Years ago, when I started seeing all these articles popping up about Millennials and their unique traits, I usually would just roll my eyes. That was before I started managing a team of them. Then I did start to encounter some challenges that took me by surprise. Every individual is different, but any group of people that grows up under similar cultural circumstances is going to have some things in common. Don’t get me wrong—there are many positives, and I have even noticed that Millennials are outselling more seasoned sales partners.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about effectively communicating with Millennial employees to get them on board with what you’re trying to accomplish:
• Give them the numbers. Millennials have a strong sense of what they think is “fair” in the workplace. They believe that if their boss tells them to take steps one through four and they take those steps as asked, they should receive a reward or promotion, regardless of the actual result achieved. I have learned it’s very important to set quantitative goals rather than simply give direction, so they learn it’s not enough to “follow the recipe.”
I also take care to explain how those goals contribute to our business goals as a company. For example, we’ll need a certain number of marketing leads to convert to opportunities in order for our sales team to meet their goals for the quarter. I give our marketing team a minimum number of leads they are expected to bring in per quarter, and I also show them how those leads translate into closed business. Now they not only understand what they need to do, but why. They also understand that no matter how much time they spend writing e-mail drips or designing beautiful landing pages, none of that matters if they don’t help the organization close business. And when they do achieve those goals, they can feel great knowing they contributed to real revenue and real results.
• Take suggestions without taking offense. Millennials grew up learning not to fear authority, but to speak to everyone as an equal, no matter what their age or station in life. They also grew up reading about lots of modern business success stories from Silicon Valley. Accordingly, my Millennial reps will have no qualms about marching into my office and telling me that I (or we as an organization) are going about something in the wrong way because Joe Hoodie made a billion dollars with his app by doing something cutting-edge like incorporating virtual reality. They jump from an idea to a positive outcome, which would be profit for the company. The idea and the result are the bookends, but to understand business, you need to understand the investment, rationale, opportunity cost, etc., that have to come in between. They do not understand failure, which has less to do with being “Millennials” than simply being young and inexperienced.
It might be easy at first to be annoyed or even to take offense and remind the employee that Mr. Hoodie had millions in investment capital and zero customers to satisfy! But take a breath and realize that it comes from a good place—they are trying to help improve the company. Some of their ideas will be good ones, so keep an open mind. Be sure to tell them when they have good suggestions and try to implement them whenever possible.
• Show rather than tell. Of course, not all of your employees’ ideas will be relevant or realistic. I would suggest that you be knowledgeable about the business world (because they are), and be prepared to engage them in conversation about why these ideas may not work. Rather than simply telling them what you think, try to give them real examples from your company and get them to critically think about what it would take to solve those challenges with their proposed method. The best way to prove your own case is with results, so if you’re doing something a certain way, the best way to get buy-in is to show them that it works.
• Keep it short. Keep formal meetings and trainings to a necessary minimum. Attention spans have drastically shortened over the last 15 years, and younger employees are hard-pressed to pay attention to anything longer than a few minutes before they start zoning out. Thirty-minute meetings are a drag when you think about what you can accomplish on your phone in three minutes! When you do have in-person meetings, make sure every minute is well used. I find layering lots of unscheduled one-on-one informal time is a much more effective way to give and get the information needed to run your business. Why schedule an Outlook event when I can just stop by for a quick five-minute chat in which I can find out how your weekend was and also ask how your pipeline report is coming?
• Build relationships. Your best employees are being recruited by other organizations as we speak. Social media has become a great vehicle for people to brand themselves as professionals and for recruiters to find them through a simple keyword search. Often, those other companies will come along with competitive salary and benefit offers, but one thing they cannot match is the relationship you have built with the employee. If you have established yourself as a fair manager who listens, communicates openly, invests in his or her development, and respects the employee as an equal, that other company is going to have to work a lot harder to steal that employee away.
Tom Silk left the mortgage industry to join WorkStride as its first salesperson in 2000. He proved instrumental in the early success of the company, bringing on customers such as Pepsico, Samsung, and Verizon Wireless as the company built up its recognition and incentive software offering. In 2004, Silk was promoted to vice president of Sales and Marketing, heading up a nationwide partner network and taking over digital marketing activities for the company.
Today, Silk is executive vice president of WorkStride, having facilitated the company’s sale to The Riverside Company in 2012. He has expanded the sales team to include both channel partners and in-house representatives, built a marketing team, and formed distribution partnerships for the WorkStride software platform. Under his leadership, the company has grown from a small start-up to serve more than 100 corporate customers, including several Fortune 500 companies. Silk has a BS in accounting from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.