A recent article in the Harvard Business Review concludes that all the talk about managing Millennials is basically smoke and mirrors. It considers the evidence, such as it is, and states that "...it is more attention-grabbing to talk about differences among groups and challenges in the workplace than it is to report on how alike they are".
The article contends that most people want the same things from work. These include pride in what they do, a sense of making a valid contribution, and of course to be treated well and find their work fulfilling and enjoyable.
So, according to HBR "...it's likely that companies pursuing Millennial-specific employee engagement strategies are wasting time, focus, and money. They would be far better to focus on factors that lead all employees to join, stay and perform at their best."
So that is the "what", but it doesn't answer the "how".
The life experience of millennials before they arrive in the workplace must be considered and then influence the way that organisations develop management practices to enable them to flourish within it, make a better contribution and achieve their full potential.
First of all, we should remember that millennials are absolutely aware of what is happening in their peer group. They are in social media contact with people they grew up with, went to school with, graduated with. They can witness their progress and success and measure this against their own. And if they feel they are falling behind and there are not clear steps they need to take in order to catch up, they can feel resentful and anxious, questioning their own ability, worth and progress.
So the "one size fits all" approach of the annual appraisal cycle may simply not work for them. They are more likely to benefit more from a regular 15-minute check-in with their boss, or a 'water-cooler' moment with someone they look up to and with whom they can safely check out ideas and gain feedback.
This is also the generation of continuous assessment. The Millennial experience of education was that it came to them in bite-sized chunks; they had more choices in their academic options and honed their work until it ticked all the boxes. And they were subjected to a constant stream of tests.
As a result Millennials often like tasks to be broken down, and to be aware of how what they do fits into to the bigger picture. And they may struggle with the idea of their careers developing along a fixed, linear route, doing better when they can customise their career progression in the way that they have customised so many other areas of their life, from their ringtones to their playlists.
To assume that the management methods of yesterday will still work today, and can achieve the same outcomes, is lazy thinking. Organisations who want to attract, develop and retain Millennial talent today need to work harder and gain a better understanding of what makes them tick, and then adapt how they manage them accordingly.