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June 2017

The 3 Inside Secrets to Managing Millennials

670 300 Russell Potter

As a leadership trainer and HR Consultant, the question I am asked probably more than any other, is, “How do I deal with Millennials?” Millennials are the group born between the mid-90’s and mid-2000s and are the generation now entering the workplace. Organizations are confused by the group, who they see as transient job hoppers. Perennially un-satisfied, Millennials are often stereotyped with either a voracious appetite for their own personal growth or a healthy disrespect for those in authority or both. The word, “Narcissistic,” is often mentioned, which I will come back to later. Millennials are often perceived as pretentious rather than humble, which in a team setting translates into irritation and conflict.

These are the stereotypes, and stereotypes are born when individuals from one social group view another social group as one entity, as if the other social group were one person with a single personality.  The failure to see the group as individuals with individual personalities, but with some shared ideas, creates a problem. Not all Millennials are created equal. The reason this creates a problem is that it excuses organizations from their responsibility to provide the highest standard of leadership and people management to ALL employees.

In many ways, it’s not that Millennials are difficult, it’s that previous generations were prepared to suffer well in organizations with leadership styles based on fear and control where learning and growth were way down the priority list. In such organizations, the unspoken goal is not to lose, rather than to try to win. Millennials don’t seem too comfortable with this.

Some background, every new generation entering the workplace arrives with the same bewilderment from leaders, Generation X had the same reaction from the Baby Boomers. Generation X (of which I am a member) shared the dedication to hard work that Baby Boomers did, but they lacked the compliance and were more keen to challenge systems which they felt had room for improvement.

I do agree that Millennials present a challenge for organizations, which for them is unavoidable because, as the “New Crop” entering the workplace, Millennials are the most cost-effective employees.  Most Management Consulting companies would cease to exist without them.

We need to be truthful with ourselves here, the reason that the question, “How do we deal with Millennials,” is asked is because all organizations need an influx of fresh and cheap labor, and graduates and school leavers provide that. Graduates enter with low pay and are expected to do at least a couple of years of doing the hard work and, “Learning the ropes,” before maybe moving to a better position, hopefully within the organization.

The system works because it’s true, you do indeed need to learn the ropes which means understanding the market, organization and how to grow the business armed with an understanding of both. Unfortunately, this generation isn’t just accepting this system quite like the last and are highly motivated to move to a better position as soon as possible.

One of the things I hear a lot is that Millennials are, “Narcissistic,” meaning that they are selfish, exaggerate their abilities and feel entitled.  It is also said that they lack humility. I’ve worked with Millennials in organizations and interviewed hundreds in the past few years, and I think this a touch unfair and misunderstood.  Let’s not mistake a belief in equality with narcissism. Millennials have a strong belief, as Gen X did, in equality. They enter the workplace and see their more senior colleagues getting paid more them they do and, as the more junior, less experienced employees, they often do the more laborious, monotonous tasks. To their mind, they are just as smart and work hard, and see this situation as unfair. Of course, most of us would agree that their perception belies a lack of experience and maturity, but to label it “Narcissism’ would be inaccurate. Equality, yes, immaturity without a doubt, but let’s not forget how old they actually are, and that Gen X had EXACTLY the same attitude when they were the “20 somethings” entering the workplace.

So, what to do? Here’s my inside tips from HR consulting, headhunting, leadership training and coaching at large organizations in Asia. There are of course many interventions but here’s my top 3.

1.     Don’t treat millennials any different. The US army doesn’t change it leadership style just because the latest generation has different attitudes and values. It chooses wisely, uses an excellent leadership framework and ejects anyone who doesn’t make the cut. Millennials also don’t want to be treated differently but they do want to be treated fairly. Evidence from Gallup suggests that patronizing Millennials with offices that look like a playground doesn’t work, although it does work on Baby Boomers, which I find very amusing.

Make sure that you invest in genuinely excellent leadership at all levels of Management and apply excellent leadership to ALL employees irrespective of age. What does that mean? It means that leaders must understand how to articulate a clear vision, judge the abilities of team members well and assign work appropriately, constantly growing each team member in terms of skill and thinking, and then motivating team members to overcome their fears, to contribute their best, and strive together as a team. That’s easier said than done and requires very specific skills that can be learned in a classroom, but, with the commitment of the organization, it is achievable. The outcome is teams that are able to make a significant contribution far and above the sum of their parts. “Command and control,” is the opposite. It’s enforced compliance where performance is as strong as the weakest part. Although it definitely has a place, especially fresh graduates and school leavers, Millennial, Gen X or Baby Boomer, which one would you prefer to work in? They key is to change your style as the employee grows.

2.     Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If you promise a Millennial that they will be promoted within 1 year, and it doesn’t happen, the Millennial will look elsewhere without a thought, they will walk.

It’s true that Millennials are ambitious, and they often need a parental style of leadership that’s encouraging and grounding at the same time. Like all of us, they feel the need to make progress, but they often feel that need more acutely than most others.  Making promises is not the answer but succession planning is. One of my favorite quotes is by Richard Branson who said, “Train them well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough that they will stay.” Sage advice indeed, and the best way to treat all employees, especially Millennials. It’s worth remembering that the #1 reason for an employee resigning is a bad boss. Although “Trigger/Final Straw” would be a more accurate term, great leadership has the ability to work both ways and many employees, Millennials included, will stay for an excellent leader that they can learn from and trust.

3.     Personal growth. Many Millennials are into rapid career progression through accelerated personal growth. They possess bundles of outward confidence and are hungry to learn, with the expectation that they will sprint up the career ladder. Whilst the latter is unlikely, the former is a very real phenomenon.

They have been bought up in a Tony Robbins/Richard Branson world that tells you that if you can dream it, you can have it and that your unfounded negative beliefs and idleness hold you back. Tony and Richard may well be right, but I see that behavior with ALL age groups now, especially Generation X in Asia, entering their 40s and looking to secure a lucrative future.

Millennials are into learning and personal growth (like all people) and showing your commitment to that is the key to keeping them happy.  This is standard best practice for ANY age group and should be personalized through great leadership and not only through cumbersome HR initiatives. The concern is, however, that the thirst for personal growth is just that, personal growth, with the expectation of a new job (anywhere) at the end of it.

Leaders need to make personal growth tightly aligned to the delivery of the business strategy and immediate plans for business growth, as opposed to vacuous “Capabilities.” Many Millennials see that the employer is a vehicle for their learning with the employer there to serve their needs. Great leaders need to give a different message, “Grow yourself by growing my business.” This honest and authentic message is to the point and has no implied promises, and authenticity is essential to being a great leader…of any generation.

Watch the video here

Russell Potter is Senior HR Consultant at Motivo. Visit for more about our leadership training and HR consulting in Asia.

Inside Info | Are you a Manager or a Leader? The 4 Key Differences

670 300 Russell Potter

The term, “Manage” is often used to denote, “Just getting by,” somehow…”we manage.” I come across many managers who are purely focused, quite naturally on the urgent emerging drama of operational work. Tasks are “Managed.” Tasks in the never-ending flow of the machine, seemingly without end…indeed, when will it all end? Leadership, it seems, is a nice to do, “End of day,” activity.

Leadership is about more than, “Just getting by,” it’s an edge, a state of not only operating but of being in control, of standing up and deciding not what we will receive and but what we will give. Leading is about challenging and not just accepting, it’s about standing out front.

Here are the 4 traits that determine the true difference between management and leadership:

1.      Leaders walk in front, they lead and others follow. This is the most accurate definition of leading. The leader determines the route, the safety of the terrain and its hazards, they have the clearest view of the territory. From that position, they enjoy the vision that the followers may not have. Leaders, therefore, must have a clear vision and the ability to articulate that vision. Managers, on the other hand, merely operate the organization’s control systems.

Anyone can be a leader, a Receptionist is a leader when a visiting CEO walks into their reception. The IT guy is the leader when the company IT Systems go down. In their territory, they walk in front, visitors to that territory merely follow and it’s one of the reasons that expertise is the foundation of leadership. Leaders know their terrain.

For anyone looking to improve their leadership skills, understanding the territory is a high priority. Go back 100 years and plot the evolution of your industry with each game-changing moment, find market research to show where your industry is today and then anticipate the future. Most managers have no idea how their organization evolved let alone their industry, taking their inferences entirely from current customer demand.

2.      Skill is nothing without judgment.  The need to accurately judge a situation is key. What’s possible and what’s not, what constitutes a high risk, and what indeed is a low-risk. “Who dares wins,” maybe, yet ironically judgment includes the need not judge other as we judge ourselves. Because I can make it doesn’t, mean that others can make it too. Knowing the capabilities and limitations of your team is vitally important.

Imagine that our Manager can see a proverbial river ahead, a formidable obstacle. Battle-hardened, he knows how to traverse it, but how well can he get 10 other people to follow suit? Can he(or she) train his team with the skills needed to overcome the challenge? Can he then motivate, encourage and instill the self-belief needed to take on the overwhelming prospect of an activity that could result in their demise? Proverbial or not, if he cannot ask himself these questions and address these issues, he will not be a leader. Indeed, leadership is an essential pre-cursor to any change management initiative as it requires the judgment to ascertain the readiness of teams for the changes ahead.

An excellent way to achieve this is by using a coaching style or delegating (properly). When delegating properly, employees are given time to develop plans and ideas independently. This will quickly allow you to assess their level of thinking and judgment and gives the opportunity for employee development or, “Thinking practice,” as I like to call it. Coaching and delegating build strong self-confidence in employees.

3.      Experience matters. Can you really understand the terrain until you’ve walked it? Is a map enough? Most would argue not. If you’ve never had to lead skeptical people through a difficult change if you’ve never walked that path how can you possibly understand resistance, and more importantly, your own personal limitations and capabilities? How can this be addressed without years of experience?

Training, coaching and using the right leadership style, offers a safe space to try, fail and learn. Great training programs should incorporate a level of live skill training and realistic simulation, taking the theory out of the classroom. I like to think of the glass walls of a training room as a metaphor. We require trainees to leave the training room to complete at least one live exercise, practicing the skill learned in training on a real employee. That’s real experience and the leader now has 2 feet in the territory.

4.      Trust is vital. Leaders can walk in front but who would follow someone they didn’t trust. Employees need to have confidence in their manager’s ability to solve problems and to plot the correct path but more than anything else, employees need to feel that their manager has their interests at heart, that he “has their back.”

That is truly a difference between a manager and a leader.

Watch the video here

3 Inside Secrets to Surviving the Skills Crisis in Asia

670 300 Russell Potter

There is a crisis in Asia which is affecting every business and organization. It’s affecting different regions in different ways but the message is clear, there is not enough skills in the market to support businesses.  Indeed, the very continuity of many business units is threatened.

In some locales, such as Indonesia, the problem isn’t so much a number of people in the marketplace, it’s the quality. In other regions such as Japan, although the quality is pretty good, there simply isn’t enough people in the marketplace. The growth in South East Asia is compounded by the low maturity and expertise of employees, especially at the lower levels. In Japan, it’s the culture of loyalty coupled with a low birthrate, an aging population and a reluctance to restructure in response to market realities that’s causing problems. It’s worth noting that the biggest crisis of skills is LEADERSHIP skills.

The 3 Keys to Survival are the same in both countries and pertain to simply creating a great place to work. These are the priorities which must be addressed in order to survive.

1.      You must become an employer of choice by reputation (more than awards).  If you have a culture of, “Command and control,” where long hours are the norm and fear is the leadership style of choice, nobody will want to work for you. If you invest in learning and growth, celebrate great leadership and understand that making your office look like a playground only works in a creche, you stand a good chance that employees will want to join.

Many organizations I come across win, “Employer of Choice,” awards but on closer inspection, the authenticity is lacking. I recently met an “Employer of Choice Winner” who’s very job title was “Employee Engagement Officer.” I was encouraged by the job title but the reality was that she was merely a compensations and benefits administrator who’s role was nothing to do with employee engagement. It was merely lip service to being an employer of choice and it transpired that, in reality, the “Employer of Choice” was operating a command and control structure based on fear.

2.      Grow and promote from within. It goes without saying that any employer of choice should promote from within but the reality is that most organizations like to bring in, “New blood” from outside the organization to freshen things up. It’s a balance to be struck of course but when the market for skills is as bad as it is, the onus on up-skilling employees at the most junior levels and developing leadership from within becomes hugely important. Many of the more forward-thinking organizations, though a mix of philanthropic ownership and forward thinking are creating Corporate Universities for their organizations. This is a great move. I’m often reminded of a quote from Robert Kiyosaki in his excellent book, “Lesson In Leadership from the Military,” that the US Marines have never appointed a General from outside of the US Marines and you shouldn’t either.

3.      The Little Black Book. Come recruitment time it’s essential to have a database of candidates you can call on.   Most organizations have a good database but how relevant is it?  It can take weeks to scour the recruitment market but staying in contact with candidates who have shown an interest in your organization, in the same way that they stay in contact with customers, is what some of the best organizations do. There is, of course, a range of great Applicant Tracking Systems out there and building an “Employer brand” and consistently advertising, even if it’s just to “Register an interest with us” is a key to being read to strike.

There are of course many other great interventions and options, however, in reality, resources are limited and quick fixes are often just that, quick to work and quick to fail. Becoming a genuinely good employer and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Gallup has repeatedly shown, with huge samples sizes, that organizations who treat employees well occupy the upper quartile of profitable companies globally. Such organizations attract the very best talent from the top universities and they can do that because of their reputation. How can you become one of them?

Watch the video here.