Millennials are often amazingly advanced in their knowledge and skills at a very young age, yet they often lack maturity when it comes to the old-fashioned basics of productivity, quality, and behavior. What’s worse, managers often report that Millennials tend to be unaware of gaps in these basic skills and are completely unconcerned about it. In response to this gap in skills, some managers just get frustrated. After all, when Millennials come to the workplace, shouldn’t they already be mature enough to arrive on time, dress appropriately, practice good manners, stay focused on their key tasks, and do lots of work very well at a good, steady pace? Should managers be expected to teach them these sorts of things? As a restaurant manager put it, “Nobody taught me how to wipe my nose in my jobs. I had to learn how to manage myself.”
That may be. But if you are the boss, then this gap in skills is your problem. If you manage Millennials who lack some of the basics of self-management, I’m sure you are frustrated too. Here’s what you need to do: Help them. Lift them up. Make them better. Teach them to care about the basics. Teach them to be more aware of those gaps in their repertoires. Teach them to fill those gaps, one at a time. Teach them how to manage themselves.
1) Help Them Set Priorities
Setting priorities is usually step one in most time management programs and seminars. If you have limited time and too much to do, then you need to set priorities—an order of precedence or preference—so that you control what gets done first, second, third, and so on. That setting priorities is the key to time management is obvious to most professionals. The hard part is teaching Millennials how to set priorities.
When it comes to big-picture priorities, set clear priorities with Millennials, and communicate those priorities relentlessly. Make sure your Millennials are devoting the lion’s share of their time to first and second priorities. When it comes to setting day-to-day priorities, teach Millennials how by setting priorities together with them. Let them know your thinking process. Walk through it with them: “This is first priority because X. This is second priority because Y. This is low priority because Z.” Over time, you hope they learn. Until they learn, you have to keep making decisions for them. Teach Millennials to postpone low-priority activities until high-priority activities are well ahead of schedule. Those are the time windows during which lower-priority activities can be accomplished, starting with the top lower priorities, of course.
2) Help Them Eliminate Time Wasters
Remember that Millennials treasure time above all other nonfinancial rewards. When you help them eliminate time wasters and limit the time they spend on low priorities, you are helping them focus their time on top priorities and giving them free time they otherwise would have wasted. That is a reward that keeps on giving. They’ll really appreciate it.
When helping Millennials identify time wasters to eliminate, don’t mistake distractions for time wasters. They may or not be. Remember that Millennials are used to multitasking—they’ve been doing their homework for years with an MP3 player in one ear and a cell phone buzzing text messages on the table. Just because it might be distracting to you doesn’t mean it is distracting to them. If the task in question is being performed well within expected time frames, then the employee is probably not distracted. Pay attention to which of the so-called distractions help them remain absorbed in their tasks at work as opposed to those that draw their attention away.
3) Teach the Habits of Critical Thinking
Managers often tell us that the biggest constraint on maximizing young workers is their lack of seasoned judgment.
What is good judgment anyway? It’s not the same thing as sheer brain power, mental capacity, or natural intelligence. It’s not a matter of accumulated knowledge or memorized information. It is more than the mastery of techniques and tools. In very simple terms, good judgment is the ability to see the connection between causes and their effects.
Teach Millennials to be strategic by using decision/action trees every step of the way. Teach them to think ahead and play out the likely sequence of moves and countermoves before making a move: “If you take this decision or action, who is likely to respond, how, when, where, and why? What set of options will this create? What set of options will this cut off? How will it play out if you take this other decision/action instead?
The senior executive of a media company asked, “How does a person learn real-life lessons faster than he can experience real life? Is there any way to jump-start this process?” One way is to learn from the life experiences of others or from history. This is why the case study method is used by most business schools. Real company cases are presented to students in detail. Who were the key players? What were their interests and objectives? What happened? How did it happen? Where? When? What were the outcomes? Students are then taught to apply the methods of critical thinking to the facts of the case. They are taught to suspend judgment, question assumptions, uncover the facts, and then rigorously analyze the decisions and actions taken by different key players in the case study. The pedagogy is simple: look at the outcomes, and trace them back to see the chains of cause and effect.