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Commentary: Millennials as managers? Times are changing

🕐 4 min read

Much thought, time and money has gone into the effort to understand and manage millennials in the workplace. The success of that effort varies depending on the organization and the individuals involved.

Like everyone else, millennials are getting older and, fingers crossed, becoming more settled in their careers.

This leads to an inevitable question about their future and the future of the companies they work for – how will millennials grow into management roles?

The millennial challenge is reaching an inflection point, especially in high job-growth markets such as Fort Worth and Dallas.

Many millennials (people generally in their mid to late 30s) are at places in their careers where they must make decisions about their futures, examining options that could lead to working as individual contributors, starting businesses or pursuing the corner office.

Those who aspire to management need to be aware of what’s involved. While certain rewards come with climbing the ladder, there is a price to pay: long hours, more stress, blurred lines between professional and personal time, accountability, etc. Millennials who want managerial positions should realize that many aspects of these costs are not negotiable.

On the other side of the desk, corporate management is facing an interesting dilemma about what to expect from and how to adjust to millennials as managers.

The established corporate order has been built by and for the work-centric baby boomers, with its hierarchical structure and boss-in-command ethos. Millennials’ attitudes and habits differ greatly from those of their parents, raising questions about their willingness to accept the status quo. So, millennials as managers? That’s a wild card.

Corporate executives are finding that they need to carefully consider their promotion practices, expectations for young managers and requirements for roles of increased responsibility. Management is reaching the point of having to decide whether criteria for promotions need to change (and to what degree) to attract and retain millennial talent.

The corporate world has never seen anything like them and they can’t be ignored as they now account for one-quarter of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau, and 23.6 percent of the Fort Worth-Dallas population, according to real estate giant CBRE’s 2016 research. As boomers retire in greater numbers, the importance millennials play in our labor force continues to grow. Yet Corporate America and millennials are still struggling with how to harness their potential, with each party having differing perspectives on the formula.

This tension between what millennials want as potential managers and what their corporate bosses are willing to accept in return for the increased responsibility is going to get interesting. How will the next generation of business leaders be trained?

No one yet has the answer to that million-dollar question as it is being crafted in real time.

The best solutions are going to be worked out by management and millennials having open, honest dialogue. Compromises are essential. This is not a winner-takes-all situation, it’s a generational negotiation. The established corporate order is the immovable object confronted by the irresistible force that is the millennials.

Millennials should learn to modify some of their generation’s stereotypical behaviors, beginning with accepting that being successful in management comes with trade-offs. A potential “Management for Millennials” curriculum would contain these lessons to help aspiring managers flourish:

• Accountability: Being a manager means results are the ultimate currency, not merely good intentions or effort.

• Boundaries in the office: Millennials live in a world of over-sharing thanks to social media. The office isn’t the place to reveal all aspects of your personal life. Blurring the lines of professional behavior can have negative consequences.

• Constructive criticism: Millennials can be a bit thin-skinned when it comes to accepting critiques of their work. Honest feedback is always valuable for growth.

• Patience: They grew up in an instant society where every whim is satisfied with Amazon, Google and an iPhone. Management takes a long view and will move slower on decisions than millennials want.

For management, this is an opportunity to examine its structures and processes to determine what is relevant and what needs to be retired:

• Flexibility: Millennials insist on an equal work-life balance and desire the option to work remotely. They want to be recognized for the work they do, not just the time they put in at the desk.

• Less control: Rigid corporate structures with little freedom to exercise independent judgment – that’s not for millennials.

• Access: They don’t want to be constrained by traditional hierarchies; they want access to all parts of the organization at all levels.

• Teamwork and collaboration: Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history and they embrace inclusiveness. Fostering more teamwork can benefit most corporate environments. However, millennials must remember that it is their own individual performance that will determine the arc of their careers.

Only time and experience will reveal what really works and how it will differ from company to company; there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The results will change the face of corporate leadership as millennials determine what mark they will make on American business.

James Thompson is the CEO and president of The InSource Group, a technology staffing and placement company with offices in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. He can be reached at

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