Maximizing Millennials

by Lou Killeffer

Maximizing Millennials

Last week I attended a fascinating event in Manhattan entitled, “A Night of Brilliance: Getting the Most Out of Millennials In the Workplace”, an interactive evening produced by Applied Brilliance in collaboration with Fahrenheit 212, and featuring Nadira Hira.

Ah, the Millennials, the baby boomers’ somewhat bewildering children. Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are the demographic cohort following Generation X, comprised of those born in the late ‘70s to mid ‘90s. The original “digital natives”, Millennials  exhibit different values and behavior from prior generations, largely it is supposed, in response to the social and cultural implications of living with the Internet – in addition to such seminal American moments as Columbine and 9/11.

For whatever reasons, Millennials are arguably more confident, more tolerant, more group oriented, and more civic minded than their boomer parents. That’s obviously all to the good. But they’ve also been tagged with personality traits that, in the main, their far from perfect parents lack, including exceptionally high rates of narcissism, materialism, and entitlement.

Acknowledging Millennials’ emerging impact on society, with attitudes disrupting both the market and the workplace, more and more companies are looking for answers. Fahrenheit 212 asks: What will these future leaders of the business community look like? How will their digital expertise and collaborative sensibility shape corporate and consumer culture? And how should we address their energy, optimism and unique work style in mentoring them to leadership roles?

Our evening began with Fahrenheit 212’s Managing Partner, Pete Maulik, who successfully motivates and leads a host of Millennials, acknowledging their “desire to challenge every aspect of their lives, including work, which of course can be tough on large corporations”. Thus the catalyst for Fahrenheit to host Applied Brilliance, and their expertise in creating meaningful conversations, and Gen Y expert Nadira Hira.

Nadira was introduced by Deborah Patton, Founder and Executive Director, Applied Brilliance who’s obviously gifted  at fielding thoughtfully creative and innovative events.

Journalist, editor, curator, Gen Y expert, (and accomplished Millennial herself), Nadira Hira, then presented a pointed commentary on Millennials and their impact, including the sense of unease they can create in boomers. An unease Nadira clearly recognized with her opening admonition, “And, hey, don’t be a hero! Not every Millennial can’t be saved! There are 80 million of us and no doubt there are a few bad apples out there.” (Laughs)

Herewith my notes on Nadira’s list…

The Top Five Complaints With Millennials

#5 – They Always Leave

They can’t sit still, personally or professionally. They aren’t “loyal”. They’re always looking for the next opportunity. They’re just job hoppers.

Ok, yes, they have great expectations. Yes, they’re ambitious and demanding and questioning everything. “But”, as Nadira said,” on examination, even as tenure and retention rates are dropping overall, Millennials are no more or less prone to pick up and leave than the twenty-something’s before them”.

Still the perception exists, and the question is why?

It’s quite true they see work differently. “Millennials don’t see work as a series of steps, a string of titles, salaries, rungs along the ladder…” And they believe they’ll need to make several career changes in their working lives given the nature of work and the job market in the wake of the financial crisis. But that doesn’t mean their hearts aren’t in it.

So encourage, motivate, and empower them, but if and when they leave, “treat them as ambassadors. Because in fact they may come back and because they’re now part of the company’s network, for good or ill, forever. And, because in the end everyone leaves, boomers, Gen Xers, everyone.”

And how they represent you, and your company, on and offline, is important, to them, and perhaps even more so, to you.

#4 – They’re, So, Awkward…

Well yes, but you wouldn’t know how to make eye contact either if you spent the vast majority of your time staring at a screen…and then using increasingly smaller screens to actually talk to and interact with people. Clearly, the Millennials’ tech facility is extraordinary but for some it may very well have created some deficits elsewhere.

“Sure they’re super connected”, says Nadira, “but how connected can you really be when you’re texting, talking, and staring at your smartphone. This activity disconnects us more than we know.”

“We all still need to be social. We are human beings after all. And a lot of Millennials haven’t been through the entire socialization process. So you need to help them through this. But this can be done and this is also how they’ll learn to be leaders; to express themselves; to delegate; to push past the awkwardness…”

Nadira confirms one of my most fervent beliefs: social networks aren’t new, they’re ancient aspects of our humanity. Facebook is new; fine, enjoy. And we all need to work that much harder at remembering to get together in person. IRL.

#3 – They Just Don’t “Get It”!

Where “it” encompasses everything about work.

Nadira once asked a baffled boomer, “How do you tell your Gen Y team what to do? How do you direct them successfully at work?”

Paraphrased boomer speak: “Well, I tell them to stop doing what they’re doing and do what I want them to do, right?”

Uh-uh.

As Nadira makes abundantly clear, Gen Y is also “Gen DBI”, as in “don’t believe it”.

These folks have been so relentlessly over-marketed-to that they take virtually everything with a grain if not a sack of salt. They ask “why?” and, trust me they’re not just making polite conversation, (see # 4 above) they really want to know.

Their information gathering is inherently web based and therefore incredibly wide and remarkably shallow. They swim in oceans of information and clouds of crowd-sourced opinion. They know this and it may explain their urgent need for background and insight; why they all want to understand.

Nadira notes, “Millennials need structure. Direction. It’s critically important to answer their questions; making all the inputs clear in setting goals and expectations. Once this is understood then let them go at it and then measure and review the outcomes and results. Provide insight into their accomplishments. What was achieved and what wasn’t.”

In this respect the group then noted Fahrenheit’s quite innovative “100 Day Plan” which is standard operating procedure for everyone in the firm. These plans manage work streams as they addresses individual growth and performance by reviewing what been accomplished in the last 100 days; setting goals for the next 100 days; and then assessing achievement, and I believe even adjusting compensation, on consecutive 100-day cycles going forward. Incredibly clear and straight forward.

#2 – They Want “Meaning”…

“Look, Millennials don’t just want to be the boss, they want to contribute. They want to infuse their work, and their lives, with meaning. They want to have an impact.”

This desire, as Nadira made clear and I hesitate to add, is a fundamental and essential boomer creation. (As you sow, so shall you reap!) Millennials, quite justifiably, want to know their Company’s mission and how what they’re being asked to do contributes to achieving it. Not just the numbers but the goals, strategy, and execution that give the company and its employees their shared definition and purpose.

In my experience, the best companies, IBM and UPS, for example, have always known this. They know that if their employees are just going through the motions, if work is just a transaction to pick up a paycheck, the enterprise is at risk; and no amount of strategic excellence or product superiority will carry the day. When people aren’t truly invested there is no upside. We all crave meaning and authenticity, Millennials have just brought our common interest more forcefully to the fore.

In my favorite expression of the evening, Nadira quoted a friend who put it all quite simply, “I want a transparent line of site from my values to the work I do.” That describes an authentic relationship filled with personal meaning and that’s where the upside is.

As Nadira also offered, “And when I know these things then watch my dust ‘cause I’m really gonna to make things happen.”

And, now, drum roll please…

#1- They’re So Entitled!!

Millennials are spoiled and self-centered. What else would you expect from these “Trophy Kids” who’ve been rewarded all their lives for simply showing up?

“Ok”, says Nadira nodding, “but not so fast”.

“Yes, they want success. Everyone wants success but they want it differently and maybe they want it more. And it’s not just about being number one. True, Millennials don’t follow the script that work means an office, success is measured by your salary…”

“They’re pushing back on the scripts; and yes, some are saying that’s not for me.” Nadira spoke about a friend of hers who “turned down the opportunity to become a partner” because it wasn’t him and authenticity is the ultimate goal. Being true to one’s self. “Getting to be who I am. Comfortable in my own skin. Being myself…”

“Ok, is that entitled? Well, gee I don’t know. Isn’t that a pretty good definition of a leader? Authentic and self-aware? Personal clarity on who I am and where I’m headed? Isn’t that the quality that most inspires other people? And isn’t that how innovators operate? I think so and I say go to it; go get it; be yourself, and keep pushing for it.”

Meet these Millennials – Grace, Max, and Sean

Deborah then introduced a live three person Millennial panel of Grace, Max, and Sean and posed a business case for their consideration. This featured a firm suffering a communication breakdown between its boomer partners and Millennial directors.

“How”, Deborah asked, “do you reconcile one group’s focus on results with the other’s search for the back-story? PowerPoint with more in-depth meaning and understanding? The collective versus command and control? And how do you bridge the digital and cultural divide to get both halves to actually work better together?”

Grace works in a design firm evenly divided between boomer leadership and Gen X/Y designers and staff. Max is the digital lead in a four-person start-up facing off daily with three never-in-doubt boomers. And Sean is a first year addition to a corporate law firm. They all work in Manhattan and have come by their quite telling observations the hard way, on the job. Accordingly, let them speak for themselves…

Grace

“My biggest challenge in working with boomers is I’m a peer on Monday because of something I’ve accomplished and then back down two levels on Tuesday. It’s either one or the other, like a yo-yo, nothing in the middle and it’s quite  frustrating…”

“Gen X is easier to work with, yes, (laughs) they’re far more accommodating, seeking a  middle ground. They’re often the peacemakers, like the middle child in the family.”

Max

“The issue for me in dealing with boomers is the level of confidence and extreme certainty they bring to everything.”

“In our start up, however, there are a number of digital or web related things that we need to do that they know they simply can’t do without me; without what I know. They just don’t know what I know and I think this can create a lot of tension, and often friction.” (Laughter)

“And typically, in the end, we proceed with my solution as originally proposed.” (Laughter)

“We all just want to be viewed as peers; everyone wants to be noticed and recognized for what they can do…”

Sean

“I don’t want to be a peer thank you very much. I’m quite happy to be a first year. I’ve got enough on my plate.” (Laughs)

“Look, I work hard but I also like to check my Gmail. (Laughs) I mean I did this all the way through law school. I work hard but I’ve always done it while taking breaks. But you know, searching your email during work could be frowned on. But why, as long as the work gets done?! I mean see boomers take calls from their kids and check their Blackberries incessantly, right?” (Laughter)

“You’re judged at work of course. You get judged, and you can get pigeon holed; so you spend time covering up…And then you have to consider how you say something as much as what you’re saying and how it will be received…”

Sean concluded, “My single biggest issue is being able to be my authentic, whole self at work…” At which point he and everyone in attendance sat and paused for a moment. And I wondered how many people face the same or similar issues; and just how many managers are working hard at helping their employees succeed, by becoming their best selves?

A thought-leadership advisory, Applied Brilliance promotes insight, creativity, and innovation through systems-thinking solutions and dynamic conversations that help individuals and organizations see the future and plan for change.

Fahrenheit 212 is an innovation consultancy based on a unique philosophy and process called “Money & Magic”; fusing creativity and commercial acumen to create big, compelling innovations that ignite and align the unmet needs of the consumer with the strategic, operational, and financial needs of the company.

image credit: https://www.experience.com

Copyright Lou Killeffer February 2014 All rights reserved.

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How Companies Pursue GreatnessLou Killeffer is a Principal with Five Mile River Marketing. A versatile marketing strategist, Lou’s passion for communications and innovation has made him a trusted advisor to some of the world’s most enduring businesses and brands, from AT&T to UPS, where he helps enterprises embrace change, look ahead, and focus on sustaining success.

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