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C-Suite Vacancies Are Coming; Can Millennials Fill Them?

Dec 15, 2016
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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — How well could your organization handle a surprise vacancy in the C-suite? Perhaps not well at all. A recent global survey from the ManpowerGroup found that 87 percent of organizations "have not identified future leaders to fill critical roles."

Why? It's partly because Millennials largely are not interested in working in conventional management structures, says the multinational HR consulting firm. According to its survey, U.S. Millennials say they prioritize making "a positive contribution" (28 percent) and making "a lot of money" (26 percent) over "managing others" and "getting to the top of an organization" (both 4 percent).

But professor J. Gerald Suarez at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business suggests the situation is not so critical. He tells the career-information site GoodCall that Millennials are not as driven by positions and titles as the Baby Boomer generation was. They believe that they can "make a difference regardless of their place in the organization. … So they place more emphasis on skills, knowledge and ability," he says.

Suarez, also a fellow in Smith's Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change, says Millennials are influencing other employees and building a followership. "I don't think we're going to have a crisis in management because they refuse to join the ranks of management — eventually they will be in these positions."

Closing the Chasm

ManpowerGroup is calling for employers "to show Millennials how taking on managerial roles aligns with their long-term career goals and will help make them more employable in the future."

So how should employers who are Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70) approach heeding that call to action, given they tend to prioritize chain of command and highly regard seniority and rank, while the 19-to-35-year-old Millennials tend to prefer relationships at any level and have an aversion to autocratic settings? In a recent Washington Post column, Suarez gave seven ways for Boomers to connect with Millennials in the workplace:

Let them get to know you: Just because Millennials are constantly using technology does not mean that they do not value human connectedness. Make sure they understand your vision and what inspires you.

Share the purpose of a project, not just the task: If you share with them the reason why something must be done, they will surprise you with they how to achieve it. They are purpose-oriented, not task-oriented. They reason that job security will derive from their competencies and their passions, not from where they fit in the organization. If they lack a connection with the purpose, they will move on.

Tell them before they ask: Let them know how they are doing before they ask you. They thrive on feedback and expect routine encouragement. Perhaps one reason for this expectation is that they are accustomed to instant feedback online and, unconsciously or otherwise, think the same thing should happen on a personal level. The absence of feedback could be interpreted to mean that you do not value them.

Practice empathy: If you try to see the world through their eyes and thus understand their needs, you will learn how to motivate them. Millennials are fluid; they like mobility, and thrive on cross-disciplinary and cross-functional experiences. What Baby Boomers consider stability, they may view as stagnation. Engage them with stimulating activities, disrupt the routines, and surprise them with new challenges and special time-bound projects.

Give them space: Do not micromanage their methods. Give them space to learn, discover, and experiment. Millennials like a challenge and the chance to create innovative solutions. They like to learn through immersion, engagement, trial and error, and entrepreneurial activities. Have them work in teams so that they can enjoy peer-to-peer feedback and share lessons learned from successes and failures.

Nurture their sense of belonging: In seeking jobs, Millennials are looking for a context that allows them to align their values with the values of the organization. They wish to be connected to a purpose that matters to them and the community. In job interviews, you should articulate the organization’s vision and share it with them. It is the impact of what the organization does that gives them a sense that they might belong.

Give them access to technology: Millennials function in networked environments where simultaneous communications are more efficient than long meetings. Who needs a meeting when they can group-text? They see technology as essential and as a means for self-expression and learning. This constant stimulation keeps them energized and feeds their natural enthusiasm for collaborative settings.

Ultimately, when Millennials "are labeled as not being loyal or maybe even selfish or entitled, it is a misrepresentation of what they really offer," Suarez says. "Because this generation is so driven by impact, in many ways, it is the consequences of what they do that gives renewed meaning to who they are." 

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.