 


Multitasking.  Are they working or goofing off?  Don't assume.  Judge by effectiveness and productivity.  They may need specific input about etiquette and politeness re cell phones, with clients, during meetings, etc. See suggestions pp. 175-179. 


Millennials want to move up the career ladder at lightning speed.  They are accustomed to moving on.  If they think they can do it, they expect to move up.  But the corporation wastes capacity if people are always in learning mode but not performing for awhile in a job they do well.  Show them how their current job will help them in future positions or make them a smarter business person wherever they go.  If they're bored, shake it up for them.  Invest the extra time to teach them, building a better work force.  Put some to work mentoring people above them in new technology.  Revisit inappropriate job descriptions to expand the scope.  Make jobs more stimulating.  Rotate jobs and speed up their experiences.  Show them the multiple possibilities within the company and help them rotate through. 


Part Four - We're All In This Together

7. Social Networking - Gathering Around the Virtual Water Cooler

Millennials are the networked generation and it is providing powerful new options that may revolutionize business.  Companies cannot escape social networking.  It is a blending of personal customization and technology.  It's not about content, but connecting.  The real magic of the internet is not what, but who you can find.  They communicate more through technology than in person.  They have many new approaches to doing work. 


To the older generations their communication lacks etiquette.  It seems rude.  They are less engaged in conversation.  It's too frequent, too fast, too short, and too shallow.  At break time, they don't gather, but rush to their devices.  Intimacy is redefined.  The tech communication does not respect hierarchy or age differences: it removes these barriers.  If you want to connect, you may have to vary your method of communication. 


Find out your company rules and policies on social networking.  Where does the company draw the line?  Don't use technology to avoid the difficult work conversations.  Remember, that what people (like your clients or potential employers) can learn about you online can affect you positively or negatively. 


Technology means the end of the expert.  Millennials go to social networks, a diverse array of citizens who have opinions, ideas, and information.  They are used to sorting diverse opinions to make decisions.  Why ask one expert when you can ask everybody?  Patients diagnose themselves on!  Anyone who has something to say can be an expert.  Of course, information may be incorrect.  Be sure millennials know they must have credible sources - and credibility may be difficult to assess. 


They must also understand the privacy boundaries, what can and cannot be discussed in open forums.  Recruiters can learn a lot about candidates from social networks, things they aren't allowed to ask!  And once things go viral, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle.  Just don't put anything up you don't want the world to see. 


Managers have plenty of new opportunities through social media as well.  Consider the CEO blog, for example.  Many blogs allow employees to post questions or engage in conversation around topics.  But beware: millennials have a nose for snow jobs and double-talk.     


8. Collaboration - Managing the "We" Generation

Boomers have been competitors.  Xers are controllers.  Millennials are collaborators.  Work is a team sport.  The worst thing is isolation.  Feeling connected, chiefly by collaborating with peers, is a most important factor for retention.  They form bonds quickly and are disenchanted if it doesn't happen quickly enough.  They connect with virtual teams around the globe, recognizing that the best resource may be outside the building, or outside the US.  They will take the supernetwork wherever they go.  So put them on teams, facilitate connections, mix the generations.  Enrich the team with diversity, the greater the diversity the better.  Teach them to not cover for slackers and let them know how you evaluate performance.  Don't let them hide behind the team, which makes it more difficult to reward performers and manage in a personalized way. 


They see leaders as collaborators with decision-making power.  They want to collaborate with leaders on the vision and have their say.  They want flexible relationships with leaders.  They need permission to freely offer ideas, and when it's time to move, they need to go along with the decisions.  Have an open door policy but set office hours.  Spend time helping other generations understand how to work with them.  Have fun together. 


With so many Boomers retiring, there is a potential transfer of knowledge crisis on the horizon.  Make teaching part of the job description.  Millennials aren't the most patient listeners, so liven it up.  They also like to share what they know.  Turn collaboration into fun.  Tell stories.  Give them a reason to listen, why they need to know.  Include all the generations.  Use interactive learning methods.  Put millennials to work coming up with the learning processes.     


Conclusion - Unleashing the M-Factor in Your Organization

"Are you willing to be the person who puts a stop to the negative chatter…?  Are you able to put ego aside and consider that the newest generation might just have the best ideas?  Are you receptive to learning from someone younger than you are, and to letting them learn from you?  The arrival of a new generation in the workplace presents an opportunity to examine how we do things and perhaps test out a few new approaches that will make us even better." (280)