Aug 2017 by Heather L. Cole, Executive Coach
As a business owner and executive coach with an emphasis on IT and Finance, I have found myself puzzled by the experiences I have had and heard of regarding Millennials. Their behavior shocks me and makes me laugh, because as a Gen Xer, I couldn’t image doing the things they do. I really struggled understanding Millennials.
Over the last year, I have immersed myself into the world of Millennials to understand what at times appears to be a foreign species. Prior to understanding Millennials, my interactions left me having thoughts like:
- Seriously, what are they thinking?
- Don't they have any common sense?
- Why do they act so entitled?
- Don't they understand how the business world works?
- Didn't their parents teach them anything?
- How many Millennials does it take to screw in a light bulb? (This was a real news story in Denver this summer.)
I WAS WRONG!
So, after months of research and interaction with Millennials, what I have learned is I was all WRONG!!!! Yes, Millennials are different but the secret to working with Millennials is understanding Millennials and how they are wired. By understanding Millennials, we can leverage their creative minds and resourcefulness in ways we never dreamed of.
Do Millennials Lack Common Sense?
A couple years ago I hired Mike, (not his real name) a Millennial to be a junior consultant. Mike interviewed great, had a great academic record, and I was excited about him joining our team. We start all our team members with a 90-day plan where they go through training to learn the technology, they have books to read that help them understand our culture and he excelled through the material. The next step was for him to shadow Suzanne, one of our senior consultants.
Prior to his first day at the client, Suzanne called him and explained that they would be meeting with the CFO of a large, international company, and that she would be leading a discovery session; he just needed to watch listen, learn and take notes. The meeting was to start at 8:30 am sharp. At noon the day of the meeting I receive an urgent call from Suzanne, who is the ultimate professional, “Oh My God, Heather. He showed up at 8:30 in cargo pants and running shoes, walked into the room full of people and announced that he needed to grab a cup of coffee and he wanted us to wait for him. “ No I am not making this up. This really happened.
My response was, “Didn’t his mother teach him anything? Doesn’t he have common sense?” I didn’t get it at the time. It’s taken me a couple years, a lot of research and interviewing of Millennials and their managers, but I get it now! Understanding Millennials is game changing.
Maybe you may have noticed a lot more press on Millennials. Even Inc.com is writing articles like "How to Teach Your Millennial Employee Common Sense." Now, I'll share what I have discovered in my search to understand Millennials.
Common Sense is the ability to perceive, understand and judge things that are shared by nearly all people. But what is the definition of “all people?” We already know Millennials are wired differently than Gen Xers and Boomers. Maybe, what is perceived and understood by Millennials is different! Maybe they have common sense, but as defined by a Millennial. Wow, instead of the Millennials lacking common sense, maybe we just have a difference in expectations and understanding. Think about it, it's not really any different than if I went overseas to a country where women typically wear long dresses and I showed up in shorts and running shoes. You know, the “ugly American” stereotype.
So what is the solution to this problem? It’s quite simple, setting expectations in advanced. Leave nothing out! If our 90-day on-boarding program had a consulting 101 program that set expectations of dress code, showing up early, having your computer booted and being ready to start at the start time, not just showing up at the start time, do you think Mike would have had an issue following the rules?
I know you are thinking, “Do I really have to babysit them?” The answer is if initially you spend the time clearly setting all expectations, you will start to build the trust you need to develop the loyal employee you desire. According to the Forbes article, “Common Sense the Key To an Empowered Workplace”, leaders must over-communicate. They must be, “clear and unafraid to reinforce messages time and time again." Leaders must hold people accountable. But most of all, leaders need to surround themselves with people they don’t have to manage.
But let’s not stop there! My experience has been that if we had set expectations for our Millennial Mike, he might have responded by saying, “Why?”
Understanding Millennial's "Why?"
Millennials often ask, "why," when given a task or assignment. When I first experienced this my gut response was, “just do as you are told.” I thought the Millennial, “why,” was their way of questioning my authority. I got defensive. But then I noticed a trend. Millennials ask, "why," all the time. I started to ask myself why are they asking why?
You see Gen Xers and Boomers were raised to respect authority and do what we were told. We believe we needed to do our time in the business world before we could start asking why. But Millennials were raised believing they really can make an immediate difference in the world. They were raised with technology. Millennials don’t know life before the internet. They know apps and software can make life easier and they always take the easy way out.
As I talked to Millennials I learned they were asking why because they really wanted to understand the purpose behind their work. They need to know what they are doing means something. Millennials also want to see if there’s an easier way. They want to leverage technology to increase productivity.
This revelation was mind blowing! Here I was thinking the Millennials were being disrespectful and challenging my authority when they just wanted to understand their value and share their thoughts to be more productive.
Understanding Millennial's Why & Leverage It
I have spoken with many executives about their Millennial issues. I’ve found they are eager to share their experiences and are actively looking for understanding. The stories have been amazing and I will continue to share them in future blogs. You can’t make this sh*t up. Here are my thoughts on three things you can do today to begin understanding Millennials.
First, I want to challenge you to look at things from different perspectives so that you can understand, attract and retain the amazing minds of Millennials.
- Remember their definition of common sense is different than ours. Clearly articulate your expectations as if Millennials were from a foreign country whose culture is very different than ours, because their culture is different.
- When they as,k “Why”, don’t get defensive. Instead appreciate they are trying to understand how they fit into the organization. Acknowledge that they may have some very creative ideas on how to increase productivity.
- Watch what happens when you listen to their ideas! It’s like giving a wilting plant miracle grow. In time they really start to bloom to be assets to the organization.
Want to Learn More about the Art of Understanding Millennials?
Millennials are currently the largest generation in our workforce. You may think you don’t need to deal with it and they just need to suck it up. Well you need to understand that this massive generation will change how we work, think and collaborate. The Boomers are retiring and by 2025 Millennials will make up 75% of our US workforce. Not only will they dominate the employee ranks, they will also be the people buying our goods and services. By ignoring Millennials, you will be jeopardizing your organization's future! But don’t worry, I am here to help you learn what I learned the hard way.
As an executive coach, I feel it is my duty to help every organization create a Millennial friendly culture. I have created two Millennial training programs to help you. One has an IT focus and one has a Finance focus, because those are my worlds. If you are not in IT or Finance, no worries, I promise you will learn something you can leverage immediately to attract, understand, retain and inspire top Millennial talent.
The future of your business may depend on understanding Millennials.
Register Now for a Complimentary Understanding Millennial Training
For more information and to register for one of my training sessions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are serious about addressing the Millennial issue in your organization, I host on-site workshops to create a roadmap customized for your organization.
If you have a great Millennial story please reach out to me, I would love to hear it and share ideas how you can handle the situation. Email me at email@example.com.