When Mike Clum started his video-production company, Clum Creative, he was 18 and was ready to tackle the world. Six years and 15 hires later, the 24-year-old CEO has seen the best and the worst of hiring gen z and millennial employees.
Today he leads a team of gen zers and millennials between the ages of 19 and 27 who work together to create intricate creative videos for mid sized and Fortune 500 corporations.
Here’s a millennial’s view on managing millennials. This 24-year-old CEO has six tips for successfully hiring and leading the up-and-comers of our generation.
1. Craft A Future That Gets Them Excited
Young people come out of college ready to do big things. And while making money is a factor, it’s not the main motivator for most young people when they’re considering joining an organization.
Without mortgages or kids holding them to a specific place or time, young people hit the workforce wanting to join something bigger than themselves. According to Clum, in order to sell them on your organization, you have to a paint a clear picture of an exciting future.
From day one, you have to make sure your team clearly understands where your organization is headed, both in the short term and the long term. As a leader, you have to not only create the future plans, but be an expert at communicating them with others.
2. Create Structure
Young people aren’t stupid, and a big vision and bold mission statements aren’t enough in themselves. You need a clear and distinct structure that can be followed day after day, and that will lead to long-term success.
Clum says 5-year targets should stem from annual targets, which should stem from quarterly targets, and so on, all the way down to monthly, weekly and daily targets. Every single person in the organization should clearly see what the next steps are, and how they play a part in building that long-term success.
“For Clum Creative, our structure is an annual business plan which fuels quarterly alignment meetings, coupled with a two short weekly meetings,” he said.
“In these weeklies, we track individual performance data and statistics on all aspects of the business, showing what’s working and what’s not. This data goes into a scorecard where everyone can see clearly how they’re performing and how it affects the overall track to success.”
Clum says this allows them to solve problems simply and takes the guesswork out of what needs to be done. For young people, seeing these numbers helps educate and provide context on what to focus on. When targets are hit each week, it makes the long-term visions even more tangible, because they can see them coming alive in real time.
3. Don’t Just Say Yes Or No — Educate And Give Context
Coming out of school, it’s impossible for a young employee to understand all aspects of your business and how they affect each other. Unless you want mindless drones walking around, you need to be an educator, not just a manager.
“When people bring you ideas or ask you for approvals for purchases, don’t hit them with a rash no or dismiss them,” said Clum. “Instead, take the extra 20 to 30 minutes and ask them questions and try to get their rationale and thoughts out on the table.”
Try to empathize with your employees before giving your thoughts. If the idea is great, let them run with it. If it’s not, continue to ask questions and get to the root of what they are committed to, and coach and probe other ideas that they come up with.
Your job is to facilitate critical thinking, and to educate and empower them to find the right ideas — not to say yes or no.
4. Lead By Example
Young people pick up inconsistencies quickly and dislike inauthenticity in leadership. If you’re going to ask someone to do something, they have to believe you’re willing to do it right along with them.
“Whenever someone on my team isn’t performing, typically it’s not laziness; it’s usually when I’m in ‘boss mode’ and not ‘leader mode,’” says Clum.
“Why should they work hard on a task if they never saw me doing it? There’s rarely respect for my requests when I’m not leading by example. If I ask someone to make 50 cold calls a day, and they’ve never seen me make 10, why should listen to me? Once I got that and shifted my behavior, so did our team. What I found was millennials aren’t lazy, their managers are.”
5. Allow Them To Be Leaders
Young people want to be challenged and prove that they can perform at a higher level. They don’t want to be held back, and this means you have to trust them enough to put them in position to do bigger things.
“Early on, I hired people out of college and I never let them take on important projects because I assumed they were too young and inexperienced to do this,” Clum explained. “And of course, they all either ended up not growing or leaving the company.
“Eventually, as I matured and started to be less selfish on opportunities, I was able to see the amazing potential of the untapped young person. Once I sold myself on my team and actually opened up, people started to take responsibility and create work that was better than mine. The company actually started to grow, customers were happier and things got more fun.”
According to Clum, you should give millennials big and meaningful projects and couple that with your 100% support in making them a success. Look them in the eye and let them know you believe in them, and that they can do it. Sometimes they can’t, but more often than not they’ll crush it.
6. Consistent One-On-Ones
People under 25 have brains that are still maturing. They are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and even if they are working for you, you can bet they have a voice in the back of their mind asking “Is this really what I want to be doing?”
As a manager, you need to make sure you dialogue with employees on a consistent basis. So, while most performance reviews happen annually or quarterly, as an employer of younger people, you should hold monthly one-on-one performance-review meetings with all your employees.
According to Clum, in these meetings, you should create a casual and open dialogue about how they are doing personally, their thoughts on the workplace and what changes they’d like to see.
Take their feedback seriously and show them you’re willing to implement changes because of what they told you. Set 30-day goals, track their feedback and offer support to help them do what they said they would do. Do this monthly, and you’ll find these meetings creating a much more inviting and open culture for the wandering millennial mind.
Bonus Tip: Millennials Don’t Exist!
At the end of the day, millennials and gen z are just buzzwords, and thinking in generational constructs can be limiting and condescending. While there are some general traits and personas that evolve as humans age, overall we’re very much the same. We all want to be challenged, appreciated and a part of something meaningful.
As a leader, the No. 1 thing to take away is that you shouldn’t treat millennials differently than anyone else. Beef up your management and leadership skills, and make the impossible possible.