While millennials crave working in collaborative and communicative workplaces, the sad reality is that millennials are lacking in areas they desire most – communication skills. And if organisations want to start seriously thinking about succession planning and training millennials to take on those leadership and managerial positions, we need to go back to basics.
It’s an all-too-common myth that millennials are lazy, entitled, lack commitment and before they even put their foot through the door, they’re looking for the next big thing. The great thing about myths, is that they’re just that, they aren’t factual. But there is something to be said about millennials getting lost behind smarpthones, tablets and computers and the long lost art of handwriting, that might point out something that isn’t a myth: under-developed communication soft skills.
Disclaimer: I will be the first to admit, I am a millennial and I am completely defensive about my peers with the topic comes up. Why wouldn’t I be? There are heaps of us in the workforce right now, many of which started from the bottom, and moving their way up. I want my peers to succeed because we are the future leaders. So don’t think I’m just sitting here on my high horse hatin’ on my peers. I’m not. Millennials have some amazing strengths: they’re dedicated, driven workers, the highest educated workforce, and want to not only feel part of a team but work somewhere with purpose. So millennials aren’t all that bad, but we have to talk about the elephant in the room at some point.
Technology and Millennials: Where It All Began
If you think back to our love-affair with technology, and how for many of us, it shaped our lives as we know it. Some of us got our first personal computers in 1995, and had our first ever encounter with that annoying little paperclip. Chocolate-bar style cell-phones became a necessary, if not heavy, evil, but helped us create a new language, IDC G2G, TTYL that followed us all through adulthood. The internet, Google and Wikipedia changed the way we find information; no longer needing to go to libraries and hunt down dewy-decimal codes for answers. Facebook changed the way we interacted with our peers, to how we connect with people, and how to block mum from seeing pictures of you from that one night you don’t want to talk about. Twitter helped us refine our thoughts to 140 character limits. Memes helped us create inside jokes, while GIFs and emojis help us demonstrate what verbal communication just can’t (and FYI – don’t send an eggplant emoji to your co-worker because that could very well be sexual harassment). I can’t forget to mention wearables that tell us with data if we’re too lazy and need to run ’round the block a few times. Smartphones give us access to almost everything we need, want and desire at the touch of a fingerprint (or asking Siri). It’s fair to say that technology did in fact change the course of how this generation communicates on a day-to-day basis, and with digital disruption having no-end-in-sight, there’s a good chance technology will only continue to evolve Millennial (and let’s not forget our little brothers and sisters- Gen Z) communication skills as well.
HR and L&D leaders: take a step back and look at ways of solving the communication skills gap through effective training that speaks to millennials. So how do you do this?
How to Develop the Soft Skills in Your Millennial Employees
According to Manpower Group’s recent survey on Millennials, 93% of millennials see ongoing skills development as an important part of their future careers. And then PwC’s Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace whitepaper, state that 35% of millennials find training and development opportunities attractive aspects of a prospective employer, along with 65% finding career progression the key winner. Connecting the dots here, we can see that this is great news for organisations, Human Resources and Learning and Development managers. Because millennials have that willingness and dedication to develop their own soft skills, it’s just a matter of how, and a structured training program can be an attractive approach to attain and retain millennial staff, especially if they know it will help them progress professionally. Okay, so we know the benefits, awesome. So here’s some tips to get the ball rolling:
- Develop a training program that addresses the necessary soft skills, like communication skills. There are all sorts of training styles to suit the individual. Whether it’s a blended mix of face-to-face (F2F), online e-learning courses, personal learning networks, social learning, practical on-the-job experience and observation. There are a number of ways you can develop your training program. It’s all about finding the right mix of delivery methods to achieve the best possible outcome – and have it fit within your L&D budgets.
- But remember your millennial audience! Millennials love technology – so don’t ignore this when you’re putting together a training program. A F2F training session on “effective communication” with a PowerPoint slide deck probably won’t get the results you’re looking for. As a millennial, I know I prefer to learn from a mix of self-directed learning (I’ll spare my evenings to catch up on a MOOC from Coursera to develop my skills or side-interests), social learning (Quora, Reddit, and other forums where I can quench my thirst for new ideas), e-learning (yes, we do take our own courses here at Learning Seat) and from the usual on-the-job stuff that we spend 70% of our time on (ah, 70:20:10). But one thing I’ve learnt? The only way I can handle F2F training if it’s as engaging as a Ted Talk, it’s interactive and relies on useful participation. While I don’t account for 100% of the millennial population, it’s always good to gauge your audience and what they find useful to learn from. Don’t forget to leverage the full capabilities of your Learning Management System (LMS) to track and report your learner’s development if you are using eLearning modules as part of your training program.
- Start at the very beginning, to get the most out of your soft skills training program. What are the communication standards in your organisation? Is communication one of your organisation’s company values and your workplace culture? What soft skills will new hires need to really thrive in your organisation? What does your corporate structure look like and what are the expectations of their new role on a day-to-day basis when it comes to communicating and collaborating with key stakeholders? An effective onboarding program can help integrate millennials into your organisation, and sets a clear course on soft skill expectations and requirements to really thrive in their new role.
- Set a plan for career goals, and what milestones millennials need to reach to get there. Let millennials know that your organisation will offer them the career progression that they’re looking for. Create a development plan. Highlight the fact that soft skills such as communication skills, problem-solving help with long-term leadership and managerial roles, and it’s critical to meet milestones, and complete training to move closer to those career goals.
- Create a mentorship program for your millennials. A structured, mentoring program can help millennial employees receive feedback, coaching and support from someone within the organisation that might not be their direct manager. Mentoring millennials provide an inside look at what it takes to be someone at an executive level, and learn first hand from them what it takes to communicate effectively at the top. Not to mention, if millennials do have aspirational career goals to one-day fill their mentor’s seat, it’s a great opportunity to see what it takes to get there.
- Don’t wait for that annual performance review to give feedback. As mentioned earlier, continuous feedback is key for managing millennials. They’re a generation keen to grow and develop their skills, and they want to know what they’re doing and how they could be doing it better. Waiting twelve months for that performance review won’t cut it. Consider setting up a private Slack channel where you can provide continuous, specific feedback in a way that isn’t disciplinary (and scary), but rather a way of coaching your millennial employee and letting them know you’re on the same team working towards the same goals. Using a social channel like Slack, can help create a conversation and make negative feedback less awkward. Plus you can throw in a motivational meme, or a thumbs up GIF to lighten the conversation.
- Understand your millennial employee and how they need to receive feedback to succeed. On a more personal level, when one of my best managers (now friend), gave me feedback, he didn’t sugar coat anything but he also didn’t make it a personal attack. The no-BS approach (see: radical candor), worked well with the working relationship I had with my manager (coincidentally, also a millennial), but also my own personality and my values. It challenged my mindset, my actions and my output, but in a positive way. It also showed me that my manager cared enough to be completely straight-forward, and wanted me to succeed beyond just my role at that company. While I’m not condoning this approach as it might not work for everyone, and warning: could arguably be borderline offensive if not done correctly, but it is absolutely crucial for managers to understand their individual employees within their teams and how they need to receive feedback to thrive. Because at the end of the day, what worked for me, might not work for the next person in my team. It’s about building an effective working relationship where you can tap into their professional development needs and provide them with the appropriate support, coaching and feedback, in a way that will resonate with them the most, when you need to.
The Next Steps to Developing Your Millennials
Take a look at your current training programs and ask yourself whether or not they’re appealing to your growing millennial workforce. See if there are any gaps, and what areas you could develop to help your millennials succeed at your organisation. If that means updating your onboarding program, there’s no time like the present to get that sorted. Do you senior managers and leaders need their own training to help your millennials with areas like coaching and mentoring? Well there’s a whole new area you’ll need to investigate (and just as worthwhile).
So how are you tackling millennial soft skill challenges in the workplace? Share your thoughts and let us know what your training program looks like for this growing workforce.