Managing Military Millennials

Managing Military Millennials

Let’s face it: Millennials and Generation Z are taking over. They account for more of the talent pool every year and, as every organization should know, they are motivated differently than previous generations.

Unfortunately, many senior leaders in the business world don’t understand what younger team members value and how to get the most out of their younger professionals. This causes high turnover rates, more expensive employee retention efforts and less pro-organizational behavior. Some perceive the frequent job switching of Millennials and Gen-Zs as irrational or impulsive, but many times they simply lack leaders who can adequately motivate and challenge them.

Ironically, one of the world’s most rigidly bureaucratic organizations – the United States Military – discovered effective ways to motivate Gen Z. The US military is at the forefront of understanding younger generations because it hires, onboards and trains more than 150,000 young people from all over the country every year. Their leadership has helped maintain an unparalleled force of readiness and provides several lessons for civilian leaders of every organization.

Military leaders seek to understand their people, learn what they value and use their talents to accomplish missions. After briefly considering what makes Gen Z different, we’ll explore organizational and individual approaches the military uses to effectively motivate Gen Z and provide a few concrete examples that business leaders can emulate.

Who Are These People?

First, it’s key to understand younger generations. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have experienced a lot in a short period. They saw the “dot com bubble”, 9/11 started two wars, and the housing market crashed right when they were trying to build wealth. Not to mention the technological revolution redefined how they engage with their colleagues, social circles and the market. As a result of their experiences, it makes sense Millennials are confident and self-reliant and value collaboration and career advancement (Özçelik, 2015).

Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2015) are unique since they’re the first generation to be bombarded with technology from birth. They never had to get a ride from their parents to the skating rink or arcade to see friends. For Gen-Z, technology has replaced the clunky old ways of socializing and made it largely internet-based. As a result, one study found that they’re less likely to get a driver’s license, go on a date or go to the bar with their friends than previous generations. Since the average Gen-Z member will see 200,000 online and TV advertisements before graduating high school, they value authenticity and purpose more than any other generation (Reid, 2018).

As a result of how these two generations came to fruition, they have distinct values that leaders can understand and use to benefit an organization. Millennials are collaborative, driven to succeed and want to experience all that life has to offer. Generation Z values authentic environments and an organization’s mission. Also, both of these groups value company culture, a strong sense of identity and purpose, and they are basically intent on saving the world. This is crucial to understand. Cash may still be king, but culture is in command. The military understands this, and they’ve been able to create an attractive environment for younger generations at both the organization and personal level.

Innovation Through Dissent

One critical way the military motivates younger generations at an organizational level is through its recent emphasis on allowing individuals to pursue truth through innovation-focused organizations. While there are examples of individual innovation peppered throughout military history, innovation has been less organizationally encouraged until recently. For example, disruptive thinking Millennial junior officers returned from deployments overseas and refused to accept stale answers and sub-optimal solutions to some of our nation’s critical security challenges. Their writings and actions spawned a slew of innovation organizations and competitions including DoD’s Hack the Pentagon, the Air Force’s Spark Tank Competition, the Navy’s Athena Project and the Marine Commandant’s Innovation Challenge. Not to be outdone, the Army exerted significant organizational resources to establish a permanent innovation lab (Army Futures Command) to modernize the Army.

Companies that deliberately foster employee innovation can harness the inquisitive, purpose-based outlook of Millennials and Gen-Zs while focusing their efforts to improve the organization. Corporate leaders can learn from the military’s willingness to foster innovation, especially if their current approach is not working. At their core, innovators like our younger professionals are creative truth seekers. They want to be able to make meaningful contributions that improve the world around them.

Culture In Command

At the individual level, the military created an atmosphere of shared accountability, teamwork and a sense of identity that resonated well with our younger generations. Marine Corps leaders build cohesion and identity through knowing what motivates their people, creating challenging scenarios and inducing competition.

Military leaders know their people and what motivates them. They leverage talents and interests to accomplish a mission instead of relying solely on scores and observation, which boosts morale and productivity. The second-order effect here is reciprocity, where the team members feel a sense of gratitude and indebtedness to their leader. There’s little translation needed here – get to know your people and what they want and be creative on how to provide that while meeting a company goal. You’ll be surprised at the kind of response you get from our younger generation.

Another way military leaders have been able to build purpose, identity and commitment in younger generations is by creating challenging scenarios to train them. Challenging scenarios spark creativity, force individuals to rely on others and build leadership skills among their subordinates. It also provides a great opportunity for an individual to showcase unique skillsets. A close friend is a Marine Reconnaissance Company Commander and described his approach:

“The first critical step is figuring out where you want your team to be better. Define the ideal state, then challenge the team to achieve it through adversity like inability to talk, restrictive timelines, etc. Get creative on this adversity you’re building. Continue to change one variable at a time as they get better through multiple training iterations. Finally, make sure you create scenarios where the team cannot succeed without working together.”

His last point is the most important: When you create a challenging scenario where individuals must rely on one another to succeed, you force them to ignore biases and opinions. The team members learn how to contribute their special skills, engage in groupthink and experience how their teamwork has an exponential effect on their collective performance. As a result, their in-group tribalism grows in a healthy way and the team builds vital intangible traits like implicit communication and empathy to understand one another. Ironically, individuals build self-confidence and social capital despite it being a team environment. One business example is to have your team complete a project while relying only on message boards and chat rooms without being able to speak to one another verbally. Introducing a time restriction can also add training value.

Finally, inducing competition is another great way military leaders motivate young generations, especially those collaborative Millennials. For example, Marine units often compete with other units to see who’s stronger, faster or can shoot better. When preparing for competition, Marines within the unit become closer and are united through their hatred for losing and their temporary disdain for the competition. This fosters a sense of what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks calls pathological dualism, where the Marines develop an “us vs. them” mentality. During the competition, individuals are extremely dedicated to one another and work to defeat their opponent. Communication improves, skills are sharpened and morale skyrockets. This also drives the concepts of identity, meaning and purpose further home – which was the intent the whole time.

Creating friendly competition between teams in your organization can bring team members closer together, build camaraderie and morale and give your people a chance to shine. You’re giving a young Millennial or Gen-Z’er the chance to showcase their talent, learn something new, contribute to something greater than themselves and potentially reap a reward. Also, if you get creative with the incentives, you can provide a way for your teams to contribute to a charitable organization, improve the community or benefit the environment. It’s just like the first rule of economics: People respond to incentives. In this case, pick the ones your young team members value.

Millennials and Gen-Z’ers will continue to expand their influence in our business world. They don’t solely value money. They value intangibles such as purpose, company identity, improving the world, collaboration and overall experience. These factors have a strong impact on their decision to join (or stay) with a company. Leaders should seek to understand what younger people value and how to provide that, both inside and outside the workplace. We can also get creative in teambuilding since happy hours or bonus metrics aren’t the main motivators for younger folks.

Challenge them to work together. Give them the chance to prove themselves through competition. And finally, get to know them so you can provide value beyond the paycheck.

This article originally appeared on PeopleScience.com.

Chris Cancialosi on Imparting Knowledge to Younger Workers

Tony Lee and Chris Cancialosi discuss imparting knowledge to younger workers, viewing knowledge as intellectual capital, the variables to consider when preparing for a transition in a company, pre-emptive knowledge transfers and what Chris’ deployment to Iraq taught him about the process of transferring knowledge. Listen to the podcast below and read the article here: How to Prepare for Leaders Leaving

imparting knowledge to younger workers

5 Powerful Ways to Communicate with Millennials in the Workplace

how to communicate with millennials in the workplace

Guest article written by Kelly Andrews

We hear a lot about companies decking their offices with ping pong tables, new hip lounges, or soda machines in order to engage millennials in the workplace. But what if the secret to millennial engagement lies not in the objects or memorabilia, but rather in the dialogue between you and your employees? Encompassing ages 18-35, millennials are a generation that wants to be heard; one Entrepreneur.com article even went so far as to title itself, “I Am Millennial. Hear Me Roar!”

Though common communication techniques found in frequent bestsellers may work for some, millennials display a unique repertoire of behaviors that need to be understood before entering a conversation. Here are five meaningful ways to get you started:

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Why Employee Retention Should Focus On More Than Millennials

Why Employee Retention Should Focus On More Than Millennials

Most organizations still regard Millennials as somehow different than their Gen X or Boomer co-workers, but do these assumed differences really hold any weight in the workplace? Or are these stereotypes merely a byproduct of a business environment that looks starkly different than it did 20 years ago?

A surprising study from IBM sheds some light on the truth: Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers all share very similar opinions of the workplace.

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The New Guard: How to Develop and Retain Millennial Leaders

The New Guard: How to Develop and Retain Millennial Leaders

It’s happened: Millennials (by most definitions, those born between 1980 and the late 1990s) are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. And they’re no longer the generation waiting in the wings to become leaders—they’re already increasingly entering senior and managerial positions.

Along with this influx of young managers comes a shift in the role of manager itself. Managers are no longer only focused on making sure work gets done, but also on how and why it gets done. They are expected to be detail-oriented and strategic, to build culture and ensure productivity. And their position is also pivotal for employee engagement: A recent Gallup poll found that managers accounted for 70% of variance in employee engagement.

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Employee Retention: When Achieving True Success Means Letting Go

Employee Retention: When Achieving True Success Means Letting Go

The war for talent. The age-old battle waged by HR teams across the country, each vying to secure and retain the best people to help them achieve organizational success. The eternal effort to create systems, process, and benefits to help keep them once you’ve recruited them.

At the epicenter of the war for talent resides the tech industry, where many talented engineers and other highly-skilled workers have no problem jumping to another employer for a minor bump in pay or benefits. The result? Companies are forever trying to outshine each other with baubles, beer kegs and nap pods to try to entice this demographic to join them.

What this approach fails to do is inspire loyalty. Despite all the money that these companies pour into perks, at the end of the day, it’s just job hopping.

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Engaging Gen Y: Employees Are Thinking Far Beyond The Cubicle

employee engagement gen y

The Business Manager at my last employer just celebrated her 43-year work anniversary. At 20 years old, she took an administrative job and worked her way up over the next 40 years as she gained more experience and tenure. It was her first job and she will be working there until she retires 2 years from now.

Stories like this used to be more common in the workplace. It was commonplace to get a job on the ground floor of a company, expecting that they will take care of you and your professional career while you grow with them. You were expected to work your way up the ladder to a middle management position, then the corner office; all the while building your pension so you can finally escape the cubicle on your 65th birthday.

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Organizational Culture, Talent Management and Onboarding Across the Generational Divide

Recent articles such as “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem” and “The Brutal Ageism of Tech” highlight and reinforce the importance of adhering to some crucial tenets when thinking about organizational culture and onboarding across the generational divide.

1. Your organization’s culture will impact what kind of talent you attract.

Policies for employees are a critical part of your organizational culture, or “the way we do things around here.” For example, guidelines like a minimum vacation allowance rather than a maximum limit, the frequency and energy at organizational happy hours, and the expectations around working hours might attract younger employees. Conversely, policies such as paternity leave, stock options, retirement contributions and a set 9-5 schedule will likely attract an older demographic.

2. This culture you created and the talent you attracted will also impact how you onboard them. If the culture values innovation, trial and error and is moving quickly, and then the onboarding process might involve some shadowing of a colleague, personalized coaching and meeting with some more tenured colleagues for learning about a deeper sense of organizational mission, history, and values. However, if the culture values structure, hierarchical process, consistency and might be in a less of a hurry, a more formal, standardized onboarding process could be necessary to make sure that the new employee will be perform consistently and with clear expectations.

It’s crucial to remember that no culture is necessarily “better” or “worse” nor is there a “better” or “worse” approach to talent management or training. What is critical, however, is to ensure that your organizational culture and onboarding is intentionally designed in such a way to attract and train the talent you need to be successful as an organization. This alignment between culture and talent and training is one often overlooked piece of the puzzle in achieving your organization’s mission and well worth a close look.