Why (and How) You Need to Prepare Millennials for Management

July 11, 2016

The fundamental HR challenge facing organizations going forward won’t be managing millennials – it’ll be turning millennials themselves into managers.

The problem? Most companies don’t think they can do that well.

Start with some math. Currently, baby boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 people per day, with a large percentage of those people manager-level and above. Generation X, meanwhile, is a disproportionally small generation.

With all these baby boomer managers retiring, and few Gen Xers to take their place, organizations are increasingly looking to millennials to lead. And yet, surveys show that organizations aren’t confident in their ability to turn millennials into the managers they want them to become.

The solution? Organizations need to rethink the way they develop their own people.

The leadership crisis, by the numbers

We are in the midst of an unprecedented retiring spree that shall last until 2024. Over the next eight years, nearly 30 million Americans alone will retire, or roughly 18 percent of the entire American workforce. It’s estimated that half of those people are manager-level or above.

The problem here is organizations aren’t confident that they have people who can take the place of those retiring leaders.

The most frustrating part of all of this? Organizations are doing little to fix the problem. Despite not being confident in their leadership pipeline, few companies are investing in leadership training.

Employees themselves are even more down on the amount of leadership development their companies offer them.

Outlining a solution: Develop leaders by following these three steps.

This leadership crisis is actually a good thing. Because, if your company can figure out a way to develop your people into great leaders, you’ll gain a substantial advantage over your competitors.

The challenge becomes making that happen. There are three keys to developing your people into managers:

1. Don't wait for people to become managers to teach them how to be managers.

You don’t want to wait for someone to become a manager to train them on how to be a manager. Instead, start training your individual contributors before they become managers, so they are partially ready when they are promoted.

Assign leadership and management classes to people who aspire to be managers. Let them sit in on manager meetings, when appropriate. Offer them mentorship opportunities with experienced managers.

The earlier you can start developing your employees into leaders, the better.

2. While a few days of new manager training is great, you need to provide on-demand, consistent resources as well.

Having some form of in-person training when a person is promoted from individual contributor to manager is a great idea. That’s one of the biggest changes any employee goes through, and a day or two (or three) of intensive professional development is well worth it.

That said, a few days of professional development can’t be all you offer a new manager. Chances are, the person will only retain a small percentage of the wisdom imparted in those in-person trainings, and they will often find themselves in situations the professional development didn't fully cover.

Instead, give them access to online courses they can take anytime. Assign a more experienced manager to help them through that transition. Basically, give them tools that they can access when needed, where they can figure out how to solve difficult issues.

3. Have development be a core value of your company.

While offering both your managers and your aspiring managers learning opportunities is great, if they don’t take advantage of it, it’s useless. It’s like spending thousands of dollars on a home gym, only to use it as a place to hold your laundry.

Instead, make learning and development a key value of your company. Have your company leaders talk about the classes they took or the skills they learned over the past year. Have a learning plan to go with your performance reviews. Make learning something that your employees should do, not something they can get to when they have time.

Tying it all together

One of the biggest transitions a person makes in their career is when they go from being an individual contributor to a manager. And the math shows this is something many people (particularly millennials) are going to have to do over the next eight years, with so many experienced employees retiring.

How well you manage that as a company is going to have a significant impact on your bottom line. Are you doing everything you can to build a generation of strong, capable leaders? Or are you letting people figure it out on their own, and leaving their success up to chance?

Hopefully, it’s the former. After all, there’s nothing that can ruin a company faster than bad leadership. 

*Image by Death to the Stock Photo

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