By Mattson Newell(@MattsonNewell) and Craig Hickman(@HickmanCraig)

Accountability is a hot topic as millennials take the majority position among generations in the workforce. There are new challenges that businesses must tackle to engage millennials and have them remain focused on business results. These include everything from communicating purpose to establishing work-from-home policies. But what about company priorities? We'll get to that.

The changes in the workplace that millennials want are challenging--and let's face it, addressing them can be difficult fo­r traditional management. But companies who focus on accountability navigate these challenges best. With 30 years analyzing how to build greater accountability in some of the largest organizations in the world, Partners In Leadership trends and studies include how to transform millennials. When millennials learn how to understand accountability in the workplace, they transform into powerhouses.

So how is it done?

Don't expect to approach accountability with millennials the same way you do with traditionalists, boomers, or Gen Xers. It doesn't work, at least not without some millennial-modifications (M-M).

The Disconnect Millennials Have between Key Priorities and Accountability

Recently, Partners In Leadership delivered a keynote address, "Taking Accountability for Results," to a group of 150 employees at a global investment research firm. The group was composed primarily of millennials, from entry-level through middle-management positions.

The keynote speaker projected the firm's five strategic priorities onto an overhead screen and asked: "How many of you tie what you do every day to these five strategic priorities?"

Less than ten hands went up.

"How many of you tie what you do every day to at least one of these five strategic priorities?" dropping the bar a notch.

Less than twenty hands went up.

Why was there such a significant disconnect between what mattered most to the firm (five strategic priorities) and employee accountability? Let's look at the questions millennials ask to find out why.

  • There was little or no understanding why the strategic priorities were chosen. Why these and not five others?
  • Lack of information. Am I impacting results, and if so, how?
  • Limited visibility on progress. Are we succeeding? Or failing?
  • General feeling that the strategic priorities were senior management's responsibility. That's not my job.
  • Waiting for someone to tell them what to do. If I need to accomplish something that relates to one of the strategic priorities, someone will tell me.

Getting accountability right for millennials requires more time and energy spent on three things: 1) Discussing key results; 2) Defining accountability; and 3) Exchanging feedback.

1. Discussing Key Results

Millennials are confident, tenacious, direct, and the most educated generation in the workforce. They are also more globally aware, socially conscious, and have a soaring need to find meaning and purpose in what they do.

The Partners In Leadership Workplace Accountability Study, with over 40,000 participants in organizations from the Fortune 50 to small start-ups, shows that 85% of participants were not clear about what their organizations were trying to achieve. That's a big problem for all organizations and generations, but especially for millennials.

Understanding the "why" behind an organization's priorities, goals, or key results is crucial for millennials. They must be able to make sense of what they do, how they behave, and who they impact. When they do, they become valuable contributors who tenaciously monitor their connectedness to, and accountability for, what matters most.

2. Defining Accountability

Millennials are optimistic, fast-paced, tech savvy, and resilient in navigating change. They are also in need of sufficient structure, generous training, and ample orientation.

Having a clear understanding that accountability is something you do to yourself--and not something that happens to you--is vital for millennials. When they recognize and accept accountability as a personal choice to rise above their circumstances and demonstrate the necessary ownership to achieve their organization's and their team's key results, they dig in to find "what else" they can do to contribute, impact, and add value.

In the current race to increase employee engagement, too many leaders rush to add more perks, promotions, and breakroom features when what they really need to do is spend time and energy defining accountability and how it builds one person at a time.

3. Exchanging Feedback

Millennials are sociable, team-centric, and empathetic. They also prefer coaching to supervising, partnering to hierarchy, and having fun at work.

Creating opportunities to exchange feedback frequently and regularly is tantamount to oxygen for millennials. They are quick studies, so the more feedback they get, the faster they develop. But they need to be shown how to do it.

Over the past three decades, we have implemented feedback processes in thousands of organizations with hundreds of thousands of people at every organizational level in countries around the world. The experience has taught us invaluable lessons about the extraordinary power associated with giving and receiving feedback. Here are four of them:

  • Feedback doesn't happen unless you make it happen.
  • Both appreciative and constructive feedback are essential.
  • People don't usually act on feedback without some sort of follow-up.
  • People value the feedback they receive only after they have applied it and seen its impact on their results.

Frequent, honest feedback--received and given, both appreciative and constructive--is essential to sustainable success among millennials.

Creating Results and Shaping Change

Companies focus on key results required by employees and stakeholders. Millennials focus on changing the world and doing meaningful work with a purpose. To sum up our findings on tying the generations together and getting accountability right for millennials requires more time and energy spent on three things: 1) Discussing key results; 2) Defining accountability; and 3) Exchanging Feedback. If you're consistent and make it an integral part of your company culture, any effort spent in these areas is rewarded with millennial engagement.

Get this right and your millennials will be modeling how to take accountability for the rest of the organization and you'll be shaping the next generation of your company's leaders.

Craig Hickman, author of seventeen books including bestsellers The Oz Principle, Creating Excellence, Mind of a Manager Soul of a Leader, and The Strategy Game, is a Harvard MBA with honors, former CEO of Headwaters Technology Innovation (HW:NYSE), founder of the consulting firm Management Perspectives Group, and currently Futurist and Senior Vice President of New Product Development at Partners In Leadership, the premier provider of Accountability and Culture Shaping services worldwide.

Mattson Newell is a Director and Senior Leadership Consultant at Partners In Leadership, the premier provider of Accountability and Culture Shaping services worldwide. He is an accomplished writer having been published in a number of business platforms and popular press including, Forbes, Inc., Chief Learning Officer, Energy Digital and The Boston Business Journal.