Managing Millennials – Balancing Control with Autonomy

Managers are bombarded by confusing advice about the wants and needs of millennials. Already the largest working generation, the 54m Americans between 18 and 34 represent tremendous potential for organizations. They tend to be well adapted to change, technologically savvy, and poised to unleash innovation. But as a manager, how do we successfully motivate this group to maximize satisfaction and opportunity for both the individual, manager and business? Millennials want feedback, but how often and how do you know it’s constructive? How do you match a need for control with a desire for autonomy?


This 2010 study from Harvard Business Review reveals insights that are still fresh today. Breaking down the top qualities millennials seek in the workplace:

managing millennials

Perhaps the most-discussed characteristic about millennials is that they “have strong values”. This simple line is frequently framed as a desire for a sense of purpose or connection to something bigger. Employees in this group don’t want to just do a job, but to be part of something meaningful. This is frequently cited as a key factor that maximizes millennials’ autonomy.

Managers can sometimes get intimidated by the prospect of providing more visibility and transparency into the organization’s direction. They are hesitant to open communication with employees on top of their existing work responsibilities. The prospect may conjure thoughts of onerous meetings with multiple executives. Surely there must be a way to link employee roles and responsibilities to the larger organization vision and purpose while streamlining the manager’s day-to-day responsibilities?

HR and management teams are seeking ways to structure and guide conversations, provide feedback, track goals, measure accountability, and connect employees to company initiatives. Increasingly they are turning to performance alignment systems, like OpaConnect, which have been designed to meet these challenges. We’re heartened to hear success stories from self-described detail-oriented managers who are finally able to engage Millennials as never before.

It’s not just millennials, but every generation that seeks regular feedback, timely recognition and meaningful work. But as millennials dominate the workforce, it’s clear, forward-thinking companies are starting to take this alignment seriously.