Managing Millennials in Sport

In our last blog post Karl shared his ideas on why employers should consider hiring members of the current graduating generation, known colloquially as “Generation Y”. This week we are looking at the ways in which you, as future and current managers should approach managing millennials within the sports industry. The original article is by Robin Reshwan for US News (dated March 5, 2015) and can be found HERE 

Managing Millennials

When it comes to comparing Generation Y to their preceding generations, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. Millennials have grown up in an environment that has fundamentally changed in aspects of technology, social issues, politics, and global awareness, compared to that of their parents and grandparents. One fundamental difference that scholars observe is the differing views this ‘trophy generations’ have on careers, success, and professional growth.

“Workforce 2020: A Millennial Misunderstanding” is a report, released by SuccessFactors and Oxford Economics. The report suggested that younger generations feel better and do better at work with more feedback. Seems obvious because most of us enjoy some form of feedback loop. However what must be understood is that younger generations are more used to having feedback in their daily life; whether its in the form of Facebook ‘likes’ or ‘retweets’ on Twitter. Therefore these millennials crave feedback at greater amounts and at a higher frequency. Below are four tips on how to create a management plan that will give your millennial professionals the direction they need to succeed in the sports industry:

1. Admit you have a problem: The first step in tackling a problem is sitting down and admitting that it exists. Many managers appear too busy to design and implement a feedback system. In the sports industry it is something we see frequently with coaches and players; the coach recognizes an area the player is strong or needs developing and they decide on an appropriate way to act. Sports administration managers working with millennials should recognize that this industry example is essential and recognizing it’s absence is a step in the right direction.

2. Create a lesson plan: Athletes who arrive at their team’s training facility expect their coaches to have a specific outline of the drills, sessions, and activities for that day. In sports administration, we want to train our employees to be the best they can be and therefore these employees expect us to impart the specific knowledge and tools for them to achieve this. Are you working towards a particular project? If so, then write down several key business skills, traits or activities necessary to achieve success. These things are the lessons you need to impart to that employee.

Let’s say you are the manager of a season tickets sales department of a professional sports team. As the season approaches season ticket sales aren’t at the level they were at the previous year, which some have blamed on the raise in pricing that as alienated some fans. The department is under pressure to increase sales to meet shareholder expectations. The key skills and activities required are product knowledge, knowledge of available solutions and alternatives, communication skills, problem resolution tactics, ability to persevere, and the expected results per employee. Now that you have outlined the requirements, think about each employee and in what areas he or she excels and struggles. An ideal plan will praise and expand the employee’s strengths while addressing his or her weaknesses.

3. Be Specific: Quantifiable goals or objectives give a well-needed measurement tool and allow for detailed, productive coaching conversations on how to achieve success. Often millennials have limited work experience or practical/functional area knowledge and therefore are unaware of what constitutes success or how to measure when they are operating at a sub-par level. How do you know if you’re specific enough? Ask your employees to write out the key business problem(s) they were hired to solve, how success in their role is measured and how they think you would grade their performance so far. Their responses will show the clarity of your message.

4. Be Positively Realistic: Often managers make the well intentioned mistake of telling their employees ‘good job’ in an attempt to raise morale. This often leaves the employee confused as to what exactly they did well; was it the 25% increase in social media engagement they achieved this week or was it the weekly session meeting report they submitted 2 days late? Actively recognizing something that the employee did well and highlighting its benefit in relation to achieving department/organizational goals helps that individual develop an idea of standards you hold. And don’t just save the positives for when you want to discuss something negative or areas for development. No one wants to eat the compliment sandwich you’re trying to serve and pretty soon, your bright millennial employees will associate you with this unappetizing meal of negative feedback.

In summary, millennials are people too. They’re just new(er) people to the workforce, and as such, they want and require more direction on a regular basis. Most managers probably have that direction (good or bad) in their heads, but the key is to share this information with your employees in a productive manner along the way. Your team morale and performance will greatly improve as a result of your planning and attention.


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