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Managing Millennials: 10 Challenges for Finance Execs

  • By Nilly Essaides
  • Published: 4/8/2016
millAs every senior finance executive will admit, the millennial generation presents some tough management challenges. This article focuses on those challenges and how to overcome them.

Challenge # 1: How to communicate?
According to Carl Seidman, an independent management consultant and trainer, millennials are more likely to want quicker results and a lot more engagement and feedback from their superiors. “Companies not only need to set expectations for the younger generation but they need to feed into it,” Seidman said. “Millennials want more feedback and more development opportunities. The paycheck is no longer enough to keep people engaged. That creates friction between millennials, the people writing their paychecks, and those charged with offering them developmental opportunities.”

Challenge # 2: How to react to uber-ambition?

Millennials often appear impatient to move to the next assignment, the next role, etc., without necessarily earning the experience they need first. According to Darpan Agrawal, director and head of FP&A for Asia-Pacific at Philips Health Tech, millennials want to move up very fast.  “However, in many FP&A teams, professionals need to build strong relationships with business partners, learn how the business works and what the P&L looks like and that may take time,” he said. “Millennials want to move fast from experience to experience and have a track in mind of how they are going to become CFO in 10 years. They have to understand that you need to have the experience and understand the business properly.”

Challenge # 3: How to provide continuous growth?  

“According to all the studies I’ve read, the number one thing millennials are looking for is the opportunity for professional development,” said Jim Kaitz, president and CEO of AFP. Companies that are unable to provide that will face the consequence of higher turnover, according to Kaitz, whose own organization employs many millennials. “But if you create a learning culture, you can create loyalty in that group. Companies are realizing that and changing their mindset,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons AFP is offering the Certified Corporate FP&A Professional designation. The certification process includes mastering a comprehensive body of knowledge and passing a two-part exam. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s a viable—not to mention cost-effective—alternative path to an MBA.

Challenge # 4: How to get beyond the busy work?  

Day-to-day finance work can be tedious. Companies have to realize that it’s not about cranking out a report but about providing the experience to people so they will be productive,” said David Gray, director of FP&A at C&S Wholesale Grocers. By rotating staff through different assignments, companies can ensure they get diverse experiences. That’s something that needs to be part of the recruiting message. And it needs to go beyond the message. It must be delivered.  

Challenge # 5: How to provide a better work-life balance?

According to the finance director of the Asian headquarters of a medical equipment manufacturer, millennials place a higher value on work-life balance. While previous generations needed to fit life into work, this generation needs to fit work into life.

Challenge # 6: How to outline a career path?

Agrawal has observed a lot of attrition in the finance market at the entry and mid-level. “The market is quite hot and it’s easy to find the next position,” he said. That means millennials are more focused on how this role will get them to the next role, and how their career will look in 10 years.

According to Sigmund Toth, head of business controlling at Norway-based ArcusGruppen, to manage millennials well, financial executives need to deliver the career path they want, whether it’s a well-rounded experience or deep knowledge in one area. “Sometimes, though, the challenge is that they themselves may not know what they want, or do, but change their mind frequently. So part of the job is exploring the possibilities together,” he noted.

Challenge # 7: How to manage in a less hierarchical way?

Baby Boomers managing millennials need to adopt more of a mentoring role, according to Christine Hollinden, president and founder of Hollinden Consulting. “Gone are the days of dictatorial management styles, i.e., ‘do it because I say so,’” she said. In contrast to prior generations, “millennials are not afraid to ask questions,” she said. “They want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing and how it fits within the bigger context of their world. They think differently, and companies need to be more creative in leveraging that type of thinking.”

Challenge # 9: How to make sure they finish what they started?

Several senior finance executives complained it’s sometimes hard to get millennials to stick to a project to its completion. Some millennials are running so fast that they lose sight of the details along the way, said one executive. Others get lost in the project and lose interest before getting to the finish line. This impatience is exhibited throughout their behavior.

Challenge # 10: How to balance risk and opportunity?  

Bill Booth, executive vice president of treasury management, national and specialty businesses at PNC Bank and other experts point out that millennials are more likely to take risks than previous generations. That’s clearly a challenge for their supervisors. While some level of risk is beneficial, the finance function is relatively risk averse. Managers want their staff to think outside the box and take initiative, but too much risk can lead to bad results and in finance, unacceptable ones.
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