The high-performing millennial

Employers need to be proactive to retain them

Over the years, a common complaint about the emerging workforce is they want too much, too fast.

This is true. Well, another way to say this is, “They want to do meaningful work and important work….sooner rather than later.” In addition, they want to know they have the opportunity to get ahead. And this is a good thing. Well, if you’re willing for it to be a good thing.

I would like to introduce you to a 27-year-old millennial I talked with recently. I will call her Sarah. She asked to remain anonymous because I want to share her story and do some bragging about her.

  • Sarah is 27 years old.
  • She has worked for three companies since she graduated from college in 2010.
  • Sarah has been with her current employer for three years and still hasn’t decided how long she will stay. For now, she appreciates her situation and will likely not make a change. Nonetheless, she pays attention to stories of her friends and their career situations.
  • While here, Sarah has enjoyed two promotions, each with the opportunity to earn higher compensation for higher performance. She is currently in the top 5 to 10 percent of wage earners in the country.
  • Sarah has described her job situation as highly flexible, paired with high expectations for performance. She has met her quota two years in a row, even with a hearty increase moving into year two. Sarah has freedom to schedule her work as she wishes and she is mindful of not abusing this.
  • While here, she has worked for a few leaders – some whose style supported her preference for autonomy and one, in particular, who micromanaged her to the degree that it was very difficult and unfulfilling. Sarah is glad to no longer be working for this individual.

Sarah’s formative years

As Sarah was growing up, she had more than her parents had when they were young. This did not prevent her from working hard to pave her own way, and today she does not carry any sense of entitlement.

  • She held her first job at the age of 15 and has worked ever since. Between the age of 15 and the time she had her first professional job, Sarah had held more than 10 part-time high school and college jobs (bagging groceries, serving in fast food restaurants, hostessing in high-end restaurants, bartending, internships, to name a few). Her work ethic has been solid.
  • Sarah started paying for her cell phone and car insurance at the age of 16. She is still on her parents’ cell phone plan because of the cost savings of a family plan. Sarah autopays them each month for her portion.
  • She paid for a good portion of her college and has paid off all of her student loans.
  • Sarah bought a nice used vehicle after college and paid it off in two years.
  • She contributes 10 percent to her 401(K) and has additional money sitting in a savings account.
  • And finally, Sarah has just purchased her first home.

The millennial leader

Most recently, Sarah was promoted into a leadership role, leading the team that collectively manages the 30 top national accounts of the firm. She personally manages eight of the accounts, and she leads three others who manage the remaining 22 between them.

Sarah came into the role and immediately observed, “We do not have systems and assurances in place for taking care of these important accounts. This has been my first area of focus.”

Secondly, Sarah realized immediately that one member of the team was performing at a much lower level than her two counterparts. For example, two of the reps were making upwards of 200 calls per week to her 25. Sarah shared, “I really had to think about this. I wanted to approach her about this in a way that would not be discouraging to her, especially because I am such a new leader. I need her to get on board.” Sarah went on to share, “I talked with her about it and asked her what was going on. We had a good discussion. Then I turned her loose with clear expectations about call metrics, only to realize a week later that she did not have a measurably better week. So, I turned to another approach:  I suggested we meet daily. We set expectations for each day, then had a conversation at the end of the day. This did the trick. She is like a different person.”

Sarah added, “With my new team, I want to be involved in the things they’re doing, to the degree that they appreciate my involvement.  I want them to know that I care about their success.”

Sarah is a high-performing millennial. And the good news for all of us is that she has company. Any firm with emerging professionals like Sarah will be wise to be very proactive in the attempt to retain them.

-Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Brookfield-based Living As A Leader, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send questions to her at To read all of her columns, visit the knowledge portal at

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Aleta Norris is a partner and co-founder of Living As A Leader, a national leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. Living As A Leader supports the development of leaders in more than 125 organizations across the country. For several years, Aleta has been researching and speaking about the critical responsibilities organizations and leaders share related to the attraction, retention and engagement of the emerging workforce.

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