I am member of the largest, most misunderstood generation this country has ever seen. Millennials are different than our predecessor generations. We expect a lot from people and from companies. The stereotype for us is that we addictively play video games and we bounce jobs like we don’t know where we are going or what we want. We are painted as entitled, lazy, and “know-it-all’s”. And if you are a Millennial, you will read that and cringe because you don’t like how you are automatically portrayed; but you will also personally know of people your age who behave exactly just that way. Let’s face it. 90% of Millennials are making the other 10% look bad!
The reality for many “baby boomer” business owners is that the Millennials are in line to inherit the next generation of your businesses. That means the company you own or work for right now might be run by one of those nitwit 20-30 somethings in the next 10-20 years. Consider that for a moment, the youngest baby boomer will turn 65 in 2029, that’s only 13 years away.
The issue for management is two-fold.
- How do employers attract the 10% of Millennials that are already on the right path?
- How do companies create a culture that can motivate their other Millennials (the 90%) to live up to their potential?
Education for both groups is paramount. Improving communication to allow for real collaboration between a multi-generational workforce will mean ultimately the success or failure of many companies over the next 10 years. Human Resource departments have to address these issues in now in 2016 not 2020 and certainly not 2029.
Three ideas Millennials want you to know about them.
- Look backwards: To better understand this younger generation, consider the environment they grew up in. Author of the book Sticking Points, Hayden Shaw, calls this history “Ghost Stories”. On September 11, 2001, I was sitting in 9th grade Spanish Class when a teacher ripped open our door and frantically yelled at my teacher, “We’ve been attacked in New York.” We watched as our country mourned and then rallied together and, if only for a moment, that sense of community was immensely strong and it stuck with us in a profound way. While still in our formative years, our nation endured what is the worst attack against the country ever and we had to figure out what to take away from it. We were taught as kids to expect a toy in every meal, have never known anything but technology growing and regrowing every 12-18 months. New technology gets us incredibly excited but outdated technology is disproportionately more upsetting. We watched our country’s economy grow by leaps and bounds through the 90’s only to graduate from college in 2008 and watch hundreds of companies’ layoff hundreds of thousands of people each month. In that recession, there was no loyalty. Loyalty cost money and companies literally couldn’t afford loyalty. We saw that. We made note of it. We watched our parents, our aunts, uncles, and our parents’ friends get laid off after years of service for their companies. Now, don’t get mad yet, I’m not bashing companies for doing what they needed to do to survive but I’m trying to get you to see that our lack of loyalty was born from what we learned about employers and companies during the breakdown in 2008. We are the first generation with helicopter moms and participation trophies. We were literally programmed to believe that we deserve more and to not be afraid to ask for it. So when we want more, we do just that.
- Learn to speak our language: We may use the same words as everyone else but we certainly have our own language. Communication is not the same now as it was for most baby boomers when they entered the workforce. Millennials require a bit of finesse. Have you ever heard the saying, “Say no by saying yes”? This was a phrase taught to me in my first sales training class in Houston, TX. The concept is that when someone asks you for something that you cannot, or will not give them, you counter their request by offering something that you are willing to do instead of just saying no. Just because we are needy and feel entitled to ask for too much too soon does not mean that you have to comply, but instead of saying a flat “No”; what if you said it a different way? Now if something is company policy then you should not be expected to bend those rules, but I will challenge you with this. If you are going to play the card, “It’s company policy”, you should know why that is the policy. Is the company actually better off because of that policy or is that just way it has always been done? You can count on the fact that the Millennial employee is going to ask, “Why?” Let’s look at an example. One hot topic recently has been a flexible work schedule/environment. While there is lots of data that shows flexible work hours increase productivity, let’s just assume that your company can not comply with this request. Instead of giving a flat NO to the request, what if you said, “That’s an interesting question and I’ve been asked about it a few times now. Would you be willing to put together some data for me on how that might look logistically for everyone? Build a case and let’s look at it together. I can’t promise anything because we’ve never done this before but I’m willing to look into it.” This doesn’t hold you liable for anything and you might be surprised by what you learn, but ultimately you have allowed them to figure out how it will or will not work on their own. It is just as likely as not that they are going to realize the “Why” during their research and accept that it will not work OR worst case scenario, they figure out how it could work and it increases your productivity, morale and rapport with all employees. Now, if you are a boss that thinks, “Whatever I say goes and they need to deal with it”, I would be willing to bet you have high turnover, low employee morale, and probably no loyalty in your workforce. You may have to step out of your comfort zone to learn to speak our “language” but the benefits are immeasurable when you consider what it means if you don’t.
- Mentor Us: Millennials have what I call “Google Syndrome”. You call it being a “know-it-all”, but it’s the same thing. I timed myself, and in 90 seconds I learned the circumference of the Earth (24,901 miles), the number one sales tip by New York Times, “It’s not what you say, it’s what your customer believes”, I learned the weather forecast for the next 10 days and I learned quite a bit about the best commercial doors you can put in a school for both safety and quality. Between Google and Millennials, we literally do know almost everything. The problem is getting us to see that knowledge does not equal ability. I know how to lift 500 pounds, I’ve watched a video on proper form, but I still cannot lift 500 lbs. Your Millennials need a mentor. They need someone who is willing to harness their enthusiasm and energy and direct it through wisdom. Wisdom = knowledge + experience. Walk softly here though. Be careful to not belittle us. If you are going to breakthrough to a Millennial, you cannot treat them like a kid and say things like, “Just because you read an article on how to do this doesn’t mean you can do it. That takes experience.” Our mental response is very likely to be, “Well get out of the way and let me try it!” Those failures are ugly. They get lots of press in large companies and do no good. Instead, set up some opportunities for “controlled fails”. You are right that we probably can’t do something but at least we read the article, at least we tried to learn. Don’t kill that enthusiasm, direct it. If you start looking at your workforce as a group of mentees and not employees, you will go much further.
We aren’t as bad as you think and you will need to figure out how to engage us soon if you haven’t already. As a self-proclaimed ambassador for my generation, I promise I’m going to work my hardest to kick us into a new gear. If you are willing to work to attract, harness, and communicate with Millennials, your company will have an almost endless supply of innovation and energy that when guided correctly will literally change the world!
Caleb Bagwell/Employee Education Specialist
John Maxwell Certified Leadership Coach
Grinkmeyer Leonard Financial
Toll-Free: 866.695.5162 / Office: 205.970.9088
1950 Stonegate Drive / Suite 275 / Birmingham, AL 35242