Millennials on Millennials: Changing Change Management

The number of Millennials in the United States has surpassed Baby Boomers, and it seems like the number of studies and surveys about Millennials has overwhelmed just about every media outlet out there. What we’ve learned is that, generally, Millennials:

  • Express a desire to change jobs
  • Want to have ownership of their work
  • Are looking to build relationships, especially with mentors
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“Change management is not easy nor is managing a new kind of generational employee. This overlap has never been bigger, so take advantage of these opportunities and make change positive.” Zakhar Shtulberg, Management Consultant

These traits have the potential to be compounded, especially by change. While the percentage of Millennials in your organization rises, the fact remains that “change is the only constant.” A common, overlooked challenge is adjusting change management approaches based on different stakeholders. Change management for Millennials, specifically, has several tricky nuances.

Loyalty is a two-way street.

The days of employees demonstrating loyalty to an organization from the get-go are coming to a close—Millennials expect loyalty from their employer. This means that organizational change can be a sensitive topic and cause of attrition for many younger employees. Some changes are inevitable, but extra effort must be made to demonstrate loyalty to the people. Positive changes should be communicated from an outcomes-perspective. The first thought of many will be, “that’s great, but what’s in it for me?” Being ahead of that will demonstrate commitment to employees.

Similarly, negative changes should explain how a setback will impact the retained organization. A downturn can lead to increased voluntary turnover, especially from a group that already leaves at a higher rate, but communication of what the future holds and how the organization will recover can excite employees and keep them engaged.

Own the change.

Desire for control and autonomy are one of the most defining traits that Millennials share. During times of change, when things can seem out of control, organizational leaders must emphasize that they will write their own stories (e.g., externalities have limited impact), a feeling and reality that will trickle down. This limits the fear and uncertainty that typically comes with change, particularly for Millennials.

Control is also a prerequisite for action; employees who freeze during times of change will lower productivity for both themselves and their peers. On the other hand, empowered and engaged employees who feel in control will be able to serve as change leaders and raise the tide for every other boat. Proactively empowering Millennials with additional opportunities and roles in changes will create a sense of ownership of the change itself, which will lead to similarly positive outcomes.

Lastly, opening upward communication channels is equally as important as effective top-down communication during times of change. Soliciting feedback and supporting feedback loops, such as huddles to let team members know how their input was used,  creates a collaborative environment and gives them a voice in organizational direction, the ultimate in ownership of work—something that while particularly important to Millennials is also appreciated by other generations.

Managing change is easier, together.

In kindergarten, we learned that working together can make accomplishing difficult tasks easier. This lesson is doubly true for navigating change, especially for Millennials. They value mentorship more than any other generation in the workplace, so providing employees with mentors gives them the career partner they need to stay engaged with an organization:

  • Clear communication channels and opportunities to be heard become immediately available.
  • Leaders as mentors can give Millennials additional insights that may not be apparent without that personal connection.
  • Relationships during times of change are easier to build because employees rely on one another even more than usual.

Just as open communication channels foster ownership, they provide invaluable opportunities for bonding and bringing employees together.

Change management is not easy nor is managing a new kind of generational employee. This overlap has never been bigger, so take advantage of these opportunities and make change positive.

2 thoughts on “Millennials on Millennials: Changing Change Management

  1. Lisa Sigmund August 26, 2016 - Reply

    Excellent article, Zak. Millennial needs are going to help shape the leadership every generation wants, and progressive companies have already worked to deliver. I see this point in time as a defining milestone in which organizational management of companies will have to change dramatically, or eventually suffer the loss of productivity of current employees and lack of retention and attraction of new talent. This is an opportunity to not only satisfy millennials, but inspire and energize all generations in the workforce.

    • Zak Shtulberg August 29, 2016 - Reply

      Thanks Lisa! Totally agree–this isn’t a “point in time” issue, changing/evolving change management is required over time. Right now, organizations need to keep up with millennials and even start preparing for for Gen Z. This is no small understanding and has major implications, as you mentioned.

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