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3 Ways to Make Millennials Manager Material

We're facing the fastest leadership transition in our lifetimes.

While some pundits would have you believe that baby boomers are about to redefine retirement by working well into their 70's that's not reality. According to Gallup, older boomers are retiring around the same age as their parents did. By age 68, just 16 percent of baby boomers say they will be working full time jobs.

As America's largest generation, boomers' impending mass exodus from the workforce will result in a huge gap in the corporate leadership roles. Unfortunately, the next two Generations, X and Y, are among our history's smallest. Which means millennials, who will make up 75 percent of the workforce within 10 years, will be required to step into leadership roles much earlier in their careers than their parents or grandparents did -- and before they've gained much useful experience on the job. This leaves formal education as their primary source of preparation -- not a particularly comforting thought. Millennials themselves acknowledge that college is a limited source of leadership training. A recent Deloitte study reveals that just 24 percent of millennials feel as though their formal education has prepared them for leadership in the workplace.

With huge challenge comes huge opportunity.

All of which places the burden of training millennials to become leaders squarely on the shoulders of employers -- which I would argue is not only appropriate but also a tremendous opportunity to gain competitive advantage. Companies that figure out how to make leaders out of their millennial workers faster and better than their competition should grow faster and more profitably, given our demographic reality. And they should also see employee engagement and retention benefits as well. That's because, more so than previous generations, millennials place a high value on mentors and highly prioritize learning new things. This is serendipitous for trainers. As efficient leadership development and effective knowledge transfer become critical, training professionals have a unique opportunity to make a huge impact on their organization's success during this generational sea change.

Here are three ways to leverage millennial preferences and technology to close the leadership gap:

Deliver mobile-first training to the mobile-first generation.
Fact: 77 percent of millennials use a smartphone daily. Your training should be accessible from, and designed for, any mobile device. Your learning management system should take care of the accessibility problem for you. But the redesign for mobile requirements are going to come as a shock to most trainers. Mobile learning demands that you deliver most, if not all, of this great leadership training as "micro-learning," (i.e., a series of no more than five minute bursts of education). And beyond parsing your training, you'll want to convert any text-based content to video in response to the limited screen size you'll be working with. Lastly, any mobile-first learning experience should still be designed to be seamless across multiple devices, considering that many millennials prefer to start an activity on one screen and finish on another.

Design multi-media content for a micro-learning audience.
Ever heard of tl;dr? It's "too long; didn't read," or the Internet's way of reminding us that no one has patience for flat, unengaging content -- especially not millennials. The most effective learning programs will match message to medium using a mixture of on-demand videos, text-based, live streaming, and immersive assessments. More advanced training programs will blend multimedia approaches to improve learner engagement and effectiveness. Deliver this multimedia training via leading edge training software and you'll also get feedback on the amount of time each learner spent viewing each component of your training course. This rich, real-time feedback is critical to identifying which videos, questions, etc. are or are not capturing millennials attention and helping you focus on areas for continuous content improvement.

Instant feedback for measurable results.
Speaking of feedback, it's critical to understand that constant feedback is virtually part of a millennial's DNA. Not to be mistaken with constant praise, millennials wish to continually build on their skills. Small, frequent mechanisms for feedback embedded into training help them assess what they do or don't understand and provide reassurance that they are on the right track. Bear in mind that most millennials can tell you exactly how many "likes" their best Instagram photo got and retweets their best tweet received. They keep score -- and sharp trainers will use this to their advantage.

And asking for millennial feedback is equally important. First, they are happy to have a voice in their development, and expect to. Who do you think is hitting all those Like and Retweet buttons? But second, over the next two to three years, trainers will be attempting to develop leadership skills in a younger-than-ever population, at a speed and via mediums and devices never previously achieved. Rapid, candid trainee feedback will provide a meaningful advantage in iterating training content to create cutting edge learning programs.

Here's the reality: Boomers won't work forever and we've clearly hit the tipping point. Organizations need millennials to rapidly develop into the kinds of leaders that can disrupt and dominate their industries not just through new technologies but through motivating excellence in others. To do that, trainers must find new ways, beyond long-term coaching and mentoring, to effectively deliver decades of leadership wisdom to a generation that is willing, able and eager -- but will never have the luxury of learning on the job.

Donna Wells is chief executive officer of Mindflash. This column originally appeared in Inc.

(Image via baranq/Shutterstock.com)

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