Developing Your High-Potential Millennial Employees

Millennials mean business, and they will be running your companies before you know it. Are you ready?

By Brad Karsh, President, JB Training Solutions

Are your Millennials prepared to be your company’s future leaders?

Every day more than 10,000 Baby Boomers reach the age of 65. This is going to keep happening every single day for the next 18 years. This startling statistic has chills running down the spines of HR professionals as they think about the organizational challenge of managing this drastic demographical shift in the workforce. Engaging and retaining the newest crop of workplace talent is a daunting challenge, but it has never been more important.

Ask yourself: what initiatives are you implementing to prepare your high-potential millennial employees to LEAD your company?

Millennials mean business, and they will be running your companies before you know it. At JB Training Solutions, we consider ourselves to be the great defenders of the Millennial generation. We work with many Boomer managers, and they practically are spewing venom when it comes to the topic of Millennials and “the kids these days.” Yes, there are many challenging aspects of the Millennial generation, but there are also enormous opportunities—if we learn how to work with them.

HR professionals are trying to understand exactly what skills high-potential Millennials need to take it to the next level and how to prepare them accordingly. As a company that works with high-potential emerging leaders at several Fortune 500 organizations, we have specific ways you can prepare your future leaders for the road ahead. We offer the following nine best practices and ideas for HR professionals looking to engage, retain, and develop your high-potential employees.

1. Make the case. First and foremost, lay a solid foundation by educating all constituents about the importance of the development of your high-potential employees. Do your C-suite executives know that according to the Nolan Norton Institute study published in the Harvard Business Review, more than 75 percent of average company market values come from the intangible assets such as talent? Do your Millennials understand their impact on the generational shift in the workforce in the coming years? Getting buy-in from all groups will ensure everyone’s commitment to components of the high-potential development initiatives moving forward.

Idea: Host a lunch and learn on the topic of the multigenerational workforce to help everyone understand the changing landscape.

2. Identify and recognize high-potential employees. Millennials have been told they are “special” their entire lives, so letting them know they are important in the workplace is key. Let the high-potential employees know they are high potential, so they realize their long-term impact on the company. Millennials value professional and personal development and expect their employer to help them learn, grow, and develop. If they know they are being invested in for the long term, they will be more engaged. Often, if you tell a person she is high performing, she becomes high performing.

Idea: Have the CEO or a respected leader meet the high-potential new hires for lunch.

3. Connect them to the big picture. Millennials have been taught to ask “why?” their entire lives. Growing up, when they asked their parents and teachers “why?” they got answers other than “Because I said so.” As a result, they genuinely want to know the reasoning behind why things are the way they are at work. Don’t write this off as entitlement. Instead, explain the big picture behind your organization’s processes, procedures, and projects. Tell them why it’s important, even if it seems obvious to you and your management teams. Millennials want to make an impact, so show them how their projects, responsibilities, and future roles tie into the big picture.

Idea: During the onboarding process, assign a seasoned employee to sit down with the Millennials at the end of the day to answer any questions they have.

4. Provide a career map. Millennials crave flexibility on a day-to-day level, but they also crave long-term flexibility. In college, if Millennials wanted to try something new, they simply picked up a different course or even changed their major. In the workplace, they want the same flexibility. It is an expectation of Millennials to be fulfilled and challenged in their career, so it is important to show them the career path options that are available to keep them engaged. Ask your high-potential employees where they would like to be long term, and then tell them exactly how they can get there. Show them the options that are available within your company to work in a different department or on an alternative project. Make sure they see all of the career options that are available to them to show organizational commitment to their career development and goals.

Idea: Feature long-term employees and have them share their story with the high-potential new hires about their path at the company.

5. Emphasize the importance of “soft” business skills. Soft skills are critical to workplace success, but Millennials often are lacking—big time—in this area. There is a huge skill gap when you join a company, and many new hires are ill prepared to make a successful transition into the workforce. It is important for you to think and gauge the needs of this group—what skills do they need to be successful managers and leaders? Business etiquette, writing, initiative, time management, and conflict management are all incredibly important—yet none of these things are taught in college. Pay special attention to this area to ensure that a lack of mastering the “soft” business skills isn’t bogging down their ability to thrive and get ahead.

Idea: Make “business etiquette” a component of your onboarding materials and training.

6. Provide a medley of experiences. Offer your high-potential employees experience, experience, experience. Millennials have lived their lives in “semesters,” so they are used to being able to try something new every few months. Expose them to different departments and ways of doing business. Rotational programs are a great way to do this. Encourage your managers to have high-potential employees take on new projects and responsibilities, and don’t be afraid to give them an assignment that will stretch their potential every so often. It is important that you offer opportunities for growth and development according to their individual needs. Show them a way that will allow them to change paths within the same company if they want to. Encourage them to join industry and professional organizations for additional experiences and as an opportunity to meet other high-potential colleagues.

Idea: Once a month, allow your high-potential employees to shadow someone else in the company to gain exposure to a different aspect of the business.

7. Make an investment. The long-term success of your organization lies entirely in the hands of your high-potential employees. This group will shape the future landscape of your business, so it is up to you to make an investment in their development now. Just as you can’t afford to ignore necessary investments in new technology or product development, you can’t afford to ignore investments in your most important asset: your people. The dollars spent on training and development and the hours spent on mentorship and workshops will be well worth the outcome of an engaged crop of prepared future leaders.

Idea: Offer at least one training session per quarter, and institute lunch and learns or roundtables to build on what the training session covered.

8. Establish a mentorship program. Give your high-potential employees someone to look up to. When Millennials know and trust authority, they value and respect them. Millennials want someone to look up to. There is an enormous opportunity that exists between the soon-to-be retiring Boomers and the fresh-faced Millennials. Establishing a mentorship program is an excellent way to connect these generations in the workplace. If you can’t implement a formal mentorship program, encourage a culture where casual coaching and conversations are an everyday occurrence up and down the hierarchies of your organization.

Idea: Institute “Mentor Mondays” where the first Monday of the month, high-potential new hires have coffee with their mentor to kick off the week.

9. Insist on a culture of feedback and recognition. Millennials may have an air of confidence, but this doesn’t mean they don’t want to improve. Tell them how they’re doing—often. VERY OFTEN. Millennials want to learn, grow, and develop. Unlike boomers, they will not benefit from only an annual review. They expect to be given constructive feedback on a dailybasis. Institute 360-degree feedback and encourage bi-monthly one-on-ones for the first six months to ensure communication lines are open. Encourage managers to be open, honest, and direct and share their management philosophy and style.

Idea: Challenge your managers to sit down with direct reports once a month to deliver (and receive!) performance feedback.

Brad Karsh is president and lead trainer at JB Training Solutions, which offers interactive programs to assist professionals in achieving success in the workplace. moved into HR, where he was responsible for hiring and training hundreds of employees. He has worked with companies including Abbott Laboratories, Quaker, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Redbox, and GATX. Prior to starting JB Training Solutions, Karsh spent 15 years at advertising giant Leo Burnett in Chicago. He began his career in account management, working on clients including McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, and Pillsbury. For information, visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.