As a professor teaching business management undergraduates at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, Chip Espinoza interacted with young people on a daily basis. Several years ago he noticed a major shift in student attitudes, behaviors and expectations regarding schoolwork and assignments. Almost simultaneously, his corporate clients began to raise a new issue during consulting projects on organizational change.
“I found that my students wanted very specific direction,” Espinoza says. “Meanwhile, my corporate clients were finding them difficult to work with.”
Espinoza, who was pursuing his doctorate in leadership and change from Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, decided to make his discovery the subject of his doctoral research and dissertation. He wanted to uncover the reasons for and dimensions of tension between generations in the workplace. His findings were published in his book Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce.
Espinoza and his co-authors, Mick Ukleja and Craig Rusch, focused on managers as crucial drivers of successful intergenerational working relationships.
“The people with the most responsibility have to adapt first,” Espinoza says. “Once managers understand millennials and suspend the bias of their own experience, they will see a big change in relationships.” Every manager interviewed by Espinoza perceived millennials the same way, but how they responded and managed them differed.
The research revealed that a successful hiring and introductory process for a millennial is critical because of two common characteristics: a strong support system throughout childhood and an aversion to ambiguity. “The more the job requires education, the more important onboarding is,” Espinoza says of the process that allows companies to build successful relationships with new employees by helping them understand organizational goals and how their work contributes.
Espinoza cites Microsoft’s onboarding program, Microsoft Academy for College Hires, or MACH, as an example of one that helps young employees understand that crucial link. The Redmond, Washington-based software company launched MACH in 2005. It is a two-year program offered in tracks for undergraduate degree holders and newly minted MBAs. Its goal, according to Microsoft global curriculum manager Maryann Baumgarten, is to attract, develop and retain world-class talent.
“We’re trying to bring in innovative ideas as we encourage the next generation to join Microsoft,” she says. “We are increasing their numbers, and want them to get to know the company and one another.”
Baumgarten has developed and refined the program since its inception, although it has operated in its current format since 2008. It promises to help participants do three things—start strong, build your network and drive your career.
“It’s a critical first step in employee retention as we help them to understand our culture, strategy and customers,” Baumgarten says.
Certain jobs and roles are earmarked for MACH hires. Once in the program, millennial employees attend global and regional conferences and receive training, coaching and resources. Profession-specific training is offered in marketing, technology and sales tracks, and MACH participants become part of a global community that numbers 1,800 people in 60 countries. At the end of the first year, they participate in a 1 ½-day career planning workshop.
“That is the keystone—to put all the pieces together in a future-oriented plan,” Baumgarten says.
The program works, says Leigh Cresswell, a millennial corporate sales account manager in Australia who graduated from the program in 2010. Cresswell had previously worked at a multinational maker of office equipment; she says the program there was “just training; they didn’t understand what we wanted, which was to have an impact and a voice straightaway.
“[Millennials] are labeled in so many ways, most of them negative,” she adds, noting that MACH features dedicated roles that lead straight into work. “Microsoft sees us as very confident and knowledgeable about technology; we are extremely energetic and willing to give anything a go.”
Baumgarten understands generational differences; she holds master’s degrees from Fielding Graduate University in organizational management and development, and human development. She focused that knowledge on building MACH.
“I focus on, ‘Why?’ The purpose is at the core of everything I do,” she says. “[Millennials] don’t want to do menial tasks, so we give them projects that provide hands-on learning. We get them working successfully in teams across generations and cultures as they learn systematically how our business is run.”
MACH also gets managers on board. Their goals are to accelerate ramp-up time; drive performance and impact; and enhance manager capability. Baumgarten is offering resources to help managers learn to develop and retain young workers while networking with other managers.
“Managers must understand every step of MACH to support the learning and reinforce key outcomes,” Baumgarten says. She piloted a MACH manager conference in 2010 that provided education on generational milestones, characteristics and scenario training; an additional workshop on managing MACH participants, designed with Espinoza’s help, is due to launch in July.
“The Microsoft program is attentive to generational values and characteristics. But a successful onboard can be devalued by a bad manager match. If the manager doesn’t buy in and extend [the program], the investment can all be for naught,” Espinoza says.
For her part, Cresswell is enthusiastic. “From the moment I was brought in, I was given a two-year plan. The business took a complete bet on me. That makes you more loyal to the company because you can see a pathway. The possibilities for me here are endless.”
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