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What does the hit Netflix show Stranger Things have in common with coaching and managing younger employees? Senior Training Executive, Mike Lennon takes a trip to the Upside Down to find out…

Coaching and managing Generation Y

I was recently talking to a friend about why the 1980s-set Stranger Things has been so successful. And it was when she referenced the show’s nod to classic movies from that era like E.T. and The Goonies that I realised why I’ve enjoyed the show so much. I was born in 1981 and for me the show is very evocative of my childhood.

I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way. According to statistics portal Statista, 54% of those in the US who viewed the show are aged between 18 and 44. What Netflix has done by bringing the residents of Hawkins to our screens is employ a ‘nostalgia strategy’, aimed squarely at engaging Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 1995).

Taking millennials into consideration

It’s not just TV execs who need to take millennials into consideration. In August 2017, the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) published research, Workforce 2020: Managing Millennials, that says:

“Today’s generation Y graduates are likely to have a distinct set of characteristics, perspectives and expectations from the people who are managing them.”

The importance of this is highlighted by the UK government’s own estimate that 50% of the nation’s workforce will be made up of millennials by 2020, and a massive 75% by 2025. Look around you. What’s the demographic of your team and of your organisation? What do you notice? What will it be in two years’ time?

Understanding expectations

To avoid major disconnections in the workplace, it’s crucial that work expectations of millennials are understood and appropriate strategies for leading and managing them are rolled out.

The key recommendation of the ILM’s research is that managers should spend time coaching millennials rather than adopting a ‘command and control’ approach. This is because millennials in particular like to be given the flexibility to approach a task in the way they think best; they don’t respond well to being micromanaged!

For me, this is best summed up by the ultimate ‘servant leader’, former Starbucks president Howard Behar. He believes that leaders should adopt a stance of “The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom”. In other words, we should believe in the ability of our people to get the job done in a variety of ways – a core principle of coaching.

Supporting managers

Some might say “that’s what we’re doing already!” But, if the research is to be believed – and despite coaching being the third most commonly used learning and development practice – there’s a disconnect between what managers believe they’re doing and what those on the receiving end think.

For example, 75% of managers believe they’re fulfilling the role of coach/mentor but only 26% of graduates agree.

This points to a need for supporting the coaching capability of managers through training. Coaching can be a powerful development tool that “maximises potential to unlock performance” (Whitmore, Coaching for Performance) and should be a collaborative, creative process between coach and coachee that’s built on a foundation of trust.

Rather than being a fluffy fad, coaching has the potential to be transformational at the behavioural level.

Millennials at Ashfield

At Ashfield, millennials account for 46% of our UK workforce (with Generation X a close second at 43%), so it’s important to us that our leaders can and do coach. All of our first line managers undertake training through our Coaching for Managers course run by our in-house training team. All trainers on this course (such as myself) have undertaken a qualification in coaching and mentoring with the ILM.

While we understand that everybody will benefit from coaching irrespective of generation, it seems that millennials in particular are receptive to this approach. Take a moment to reflect on this and be honest with yourself: have you given consideration to what millennials need in a manager and thought about how can coaching help? Are you best equipped to take up the challenge of managing Generation Y?

Have I got you curious? That’s good, curiosity will stand you in good stead for coaching others. With this in mind, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favourite Stranger Things, Dustin (but think of coaching as your paddles rather than books!):

“I am on a curiosity voyage and I need my paddles to travel. These books… these books are my paddles. I NEED MY PADDLES!”

For more information on our training services, contact Christopher Lonsdale at

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