Coaching the Millenials

A few months ago, I walked into the office of the Director of one of India’s largest conglomerate firms. The agenda was to discuss a topic that is of interest to employers everywhere – millennials, and how to bring out the best in them (disclaimer: the author of this essay is also a millennial).

As we got started, we grappled with the basic question: What is so different about millennials today that wasn’t true for their managers, maybe two decades ago? What has changed, really?

We agreed that multiple changes have occurred in the external ecosystem. For example, our world has become more interconnected due to advancements in technology and the internet. However, we also came to the conclusion that there is a deeper, more fundamental shift. At the very heart of this flux is the mindset through which millennials approach their work – intrinsic motivation.

The challenge for employers today is to help millennials find meaning in their everyday work.

The all important ‘why’ has taken the driver’s seat – ‘Why should I perform this particular task? What difference does it make to my team? Does it have a significant impact for my customer, organisation and society overall? Do my actions bring about positive change?’

The challenge for employers today is to help millennials find meaning in their everyday work. In a country like India (as in many other regions across the world), where 65 percent of the population is under 35 years of age, it is not uncommon for a section of this demographic to rise to positions of authority fairly quickly over the course of their careers. How effectively firms motivate their high-potential young workforce and manage their transition into leadership roles will determine a key source of competitive advantage in the marketplace.

A few behavioural attributes that differentiate Gen Y from the generations before them are:

Millennials value autonomy
They like to discover solutions for themselves, and want to be guided to action, rather than being told what is to be done.

Millennials are highly imaginative
Depend on your young workforce to come up with fascinating ideas and fresh perspectives to teething problems. However, this requires a marked shift in managerial styles – from the 60’s Command-and-Control method of management to a more benign, leadership orientation.

Millennials are continuous learners
Millennials plan their own careers, follow the latest trends, and there is evidence that learning opportunities increase retention rates.

Given this background of how millennials think and operate, it may be a good idea for managers to apply a tool that is grounded in positive psychology, encourages independent thinking, helps generate insights and guides a person to action through the power of one’s own thinking capabilities. The process of coaching is one such tool that allows a manager to do all of the above, and more.

Coaching allows managers to develop their employees in a way that is non-threatening.

Ask, don’t tell
Coaching allows managers to develop their employees in a way that is non-threatening. The right kind of questions help millennials generate useful insights, and guide them to action in their own terms. This is a marked shift from just telling your employees what to do, which takes autonomy away from them. Also, the focus of coaching discussions is usually centered on solutions, rather than problems.

One model that illustrates this aspect has been well illustrated by author David Rock:

Developing a Coaching Organisation
Coaching is a skill that requires time and conscious effort. It requires deep listening and an investment that goes beyond just accomplishing pre-defined key result areas (KRAs).

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Coaching is also a tool that allows managers to genuinely work towards solutions along with their millennial high-pots. If implemented well (as a handful of organisations, like Google, have shown), a coaching culture can help release the creative energy of employees that can be channeled towards building sustainable competitive advantage.

More importantly though, it is a tool that engages managers and their subordinates in a frame of discussion that is developmental, positive, inspirational, results-focused and vision-oriented – just what the millennials need to find continuous meaning through their journey at the workplace.


Heather image courtesy BinaBaby@freeimages.com

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