How to develop millennials—and keep them on your staff

Cultivating young employees’ leadership potential is essential to retaining talent and keeping your organization moving forward.


Millennials are shifting from entry-level posts to managerial and leadership positions.

Are they doing so at your organization, though?

Despite their flighty, job-hopping reputation, millennials who are satisfied with their professional development opportunities are twice as likely to stay with a company than those who are unsatisfied. Investing in this generation and grooming millennials for management can improve your retention rates and long-term stability, but you must speak their language.

Countless articles have speculated about what millennials want in an ideal employer: flexible scheduling, a positive culture, advanced technology, unrestricted vacation days, even beanbag chairs and a company bar.

One key factor, though, supersedes all others: According to a Gallup poll, 87 percent of millennials want “professional development opportunities.”

Like any other generation, millennials have strengths and weaknesses. Though savvy with technology, U.S. millennials lag their international peers in literacy, math and technological problem-solving, according to one study. Due to their limited managerial experience, millennials also tend to lack soft skills like diplomacy, communication, listening, patience and relationship building.

Here are four tips for creating professional development opportunities for younger workers:

1. Create a formal process for identifying potential.

Examine experience and on-the-job behavior, including context: where, when, why and how certain behaviors arise. Remember that high performance does not always equate to leadership acumen.

When assessing the potential of your employees, consider what success looks like for that position and develop a profile that describes those characteristics in behavioral terms. Your HR team or a third-party provider can collect robust data using any or all of these methods:

  • Behavioral interviews
  • Collecting feedback from direct reports, peers and managers
  • Personality tests
  • Simulations to assess performance

2. Make learning visual and stimulating.

Many millennials grew up playing video games, so try to make your training and problem-solving exercises available via laptops, tablets and other mobile devices. Self-directed online learning courses and games can help prepare younger workers for leadership positions.

Another option is action learning—assembling small groups and having them solve a real business issue. This approach helps participants think analytically and work together while solving problems and developing leadership skills.

3. Keep training sessions short, but frequent.

Human attention spans are dwindling. Keep training sessions snappy, interactive and entertaining.

4. Use a variety of formats.

Mix things up and inspire engagement with webinars, video conferencing, self-directed learning, in-person training, role-playing and panel discussions. Millennials like variety, but make sure you use channels that appeal to specific staff members.

Consider the following formats:

  • Virtual instructor-led training programs work well for employees who are auditory learners or when concepts need verbal explanations.
  • Face-to-face simulations work well when teams are dispersed and participants need soft skills such as communication and conflict resolution.
  • E-learning programs are best used when significant interaction isn’t required among participants or when training must span multiple time zones.
  • Massive open online courses make sense when training must be flexible and on-demand or when participants vary in their levels of knowledge.

A version of this post first appeared on the Onpoint Consulting blog.

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