The new millennial challenge

Over recent years, the focus on generational change in the workforce has received a lot of air time. Millennials are now the most populous generation in the workplace with the oldest members of their cohort now aged in their mid - even late! - thirties. Indeed, many are now managers themselves. It’s now millennials who are tasked with the age-old challenge of meeting business goals while juggling a workplace full of different generations.


At the same time, the youngest millennials are still only in the earliest days of their careers and research shows many of them are struggling. As a result, many organisations are finding that millennials at both ends of the spectrum are under pressure. Older millennials must find a way to step up their leadership to meet one of their biggest challenges: developing their generational successors.

The millennial management challenge

Millennials certainly want to lead. The question is whether they’re accessing the right training, or developing the right skills or emotional intelligence, to lead effectively. In one survey, the top two things millennials said their education did not prepare them for was managing others and working with older people.

Organisations must act quickly to develop these young managers now so they grow into their next great c-suite executives. They need to identify high-potential millennials and start developing them for leadership as early as possible. Improving soft skills is a critical part of this, and will be particularly valuable as these new leaders seek to engage and develop younger millennials and graduates.

Perception vs reality

Millennial leaders are running headfirst into a recruitment and attraction challenge among the newest members of the workforce. They’re straddling the latest intergenerational battleground: the perception by senior leaders and HR directors that today’s graduates aren’t prepared for the working world. Sound familiar?

Certainly it seems there are some generational differences in expectations. Our research found that 92% of HR leaders see emotional and social skills as crucial in a globalising economy. In contrast, 69% of recent graduates said so-called soft skills “get in the way of getting the job done” and that they would succeed at work without them.

But is this the reality? Are today’s graduates really less prepared than those that came before them? We don’t think so. Our research suggests that graduates today have just as much cognitive horsepower as senior managers. What’s more, they have just as much potential for critical soft skills like self-awareness, self-control, and teamwork as senior managers, and more potential for empathy. The only area where graduates score slightly lower is in potential for influence, but this is to be expected given their career stage.

It’s this final point that really explains the gap between perception and reality: career stage greatly impacts what we value at work. It explains why senior leaders value soft skills - which they’ve had time to develop - and graduates value the technical skills they walked in the door with.

How to identify, attract and retain the right graduates

Organisations need to shift their perceptions to recognise the reality: today’s graduates have as much potential to succeed as previous generations. It’s up to organisations to help them realise that potential by selecting, developing and retaining the right people, starting with these four tips:

  • Know what "good" looks like. It might seem obvious, but many organisations skip developing a detailed success profile and it costs them in the long run.
  • Assessments are important, but only if they’re tailored. Avoid a generic approach by calibrating your assessments to the success profile.
  • Develop a holistic onboarding program. It’s important to put equal weight on what new graduates are expected to do and how they’re expected to do it. Remember: it’s the how that differentiates an average performer from a top one.
  • Think about how best to equip your new graduates with the knowledge they need to do the job - fast. They don’t need it all on day one - think about how to structure on-the-job and formal learning to give them access to the information they need, when they need it.

This is just the beginning. For more tips on how to recruit and retain graduates, read our latest whitepaper, Talking About Their Generation.