Millennials Have a Serious 'Failure to Commit' Problem. Here's the Solution



“I’m going to get really testy if you don’t finish this.”

“Seriously, I need this on my desk my Tuesday.”

“The entire project will fail if you don’t start working harder.”

“I’ve had it, you’re fired if you don’t get this done.”

Do you have their attention yet? Maybe now.

I spoke with a professor recently who works with college kids, and he said one of the biggest problems with anyone under 25 is that they just don’t commit to things unless you start getting nasty with them. It’s not just lowering the bar so they can succeed. It’s taking out a ruler and slapping it against a desk until they finally listen.

“Research seems to indicate that Millennials tend to put off commitment until somewhere in their mid-twenties,” says Andrew Harris, PhD, a professor at Crown College in St. Bonifacius, Minn., who has worked in higher-education since 2004.

He said this is true in their relationships, with work projects, with homework–everything in life. It is not completely systemic to the 18-34 age group or those who are 18-25. He says there are many students who do commit to even the minor tasks and get things done without constant badgering and reminders.

The problem for business owners who want to employ Millennials–now the largest labor force in the U.S. according to this recent report–is that we don’t have the time to plead with them that they get their work done. We’re also inundated and overwhelmed on a daily basis. There’s an expectation in a small business in particular that employees will carry their own weight, gets things done or figure out how, and won’t need constant supervision–also known as babysitting–at work.

“As we get deeper into the Millennial generation in higher education, student motivation becomes harder to come by,” says Harris. “But it has also been my experience that when they are offered an attractive career path, students in their early 20s can suddenly become driven and single-minded.”

The main point here? It’s really important to find the triggers points that help Millennials commit fully to a task. They need something that motivates them. Maybe it won’t be a promise of huge riches or a lofty position in the firm, but it should present a clear advantage. They are no longer going to commit only because they should, or the boss told them to do a task, or it’s in their job description.

In my experience, it’s a bit more subtle than that. Because Millennials expect to be part of the process and require near-constant feedback, it’s important to make sure they know all of the reasons why even a minor task is important. You can no longer just make blind assignments. You have to explain the what, the why, and the how to them. Then you can set them free to work independently.

Another important management technique is to make sure they have the opportunity to give you feedback. OK, they didn’t deliver as expected. You’re bummed out about that. (We still use the word “bummed” which is also a differentiator.) We jump on their failure. Yet, we don’t always ask the questions: How could I have explained this better to you? What are some of the things I did that made it seem like this wasn’t important? How can I improve next time in my communication?

We don’t do that because we’re the boss, right? Well, they don’t always care about the boss. In fact, the “boss” is the person they respect the most.

With Millennials, there is a failure to commit problem, but there is also a failure on our part to communicate in ways they understand, to incentivize them, and to provide a 360-degree feedback loop. When they fail, we have to be ready to accept some of the blame. Are we doing that? Let me know what you think.



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January 26, 2016

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