Unlocking the Magic of Millennials by Bonnie Kintzer
As a CEO born on the edge of the Boomer and Generation X eras, one of the common complaints that I hear from other executives is how do you keep Millennials motivated? It is one of the great challenges of the modern workforce.
First, maybe it’s because I have two daughters who are Millennials, let me say how much I really enjoy hearing what they and their friends are thinking about and doing. I find their energy, initiative and passion to be infectious.
I also try to remember myself at their age, when I was transformed from a snarky girl from Brooklyn (before it was the cool place) to a more thoughtful, empowered young professional woman.
So, it helps if you try and remember that when you were their age, you didn’t have all the answers either. If you really want to unlock their potential in the workforce, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Give Millennials respect. Sometimes people speak of “millennials” as though they are young and stupid. Not true! This generation has grown up under the fog of 9/11; an impeached President; the Great Recession; and has seen their parents or friends of parents lose jobs. They have lived a lot in their short number of years. They think and care deeply about the future of this country, the companies where they work, and about their friend-community.
- Give them space. Let them reach for the stars, let them move from snarky to thoughtful, but also let them fail. About a year ago, a young 20-something employee of mine sent me a note about an idea. I had never met him. His note was thoughtful and was written with the goal of helping the company do better. He wanted to make sure that we were developing products with the millennial market in mind. Truth be told, I was in the midst of turning around a company, so new products for millennials was not the first thing on my mind.
Wake up, Ms. CEO!
I met with this young man and had him work with my research team to start pulling together information for my management team to review. When he told me he wanted to form a group, I gave him one restriction – the group had to focus on a revenue-generating idea. The team included people (no need to call them millennials anymore, is there?) from all parts of the company. They were awesome. And they renamed themselves from the Millennial Leadership Team to F.A.S.T. – Fresh Audience Solutions Team.
- Give them credit. The FAST team worked on a new events business called Taste of Home Live – they created incredible marketing materials, financial dashboards, promotion plans and more. This team was in our Milwaukee office and as I thought about ways to reward them for their work, I decided that instead of giving them a cash reward, we should fly all of them to our NY offices (NYC and White Plains) and have them present to the entire company – they also presented to their peers in Milwaukee. Pretty cool to be a 20-something and sharing your amazing work with hundreds of co-workers. And they deserved it. And they appreciated it.
- Listen and learn. Don’t become an old-thinking person. Doesn’t matter what your age is or the age of others – you can always learn from smart and talented people. Great ideas (usually the best ones) can percolate from anyone and anywhere in an organization. Millennials at their heart have an amazing entrepreneurial spirit, so don’t squash it – unleash it.
- Be proud. I have one daughter who graduated from MIT who is working for a high-impact non-profit JVS in San Francisco helping middle-age people get back into the workforce. I have another daughter working for the innovative and fast-growing firm Insight Global – she’s lived in four US cities in the last three years as she begins to live up to her incredible potential. They both make me one proud mother. And I am proud of the team in Milwaukee – every single person on that team truly contributed to our company.
- Celebrate: The “M Gen” enjoys celebrating their success and those of us who are managing them should embrace that celebratory energy. It can really stimulate a workforce, and by the way, it’s a great way to keep yourself excited about the opportunities ahead.