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Growth · 5 November '19

5 Steps to Motivate Millennials

By 2020, over a third of the global workforce will be made up of millennials. That’s the key finding from ManpowerGroup, the recruitment and workforce multinational, in their recent report “Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision”. In the coming years, this generation will become increasingly dominant in the world of work, and will bring with them needs and wants that are very different from previous generations.

Businesses around the world are having to prepare for this huge shift in working with millennials. Some business leaders are unsure about how to engage this generation; many misconceptions still exist around millennials. In this article, I’ll try to put those misconceptions to rest.

The truth is, millennial employees can be just as hardworking, spirited and loyal as any other generation. It’s all about how you motivate them. At Cognism, I’ve played a leading role in inspiring our millennials to achieve their best. Here’s my advice on how you, too, can motivate millennials.

The Cognism story

Cognism is one of the fastest growing companies in the UK. In 2018, we saw a 657% growth in overall revenue.

What’s been behind this rapid growth? Our patented, proprietary technology is one reason – but also that we have great people working behind the scenes. What makes our business unique is that 98% of our workforce are either millennials or Generation Z. 90% are recent graduates.

We have 40 graduates working in our London office, some in leadership roles – and in contrast to the industry standard of 50%, Cognism’s employee retention rate is 90%. Cognism’s millennials are loyal, hardworking and committed – everything the stereotypes say they aren’t! They have been fundamental to our business’s success and growth.

How then can you harness the skill and determination of millennials, and create a culture that inspires them to succeed? Every generation operates in different ways and has different workplace expectations and aspirations. Think to yourself – does your company or leadership style foster a culture where millennials can thrive and talent is retained?

If you’re finding it difficult or you don’t know where to start, here are five practical things you can do to create an environment that motivates millennials. Read on and be inspired!

5 steps to motivate millennials

1. Be a mentor, not a manager

In traditional business, the manager-employee relationship focuses on achieving the objectives of the department and the company. The manager assigns tasks, evaluates the outcome, conducts performance reviews and recommends possible salary increases and promotions.

I’ve found that this approach doesn’t work for millennials. They expect a more human element in their professional lives. Instead of being a manager, be a mentor! This requires a different way of working, for both the manager and the employee.

A mentor-mentee relationship focuses on developing the mentee professionally and personally. As such, the mentor doesn’t evaluate the mentee with respect to his or her current job, doesn’t conduct performance reviews of the mentee, and doesn’t provide input into salary increases and promotions. It’s all about being inspiring, rather than just setting tasks to complete. The mentee should feel free to ask the mentor about any professional or personal challenge.

Here are some ways to be a good mentor:

• Set up regular, one-to-one meetings with your mentees. Use the time to ask them about any issue affecting them, not just work-related ones.

• Listen carefully to what your mentee has to say. Let them do most of the talking – then give your opinion.

• Let the mentee make their own decisions. Don’t tell them what to do. Give them the time and space to think things through for themselves. Remember that learning by trial and error is good for personal growth.

• Different people work in different ways. Take the time to tailor any required training or guidelines to meet your mentees’ needs.

The benefits of this mentoring approach include increased productivity and performance.

2. Provide a clear progression plan

Put in place clear progression plans for each of your millennials. The plan should align with their personal objectives and your business objectives. Progression plans are about rewarding talent and encouraging success. They help to create an inclusive business culture, as those who progress to managerial roles started out by working in representative ones.

One good piece of advice is that for millennials, job titles matter. This generation was raised on social media and they all want to be seen to be doing well. So don’t be afraid to promote someone to a managerial role if they warrant it – millennials appreciate the shareability that comes with a managerial title.

Clear and proven progression plans motivate millennials as it shows them if they work hard and invest in your company’s vision and culture, they will reap the rewards.

3. Create a collaborative culture

For millennials, the working environment is very important. Think of it this way – many of them have come straight from university. Your company may be the very first one they’ve worked for. Therefore, it’s important to try and make them feel at ease, and let them work in an environment where they can thrive.

How can you go about doing this? Well, students love socialising and collaborating. So why not try to replicate the university environment in the workplace? The best ways of achieving this are:

• Make sure the whole business works as one unit, not as separate departments. There must be no silos!

• Don’t impose a hierarchical structure. Have an open-plan office with managers and heads sitting alongside new starters.

• Encourage regular collaboration between departments. Book monthly “show and tell” meetings where each department gives a presentation on what they’re working on and offer opportunities for questions to be asked.

• Involve all team members in company decision making, e.g., office moves, adopting specific technologies and creating staff handbooks for new employees.

4. Celebrate success

Always make sure your company celebrates success! Not just company success, but team and individual success, too. At Cognism, we celebrate important milestones such as a new sales rep booking his or her first demo, when a customer success manager receives a great customer review, or whenever a contract is signed or a deal is closed. Millennials respond extremely well to this celebratory working culture.

Entertainment and company socials are also very important to millennials. Cognism has an entertainment budget signed off by the board, and we use it to host regular activities and events for our staff. These include team lunches and dinners, beer and pizza evenings every week (which have proved very popular and good for team-building), and an annual offsite weekend in Croatia. Regular team events are a great way to build a team and motivate your staff.

This is particularly important to millennials or young graduates fresh out of university, as their financial circumstances are often not as good as their older colleagues. They may be coming out of university with high debts and little surface money to enjoy.

5. Be inclusive

Inclusivity is a subject very dear to millennial hearts. In business terms, it’s about being open, honest and transparent in all communications and conduct. It means involving all colleagues in how the business is run.

A good first step in being inclusive is to ask each team to create a rules or values document, setting out how each team should interact with one another. This is what we’ve done at Cognism. Our team values include how we conduct ourselves at work, and how we expect to treat ourselves and others. Every staff member was involved in the drafting and signing off of these value guidelines.

Another good idea is to give your millennials the opportunity to innovate. Provide them with a platform to work on projects outside of their core roles. For instance, we have a salesperson at Cognism with an interest in graphic design – so I asked him to oversee some graphic design work for the sales team. It’s a good way to keep the job fresh for them and to enable them to pursue their personal interests in a professional setting.


I believe Cognism is an example to other companies when it comes to motivating millennials. Judging from our Glassdoor reviews, we are making a great success of it! Hopefully, you have found this article useful. Working with millennials needn’t be an insurmountable obstacle – if you engage with them in the right way, you’ll find there are no limits to what they can achieve, both for themselves and your business!