I recently attended an excellent panel discussion on “Managing Across Generations” hosted by the Business School at Vanguard University (I serve on the Advisory Council for them). The focus of the talk was on managing the Millennial Generation (maybe you know it as Gen Y) – people born between 1978 and 1998.

Why is this group so important? Considering the pace of retirements out of the baby-boom generation, who are still leading many of our institutions today, the importance of the Millennials will expand exponentially as new college classes keep graduating. In addition, you may agree that uncertainty looms around the next corner we are approaching, and the Millennials will be a huge factor in success or failure through that turning.

One of the panelists, Chip Espinoza, is a Vanguard Professor and EVP of LeadershipTraQ (www.leadershiptraq.com). He shared research about Millennials as expressed by a large population of managers who lead these individuals:

1. They want a trophy just for showing up.
2. They need constant affirmation.
3. They want to have a say from day one.
4. They think they work smarter and faster than the rest of us.
5. They want to know what I am going to do to help them get promoted.
6. They don’t give themselves to projects that they don’t find interesting.
7. They don’t seem interested in what I know.
8. They think any excuse will make being late okay.
9. They seem to have a short attention span.

Intriguing, eh? There is a tendency to think something is particularly unique about this generation versus others, and there may very well be big differences in the life-circumstances that form the perspective of this group – there may be some expectations and “entitlement” issues that are distinctive. However, I wondered whether the things that motivate them are really that different from everyone else.

After my last story on “The Pursuit of Reason” my friend Joe Bonaker sent me a classic article on motivating employees from the 1968 Harvard Business Review written by the leadership guru Fredrick Herzberg. It addressed the key factors influencing motivation. The following is a listing of the 6 factors that led to extreme job satisfaction:

Achievement, Recognition, the Work Itself, Responsibility, Advancement, and Growth

When I consider these fundamental building blocks of motivation, and then I compare them with the 9 characteristics of Millennials, I see an extraordinary parallel. In my estimation, what Herzberg’s research described as the keys to motivating employees 40 years ago are the same things that motivate Millennials today, especially being recognized, enjoying the work itself, being given responsibility, and moving forward in their careers.

Admittedly, there are some behavioral tendencies that differentiate young people today – extreme self confidence, an expectation of recognition and encouragement, and tendencies to be cavalier and sometimes undisciplined – but I’d argue that these things were also true for me when I was a “twenty something”.

I believe that Millennials are a resource we must fully endorse and support (beginning right now) if we hope to keep our businesses moving forward. It seems to me that it’s easy to fall into a trap and assume they are hard to manage and “not our problem”, but we let this happen at our extreme peril. It seems wise to me that we recognize that these youthful greats need the same things we did when we were their age (and that we still do now), and we should consider motivating them to be among our greatest opportunities.

Thanks for sharing time with me; I welcome your thoughts and feedback, and please feel free to share this with others.

A quick business update – I have successfully completed over 10 search projects in the past quarter for a wide variety of clients across a similar variety of positions. After 5½ years with McDermott & Bull I continue to be proud of the relationships I build with my clients. Most companies use retained search, and they tend to “go-to” who they already know for this trust-based service. I welcome your introductions to companies (or to the right people in your company) who may value knowing me and considering McDermott & Bull as a trusted provider.