How to Become a Better Multi-Generational Leader with Millennials in the Workplace

Today, two younger generations are rising in the workplace. Millennials (or Gen Y) have been in the workforce for some time and are beginning to grow into management roles. Gen Z is the newest generation to arrive on scene, bringing to the workplace a unique set of ideas, interests, and beliefs—all shaped by the experiences and conditions in which this generation grew up.

It should come as no surprise that each generation approaches work, office culture, and learning differently. But do leaders really understand how to recognize, accommodate, and even value this generational diversity at work? How do they coach or create learning programs that appeal to a multigenerational workforce?

The Expanding Gap Between Gen Y and Gen Z Learners

Despite their proximity in age, Gen Y and Gen Z workers often diverge in terms of workplace needs and habits.

Millennial workers are often idealistic, believing they can change the world; they have faith in themselves and in their ability to manipulate workplace systems to best suit their needs and interests. Gen Z values human equality. They are fluid and flexible in their thinking, and work around established workplace systems if they can find a way to do so.

How do these differences show up in the workplace?

Millennials in the workplace tend to respond positively to mentoring, structure, and a sense of purpose, and they have copious social media connections that constitute a major part of their social structure. They want to be a part of something larger than themselves, and they respond to leadership styles that encourage this mentality.

Gen Zers, on the other hand, are individualists. They respond to freedom and disruption. Perhaps surprising in our increasingly digital world, this generation prefers face-to-face connections over social media.

One size does not fit all. Leading or training without recognizing or accommodating these unique needs and interests could have damaging consequences on business outcomes. Consider instead how to modify your programs to appeal to this diversity.

It might sound like a good idea to give everyone across the company the same training and tools; however, for greater impact, target intact teams or specific high-potential groups with certain training offerings and solutions designed for them. Instead of trying to coach or communicate the same way with everyone on your team, understand that you may need to customize your approach, the tools, or even your leadership style to facilitate movement in the right direction.

Finding Common Ground: Does Everyone Know Their Impact on Results?

In spite of these differences, what Millennials and Gen Zers both struggle to understand is how their actions impact company’s results. They often can’t find a direct correlation between day-to-day work functions and the topline outcomes of the organization that employs them. And this lack of clarity creates all sorts of problems that even the best training program in the world can’t fix.

The key here is to foster accountability for common goals. The first step an organization should take to accomplish this is to define what success looks like. Articulating clear, concise organizational outcomes that can be tied to daily work activities is a critical step in bridging this gap.

Any differences between how generations learn, develop, or become engaged in their work become easier to manage when every person in the system feels they impact the company’s top priorities. And in working towards these shared ambitions, multigenerational employees may just uncover more similarities than they do differences.

Form Expectations to Further Clarify Impact

Creating movement within a team has a lot to do with getting expectations right. Once you clearly define Key Results, further clarify how each team member impacts these outcomes by forming expectations that are connected to business outcomes.

The most effective way to do this is apply a process we call FORM Expectations: Set expectations that are Frameable (aligned with the Key Results); Obtainable (do those involve belief it can be achieved); Repeatable (does it have “legs” to travel through the organization?); and Measurable (if you can’t measure it, you can’t move it).

Then communicate expectations frequently, ensuring alignment, and inspecting progress along the way. If progress isn’t being made, then it is important for the leader to act promptly and diagnose whether there is an accountability issue, company culture issue, or training issue — and then address accordingly.

Often, the hardest part about training or leading any generation is identifying the issue. If you want to learn how to do this more effectively, we’ve created a diagnostic tool that we teach in our Leadership Builder™ program. Even better, we show you how to address each issue, ensuring you set your team up for success.

Adapting to Disruption in the Labor Force

As these two generations take on new positions, some even rising into the ranks of leadership, it’s critical that employers understand the value systems and driving force for each. However, don’t fall into the trap of perpetuating generational stereotypes in the workplace.

People are both unique and share universal desires that drive behavior—which makes becoming an effective leader all the more challenging and fulfilling. The key is to be sensitive to the complexity of human learning and development, now in the context of the generational dynamics at play in the modern workforce.

Testing and adapting learning and leading strategies, as well as continuously asking for feedback around what is working well and what needs improvement, will give you a head start in developing a workforce that can adapt to disruption, focus on what matters most, and take ownership for results.

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