Revisiting the Monumental Millennial Strategy

Revisiting the Monumental Millennial Strategy CoverWritten by: Doug Douglas

Transcript of webcast on 6/29/2016

I’m excited about our topic, and hope that you find it useful to your unique situations. The challenge for me, when leading any of these sessions, is that the audience is vastly different. Some are a 1 person HR team unto themselves, and others lead HR for a massive global brand – and then we have everything in between. So finding information and presenting it in a way that is useful to everyone is a daunting task, to say the least.

Several years ago, SHRM approached me about leading a webcast on a topic that people weren’t saying much about, but it was starting to generate some chatter in some circles. Millennials. Baby Boomers were retiring in big numbers, Gen X was active and engaged in the workforce, but people started doing the math and seeing that once the Baby Boomers retired, there weren’t enough Gen X’ers to fill in and there was going to be a gap in our workforce. Younger workers, the Millennials, were being looked at as the solution…but they were a bit different than previous generations.

So they asked me if I can do a webcast on who the Millennials are and what is important to them as they look towards their careers. Now, you need to understand, I hadn’t done research on Millennials. I didn’t have a book out on them. I wasn’t recognized as an expert on Millennials…but this was at the time when no one was really an expert on them. This was early on. The Millennials, for the most part, were in high school or maybe in college at this time. I agreed that I would begin researching the topic and put together a presentation.

What I discovered was that I actually knew this generation much better than I originally anticipated. Before I entered the corporate world, I had been a youth minister for close to 20 years. The kids that I worked with…they were Millennials. So as I researched this generation, I could clearly identify and affirm that the information that I was reading about them was in fact true. And this became something very interesting to me…I was fascinated and really fell in love with the topic.

I led the presentation for SHRM and the audience responded very positively. For the next few years, I was asked to come speak at conferences and events, to write blog posts and articles, and lead other webcasts that focused on Millennials. Eventually, everyone had become an expert on the topic, and a wealth of information was made available for anyone to find online.

So when SHRM approached me recently about leading a new webcast for them, they said they were thinking about Millennials. I felt like that topic had been worn out and examined from every angle…but then I came up with an idea. What if I went back to that original webcast and we evaluated how the information, the recommendations, the characterization, of Millennials actually lined up today. Were we on the mark? Were we way off? Have the Millennials adapted or morphed in some ways after they entered the workforce? Are we believing a myth in some areas where we need to readjust our focus?

So, that is what today’s session is going to cover. Let’s take a look back and see how we measured up, and also identify areas where we can have the most success today on attracting, managing, and retaining a Millennial workforce.

Getting Started…

Millennials have several different labels attached to them as unique identifiers. Gen Y, Gen Next, Echo Boomers, Screenagers, Baby on Board Generation, Facebookers, Net Geners. These are the 80+ million or so people born between 1981 and 2001.

A lot, and I do mean A LOT has been said about Millennials. Some of it accurate, some of it – not so much. It’s a topic of conversation that you’ll hear periodically around the office, and most often it’s not a Millennial talking about it. Is it possible that we are misreading their intentions and ambitions – assuming the worst about them instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt? Quite possibly. But some of the information out there is spot on, so how do you know what to believe…and for the sake of this presentation…how to attract, manage, and retain top Millennial talent.

As I was preparing for this presentation, I came across a piece that I couldn’t pass up. I typically don’t like to simply read to an audience, but this was so thought provoking that I’m willing to risk it. This was written by Erin Heilman for the Baltimore Sun. Listen as she describes and defends being a Millennial to her former employer.

Dear previous employer,

You may think that you have gotten the best of me, but you have not. I am a millennial. You may think that you have put me in a bad spot, but you have not. I am a millennial. You may think that you can threaten me, but I am not afraid. I am a millennial.

I didn’t write this letter on a program that I installed with a disc on my computer, I wrote it on the cloud. I didn’t grow up hungry during the Great Depression, I grew up safe and comfortable. I didn’t walk to school uphill both ways, I took a bus.

I was told from the time I was a baby that I was loved and special. Does this make me a worse person? No, it makes me strong and confident. And you may take my confidence for arrogance, but don’t be confused. I am confident because I have been guided by the teachers, mentors and loved ones in my life. I have studied history, biology, chemistry, writing, algebra, theology, music and social sciences, and I am better for it. I have moved from my hometown to another state, and I am stronger for it. I have met hundreds of people different from myself, and I am wiser for it.

So, when you tell me I can’t work from home; when you tell me I can’t have more time off; when you tell me I’ll only be allowed six weeks of unpaid maternity leave, I’ll tell you good-bye. Because when I grew up, people told me I could be anything. They told me I didn’t have to settle for “good enough.” They told me that there are many opportunities out there, and if I leave a job, another job will be waiting for me where I can be better and stronger.

These are the reasons why I left your company. You view me as difficult, I say I am uncompromising. Maybe you think I am not dedicated because I prefer to go home to my family by 5 p.m. I say I put my family first. The world is changing — not slowly, but quickly.

We are the generation rising. And soon we will be the VPs, the CEOs. And you’ll see a new kind of workplace, where family comes first. Because when you think millennials are the “me” generation, you miss the point. We know there is more to life than work. We know that family and friends, laughter and memories, matter so much more than working until you’re dog tired.

And you may disagree. Of course you do. That’s how you were raised. But this is how I was raised. I love my family. I love my friends. I love my life. I value the time I have away from work. I recognize that hard work will get me far in my career, but I understand the importance of balance and moderation that will lead to a happy life.

So think what you might about millennials. We are the optimistic future. While you ponder the good old days and tell me “that’s what’s wrong with the world today,” I will continue to make the world better.

We are the voices you hear now. We were quiet at first, but we are growing louder, and soon you will hear us shouting from the tops of mountains. As millennials, we fight to make our world fair. We see injustice and we act. We have been raised to know that we matter; each life matters. We demand better care, better government, better education, better technology, better food and better working conditions. And you will fade and we will brighten as your generation did in your time. Now it is our time.

Watch me. I will rise to a new height. I am a millennial.

As we begin this session, let’s go back and look at the top 3 points made regarding Millennials from several years back and see if the points ended up being true or false.

Flashback Point #1 – Technology

In my original webcast, a major point that I made was that Millennials were the first generation to grow up with a computer available to them every day of their lives. As a result, the online world has influenced this generation greatly – molded their thinking and actions, shaped the way that we communicate with each other, and how they considered the parameters or limits of their career options.

As we consider this point through the lens of today, there is no doubt that technology has been the single biggest influence on their expectations, behaviors, and level and methods of communication.

  • No longer do they only have to consider local jobs or move.
  • No longer do they check the want ads in the local newspaper.
  • No longer do they walk into your office and drop off a resume or fill out an application.
  • No longer do they drop by the office and wait in the lobby to ask about job openings – well, they do…but they aren’t supposed to!
  • No longer do they call the receptionist and just leave a message for you – they email you, seek you out on LinkedIn, contact mutual acquaintances and beg for introductions.

Millennial candidates have many more opportunities and tools available to them to try to get noticed and be considered for jobs…but only if you still have a human element involved in your recruitment efforts. Some companies primarily depend on technologies to accept the application, screen the resume, and eliminate candidates from consideration without any human eyes ever seeing their information.

It also must be said, Millennials understand and pick up technologies at a very rapid pace. They get it. They understand it. They figure it out quickly and become experts on it quickly. This ultimately helps our companies to be more productive and efficient.

Was this flashback information true or false?        TRUE

Flashback Point #2 – Eight Norms

nGenera conducted an interview in 2006 with Millennials. Out of that study came the “Eight Norms of the Net Generation.” These were patterns of behavior that are commonly found in Millennials.

These Eight Norms were:

  • Freedom
  • Customization
  • Scrutinizers
  • Integrity
  • Collaboration
  • Entertainment
  • Speed
  • Innovation

Let’s briefly look at each one and explain what was meant.

  • Work/Life Balance. They approach their careers by asking themselves, “How will this job fit into my social life?” The non-negotiable was the social life, not the job.
  • The ability to spend the majority of their time working on the elements of their jobs that they enjoy the most.
  • Strong online comparative analysis skills. They research their prospective employers and want to make sure they align with their own personal values and priorities. Deeply desire trusting and transparent relationships.
  • They will not follow questionable leadership. They are interested in your social responsibility stance and record.
  • They are, instinctively, interactive. They demand an environment where they can be involved in making decisions and providing solutions. Their voices must be heard.
  • They seek variety in their daily tasks. Flexibility to get work done, but not necessarily to be done within the hours of 8:00 to 5:00. Opportunities to learn or be mentored.
  • Constantly looking for ways to speed up productivity and response times. Looking to advance in their careers as quickly as possible. Personal and career growth opportunities.
  • They want to understand the problem they are trying to solve. They want to be challenged. Working on “the next big thing” is exciting for them.

As we review this list today, we can look at it in comparison to the Millennials that we know and work with. While there are always outliers, it looks to be largely on target and accurate. It’s interesting too to consider how companies, years ago, began to market themselves to this list. For example: Universum did a study on Millennials and they specifically asked, “If you could pick any company in the world to work for, where would it be?

25% of those respondents picked Google. But think about that a bit deeper. Out of any company in the world…how many options do you think that is? It’s estimated that there are 100 million companies in the world. So out of 100 million options, 25% of them all said the same place…Google. The obvious question becomes…”Why?”

What was interesting was that you could go to the “About Google” page, and you could see all 8 of the listed norms addressed in their description of what it would be like to work for them, making them very compelling for those who decided to look into employment there.

Was this flashback information true or false?        TRUE

Flashback #3 – Trophies

The third major point that was made focused on another factor that shaped the behaviors and expectations of our Millennial workforce. This is the generation that grew up when everyone got a trophy and we stopped keeping score. There was no distinction between the MVP and the bench warmer, all were treated and recognized equally.

Along with this philosophy came another wave of influence called “helicopter parents.” These were parents who stepped in – no matter how big or how small the issue – and handled it so little Johnnie or little Susie wouldn’t be overcome with stress and anxiety.

Now, I’m not here to debate with you if this was a good thing or a bad thing…you can have your own opinions on that. But there is no doubt that this has played a role in the behaviors, communications, expectations, and performance of Millennial workers. Universities have had to hire people to become parent liaisons. Some Millennials bring their parents with them to job interviews or ask them to negotiate salaries on their behalf. Feedback and affirmation are daily, sometimes hourly, expectations by some Millennials. It has been a shock to some to realize that at work, you have top performers, average performers, and under-performers – and not all are treated equally. You don’t receive participation promotions like you did trophies.

Managing Millennials is quite different than managing other generations. Some see it more as an advisor role, mentor role, or encourager. We will go a bit deeper on managing Millennials shortly. But for now,

Was this flashback information true or false?        TRUE

We’ve have seen that the anticipated projections regarding Millennials ended up bring true, but we can also learn from what has happened since they have entered the workforce. So let’s spend some time now looking at what we know to be true about them currently, and this will help us better identify how to attract, manage and retain this generation.

Millennial Statistics

  • 57% of millennial adults are white. In comparison – 72% of Baby Boomers are white, and 61% of Gen X is white. It is predicted that the US will become a minority majority nation in 2043. (US Census Bureau)
  • Millennials outnumber Baby Boomers by 11 million people currently.
  • 34% of Millennials have at least a Bachelor’s Degree. 88% of minimum wage workers are 20+ years old and 40% of them have a college degree.
  • 12% of Millennials (ages 25-32) are unemployed – 22% of them are below the poverty line.
  • In the 1960’s, the average age for an adult to get married (for the first time) was 20 years old for women and 23 years old for men. When it comes to Millennials, the average age for women is 27 and for men it’s 29. 25% of Millennials are projected to never get married.
  • In just 3 ½ years, Millennials will become the majority of the workforce (2020).
  • 64% say it’s a priority to make the world a better place
  • 72% want to be their own boss
  • 88% prefer a collaborative environment to a competitive environment
  • 85% of companies have changed policies specifically to appeal to Millennials

As you can see by those details, the benefits that many of our companies offer may not be as appealing as we anticipated – meaning, that they might not be as much of a factor to Millennials when considering their options. Benefits still matter, just not to the degree that we sometimes assume and the type of benefit matters. For example:

Millennials Most Desired Benefits (according to MindTickle survey):

  • 22% desire additional training and development
  • 19% desire flexible work hours
  • 14% desire cash bonuses
  • 8% desire free private health care
  • 6% desire more vacation time
  • 6% desire pension/retirement funding

The trend has been that we have tried to make offices more Millennial friendly, a more appealing Millennial culture, by adding ping pong tables, video games, free food, expensive coffee machines, and of course Apple everything. They don’t mind wearing flip flops to work, having a keg in the break area to end the day, or getting Starbucks discounts. The problem is, those are nice to haves…not must haves.

In an article written by Jessica Pawlarczyk (who is a Millennial herself) called, “Your Ping Pong Table is Worthless,” she provides us with a list of intangible benefits that attract Millennials.

  • Professional Development – This would include things like: mentoring, professional development seminars, or teambuilding activities. 89% of Millennials agree that it is important to be constantly learning on the job.
  • Autonomy – There is nothing worse than a manager who is a micromanaging maniac. With some breathing room, they can be creative and feel a heightened sense of responsibility.
  • Shared Achievement – Create a culture where your Millennials feel like stakeholders – or better yet, give them profit sharing and they actually become stakeholders. They long to feel more invested in the company and that their individual achievements can contribute to the larger company as a whole.
  • Flexibility – 89% of Millennials prefer to choose when and where they work. The traditional 9 to 5 is old school to them in an online world. Where possible, consider flexible in-office hours, half-day Fridays, occasional work from home days, or other creative options.
  • Creative Freedom – According to Deloitte’s 3rd annual Millennial Survey, 78% of Millennials are influenced by how innovative a company is when deciding if they want to work there.” Foster innovative thinking amongst this group.
  • Alignment of Values – Your moral history, environmental footprints, social causes, mission statements are all things that Millennials consider. You cannot just have the words printed on a banner or placed on your website…your company needs to live it and breathe it.
  • Challenging Opportunities – Be careful of boredom. If a job becomes too easy, then boredom will come. Challenge them. Offer them opportunities to try more difficult tasks.

As we went through her list, you could see that many of them fall in line with the Eight Norms that were predicted a few years back. They have remained consistent, but maybe new ways to approach them, new solutions, have come into play to satisfy their career desires.

Another area that was encouraged a few years ago was establishing mentoring opportunities. We’ve already mentioned it briefly today as well. While it can certainly be beneficial for a younger, less experienced, worker to be matched up with a more experienced employee – explaining issues, demonstrating problem solving skills, secrets to success, etc. – some companies have also flipped the model so the company, and experienced workers, can learn from the Millennial. In some circles, this is referred to as “Reverse Mentoring.” Millennials can often teach others how to more effectively use technology for the success of the company, or how to implement better social media efforts. More senior workers are sometimes timid or cautious when it comes to technology and are afraid to experiment with it. So, mentorships – both directions – might be a compelling option for you.

Managing & Retaining Millennials…

Attracting and retaining Millennials are very closely associated. Some of the very things that attract them to your company also must be maintained or built upon in order for you to retain them. According to Achieve’s Millennial Impact Report, other than compensation, the two primary influences that lead Millennials to stay with a company are:

  • 53% – Having their passions and talents used to the fullest.
  • 20% – Believing in the company’s mission and purpose.

As a matter of fact, more than half of Millennials say they would take a 15% pay cut to work at a company that matches their ideals. For some companies, this has been a shift from the old mentality of “We’re going to drive you into the ground.” to one of “Let’s try to keep you around.”

Examples of the “Keep You Around” Philosophy

Ann Donovan, Managing Director at PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) says, “We’ve all smartened up. We’re trying to create a guilt-free zone.” In doing so, they have loosened the reigns so employees can go to yoga every Tuesday or they can attend their kids’ weekly games. For those consultants who are road warriors traditionally – they try to alternate team members to a client site each week, or having them arrive at the client site on Monday afternoon instead of Monday mornings so they can stay at home on Sunday nights.

Caitlin Storhaug, Head of Recruitment Marketing at McKinsey, says they have changed their expectations of “up or out” where people had to leave if they didn’t advance at regular intervals. McKinsey employees are allowed to take 5 to 10 weeks between projects (unpaid) to pursue any personal interests they might have. This is on top of their regular PTO.

Ilene Siscovick, Partner at Mercer, says they have changed their promotion and rewards system. Instead of promoting from Job A to Job B, now they may make a move to Job A1 and then A2 before they get to B. They have incremental raises that are in place for each of those steps.  She says, “Administratively, it’s a little more complex. But it could be a win-win because you’re recognizing good performance and employees feel like they are progressing.”

They have also changed their employee review systems to eliminate their number system. Most managers would score someone a “3” which means “meets expectation.” But to a Millennial, a 3 means “average,” and no one wants to be average. They have moved to a “qualitative assessment” monthly or quarterly, instead of just an annual review.

Barr Engineering Company is an employee owned consulting firm located in Minnesota. Cathy Klopp is an HR Generalist there. She refers to their style as a “free market structure.” Employees do not have a specific boss. They choose projects that they would like to work on, and as an individual contributor, they’ll report to the manager of their selected project. Other times, they are the manager. If they work long hours, then they get to choose between overtime pay or receiving comp days.

What Millennials Are Looking For in a Leader

You’ve probably heard the quote before, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave their manager.” Leadership, managing, it looks much different today than it has in the past. According to a study by Deloitte:

  • 19% of today’s Millennials value a visible manager
  • 17% of today’s Millennials value a well-networked manager
  • 17% of today’s Millennials value a technically skilled manager
  • 39% of today’s Millennials value a strategic thinker as a manager
  • 37% of today’s Millennials value an inspirational manager
  • 34% of today’s Millennials value a personable manager
  • 31% of today’s Millennials value a visionary as a manager

The first 3 are the more traditional types of criteria that people were evaluated by as a manager, but the bottom 4 are the ways that managers are evaluated by the Millennials of today. How do your managers stack up to this?

Millennials are far more likely to have high levels of job satisfaction when they work in a creative, inclusive, working culture (76%). Only 49% of Millennials prefer to work in an authoritarian, rules based approach. Here are some other thoughts that we can find from Deloitte’s research:

  • 47% prefer a free flowing and open communication environment
  • 42% prefer an environment of mutual support and tolerance
  • 40% want a strong sense of purpose beyond financial success
  • 38% want an active encouragement of ideas among all employees
  • 34% want support and understanding of the ambitions of younger employees

In an average work week, it is estimated that the following number of hours are spent focused on the following:

  • 3 hours discussing new ideas and ways of working
  • 7 hours developing leadership skills
  • 8 hours working on emails
  • 4 hours receiving coaching / mentoring

But to a Millennial, here are their expectations:

  • 6 hours discussing new ideas and ways of working
  • 5 hours developing leadership skills
  • 1 hours spent on emails
  • 6 hours receiving coaching / mentoring

As you can easily see, the expectations of Millennials, and the reality of how we manage them, are immediately an issue. I don’t share this information so every employer will run out and change their time allotment to match the desires of Millennials – but just so you’ll have the information and can understand their expectations. If you begin to see a disconnect in some ways, maybe it falls in one or more of these areas.

As many Baby Boomers have already retired, or moving in that direction at a rapid pace, Gen X has often been targeted with managing Millennials. There are certainly some differences between these two generations, but understanding them is a good place to start so conversations and planning can be established. I’ve given you a lot of info on Millennials already, so let me spend a couple of minutes on Gen X and specifically the issues that might arise with them in management roles.

Mia Zaslove, who is featured in Fortune and Inc, had this to say about Gen X Managers:

  • X’ers grew up in a largely hands-off culture. They experienced a large amount of freedom growing up. As kids, they could safely be out of the sight of their parents for long periods of time. Millennials, due to technology and the ease of staying in contact (as well as changing norms for parenting), weren’t out of their parents’ sight until their teenage years (helicopter parents)
  • Millennials have grown up with a lot more encouragement than X’ers received. As a result, Millennials feel comfortable to share their opinions, even when they are just beginning a job. X’ers generally believe that you have to pay your dues before you are entitled to share an opinion.
  • When working with an X’er, don’t be surprised or offended if they choose to work alone. They are more independent. They often will not tell you how to do every step of the job, but allow you to figure it out.
  • X’ers tend to be hands off, low face time managers.
  • X’ers weren’t regularly praised growing up, unlike Millennials. So, if you work for an X’er, don’t expect a lot of praise. However, when you do receive a compliment from an X’er, then you’ve done a great job!

I generally have trouble making blanket statements that sound like they are true in all cases. Obviously there are X’ers who are beloved and respected by Millennials, and they get along very well with each other. We can never say that something is always true in every situation when speaking of generational differences.

For example, I am an X’er. Pew Research has an online test you can take that tells you “How Millennial Are You?” So, for fun, I took it. I shared with you earlier, I spent 20 years working with teenagers and those teenagers are now the Millennials that we’ve been discussing. So, I think I really get them and understand them to a high degree. Apparently Pew Research agrees…

If you’d like to take this test, you can go to:

I’ve been saying for years that I don’t have a problem with Millennials. Are they unique in some ways? Yes. But maybe, just maybe, we are all pretty Millennial in our expectations. Think back to when we were just starting our careers, ask ourselves:

  • Did I want to spend most of my days working on things that I enjoyed?
  • Did I appreciate feedback and encouragement along the way?
  • Was work/life balance something that I would have liked?
  • Would I have preferred to work for a company that wanted to develop me as a leader?

See, no matter the generation that we belong to, we’ve all wanted the same core things. Millennials are just the first to step up and demand them.  We aren’t so different as employees. Now the approach to work, the tools considered to do that work, the style of communication between others, work style habits…those are areas where we revert back to how we have grown up and what comes most naturally to us.

Wrap Up…

As we begin to conclude this session, let me just say this. I believe there are some industries that are already and will continue to suffer as they attempt to attract Millennials to their industries. There are some who haven’t done a good job in marketing themselves to this demographic early enough. Skilled trades, manufacturing, labor, production…they tend to have worker shortages. They’ve spoken about it for years…they’ve had me come and speak about them for years…but everyone believed they were too busy to do the things needed to prepare for the great crew change and attracting younger workers to their teams. Now they are in a tough spot.

Some of the suggestions that were made in the presentation today, they just won’t apply to each and every situation. If they want variety in their work, and you need workers on an assembly line – there isn’t much diversity in their tasks. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other areas that we’ve discussed where you can make some adjustments to make yourself more appealing.

The good news is, when I first started speaking about Millennials several years ago, they were expected to stay at their jobs just 18 months before leaving for a new job. Now that number has risen. Now they anticipate being in their current role for 3-4 years before considering a change. However, if they have career growth opportunities, work/life balance, believe they are making a difference, they believe in what the company stands for…that number climbs much higher as they would stay with that company. Why has this happened? In part, because of the efforts made over the past few years to change policies to be more friendly to Millennials. But I think it goes a bit deeper. I think the demands that Millennials have made have caused those in leadership positions to ponder just what kind of companies they want to have. They didn’t just make those changes for the Millennials sake, but because all workers can benefit from them.


I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s presentation. Please feel free to reach out to me and connect. If you’ll reference that you were on the webcast today, send me a LinkedIn invitation and I’ll accept. Send me additional questions if you think of them at a later time. LinkedIn is the best place to connect with me, or even on Facebook. I don’t do Twitter, so don’t waste your time there.

Thanks so much everyone and have a great rest of your day!