Why Restless Millennials Lose Out in the Workplace

Young smiling woman in a business suit. Isolated on white background

Society has sold the Millennials a bill of goods. They’ve been told that they’re special. They’ve been told that their influence will run the world. They’ve been told that work should fit into the rest of their lives. For the statistically insignificant few, this all may be true. But for the other 99%, becoming special will requires hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, and more than a bit of luck.

I am both amused and saddened every time I see the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Serge Brinn and Marissa Mayer on the covers of Fortune, Forbes and Time. These individuals are remarkable, but they are also anomalies. Even with their hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance, they happened to be in the right place at the right time. At one point or another, every one of them has admitted as such.

But here’s the thing – When an ambitious twenty-two year-old sees an image of these tech titans, he or she is inclined to think, “Wow! He’s 32, I’m 22. That gives me ten years to get there. But I’m not going to do it by working in this lowly job.” And so the restlessness begins. Many in every generation enter the workplace with that kind of exuberance. But any seasoned contributor will tell you that success is the product of grit, strategy and patience. That doesn’t mean you need to wait six years to get promoted, but you do need to wait six months.

Yes, a degree of impatience keeps you motivated. But when it drives you to jump jobs, strike out on your own prematurely or cut corners, the success is liable to take longer. Malcolm Gladwell and others have written about the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert. Whether it takes ten thousand, eleven thousand or nine thousand, it takes more time than many Millennials think they have.

Then, of course, there is the structure of most organizations. As much as much of society has come to believe in the benefits of an egalitarian way of working, most businesses remain meritocracies. That means lots of people at the bottom and fewer and fewer opportunities as you rise within the firm. There’s only so much room.

Finally, there’s perception. More than one Millennial has shown up on day one with a belief that he or she is just humoring the boss by doing the grunt work. They “know” that within six months their brilliance will have earned them a place “at the table.” But having experienced the same desires decades before, seasoned managers recognize impatience when they see it and are likely to dismiss this behavior as immaturity than as a new brand of acumen. Millennials who are perceived as restless and impatient do themselves a disservice.

So what’s the wisdom here? Number one, act strategically. Get to know lots of people, not for the purpose of positioning yourself, just for developing relationships. Do this face-to-face. Arrive five minutes before the meeting. Hang around a bit afterward. Shake hands, make eye contact, remember names, ask questions and listen three times as much as you talk. Be genuine. Seasoned contributors can detect a “positioner” a mile off. After a while you’ll be come known. When you are invited to the table, observe. Opportunities to participate will come over time.

Number two, be curious. Asks lots of questions. Know more about the organization than the people around you. Connect with people in other departments and get to know what they do. Read industry blogs and magazines. Read the Wall Street Journal, even if you’re three thousand miles from New York. Know how your employer compares to its competitors. Know how the industry is evolving. Become a student of the business you’re in. Moral? People who ask intelligent and thought provoking questions get noticed by those who count.

The days of waiting ten years to get promoted are long gone. The era of the six-month promotion is never going to arrive. Strategy and curiosity always win the day.

The Big Difference Between I Would and I Will

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Over the years, I’ve presented several hundred case studies for discussion in the sessions I conduct. The thing that fascinates me is the way that participants in those case studies tell me, and the group, what they would do instead of actively participating in the role-play. But telling everyone what you would do is not the same as doing it. Inevitably, I have to stop them and say, “Wait a minute. Don’t tell me what you would say. Say it. What are the exact words you would use?” That’s where it gets awkward, and where the learning really takes place.

The same thing is true in real life. It’s easy to offer an opinion of what you would do. But dealing with the angry customer, troublesome employee, or difficult colleague is a whole different matter. Over the years, I’ve been faced with a host of these situations, just like anyone else. I’ve discovered that the key to a successful outcome is rehearsal. Don’t just think about what you’re going to say. Rehearse it out loud to a friend, spouse, colleague or whomever is willing to play along. This gives you the chance to refine the words and clarify your desired outcome. It ensures that you are not derailed by the other person’s comments or reactions.

The worst thing in the world is confronting a difficult situation and hearing the wrong words coming out of your mouth because you didn’t prepare. Have you lost a customer due to a slip of the tongue? Have you been out-argued by an employee you know is working the system? Have you been talked out of firing someone by the person being fired? Yeah, me too.

The difference between I would and I will costs time, treasure and reputation. Isn’t it worth a few extra minutes to prepare?

Do These Things to Manage Impatient Decisions

I watched a young restaurant manager “handle” a frustrated couple the other night. I say “handled,” because that’s the way I would have felt. They were waiting for their food when I was seated. It still hadn’t arrived by the time mine did. Finally, they summoned the server who summoned his manager. She arrived with a look on her face that said, “I’m going to resolve this fast because it’s a busy night with a 45 minute wait.” She asked how she could help, but then summed up their complaint before they could even explain it. “Sorry about the wait,” she said. “The kitchen’s backed up. We appreciate your patience.” Then, turning to the server, “Give’m a couple of free desserts.” And she was gone in a flash. I would have gotten up right then. They left after the server had disappeared into the kitchen.

So, let’s see . . a $60 check . . alienated customers who won’t be back . . do that three times a night . . three nights a week . . 52 weeks a year . . . that’s 9 X $60 X 52 or $28,080 . . those customers would have come in four times a year . . that $112,320 in lost revenue. Hmmmm. If this young manager had taken a breath and harnessed her impatience, her decision making would have saved the situation rather than driving the customers away.

The truth is we’ve all been in situations like this. We feel pressure. We just want to make a decision and solve the problem. But we’ve also done the same damage as this woman by acting with impatience. So what do you do? Here are six quick steps that will ensure a better outcome, even in a pressure-filled environment.

Take stock of the situation – Before responding, take 30 seconds to consider what could be happening and what your options might be. This woman knew the kitchen was backed up. Chances are the customers had not gotten their entrees. She could have considered her options – a round of drinks? Comped meals? Free desserts? A coupon for next time?

Ask for a few details. Rather blurting out what she thought the problem was, she should have asked how she could help. This would have given the couple a chance to express their irritation. From this response, she would have been able to judge how irritated they actually were. Besides, everyone wants to be heard. Cutting them off made matters worse.

If you need time to think, excuse yourself. If there is a more complicated issue than you anticipate, you can excuse yourself to consult with a colleague, a supervisor, or just to gather your thoughts. In this case, that wasn’t really necessary, but the option is there.

Test the waters. Rather than pronouncing a fix, pose a possible solution or even a couple. What do the other parties to the situation think? In this case, the manager might have asked what the couple would like to see happen. Again, customers like to be shown courtesy, respect, and even a bit of control. An alternative would have been to offer a couple of options. “I am so sorry about the wait. Would you like another round of drinks? Perhaps desserts afterwards?” and see what they say.

Sum up your decision or the outcome. Once a resolution had been determined, the manager should have said, “So what we’re going to do is buy you a round of drinks and provide you with a free entrée the next time you come in. Thanks again for your patience.” This way she would have ensured that everyone was in agreement and the customers satisfied.

Finally, remember why you took the time. Once the decision has been made and the situation resolved, take a few seconds to critique what happened. What worked? What didn’t work? What did the customers share about their concerns that she could have learned from? How can she prevent this from happening again? What were the rewards for slowing a bit and acting with deliberation?

Patience always wins out over rushing to resolve a problem, even in the midst of a busy restaurant with a buried kitchen. You can do the same.

The Millennials are NOT taking over!

In a Linked-in article this past week, the author claimed that by 2025 the Millennial generation will represent 75% of the US workforce. This is simply not true. It’s not the first time, I’ve seen some exaggerated statement about how the “next great generation” is taking over. In fact, the estimates seem to get higher by the month. Having spent the past 20 years researching generational demographics and characteristics, this makes me a little nuts. So let’s set the record straight once and for all, at least in round numbers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there will be approximately 164 million members of the civilian workforce in 2020. (It hasn’t published an estimate for 2025.) According to the US Census, the Millennial generation resulted in 81 million births. (1981-1999) Now, we could add to this number those who have immigrated to the US, legally or illegally, who are this same age. Then we need to subtract Millennials who have died, are serving in the military, along with those who have never entered the workforce or who have left for a variety of reasons. (I could spend a few days with government estimates and my calculator, but you get the point.)

But, if we generously assume that all members of the Millennial generation have joined the workforce (81 million) and we even add ten percent (8.1 million) to this number due to immigration, that gives us with a total of 89 million members in the civilian workforce in present terms. Of course, this number will diminish over the next five years due to deaths and those who leave for other reasons. So if seventy-five percent of the 2020 estimate of 164 million is 123 million, that will leave us with a gap of at least 34 million. Hmmm . . .

We have all seen a continual stream of stories coming out of the media, consulting firms, and independent writers claiming that the Millennials are taking over and the rest of us should step out of the way and learn from these digital wizards. Some of these are written by Millennials who happily believe all this clap-trap. So why don’t we all take a deep breath and embrace a little perspective. The Baby Boomers and Xers have a lot to learn about Millennial learning styles, desired approaches to work, and attitudes about life in general. But the same should be said of the Millennials. Enough with the wild-ass estimates and claims. Let’s just get to work.

Engaging Today’s Young Consumers On-Line

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If there is one universal way to engage today’s emerging generation of consumers, it is thru technology. While this may appear obvious, the subtleties of doing so are more elusive. Regardless of the platform, there are five characteristics that all electronic marketing efforts share if they are to be successful with young buyers:

Informal personalization – Emerging consumers have come of age immersed in a world that treats them impersonally. After all, who knows their neighbors anymore? But on the Internet, the sites they visit address them by name, if they have been willing to share that name on a previous visit. If they are willing to embrace this kind of relationship with other sites, it is incumbent upon you and your organization to do the same. Remember the old saying? The most important word to anyone is their own first name. You don’t need anything other than a first name and a valid e-mail to begin. The rest will come as the relationship evolves.

Relevant content – The old saying “sell the sizzle, not the steak” is counterintuitive for engaging emerging consumers. Successful marketers have discovered that value offered up front is the most effective way to establish a relationship with those in this young generation. Whether it’s an excerpt of a book, a free upgrade on a product, the latest issue of an electronic magazine, or something else of perceived value, young visitors expect to walk away with value every time they visit a site.

Retailer Amazon.com and others have mastered the art of suggestive selling by matching visitors’ navigation through the site with the electronic data they gather using cookies and other applications. While no one is advocating the surreptitious use of this technology, research indicates that emerging consumers are accepting of this practice provided it moves the relationship forward in a productive way. How can you accomplish this in your marketing and service efforts?

Intuitive navigation – Call it the Amazon.com effect. Granted Amazon has hundreds of programmers working 24-7 to make sure you not only find what you need but also what you don’t know you need. Suggestive selling used to consist of “Would you like fries with that?” Amazon.com, and other organizations like it, have taken this to an entirely new level. You, on the other hand, may be your organization’s webmaster, top salesperson and chief custodian. Unfortunately emerging consumers do not draw that distinction. That said, development of intuitive navigation takes little more than being able to place yourself in the users’ minds and create a system that most visitors would be able to understand with little effort. Then observe people navigating the site and modify the navigation that they find difficult. Remember, this is not about engineering. It’s about common sense and logic.

Entertainment/stimulation – With the introduction of YouTube and a number of similar sites, young consumers are expecting a bit of humor, fascination or wonder with every message. One community college, for instance has developed a cartoon character that walks students through the registration process. Another organization has a site filled with individuals that narrate the visitor’s path through the offerings available. Mouse over an icon and up pops a person to provide a whimsical explanation of the product.

The key are engagement and instant gratification. Remember, emerging consumers are texting their friends, surfing the TV, participating in a conversation, listening to their favorite music, and oh, by the way, searching your site for what they need. You got that?

Speed – If it takes more than three seconds to load whatever you’re providing to a visitor, you are probably toast. The multi-channeling mind has little, if any, patience for the concept of “buffering.” Granted, both you and they can be uploading and downloading on a fiber-optic T-1 line, but it’s still you’re fault if they see nothing but an hourglass toppling end-over-end. Solutions? Smaller pictures. Fewer effects. More engaging content and less complicated pizzazz that loads before the meat of the message. Streaming video? Sure, but cut your clip length by two thirds and reduce the size of the image. Remember, if you’re buffering, you’re beaten.

If your efforts are to be successful in tomorrow’s “big click,” among emerging consumers, you need to begin today to engage them through the technology that dominates their everyday lives.

A Lack of Information But a Strong Opinion

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I was conversing with a colleague about his adult daughter. He explained a debate they had had about a certain social issue. While he kept arguing from a broader context, she was focused on the report she had heard on the radio that morning. The more he insisted there was nuance to the issue, the more she focused on the conclusions she had drawn based on two minutes of “news.” They finally agreed to disagree. He paused after describing all this and lamented, “She has a lack of information, but a strong opinion.”

This has made me wonder how many of us suffer from this affliction. We are bombarded with data and viewpoints from sources desired and undesired. There is a good deal of evidence the Millennial generation develops its views of political and social issues based on trending Twitter stories, Facebook posts, and information gathered from conversations with others who do the same. Older generations struggle to digest the constant news feed crawling across the bottom of most TV screens. The stakes are high. We elect policy makers, care for our children, contribute to causes, and make other life altering decisions based on this fire hose of “helpful” insights.

So how do smart decision makers manage this? They take time. They filter. They withhold judgment. In this impatient world, there is an insistent demand to express an immediate opinion because everyone else seems to be doing so. Smart decision makers resist these temptations. They say, “That’s an interesting issue,” or “I don’t know,” or “Let me get back to you.” When they do take a position, it is well organized, cogent, and reflects the larger context. How about you?

Would You Want Austin on Your Team?

Austin is a shift manager at my local McDonalds. Over the past few months, I have watched with a bit of fascination as he deftly supervises a wide range of ages and personalities. Employees accept his instructions with good nature and will own up to a mistake when he calls them on it. It is very evident that he is in charge, yet fair and professional. He knows how to give both compliments and criticisms with positive effect.

But here’s the thing — Austin is 18! He’s a senior in high school! Last week, I pulled him aside for a few minutes and asked where he learned all this. “My parents, mostly,” he said. “And I’ve had some good coaching from the owners.” I asked him to explain further. “From my parents, I’ve gotten a good work ethic and set of values about contributing to the organization,” he said. “My manager has been good about giving me specific instructions on how to handle people . . what to do, what not to do and how to avoid being manipulated by those who are just clocking hours. It took some time, but I’ve gotten the hang of it.”

I asked him about dealing with people three times his age. “I make a point of getting to know them and showing I care,” he said. They’re just here to make some money and keep busy. There’s nobody on a power trip. I think they’re even a little fascinated that I’m so young. The people my age are more likely to challenge me, but we’re work it through and I stick to my expectations. I make mistakes, but I’m learning.”

How refreshing! As much as we lament the lazy distracted ways of some Millennials, Austin is a great example of how bright the future can be. Whether he chooses a career with McDonalds or someplace else, he’s going to be successful. Interestingly, he attributes his work ethic and values to parenting. We can certainly use more of that in today’s disparate society. After all, the members of every emerging generation learn from the environments in which they come of age.