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Coaching Style Matters in Managing Millennials

Coaching Style Matters in Managing Millennials

Perks pale in comparison to challenging job responsibilities for Gen Y employees. Learning coaching basics can make the difference between mere compliance and active contribution and problem solving

Forget any assumption that great pay will result in superior performance. In an April 2007 New York Times article it was revealed that today's MBA students aren't listing compensation as their top job priority. As important as work/life concerns are to them, that topic isn't even top of the list. What matters most now: "Challenging Responsibilities," weighing in at 64 percent, is a full 16 percent more important than compensation (48 percent) and 19 percent more important than work/life balance (45 percent). And though they all might claim greening the planet as a shared value, all other attributes, such as contribution to society, ethics, travel and collegial interaction, rated no higher than mid-20s.

As much media attention as has been devoted to understanding Millennials, their need to be challenged and given responsibility has been underplayed in favour of the more over-the-top expectations for perks such as on-the-job massage, corporate-casual attire and flextime. But feeling tested and empowered matters greatly. Perhaps as a result of the era in which their adult consciousness began to take shape, namely the dotcom boom, Millennials have a sense that experiencing their own capabilities is the most important aspect of going to work every day.

How can a 20-something with little experience and lots of opinion possibly be given impactful responsibility without incurring huge risk? You as their manager have the task of making that work in support of their contribution to your objectives. Coaching-based dialogue is a learnable technique that offers a method for you to tap into this desire to contribute without gambling on outcomes critical to your organization's performance. Consider these differences in management techniques:

  • Supervising is telling someone what to do and then making sure it is done the right way. Think: assembly line or "My way or the highway."


  • Mentoring is when someone who has firsthand knowledge imparts it to someone who is less experienced. Think: sagacious or "This is how we did it in my day."


  • Coaching is when employees are invited to explore a challenge or situation with the assumption that they are capable of unearthing new possibilities/solutions and that they need only to be given time on the path to uncover great ones. Think: Give me your best shot or "What's your best thinking on this issue"?

With a population as enthralled with their own sense of potential, it is easy to see why supervising and mentoring comes across as deadening and unexciting, and why the invitation to think intelligently, plan well and execute masterfully is one many of the new best and brightest aren't willing to live or work without. This is real-time learning by doing, calling to mind the words of Confucius: "I see and I remember, I do and I understand."

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