Performance Feedback and Millennials

In Leadership

By Maura Fay Learning

Free food and beanbags just won’t cut it

Millennials now make up the largest number of employees in the workplace today. And despite the almost endless fascination about how to lead millennials in the workplace, most millennial and non-millennial leaders don’t know what to do differently or whether in fact they need to change anything about how they lead millennial employees.

In millennials we are talking about a generation stereotype that were always told by their parents that they were special, that they could have anything in life if they wanted it. Many have been brought up on social media where technology was their filter, and in a world of instant gratification where everything is now on demand, so impatience is their thing. Beyond the veneer of Facebook and Instagram, it is surprising how many millennials have low self-esteem and are looking for ways to build their own self confidence.

Compared to Baby Boomers and Gen X generations in the workplace, did you know Millennials …
-Are less engaged and fulfilled at work and more likely to leave their job?
-Expect their boss to give them straight feedback and in the moment rather than afterwards?
-Expect that their employer will develop their skills for the future, in particular self-management and personal productivity?
-Prefer to be rewarded and recognised for their work at least monthly?

As leaders we have two broad choices. One, we group everyone in our workplace as the same and lead them the same way, because let’s face it, many of the things that millennials want would also be good for everyone else. Or two, we think about the subtleties or nuances of our millennial workforce and lead them differently, respecting the fact that not all millennials are the same either. While both options are plausible, we would recommend option two.

So, through the lens of Performance Feedback and millennials here are eight ideas for leaders to try when providing feedback to millennials.

1. Make It Frequent
Millennials are looking for almost immediate feedback. If you wait for your quarterly or annual review to package any bad news, you’re in trouble. Feedback in the moment, providing it’s relevant, is the key. One way to support this behaviour is to ensure you check-in frequently with your millennials, daily if possible.

2. Make It Direct
Don’t fluff around. Don’t sugar coat. Don’t be vague. Tell it straight. That’s what millennials want. Have you ever heard of the sandwich technique, where you start and end with positive feedback and insert your constructive feedback in the middle? It doesn’t work with millennials: it lacks authenticity. Quite frankly it doesn’t work with any employee in the workplace. The keys here are to (a) remain calm and assertive, (b) explain the why, and (c) clearly define what good looks like.

3. Make It Two-Way
Millennials don’t want a hierarchical relationship with their manager; they want something more informal and more akin to a partnership. So, when giving feedback, drop the positional power, drop the tone of a scolding parent and ensure you ask the millennial for ways that you could help improve a situation.

4. Make It Action Oriented
Millennials by and large are very hard on themselves. They’re quick to blame themselves. Rather than get bogged down on the issue, try moving the conversation to be more future focused, planning the next steps.

5. Make It Balanced
Millennials in general have a greater need for praise. Leaders of millennials need to be acutely aware of this. Look for opportunities to call out their positive behaviours or results on a more regular basis.

6. Make It In Person
There’s the temptation to go digital with feedback. Everyone is just so busy sometimes it’s easier to provide the feedback in an email or in an app. And don’t millennials want this anyway? What millennials want and what they need are two different things. If we want to help develop the millennials’ skills around communication, relationship building and conflict, then it’s in person all the way. It’s also a much better way to build trust in your team.

7. Make It About The Whole Person
Feedback needs to be much deeper than a transactional conversation, otherwise it just feels like a series of mini-audits. As a leader of millennials there’s an opportunity for you to look at root causes and underlying behaviours, and to turn down your feedback dial and turn up your coaching mojo.

Take for example, millennials could benefit from …
-Putting their hand up and asking more for help.
-Better managing stress.
-Enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
-Finding quality time in solitude.

8. Make Sure You Role Model The Way
There’s no generation in the workplace that will be more critical of a leader that doesn’t connect their words with their actions than millennials. As a leader, of course you should live the values, but when you slip, be prepared for feedback to come your way and embrace the scrutiny!

It is debatable that all of these eight Performance Feedback ideas are exclusive to millennials. As leaders we could do a lot worse than apply these principles to our whole team. While this is so true, there are some subtle variations for you to think about when providing Performance Feedback to millennials.

This blog is taken from our Performance Leadership eBook. Download your copy today.

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2 Replies to “Performance Feedback and Millennials”

  1. Jenny O'Farrell says:

    Wouldn’t this be how you would give feedback to anyone – Millennial or non-millennial? We are dealing with human beings, no matter what their age is. Everyone likes to talk about the whole person, everyone likes praise and of course everyone wants a two way discussion. No-one wants a manager who fluffs around, no matter what their age and of course all people like regular feedback, no matter whether they are 20 or 60 – we are all a work in progress until the day we die and feedback is the only way we learn. Can we please get over this millennial thing and just treat everyone with dignity and respect?

    • Company: Optus
    • Michael Tonkin says:

      Hi Jenny. Great to hear from you and thanks for your note; it’s a perfectly reasonable thing to say. When piecing together the article we did give this full consideration. The reason we went with the article is that we have lost count the number of conversations with clients where they are telling us that this diversity is real and alive. For example, older managers coming to terms with the expectations of millennials and feedback (not so much how but how often). While yes we agree that the principles of feedback remain the same for all, as mentioned in the article, research and personal experience suggests that there are some subtle nuances with feedback and millennials and we tried to convey this in the article. Thanks again.

      • Company: Maura Fay Learning

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