You may have read the facts:
83 million millennials are in the United States. That’s 36% of our workforce today and 75% by 2025.
How do we best connect with this next generation?
How do we attract and retain them?
What’s the best way to care about their success?
Dan Negroni’s new book, Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage, and Maximize Next-Generation Leaders in the Workplace, tackles the challenge. Dan is the CEO of launchbox, an attorney, a sales and marketing executive, and an expert on the millennial generation. I recently asked him about his work empowering the next generation.
Understand the Generational Divide
Is today’s generational divide greater than the ones that have come previously?
Yes, the difference surrounds how this generation was raised versus others. The first difference is technology. The rapid change in it and the connectivity in the world and dynamics of social media have changed the nature of who we are and how we interact. We have focused less on the interpersonal and more on the phone or device as a means of communication together with the immediacy of action. This generation wants action and now. Millennials are not schooled in relationship-building skills, so they are not wired to connect. This is the biggest difference. Instead of dealing with the differences, we are just complaining that millennials are not good enough.
The biggest gap involves perspective and myths. Each side is completely steeped in their views that the other perspective is flawed. For example:
Do the following statements about millennials ring mostly true or mostly false?
- They have a sense of entitlement, and expect everything now!
- They’re lazy and don’t want to work hard like we did; work/ life balance is more important than hard work.
- They are disloyal and jump ship if they are not engaged or growing.
- They need feedback all the time, 24/7/365. (“Please tell me how great I am. Every day. Twice.”)
- They have different career goals from non-millennials.
- They want everything digital.
- They don’t deal well with authority.
Here’s the answer: It was a trick question.
All these are true . . . and false . . . and none of that matters. They are assumptions—myths, really—and there is no right or wrong when it comes to them. That’s because while myths, assumptions, stereotypes—whatever you want to call them—may be false as blanket statements (“all Americans are overweight” and “all fashion models are anorexic”), they come from a place of partial truth (more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight and many models are unrealistically thin). But who wants to be viewed through the lens of myths like these?
Consider the quiz from the other side. Do the following statements about non-millennial managers ring mostly true or mostly false?
- They obey the Golden Rule: “I’ve got the gold, I make the rules!”
- They are only in it for the money.
- They are inflexible and don’t like change; they’re stuck in their ways.
- They are so not tech savvy.
- They don’t care about their teams or people.
- They are “hard graders” and couldn’t care less about recognizing others.
- They are afraid of nontraditional approaches.
- They are willing to trade the pursuit of true passion for stability.
If you are a non-millennial manager, does this sound like you? Or sound like how you want to be perceived in this world? Well, these are the things most millennials say about us. How much is true? Not much. Just as you are guilty of creating myths that lead to disconnect and frustrations with millennials, they are guilty of perpetuating myths about you.
Work from the Inside-Out
What do you mean when you say to “work from the inside out?”
The secret to job and life satisfaction is internal self-awareness and growth. Youth in general is a time where, if we can understand ourselves, we can start to create a journey to build great careers and lives. Millennials in particular require training on how to understand and accomplish learning about themselves to impact the world. We believe the secret to success is predicated on understanding yourself to impact others, and they need help to learn how to engage themselves in the world and subsequently to create a talent and career track. If we can have them connect to their inside motivation and goals, we can universally have them succeed along their journey.
Bust Millennial Myths
Why are there so many “myths” about the millennial generation?
The point is, millennials are probably everything and nothing we say about them.
- Entitled, lazy, and won’t do what they’re told? In a poll of 5,000 workers by Jennifer Deal of the Center for Creative Leadership and Alec Levenson of the University of Southern California, 41% of millennials agreed that, “Employees should do what their manager tells them, even when they can’t see the reason for it,” compared with 30% of baby boomers and 30% of Gen Xers.
- Aren’t competitive? The Economist cites research by CEB, a consulting firm that polls 90,000 American employees each quarter, that 59% of millennials say competition is what gets them up in the morning, which is much more than the percentage of baby boomers or Gen Xers who say that about competition.
- Only communicate digitally? That study by Jennifer Deal and Alec Levenson showed that more than 90% of millennials surveyed want face-to-face feedback and career discussions.
- Jump ship and are not committed for the long-term, or really any term? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker stays at a job 4.4 years, and, yes, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers, 91% of millennials expect to stay less than three. But beware of averages: Millennials may find it normal to job-hop faster than any previous generation, but when they find the right opportunity, they actually are more loyal than the previous generation. The CEB study showed millennials put future career opportunity among their top five reasons for choosing a job, again ahead of other generations.
Simply put, when it comes to millennials, most of us have no idea what to believe or do. So we believe and assume the worst. Until we see this, the most powerful myths or assumptions that we have about millennials will continue to negatively impact our attitudes about, perceptions of, and relationships with them.
Get past the myths and realize that individual differences are more important than generational ones. If you make the company and yourself relevant to millennials, they will make the company and you relevant to the market.
Talk about personal responsibility and its importance. My experience is that it’s easy to talk about but harder to implement across a leadership team. How do you get others to truly embrace it?
Great question, how do you motivate people to look at themselves and change if they do not want to take personal responsibility? The answer is it is really difficult to motivate folks to change who do not care. You need to boldly push to see why they should care or what caring will do for them and for others. We try and appeal to those who really care about leading and growing and impacting others. Mostly, if you can get a few on a leadership team to lean in, you can succeed. Those few will push the others toward a culture shift or buy-in, but in the end, you may have to say goodbye to those who are not interested in taking ownership.
How do leaders foster a culture that millennials will love and thrive in?
Managers who want to succeed with millennials need to do and understand the four things in the chart below. Interestingly enough, leaders who manage very well do these four things innately already.
Why are these things key to millennials?
- Capability: Millennials want to learn and grow more than anything else. They want to acquire skills and learn. As a matter of fact Gallup surveyed millennials, and almost 89% of them said they respect and would be loyal to managers who care and teach them skills. Learning equals value, and millennials care greatly about themselves and providing value and being involved. It’s how we raised them.
- Authenticity: Millennials have been bombarded with advertising and information from all angles, and they see through the BS. They want real no-nonsense talk that tells it like it is. They are jaded and see through nonsense. While the most optimistic generation ever, they don’t trust us. As the first generation to do worse than their parents economically, the current state of government and politics and the fact that we tried to cure all their worries without being honest and direct, they want to trust us but have a hard time doing so.
- Feedback: They grew up with constant feedback and a seat at the table, encouraged to ask questions. They are also smarter than we are. They love collaboration, and feedback is critical to authenticity, learning and growing, and all things that build. They want it and need it.
- Purpose: They (millennials) want to do more than work: they want to do good. With a window to the world 24/7, they want to make a difference. Again, they are smarter, and technology has made it easier for them to change it, and so they will do it.
What are some of the frustrations millennials have in the workplace?
Flexible work environments become more critical as technology makes it easier to deliver value from afar and 24/7 for all ages. Millennials have seized upon that opportunity. Their interests are wide and purposeful as we have said, and they do not want to miss a beat or opportunity. They want it all, and the only way we can get that is to be flexible in the workplace. Millennials think it is ridiculous that they be forced to serve time or just be in the office because we were—or we think they should be. They want to create results, and fast. But time is not the only flexibility they need. They also love experiences more than things, including vacation and concert weekends, etc. They want us to be able to pivot on time in the office if they deliver results. They also want collaborative and flexible offices in terms of space.
Yes, it differs from bosses. Bosses’ definition of flexibility is ridiculously different. They have a hard time believing millennials should get perks and a free-flowing, less-structured environment that they never had and don’t understand how the “lack of structure” will work. Traditionally, it is hard for one generation to completely shift and understand how a new generation will make it work with such wildly different treatment. Technology has compounded this issue, and it is a predominant complaint of bosses who universally retrench to the “I had to do it that way so they should too,” or “I did it myself let them figure it out.” Neither position works well.
Connect with Authenticity
Caring. How do you get people to care? Really, sincerely, truly care for others? Can that be taught?
Millennials are not a problem to be solved; they are people to be embraced – full of contradictions just like generations before but with a disruptive power unrivaled by previous generations.
Let’s be honest: What stands in the way of change are people, and too many leaders don’t include themselves as “people,” complicit, let alone responsible, for the gaps between millennials and non-millennials in the workplace. Non-millennials see themselves as above it all. “Millennials are the problem and they should obey my golden rule: I have the gold; I make the rules. If you want my gold you need to follow my rules.”
I agree with that . . . to a point.
I am not about redistribution of wealth or egalitarian management systems, and I don’t want to change who anyone is. I just want us to create an impact and rethink and change the way we work and the rules of the workplace for everyone. I want us all to be the best versions of our- selves, understand what that means, and leverage that to create better workplaces and results, both short and long-term.
I’m not saying millennials aren’t complicit in widening this gap. Of course they are, but let’s be honest: What happens to us is principally because of us—all of us. If we want to get the best from our people, if we are to bridge this gap to create powerful relationships that take advantage of all of our strengths, we must accept that things have changed, but we have not.
So how do we do all that? We work from the inside out.
We must first know, understand, and manage how we are perceived in order to manage others. Understand and enable yourself and you can really, really, really serve others. Trust yourself to be vulnerable, to work on yourself, to relish who you are, and then to share that with the world, and you will create the kind of relationships that deliver value to others and get results.
Simply put, the more you know yourself—truly know and care about yourself—the more you’ll be able to truly know, care about, and connect to the people around you and achieve the relationships you need and want. The good news is only five short steps are required to complete this work.
- Understand the power of RELATIONSHIPS (how you connect)
- Know your STRENGTHS (who you are innately)
- Recognize your SKILLS, PASSIONS, and VALUES (what you know and think of yourself and what you bring to the world)
- Define your PERSONAL BRANDSTAMP (who you are and want to be and how you want to be perceived in the world)
- Develop and deliver your STORY (how you present yourself to the world)
Successfully complete these steps and you will effectively communicate who you really are and articulate your value in order to connect with others on an authentic level to bridge the gap to millennials in the workplace and marketplace.
Chasing Relevance: 6 Steps to Understand, Engage, and Maximize Next-Generation Leaders in the Workplace