We launched our first Next Leader Now Conversation Series discussion last week, gathering a group of Next Leader Now candidates and alumni to discuss professional successes and challenges. It was an excellent opportunity to get feedback and have candid discussions with smart and talented pre-suite professionals.
In one sidebar conversation, a candidate was telling me about one of their most significant learning experiences in the program. He said, “I grew up with parents who worked hard every day, often for a boss who provided specific instructions to get specific results. It’s different now. In my role, I have a boss. But realistically, we’re really peers who are trying to get something done. I realized that, in essence, I’m managing up to create my own success.”
This discussion sparked an informal survey of my baby-boomer-aged friends and colleagues, asking them, “in the first third of your career, if you were to say that you were ‘managing up,’ or ‘managing your boss,’ what would be the reaction?” Responses included, “I’d be fired,” “I would be reminded of who is the boss [and it’s not me],” and “get back to work!”
No wonder these two bookend generations are struggling to understand each other’s priorities.
As millennials make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, there are three trends that we see driving the dramatic change in the ways millennials are learning to navigate their work lives, particularly with their bosses:
Early in their careers, baby boomer workers were taught and mentored by experienced bosses who transferred knowledge to their charges through formal and informal training. Bosses had access to the information they needed to make decisions and announced a chosen direction to their employees. By nature of access to data, command-and-control was one of a very few ways to get things done.
With information parity, the boss often knows as much, and sometimes less, than the people they manage. The role of the boss then is to get the team to a destination through a combination of strong leadership and management skills. Successful millennial employees have learned how to manage information upward to influence decisions and, ultimately, demonstrate their value to the organization.
Next Man Up
Millennials are being asked to take on decision-making roles at an unprecedented speed (Silver Tsunami, anyone?). The formality that might have existed between boss and employee in previous generations has largely evaporated, even more so with the need to plug not-quite-ready individuals into management and leadership positions.
Managing up then becomes a relationship strategy; with more than 40% of workers reporting to a younger boss, millennials are sometimes finding themselves leapfrogging the people who had been their bosses just a short time ago.
“Low Road” Hiring
One significant change in workforce development over the last century is the shift from employer-led training (apprenticeships, cradle-to-grave employment) to government-led or individual-led training (higher education, generalized training).
In “high-road” hiring, more common when baby boomers entered the workforce, companies chose “to train, hire from within, and keep workers for long periods.” The training investment was substantial, and organizations were more likely to keep people for longer tenures as a result of this approach.
“Low road” hiring, where “others operate mostly on the spot market, hiring and firing frequently and providing little training,” is a far more common experience for millennial-aged workers. Organizations have learned to lean on colleges and universities – and millennials’ commitment to educating themselves at a high cost, much of which is financed by debt – to learn the skills the organizations need. As a result, millennials have been forced to take ownership of their careers, showing a willingness to move on when an employer isn’t meeting their needs.
Many leaders, particularly those who are looking at retirement in the next five-to-ten years, are struggling to navigate workforce dynamics where their expertise is no longer a primary differentiator, less-experienced colleagues are replacing their peers, and average tenure in the organization is dropping dramatically. However, leaders who learn how to adapt to these drastic changes, and actively develop knowledge transfer strategies, are far more likely to be able to keep their workers happy while providing millennials the opportunities they need to learn, grow, and lead.