Developing Millennial Leaders: Millennials and the “Shooting Star” Syndrome

Similar to an individual’s view of the clear night sky, every organisation has a unique “constellation” of stars that constitutes its universe of talent and defines its competitive advantage over other organisations. How can your organisation prescriptively attract, retain, develop and promote the right individuals to achieve and maintain this competitive edge?

According to a recent global study by Manpower Group, Millennials—individuals born between 1982-1996—will make up over a third of the global workforce by 2020. “While some negative stereotypes exist around Millennials, suggesting they are disloyal, self-absorbed and may even lack drive and motivation; they can also be seen as a generation of digital entrepreneurs and innovators that are shifting career paradigms. Companies are rewriting the rules on talent and performance management in response to the Millennial generation as they see the full value of engaging Millennials to compete with greater agility and remain relevant in a fiercely competitive global environment,” explains Lyndy van den Barselaar, Managing Director at ManpowerGroup South Africa.

Millennials expect to work harder and longer than previous generations, yet are envisioning a career path that has the flexibility to take significant breaks or sabbaticals along the way. Because they value lifelong learning and long-term employability, Millennials focus on stretching and developing themselves for the next steps in their careers.

Perhaps the question to be asked is: “Are Millennials shooting through our organisational skies faster than we can keep up with them? Will they disappear to another company because we cannot meet their expectations? What should we be doing intentionally to make sure they remain within our orbit?”

The ManpowerGroup study shows that job security is critical for Millennials. They are not the job hoppers that many imagine. In fact, if a Millennial employee and an employer can “align their stars” in terms of learning and development opportunities that advance both individual and organisational goals, it is likely to be a mutually satisfying relationship. If not, the Millennial will move on to the next opportunity that better fits their desired trajectory.

Here are six ways to ensure your organisation is in the best position to attract, retain, and develop Millennial “stars” to fill the right jobs at the right time:

Offer career security: Demonstrate that staying with the company can lead to career enhancement. Share examples of people who’ve progressed through training and on-the-job learning. “Appeal to the Millennial aspiration to be more employable over the long-term,” says van den Barselaar.

Focus on career variety & mobility: Create opportunities for Millennials to work on different projects with different teams to build experience and networks across the organisation. Satisfy their appetite for new opportunities and highlight the value of progression and not just promotion to build a portfolio of skills and experiences.

Have regular career conversations: Check in with Millennials regularly about their career path and development. Rather than annual reviews, focus on near-term objectives and implement plans to achieve them. Use these conversations to connect how their work today will enhance their career prospects and longer term employability.

Appreciate your Millennials: Maintain a high-touch approach and offer frequent, face-to-face feedback. “Find new channels that encourage recognition and sharing from managers and peers. It doesn’t cost anything and is an effective way to engage people in their roles,” explains van den Barselaar.

Be ready to ride the career waves: Anticipate breaks for personal reasons and know these go beyond traditional births, honeymoons and even caring for relatives. Recognise that lengthy careers mean time to re-tool and refuel are essential. Be flexible and make breaks an acceptable part of company culture. “Be clear what flexibility you can offer and help people re-enter the workforce when they return,” says van den Barselaar.

Be open to alternative work models: Millennials tend to prefer full-time, but many are also open to alternatives like part-time, freelance or portfolio work. Adopt some of the attractive aspects of these models—greater flexibility in where, when and how people work and a greater variety of projects – to better engage and retain Millennial workers.

When organisations reconfigure talent management and leader development programs to truly value the contributions from Millennials, they will be better able to keep these “shooting stars” well within their organisational orbit. “They will feel more valued and will be better aligned in collaboratively meeting expectations,” concludes van den Barselaar.