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Building a talent development program for millennials

Though they sometimes get a bad rap, Millennials have passion, a desire to improve the world, and just as much to offer as any generation preceding them. In studies, Millennials have been shown to be mission-driven, extremely collaborative, and positive about flexible work schedules. Oh—they also prefer messaging or emailing versus picking up the phone. These traits might be different or confusing to an older generation of leaders, but hardly diminishes their contributions or potential.

Millennials are assuming management roles in increasing numbers, and will shape the landscape of how we do work for a long time to come. They make up the majority of the workforce currently, and are projected to compose over 75% of it by 2025. However, leadership development programs calibrated to their needs have not become a priority. In 2015, a study by Brandon Hall Group revealed that only 20% of organizations considered the Millennial segment critical for leadership development within the next two years. Even worse, a mere 7% of organizations invest in dedicated time for Millennials (even high potential ones) to interact with senior management.

Organizations should be preparing their next leaders to be effective through talent development. They will need capable, ready employees to assume more responsibility as the pace of change continues to accelerate and new challenges hover on the horizon. It is time now to build talent development programs tailored to the Millennial mindset. Here are some tips for doing so:

Variety through Rotational Programs

The world around them is more accessible than ever, and Millennials are curious to explore it. A survey of PwC employees showed that 37% of Millennials would like to take advantage of career opportunities abroad at their firm, versus 28% of non-Millennials. Rotational programs are a great way to meet your Millennial talents’ need for variety in their learning, while encouraging them to build lasting connections within the organization. Many large companies offer rotational programs by area of speciality (finance, HR, engineering, etc.), or specialized leadership development rotations. Entire programs typically last one to two years and involve at least two 6-month rotations either abroad, in different business units, or both. To help attendees form a more complete picture of the organization, they offer dynamic on-the-job training, supplemented with a variety of supporting activities. These programs will keep Millennials engaged with their connected, global world in a tangible way and stimulate them to greater achievements.

Mentoring and Reverse Mentoring

It bears repeating: Millennials have a strong desire for mentoring. 79% of them consider mentoring “crucial to career success,” and they are used to having more than one mentor. Not only do they crave feedback and coaching from their superiors, they enjoy engaging in peer or group mentoring. Millennials in talent development programs expect mentorship opportunities, and likely will value ones which can integrate into their day-to-day working life and offer real-time feedback.

Reverse mentoring is also becoming a significant part of formal mentoring programs, where Millennials can share their knowledge with other generations. By teaching what they know, they will refine their communication skills and deepen their knowledge. In turn, older generations of workers get to explore a fresh perspective and pick up new skills.

All Around Flexibility

Millennials crave flexibility in their work schedule – where they can work from home or a coffee shop, at varying hours, and so on. Though this is well-discussed and documented when it comes to managing Millennials, the PwC survey found that the desire for flexible scheduling is growing among all age groups.

Flexibility in talent development programs will also resonate well with many Millennials. Individuals come equipped with different learning styles, and a talent development program which addresses this will be more successful. Classroom learning is the traditional option, and remains somewhat effective, but can be improved upon with small group activities, site visits, and so on. There are more resources than ever as well for digital learning and collaboration that tech-savvy Millennials should find useful. Viewing and discussing TED talks, shadowing colleagues, attending seminars, and working on stretch assignments are all even more supplemental ways to stimulate Millennials and encourage their growth.

Data Analysis Skills

The rise of big data is changing everything, and will only continue to do so at larger scales and faster speeds. While harnessing big data can be powerful, future managers must be skilled and trained to do so effectively. Understanding how to slice and dice raw information then critically analyze it is becoming important to every department from HR to Marketing to Finance. Though advanced technical skills in data analysis are not always necessary, Millennials stand to benefit from some level of extra education in this area.

Learning could take place via online learning tools, peer mentoring/instruction by internal experts, formal coursework, or even via free resources like LinkedIn Learning. As always, having multiple options will appeal to Millennials. A data-savvy leader with these data skills will be better prepared to make use of the growing number of metrics at their fingertips and take informed actions.

Independent Decision-Making

Though Millennials excel at collaboration and cooperative work, as they rise into more prominent positions they must be prepared to sometimes make tough calls alone. They generally possess strong critical thinking skills, but should also be equipped with specific tools and training to make decisive choices they can feel secure about. Millennials in general as younger people may need practice in these situations to move through them with the confidence of experience. Group role-playing activities, analyzing case studies, and supervised leadership assignments are all ways for Millennials to access their own unique voice and make decisions individually which reflect their values. As they refine their personal guiding principles and get used to applying them in their work, they will move forward as authentic leaders.