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Is your Millennial manager ready to take over?

Millennial manager

by Mary Jawgiel

We all know it’s coming—the time when your Millennial employee moves up the ladder to take over a leadership role. Whether your company is a one-location distributor, a national or international organization, sooner or later you will be turning things over to your Millennial employees. You may secretly be hoping your Boomer employees decide to stay on board for a while longer because, frankly, your younger employees may not be quite ready to take on leadership roles.

We need to develop Millennial employees so they will be ready when older generations retire. This can become a problem when they don’t stick around for the five, seven or 10-year “progression” we have in place that will take them from inside sales rep to vice president of sales. The younger generation is notorious for leaving jobs in one to three years if they don’t feel they are progressing fast enough. They want leadership roles, and they want them now. But are they ready? Maybe. Maybe not.

There are some things you can do to keep your Millennials with you long enough to take over those leadership and management positions. Get them involved in projects outside of their position. They want to learn new things and develop new skills. Involve them in other aspects of the company so they can see first hand how things fit together.

Give them special assignments that are substantial and beneficial to the organization. For projects that involve the entire company (rather than a specific department), put your Millennials on the project team. Make sure the team is a cross-section of the company. Include representatives from upper management. This will provide them with a better perspective of the “whole” company and help them develop relationships outside of their department which they might not be able to do on their own.

Provide opportunities for Millennials to spend more time with the company executives. Yes, these can be time-consuming for senior execs, but providing opportunities like this will empower your Millennials and also provide you with an opportunity to evaluate them for future leadership roles. Some ideas:

  • Appoint them to work on a project with a member of the executive team
  • Ask them to research an issue, develop a report and present it to senior management
  • Match them with a senior level executive who can serve as a mentor
  • Schedule monthly meetings with senior execs where Millennials can give feedback or offer suggestions on improving an existing product or process

Millennials are known for wanting to move around more often and more quickly than their predecessors—including changing jobs and employers. If you cannot provide them with the experiences they want, they will move on. Put together a “job rotation” plan where you can change their role every six months or year. These moves don’t need to be promotions but do need to offer opportunities to develop new skills. And, with every rotation, make sure you explain how the role fits into the big picture and why it is important.

If their skill set fits, move them into different areas of the company—inside sales, marketing, outside sales, human resources, etc. If you are interested in grooming them for a future leadership role, make sure you tell them that. Millennials need to know where they stand and telling them the possibilities will help keep them with you rather than moving elsewhere. Remember, your future leaders should know about all aspects of the company—what better way to learn than to do.

One thing you need to keep in mind with putting together new experiences in other areas of your company is who your Millennial will report to. Millennials need a manager who can serve as a mentor or coach, someone who will provide them with regular and constant feedback and recognize their efforts and accomplishments.

You might consider providing your Millennials with a job coach or career coach. This should be someone in your company who is comfortable working with the younger generation, someone who enjoys providing constructive feedback and can guide and answer questions for the younger employee. Not everyone is able to provide the feedback and transparency Millennials crave. A good job coach needs patience to answer the numerous questions Millennials will pose to their managers.

Although it isn’t easy, there are ways you can provide Millennials with what they need so you can develop them into your company’s future leaders. If you are interested in examples of programs instituted by some well-known employers to develop future leaders, view the Boston College Center For Work & Family, Executive Briefing Series, “Creating Tomorrow’s Leaders: the Expanding Roles of Millennials in the Workplace” at Although geared to large corporations, there are ideas that can be used by any distribution company that wants to keep and groom current Millennial employees for future leadership roles in their organization.

Mary JawgielMary Jawgiel is ICP program director for the PTDA Foundation and manages the ICP Job Board at Mary’s life-long passion has been working with young people. Industrial Careers Pathway (ICP) is a cross-industry initiative supported by ASA, the ISA Foundation, NAHAD: The Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution and the PTDA Foundation. For more insights on recruiting, hiring and training Millennials in the distribution industry subscribe to the ICP Talent Tipsheet at

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2014, Direct Business Media.


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