vital lessons millennial

3 Vital Lessons from the Pesky Millennial Generation

In 2007, I started speaking about Those Pesky Millennials. It seemed that every business I walked into shared the same great pain:

“No work ethic. Entitled. Pain in the ass. Kids—what’s wrong with them?”

It was the pain du jour. So I added my voice to the choir of help. And what I added distilled down into this: The millennial generation may be a pampered lot, but they have a lot to teach us.

Consider these messages from Gen Why:

They are telling us that we spoiled them and did not prepare them adequately for the workplace.

They are telling us, as digital natives, that technology really has changed and shrunk the world.

Most importantly, they are telling us that a working world of drudgery, exploitation, lacking vision and purpose, working simply for the sake of delayed benefits, simply isn’t going to fly.

Even in 2007, when this generation first hit the working world, they wanted a better reason to work. Their resounding chorus was, “Tell Us Why.”

We have seen so many good examples since 2007: Facebook to Apple to Zappos, Patagonia, and Whole Foods. So why, in 2014, are we still talking about this generation gap?

The reason businesses are struggling is that employers themselves aren’t clear about their purpose. They simply can’t adequately answer the question, “Why?”

Because Baby Boomers are exiting the workplace, and Gen X is taking command. The interesting part is that the people of Gen X, the little generation that could rebel, are taking the same stance as their big brothers and sisters. They are facing the pain with the same scream: “What is wrong with these kids?!”

But the real pain isn’t these kids. The reason businesses are struggling is that employers themselves aren’t clear about their purpose. They simply can’t adequately answer the question, “Why?”

If we consider the soulfulness of our work, and express it from our heart and intellect, this millennial generation will eat out of our hand. Their demand, “Tell Us Why” is a craving for meaning. Show them meaning, and they will clamor to work long and hard. They will scratch and claw to be a part of the vision.

In the last ten years, These Pesky Millennials have grown up. They’ve survived the Great Recession, and they are still beating the same drum.

Their demand, “Tell Us Why” is a craving for meaning. Show them meaning, and they will clamor to work long and hard.

Here are the three big ideas that we can learn from them:

1. Teach Me

Whatever happened to workplace apprenticeship? Somewhere along the way, we assumed that parents and schools were teaching people how to do everything and how to act. When those institutions failed, we stomped our feet and called a whole generation unprepared, entitled idiots. Let’s blame the victim!

As the economic recovery continues, employers actually want fresh young talent—which is good, because there is a lot of it available. But for employers to get the juice from young talent, they must become mentors and teachers. They must show Gen Y how to be a part of their organizations.

Bring back apprenticeship. Develop a real-life, in-depth, meaningful training program, and you’ll see surprising dedication.

For employers to get the juice from young talent, they must become mentors and teachers. Develop a real-life, in-depth, meaningful training program, and you’ll see surprising dedication.

2. Will Work for Vision

It’s true that people move from job to job to job. It is true that people do not see any one business as their lifetime work. There is also the belief that this is the fault of Those Pesky Millennials.

There is a combo learning in this. Assume it is true. Assume that people will live longer and move more often. But rather than complain about the change, make your business a great stop on the way.

First, integrate apprenticeship. Then add a big hairy vision. Those companies that keep people longer, get more dedication, and develop a seamless employee pipeline are the ones that have been able to clarify and communicate a world-changing mission and vision. The bigger the purpose, the better.  Make it real, and make it big enough to capture hearts and minds.

Those companies that keep people longer, get more dedication, and develop a seamless employee pipeline are the ones that have been able to clarify and communicate a world-changing mission and vision.

3. We Are a Tribe

There’s a reason that the lone cubicle is the universally hated symbol of the heinous workplace. Collaboration, cooperation, and connection are the new normal. If you are not creating these qualities in your business, you are destroying the tribe. The truly beautiful thing is that These Pesky Millennials are demanding our humanness. Even in a virtual environment, we can see the vital importance of the tribe.

Often we think that this effort to collaborate and communicate is wasted time. Not so. It is the most important and inspired time we have. So whenever we can, we must do it together and create the necessary space to be more and create more—together.

Collaboration, cooperation, and connection are the new normal. If you are not creating these qualities in your business, you are destroying the tribe.

While we are losing the huge Baby Boom generation in the workplace, we are gaining a more mature Gen Why. Some day we may look back and laugh at how troubled this made us. (Like all those crazy hippies made their parents crazy…)

This is truly the cycle of life: each generation teaching us something new and potentially irritating. This new century is the dawn of so much newness. I say, embrace it! Embrace each other. Get all the good we can, and stop complaining. Look around, find a kid, and embrace Those Pesky Millennials.

 

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Copyright: loganban / 123RF Stock Photo

Ruth spent 25 years in the music industry. In that time she created a $10 mil distribution company where everyone was a contributing partner in the business. After selling that business she became a business coach, speaker, trainer and enthusiast for working with successful entrepreneurs and business leaders who are tired of task and employee management are ready to lead the work revolution. Schwartz chronicles her success in the book, The Key to the Golden Handcuff’s – Stop Being a Slave to Your Business. Tthe book gives entrepreneurs and executives a recipe to create a transparent, open-book company of their own design. Ruth is a member of Toastmasters, the National Speakers’ Association, The International Coach Federation and The Experts Association.

  • Mark Fernandes

    Ruth,
    Thank you so much for your exceptional post; and we couldn’t agree more. Everything you are saying aligns with our findings about Millennials as they have begun to populate our workforce. As a mission-driven, values- based organization, we focus first on the why (our mission / purpose), second on the how (our values) and third on the what (our business proposition or strategie, goals and objectives). While not perfect, our ability to attract, retain, grow and develop our next gen workforce is quite healthy. We do believe they are the changemakers of the future and will leave both our company and the earth as our common home better than they found them.

  • Sue Elliott

    Wonderful, Ruth! Thank you for the reminders about the importance of our “why” — and the importance of communication and collaboration. Love it!

  • http://www.bensimonton.com/ Ben Simonton

    Thanks for your article, Ruth – real clarity on a muddy issue.

    That said, we cannot forget that although Millennials were spoiled by their upbringing and because of it expect more than previous generations, they are still people. People have never changed and still have the same values, the same basic needs, and ~95% are conformists, some more and some less. Because they are the same as us, Millennials are motivated by the same things – the simultaneous existence of autonomy, competence, and relatedness (see Self-Determination Theory). Executives who provide these three to their people can achieve the 500% performance gain (not 5% or 50%, but 500%) Stephen Covey said is possible. I proved it as an executive more than once.

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  • ruthschwartz

    Bravo! I’ve had a couple Millennials thank me. I’ll have them thank you too.

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