As one of the biggest demographics ever, millennials have enormous power, not just as consumers, but as workers and entrepreneurs, too. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, they've already surpassed Gen Xers as the largest generation in the American workforce. But you're not alone if you don't have a clue about what makes them tick or how to handle them as employees.

Michael Dougherty, CEO of the global education non-profit Pencils of Promise (PoP), knows that confusion from experience. His staff is a whopping 84 percent millennial, which has forced him to unwrap and understand the cohort's quirks out of necessity. These are the must-dos he shared with Inc.

1. Convince millennials they matter.

"We all crave [significance] in our work," Dougherty says, "but millennials demand it and want it now...[they] have a particularly deep drive for finding meaning and creating social good in their everyday lives...Promote the connection between the 'why' of their work and the actual day-to-day tasks to help facilitate that drive for significance that many millennials possess."

Dougherty says that, as he strives to inspire with the "why" of his group's work, he points out small wins. He doesn't make a huge deal out of shortcomings if he can help it, instead trusting that millennials will self-learn from what goes wrong.

2. Establish long term goals.

Even as millennials look for significance in a general way, they've also been conditioned, largely through standardized testing, to believe that there's a specific method they should follow. As a result, if you don't explicitly explain where you're going, connecting it to your why, they'll bombard you with questions. They very much need to see the formula of dots that connect today to the future.

Once you've explained your goals, don't forget to give feedback over time, which helps millennials assess progress. Millennials also are used to getting feedback because of parental and teacher efforts, so not having it can be jarring.

"I'm a fan of framing feedback in terms of improving capabilities 'at PoP and beyond PoP', says Dougherty. "I consider it my job to prepare every PoP team member to be a long-term leader in global education. 250 million kids can't read, but an entire generation is fired up to innovate solutions to get that number to zero in our lifetimes."

3. Give them the reins.

Millennials repeatedly have gotten a bad rap as lazy, but as Micah Solomon of Forbes points out, they've been raised under a parenting style that supports individual empowerment. They want to share responsibility! Dougherty says he enables his team to figure out precisely how they're going to tackle deliverables, getting out of the way where they're capable.

4. Offer regular opportunities to connect with each other.

Despite wanting to be independent and responsible, millennials don't want to be cut off, as isolation once again makes them question the meaning and significance they have. They also are concerned with organizational ethics and, again because of academic conditioning, want to understand processes. Subsequently, you need to give them chances to meet and talk to build transparency, self-esteem and trust.

"We use a daily huddle to kick off the day," Dougherty says, "and [we] share reflections of the prior day. It promotes sharing and collaborative strategy."

To round out his tips, Doughterty admits to Inc. that millennials innovate slightly differently in that they think big, tending not to be inspired by and to discredit incrementalism. But he points out that they share the Baby Boomers' conviction that there's a better way. He also asserts that snap judgments aren't helpful, and that good collaboration is a byproduct of treating everyone--millennial or not--as an individual. Millennials might have their idiosyncrasies, which you have to acknowledge, but at the end of the day, they're just people. Take the time to learn who each of them is and they'll respond in incredibly rewarding ways.

Published on: Jun 19, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.