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Millennial management

Scott Abel

Scott Abel, co-founder and CEO of Spiceworks, on how to manage the millennials

We’ve all heard the contradictions about the “millennial” generation of workers, those between the ages of 20 and 30. There are cautionary tales warning of the woes of managing tech-savvy “millennials,” and then there are the super successful founders of companies like Facebook and Tumblr.  Too often, the conversation has focused on millennials as a disease rather than them being the future. To illustrate, Time Magazine dedicated their May 20th cover to this topic calling Millennials the “Me Me Me Generation.”  
 

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve read plenty about millennial remedies that are frankly all over the chart. Treat them with kid gloves. Teach them everything via computer, because that’s the only way they learn. Resist their insatiable drive for fast-track advancement. Muzzle their impulse to treat the office as a playground where the line between fun and work is nonexistent.

Most of it is mythology. As the CEO and cofounder of Spiceworks, I’ve learned a few things about hiring and working with millennials. Nearly 40% of our current workforce is between the ages of 22-30 and we estimate that 50-60 percent of our new hires will be under 30. And what we’ve discovered over the past few years is a management approach that strays from conventional “wisdom.”

For starters, I really appreciate millennials’ energy, drive and smarts. In many ways, I’ve probably learned as much about successful strategies for managing them as they’ve learned about working for a baby boomer. In my experience, an important path to managing successful outcomes with millennials starts with the way we communicate instructions more so than the instructions themselves. The bottom line is that millennials excel in a corporate culture where expectations are managed in an open and honest dialogue that emphasizes personal accountability and precisely defined outcomes. They don’t like not knowing the “why” when it comes to making decisions. What’s more, they measure value by how many of their ideas a manager takes into consideration as part of the thought process.

I’m all for strong employee input and engagement. I’ve been at the helm of several start-ups and I’ve found much of my focus has centered on obsessing over ways to design easy-to-use products. And, frankly, I like to see my employees equally obsessed. 

So why is it so important to have a good handle on managing millennials when running a tech company today? Simple. Because those employees are your greatest asset and will become the foundation for building the next generation of great companies – the Google’s and Workday’s of tomorrow.  If you’re starting a company today, one you want to become not just good, but great – then you’ll be doing it with millennials. 

For me, managing millennials comes down to staying true to basic principles. My playbook starts with the mandate that employees (even interns) understand they must take responsibility for their work and what they deliver. 

How do we accomplish this?

It begins by creating and maintaining open communications with all employees. Doors are always open and employees can walk into my office and ask tough and sometimes uncomfortable questions. And they do. I get all sorts of questions from Spiceworks employees, ranging from the health of the company to its partners, products and market strategy. No topic is off limits, which can make for some interesting afternoons.

When it comes to making decisions. I’ve found the top-down approach – my way or the highway – is guaranteed to fail with millennials. It’s vital to cultivate buy-in by sharing responsibility. The lever we use is ownership. It creates a kind of aptitude for success one doesn’t find in a top-down decision-making culture.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a little fun. At Spiceworks, we make a point of getting out of the way by not attempting to drive company activities. We let it happen spontaneously with employees, such as organising a lunchtime kickball match or other kinds of games. And what’s interesting is we see older baby boomer employees enthusiastically embracing the fun culture just as much (if not more) as their younger coworkers.

We strive to keep Spiceworks fun and informal. When you’re walking around the building you’re likely to hear water cooler discussions that involve bacon, zombies and online gaming. And all of the fun and intensity comes together in the way that crosses over into our customers’ experience and how they find utilities and solutions to an array of vexing IT problems. Millenials are an important part of our success, and knowing we, baby boomers and millenials, make our customers’ work-lives better unites all of us – whether our favorite playlist is the Rolling Stones “Tattoo You” or the latest Spotify house mix. 

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