Managing Millennials: What CEOs should know

Knowing the differences and similarities between generation X and generation Y (people born between 1980 and 2000) and recognising the best way to lead and manage them is having a crucial impact on companies’ ability to attract and retain talent.

Charles Brewer, managing director DHL Express sub-Saharan Africa, says the company spends a great deal of time and resources addressing the issue of millennials and the best way to manage them within the enterprise.

“The aim of the game is to move our leadership teams towards 21st Century leadership styles.

“A couple of decades ago there was a very hierarchical approach to leadership and employee engagement. Today you cannot lead and manage people or attract and retain talent if you have an arm’s length relationship with your employees,” Brewer says.

He says millennials dislike hierarchy, structure, uniforms, suits, and inflexible working hours.

In other words, the prescribed contractual working arrangements of the past really do not fly with millennials and they do not tend to have a “work to live” mindset.

“There are lots of good reasons why you should focus on what millennials like.

“They are keen on flexibility and they like having a more adaptable environment.

“They want to work for successful, “sexy”, dynamic, global organisations that have a presence in more than one city so they can see future growth opportunities.

“They absolutely need to understand the why. They are very focused on the company’s contribution to them, the environment, and the community. Millennials value more than just the perks and benefits,” Brewer says.

He says the talent marketplace is fundamentally different now to what it used to be and companies need to be fully aware that barking orders from an executive office simply does not have traction in the modern workplace.

“We have developed several elements that we think offer a different and more effective engagement model for our millennials and other staff.

“Top of the list is flexibility across everything; in leadership, performance reviews and being prepared to tear down the walls and not just having open plan offices but removing layers and procedures that create the hierarchical structure.

“Be flexible in your approach to what are acceptable norms. The day of uniforms, suits and ties are gone.

“However, you must also be very respectful of the cultures in which you operate. For example, in certain parts of Africa shorts and t-shirts are not appropriate,” Brewer says.

He says mentoring is no longer simply about performance reviews and DHL focuses on smaller and more regular feedback sessions or micro mentoring.

“This may be a five minute discussion over lunch but it has a structure and it is shorter, less formal and more frequent.

“We also engage in a lot of reverse mentoring in which we ask them to give us feedback,” Brewer says.

He says DHL also delivers a lot more development. For millennials this is less about formal training courses and more focused on gaining broader experience.

“For example, we may opt to send one of our millennials to the USA for six months to gain some experience in customer service there and bring that knowledge back to us in Africa,” Brewer says.

He says purpose not perks needs to be emphasised. For example, DHL has an important role to play in logistics and transportation across Africa and this is translated back and communicated to the employee base that DHL is investing in the infrastructure and capabilities needed to connect Africa and facilitate global trade.

Coupled with this the company’s corporate social investment strategy is well developed and it leverages its global intent as a way to make DHL more attractive.

“Another important point is simply not to get hung up on stereotypes but rather see people as individuals who have requirements that may differ from those of other people in the organisation,” Brewer says.

In September, Brewer will spend the day with an MBA student to share his leadership advice as part of the Odgers Berndtson CEO For A Day programme.

CEOx1Day, connects aspiring leaders to some of the country’s top CEOs, giving them an opportunity to learn more about his executive approach. It also offers CEOs an opportunity to transfer skills to the next generation of leaders as well to connect and better understand what drives them.