R.E.T.A.I.N. — How to Turn “Entitled” Millennial’s Ambition into Development Opportunity

When I was 24, I applied for a VP spot at my company. Seriously.

After two years at the company, I put my hat in the ring to be on the leadership team.

My boss at the time easily could have laughed in my face, but instead, he sat down with me to discuss the opportunity. He asked why I thought I was ready for a job at that level and my response was that I had read the job description, watched the previous VP in that role, and felt strongly I could learn the few things I didn’t already know. After listening, he proceeded to tell me what WASN’T in the job description that I would need to be successful in that role. It included things like a strong network of resources within the industry and more political awareness and savvy to handle those who would try to eat me alive in the role.

I’m so grateful to him because he took my ambition seriously, told me what I needed to do to get the next opportunity that came available, and promoted me when I was better prepared to advance.

What would you do?

Are you having genuine conversations with ambitious staff about what it takes to get to the next level? Are you mentoring them and setting expectations of what they must learn and accomplish in order to get there? It’s no longer acceptable to simply say, “Hold your horses, kiddo!” (I heard that from some on our team.)

So how do you have a productive conversation with these “entitled” employees who feel they deserve to move faster than either the leadership believes they’re ready for, or there’s room for within the organization? These conversations can be broken down into a few steps:

R (Recognize the employee’s skills and value)

Chances are, a young employee confident enough to apply for a higher-level position likely has some unique skills and talents. Are they great with customers? Never missed a deadline? Their production is always high quality? Make sure that even if you’re telling them they’re not ready yet, you’re still recognizing what they’re good at, and these things are typically traits they brought with them to the organization.

E (Examine the employee’s perspective)

Why does this person think they’re qualified for a promotion? Even if you as a manager don’t necessarily agree, it’s important to look at the situation from the employee’s perspective. It might make you think of the role or the promotional ladder at your company differently.

T (Talk about their current experience)

If they’ve been with you six months, a year, or longer, they have grown. Discuss what they’ve already learned how to do in their current job that’s new for them at your organization, and ask what new industry and institutional knowledge they’ve acquired so far. Acknowledge how far they’ve come in a short period before identifying what’s still out there to learn.

A (Analyze opportunities to grow within their current role)

If a younger employee is throwing their name in the hat for a higher position, chances are they’re hungry. It’s time to figure out how you can harness that hunger and use it within their current role. If you’ve got an enthusiastic employee, don’t dampen that by telling them they’re not ready for something else. Help them recognize leadership or special project opportunities within the position they have now.

I (Identify a realistic plan and timeline for advancement)

No employee wants to languish in the “not yet” grey area. Employees today want to have a rough idea of a timeline for when they can expect to advance. If you’re not going to promote that person now, you’ll need to share with them what a realistic amount of time is that they should put in at the company before they ask to be considered for official advancement? Being clear about that timeline can keep a young employee motivated to stay.

N (Name the steps the employee must take to get there)

In addition to a reasonable timeline, employees in today’s world want to know exactly what they need to do to be considered for future promotions. Are there certain leadership skills they need to develop? Educational programs they should complete? Projects they should take on? Numbers to hit? Industry magazines to read? Whatever your metrics and expectations are, make sure that employee has a clear plan of how to get to that promotion they’re gunning for. They can’t read your mind!

Cara Silletto, MBA, is a workforce thought leader, keynote speaker, and author of the 2018 book, Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer

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