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Bringing out the best in Millennials – put on your coaching hat

By Lanre Olusola
17 October 2019   |   3:07 am
Millennials are driven to Connect, Collaborate, and Create, and can be some of your company’s best assets for Innovation. But many are averse to working for large corporations – and many companies, in turn, don’t know how to work with them.

Lanre Olusola

They thrive, you thrive.

Millennials are driven to Connect, Collaborate, and Create, and can be some of your company’s best assets for Innovation. But many are averse to working for large corporations – and many companies, in turn, don’t know how to work with them.

In the last five years, a growing number of studies and surveys have highlighted the importance of innovation for the economic health of companies and countries. Perhaps the most significant survey related to innovation was conducted in 2011 by GE, which interviewed a thousand senior business executives in twelve countries. They found that “95% of respondents believe innovation is the main lever for a more competitive national economy and 88% of respondents believe innovation is the best way to create jobs in their country.”

Companies need innovators – individuals who willing to take risks and bring a spark of imagination and initiative to whatever they do. Millennials – due to their growth as “digital natives” who use technologies to learn, connect, collaborate, and create on a daily basis – are a huge potential talent pool for companies. They are driven to create and to make a difference in the world more than any generation in history.

Companies are now really “nervous” about the Millennial Generation. They work differently – and are not as focused on individual achievement. They don’t want to ‘make it’ and see themselves in multiple jobs. The real question is, will organizations be able to capture their strengths?”

How do Millennials work? What motivates them? What must companies do to attract and retain highly talented twenty-somethings?

The first and most important thing to understand about this generation is that they tend to see work as a form of adult play – an opportunity to continue to learn and to express themselves.

Secondly, they are more passion-driven than achievement-driven. They seek experiences that are engaging at the moment, that excite them both intellectually and emotionally. People who interpret this desire as merely a wish for immediate gratification are missing a fundamental point: what many of this generation are most passionate about is making a difference.

Millennials are interested in making a contribution – even those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Perhaps because they have been more exposed to a range of environmental and social problems than previous generations, every one of the young innovators in research conducted, wanted to solve an important problem or give back in some way. It was more than just a passion for these young people. It was a driving sense of purpose.

Another important research finding is the central importance of Play, Passion, and Purpose in the development of innovators from a very early age. The best parents, teachers, and mentors encouraged these intrinsic motivations throughout the lives of these young innovators. A central challenge for many companies, then, is to highlight elements of Play, Passion, and Purpose in the work Millennials are asked to do.

Millennials also work differently. They want to work more collaboratively. They enjoy learning from and interacting with others. They are also stifled by the requirements of a 9 to 5 routine. “Hold me accountable for solving the problem rather than punching a time clock,” they say. If they are engaged with Play, Passion, and Purpose, they will do whatever it takes and put in whatever time is required to get the job done.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for many companies, though, is breaking down hierarchies and creating far more two-way communication. Tom Kelley, a senior executive at one of the most innovative companies in the world, IDEO stated that “at the senior management level in far too many companies, there is this top-down attitude; the belief that all the worthwhile ideas are created at the top of the organisation, and everyone else is just an implementer. The CEOs believe that they are better at everything than anyone else, and if only they had enough arms and legs, then everything would be more successful.” He also said that the free flow of information up and down the organisation is critical for innovation, but a top-down management style tends to severely restrict the emergence of any new ideas and inhibits the development of the ‘collective wisdom’ of the company.

Brad Anderson, who retired as CEO of Best Buy in 2009, turned that company around by listening to his young employees and engaging them in new ways. He said that with new communications tools, you could have a much deeper engagement with people who work for you. Line-level employees at Best Buy now have access to the same kind of knowledge as the CEO, but they also have access to knowledge the CEO doesn’t have because of their direct contact with the customer. With the increased competition and the need to find competitive breakthroughs, every company now, can and must, engage employees in much more creative ways, as opposed to telling them how you want customers to be dealt with.

Henry Ford used to say that he wanted his employees’ hands, but not their minds. Retailing was the same way through the nineties. Now we have to differentiate and adapt to customers’ needs, using what we learn from our line employees, while also realizing the economies of scale.

When asked what was the number-one obstacle he had to overcome in remaking Best Buy, the CEO answered emphatically, “The hierarchy.” He stated that once you promote someone to executive rank, the vision of what it means to be an executive is so often counter-intuitive to the idea of listening to your employees, developing them, and using their expertise. It was hard to find people who were authentically inspired by wanting to lead, and developing the people they were leading – as opposed to the financial rewards and the belief that they succeeded because they were smarter than everyone else.

An authority still matters for successful innovation, but it is not the authority that comes with a position or title. It is the authority that comes from having some expertise, but it also comes from the ability to listen well and empathetically, to ask good questions, to model good values, to help an individual more fully realize his or her talents and to create a shared vision and collective accountability for its realization. It is the authority that empowers teams to discover better solutions to new problems.

Perhaps the more important takeaway from all this is that whether you are a parent, teacher, commanding officer, or employer, to enable individuals to become innovators, you must rethink the sources of your authority. The word “Coach” describes this new kind of authority at its best.

Innovators need excellent coaching at every age and stage. When they are engaged through Play, Passion, and Purpose, and when they have opportunities to collaborate and receive good coaching, Millennials produce extraordinary results.

Are you an Employer, Human Resource Lead, Senior Executive or in a position where you need to equip yourself to put on your “Coaching Hat” to bring out the best in your employees/team to achieve holistic peak performance for your company?

Then, register for our upcoming Life Coaching Certification Program scheduled to hold on 11th to 17th November 2019. For more information, call 08077077000 or send an email to;

My team and I are also available to support you as Internal or External Coaches to effectively manage Millennials and other employees in your organisation to ensure Productivity and Peak Performance.

The Catalyst – Lanre Olusola