Medtronic sees and cultivates a sense of engagement instead.

There are some more pejorative names for the Millennial generation: the Trophy Generation, the Me Generation. (Note, however, that the latter was also used in reference to Baby Boomers some years ago.)

Many companies have made a dangerous assumption that with the economic downturn, Millennials will lose any sense of entitlement and be more grateful for whatever opportunity is offered. Not so, according to our M-Factor survey, where 61 percent of Millennials said they felt optimistic or somewhat optimistic that they could find another job if they needed to. In a survey by personnel services firm Adecco in June 2009, 71 percent of full-time employees ages 18 through 29 said they were likely to look for new jobs as soon as the downturn reversed.

Many Millennials were raised in households and schools where every activity was served up with a side of self-esteem and an affirmation of their special abilities. It’s not surprising, then, that they’ve emerged as employees who expect to advance rapidly and be given options in their career paths. The challenge for employers is to help Millennials set and achieve career goals that will keep them feeling satisfied and motivated about their progress, and at the same time serve the company’s needs.

At Fridley-based Medtronic, managers are asked to see Millennials not as feeling overly entitled, but engaged. The medical device company’s leadership development initiative opens doors for any employee of any age, position, or pay grade to explore different kinds of work within the company, and it suits Millennials who are eager to take the reins of their careers.

Participants in Medtronic’s Individual Development Planning (IDP) program can explore other roles in other parts of the company with guidance from mentors who work in those areas and from the human resources group. An employee working in cardiovascular-device marketing might want to get a taste of what business development would be like, for example. Mentors would help that person write a plan for doing specific trial projects in business development and for taking steps to get needed training or education. An employee’s development plan can be written for the short term or the long term—one year or 10.

Laura Wolf is a business systems analyst in Medtronic’s information technology division and a GenXer participating in the program. Her goals include finishing a bachelor of science degree, obtaining more training in graphic design, and increasing her skills in the area of data protection and security. She says, “Sure, it sounds like catering to an entitled generation, but [the IDP program] truly is a win-win for all the generations. Too many companies today have a silo mentality and lose valuable employees who feel their evolving goals can be better met by leaving the company.” By breaking down silos, Wolf adds, Medtronic is able to “build bench strength in different areas, but best of all, retain talent.”

Of course, opportunities to work in new areas and to develop new skills depend on successful performance from the employee. And what about the Millennial—or other employee—who doesn’t know what his or her goals are? The Medtronic Employee Assistance Program gives employees, new and old, access to a team of licensed career counselors.