Don’t train them, develop them.


In this piece, we expand on the second of six beliefs that organizations should change, according to Gallup’s forthcoming book, It’s the Manager.

Belief #2: Millennials and Generation Z are no longer pursuing job satisfaction—they are pursuing development.

Gallup has found that only three in 10 U.S. workers strongly agree that there is someone at work who encourages their development. Even where there is a focus on development, many assume that the development desired by millennials and Generation Z is just career and professional development. In fact, it is a lot broader than that.

Millennials and Generation Z see work as intricately woven into the fabric of their lives. The growth and development they yearn for is more than growth in the competence with which they do their jobs. The growth they seek is also in their inner development; they want to become more competent individuals in all spheres of their lives. They seek to grow in leadership capability, in personal character, and in their ability to communicate and inspire. Accordingly, they want mentors and coaches at work, not just managers and supervisors.

Gallup asserts that millennials and Generation Z are not looking for fun at work, so companies are making a mistake trying to attract young talent with “coolness” rather than meaning. Banks and retailers shouldn’t try to imitate technology companies by creating environments that are inauthentic to their own cultures and values. As Gallup puts it, “Most members of these generations don’t care about the bells and whistles in many workplaces today—the Ping-Pong tables, fancy latte machines, and free food that companies offer to try to create job satisfaction. Giving out toys and entitlements is a leadership mistake. And worse, it’s condescending.”

Offering young talent meaning and development means that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Leaders should be willing to take an interest in young talent and get to know what drives each of them. In order to inspire their teams, leaders now need to have the ability to understand and link into their team members’ values and beliefs.

Here are some things to focus on:

  1. Make sure that your leadership development programs have been updated to develop the kind of leaders that millennials want to be led by. Develop values-based leaders who know how to identify the values of their team members and link into them.
  2. Your leadership development programs should include modules on coaching, asking the right questions, and having difficult conversations across cultures in ways that are inspiring.
  3. Millennials are unimpressed by positional status. They follow people of stature and leaders of character who live their values. Develop leaders of stature and teach them how to inspire and elevate rather than control and criticize.

Millennials and Generation Z employees can push you to take your culture and your leadership to new levels of distinction if you open yourself to learning from them.