“You’re probably tired of hearing all of the different labels that others have put on your generation. I’m going to risk one more: the Ben Franklin generation. ‘An America led by the Ben Franklin generation is likely to be a more stable, patient, values-driven, and realistic place than the one led by the boomers. It’s a place where technology is expected to solve problems, simplify life, and strip inauthenticity out of the sales process. They don’t want to beat the system; the success of Wealthfront and others says that the Ben Franklins want a fair system they can be part of, and that can benefit everyone in it.’”
—Adam Hanft, The Stunning Evolution of Millennials
We think Millennials are poised to become the greatest generation of managerial leaders seen thus far. That doesn’t mean you Millennials won’t be eclipsed by yet another generation, but for now you’re it...almost. In response to the news that Richard Branson’s Virgin Group would begin offering up to 12 months of paternity leave, our friend, an outspoken Millennial leader and manager, posted on Facebook, “I can’t wait until the idea of trusting your employees and fostering an environment that breeds happiness in employees is not newsworthy. We have a long way to go but I am inspired by the progress.” We expect to see a lot more of this in the future, and the main reason for the change will be the increasing number of Millennials in leadership roles.
In a survey we conducted, we found evidence that Millennial managers are already among the best out there. There are many different ways that managerial quality can be measured. We created our own simple measure, based on Google’s Project Oxygen. Then we asked employees to rate their managers using our survey. When we summarized the responses by the age of the survey respondents’ managers, we found some surprises you will be very interested in. Table 8.1 summarizes our findings.
In 2001, when the company was still young, Google’s co-founder Larry Page attempted to eliminate managers entirely. The experiment didn’t last long. Later, at the end of the decade, after the company had done nothing but grow, Google set out to find out, in its own way, what makes a good manager. As you would expect from an organization that provides some of the world’s best data-driven solutions, the company’s People Analytics team crunched project metrics, 360-degree performance reviews, and even exit interviews to find out what makes a good manager.1
Google might be the ideal organization in which to conduct a study to find the real value of managers, if any exists, and to determine exactly where that value comes from. Google’s culture is dominated by highly motivated engineers. By nature, they are skeptical of managers. They see managers as distracting from the real work of solving problems rather than contributing. Against this background of skepticism, the People Analytics research was able to show which factors in managerial behavior contributed to the organization.
Google has relatively low turnover, and even low-scoring managers are doing pretty well. However, by analyzing the data, the People Analytics team was able to show that a strong relationship existed between managerial quality, satisfaction, and turnover. The analysis revealed that employees with high-scoring managers “consistently reported greater satisfaction in a number of areas including innovation, work-life balance, and career development.”2
Continuing the research, the People Analytics team next conducted a series of double-blind qualitative interviews to learn what exactly led to a manager being “high scoring.” The analysis revealed the following list of behaviors that differentiated “high quality” from “low quality” managers, in order according to their importance:
Empowers the team
Expresses interest in, and concern for, team members’ success and well-being
Is productive and results oriented
Is a good communicator—listens and shares information
Helps with career development
Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
Has key technical skills that help him or her advise the team3
Our survey was designed in part around Google’s eight managerial behaviors. The literature on Millennials describes them as having been socialized to work with partners and in teams to a greater extent than previous generations. A recent survey by MSLGroup found that Millennials see coaching as an important part of the supervisor-employee relationship, and they eschew the hierarchical, power-oriented management role that is more typical of older generations. As employees, Millennials seek high levels of support from their managers.4 Assuming that they treat others in the way that they would like to be treated, we expect Millennials to manage with a low power orientation—that is, a more inclusive and transparent style of delegation and oversight in which authority is de-emphasized and constructive feedback is expected. We hypothesized that Millennials would rank higher than others in terms of the more team-related behaviors. At the same time, we hypothesized that they would be below the mean in areas requiring more experience.
Table 8.1 shows the percentage of respondents who answered either “Strongly Agree” or “Agree” to each behavior when considering their own manager. The percentages are summarized by the age of the survey participants’ direct supervisors. (Participants estimated the ages of their supervisors.)
The survey was conducted in 2015, so anyone in the survey 34 years old and under was a Millennial at that time.
The results for Millennial managers exceeded our expectations. We anticipated that they would do well, but we were actually quite impressed. The 25- to 34-year-olds were ahead of all other age groups in empowering their employees. Overall, 25- to 34-year-olds came out either first or second on all but two of the nine dimensions. The only group with a higher overall rating was the managers 65 years and up, which is remarkable considering that Millennial managers have considerably less experience than managers from other cohorts.
It is natural to wonder if this assessment is actually a consequence of inexperience. Perhaps it’s just that Millennial managers are still fresh and have not been in the work world long enough to have been worn down by stress and long hours on challenging projects. But we don’t think so. We expect that managers who excel in these areas will continue to perform better and to be positively reinforced in a self-reinforcing cycle.
We did not expect to see the managers over age 65 rated so highly by their employees. They received the highest ratings on six of the nine behaviors. They really stand out from the crowd in having a clear vision for the team and possessing the required technical skills. They also showed a strong lead in being good coaches and listening to what employees have to say.
The age 65 and older managers assessed in our survey are most likely at a point in their careers where they are no longer trying to advance. They have the skills they need to do their jobs (100% agreement) and have chosen not to retire. Most likely they enjoy what they do. They know what they’re doing (83% agreement), and they care about the people they work with (78% agreement). Because they like what they do, care about their employees, and are satisfied with where they are in their careers, they are less focused on the results and more focused on the people. Because they are where they want to be, doing what they want to be doing, these managers are better listeners, better coaches, and better at helping subordinates with career development.
Millennial managers were ranked much higher overall on the ratings than one might expect, although there’s a clear distinction between the 18–24 and 25–34 age groups. The older Millennial group was very close behind the 65+ managers on key managerial behaviors.
In terms of empowering their employees, 25- to 34-year-old managers are the clear leaders. Consistent with Millennial values, they demonstrate care for their employees. Although trailing the 65+ managers, they still excel in listening and coaching. We expect improvement over time as they gain experience. We expect to see even larger improvements in communicating with the team, expressing a vision, and helping subordinates with career development.
In contrast to the older Millennial group, 18- to 24-year-old managers are the clear leaders in terms of being results oriented. Otherwise, they trail behind the elder Millennials but are still ahead of everyone else except the 65+ group. It is easy to think that those individuals in the 18–24 group who are bringing up the average on the “results oriented” dimension are not cut from the same cloth as the older Millennials, that perhaps they are simply go-getters who advanced by pushing their employees. But look closely at the differences between the two Millennial age groups. They have nearly identical scores in four of the categories, which indicates that the two groups are actually very similar. The younger managers are weakest in terms of empowering their employees and helping with career development. It is worth noting that none of the groups are very good on this dimension. The overall average is 57%. But for empowering employees, the difference is substantial. It appears that 18- to 24-year-old managers may have attained their leadership roles by focusing on results that they were able to achieve despite their lack of experience by directing rather than empowering their employees. It is therefore significant that they were still recognized as caring about their employees at the same level (77%) as the 25- to 34-year-olds.
Not to sound too gushy or anything, but we think you Millennials are riding a wave. There has been a long-term trend toward more human-centered organizations. We see a number of trends heading in the right direction, and the incoming crop of young managers are bringing with them the values, attitudes, and tools to see these changes through.
In his book The Human Equation, Jeffrey Pfeffer explains that businesses succeed on the basis of how they treat and manage their people more than anything else.5 One of the companies Pfeffer studied was Southwest Airlines, which boasts some impressive statistics. Southwest has been profitable in all but two of the past 40 years. (During the same period, many competing airlines declared bankruptcy or went out of business entirely.) If you had purchased $1,000 worth of LUV stock in 1980, you could have sold it for more than $200,000 at the beginning of 2015. The same investment made in an S&P 500 mutual fund would have grown to $17,400. Very few companies achieve such staggering outperformance.
How does a company like Southwest Airlines achieve growth of around 18%, sustained over several decades? Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest, explains his company’s success like this:
The business of business is people, yesterday, today, and forever. Among employees, shareholders, and customers, we decided that our internal customers, our employees, came first. The synergy in our opinion is simple—honor, respect, care for, protect, and reward your employees regardless of title or position, and in turn they will treat each other and your external customers in a warm, caring, and hospitable way. This causes external customers to return, thus bringing joy to shareholders. We believe that our job is to not only provide a far more reliable service, at far lower fares, but also to provide a spiritual infusion, an infusion of fun, warmth, hospitality, and diligent servanthood for both employees and our passengers. The intangibles of spirit in our view, are more important than the tangibles of things. Why? First of all, it’s a matter of morality and ethics. But secondly, from a purely business standpoint, the tangibles can always be purchased. All airlines have airplanes. But the intangibles are far more difficult for competitors to replicate....Show that you value your employees as individuals, not just as workers, through word and deed.6
Rather than being a fluke, Pfeffer found that Southwest is representative of a small number of organizations that defy the conventional wisdom that employees are simply an expense to be squeezed when times are tough. Although the trend toward downsizing has accelerated in the post-Great Recession economy, it is not possible that such a strong source of competitive advantage will be ignored indefinitely. Richard Branson has gotten the message. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has gotten the message.
In its third annual Millennial Survey (which included 7,800 participants from 28 countries), Deloitte found that most see business having positive impact on society but think business can do much more.7 Fifty percent of the respondents want to work for an ethical business. The majority of the respondents said they prefer organizations with open, transparent, and inclusive leadership styles. You are coming of age at a time when the value of people in an organization is beginning to be understood and appreciated. Although such a perspective has not yet been adopted everywhere, organizations that embrace the mind-set have been well studied. Values espoused by Millennials are consistent with the findings of researchers who have studied these organizations.
Deloitte compared the management priorities of Millennials and Baby Boomers. Deloitte asked Gen Y respondents to compare their own priorities to what they perceive the priorities to be for senior leaders in their organizations. Millennials emphasized employee well-being at a significantly higher rate (37% versus 17%) than their corporate leaders. They also valued employee growth and development (32% versus 18%) and making positive contributions to local communities/society (27% versus 18%) at much higher rates. These values are consistent with the style of management espoused by Herb Kelleher and other leaders who put employees first, and with the behaviors that we found in our own survey.
Millennials display surprising strength in key areas of managerial competency, especially given their relative youth. The competencies were originally identified using rigorous analysis in an organization skeptical of the concept of management. It is important to recognize that these strengths are consistent with the principles of “people centered” management, an approach that has been shown to be associated with higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction, as well as spectacular organizational growth. Managerial leaders who excel in these competences will be leading the pack very shortly.
The next chapter focuses on what makes Millennials tick in the workplace and how you can leverage your strengths as a manager to bring out the best in them.
1. Garvin, D. A. (2013). How Google sold its engineers on management. Harvard Business Review, 91(12), 74–82.
2. Garvin, D. A. (2013). How Google sold its engineers on management. Harvard Business Review, 91(12), 77.
3. Garvin, D. A. (2013). How Google sold its engineers on management. Harvard Business Review, 91(12), 78.
4. MSLGroup. (2014). Millennial compass report: The Millennial generation in the workplace. http://www.scribd.com/doc/211602632/The-Millennial-Compass-The-Millennial-Generation-In-The-Workplace.
5. Pfeffer, J. (1998). The Human Equation: Building Profits by Putting People First. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
6. Kelleher, H. (2008). Building a people-focused culture. Paper presented at World of Business Ideas (previously HSM). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxTFA1kh1m8.
7. Deloitte (2015). Mind the gaps: The 2015 Deloitte Millennial Survey. www.deloitte.com/MillennialSurvey.