Friday, April 3, 2015

The thing is....

A few of my recent speaking engagements have been to "young" business professionals-- more specifically with 'Millennials'. If this is a term with which you are not familiar, Millennials (or 'Gen Y') refers to people born between 1977 and 1995, which within the US accounts for close to 80 million people. No doubt you've heard the term "Baby Boomers" and may be wondering about the other groups. Here is a quick reference: 

Generation Y: Born 1977- 1995
Generation X: Born 1965-1977
Baby Boomers: Born 1946- 1964
Traditionalists: Born pre-1946

If you want to read more about Millennials, check out Jason Dorsey, the GenY Guy. He has books, DVD kits and some really helpful stuff in his online store.

Like every generation, millennials have their own unique traits, and other generations tend to "not get" them, and have subtle differences that can sometimes set them worlds apart. I am a Gen X guy--just barely, which makes me "old" in the eyes of Millennials.

Back to my recent speaking engagements. My consulting firm has hosted a series of round table business lunches across various cities, with me as the headline speaker. These business lunches are designed to facilitate discussion to open dialogue and understanding between Millennials and Generation X business leaders in the workplace. The issue is that Millennials have a sense of entitlement, they crave instant gratification, and they have huge expectations but don't seem to be interested in the time or actions necessary to earn what they want. These traits are diametrically opposed to the traits of Generation X (and Baby Boomers for that matter). The thing is that Generation X managers are having a difficult time managing Millennials, who expect everything handed to them immediately. At issue is this is a similar trait across the generation, so it is pervasive across the workforce.

For old guys like me in executive management positions, it is easy to just dismiss this generation out of hand, lecture them and tell them how hard I had to work when I was their age. That sort of speech really makes old guys like me feel good. "There, I told them, that will fix it." Except it won't. You see, the thing is that if we Gen X managers want to see our organizations thrive and compete for talent, we need to understand how this Gen Y (Millennial) generation thinks, what motivates them. I'm not suggesting that we "give in" or make it easy for them, but the smart leaders will take time to better understand what gets this generation going. We need to understand that this is a generation that has no intention to remain loyal to any single company over their lifetime. They value moving around, to meet their expectations. So instead, my "lecture" is actually to the old guys like me: "Get used to it!".

The objective of my speaking engagements is to open this discussion...get people talking and to interpret. I certainly don't profess to be an expert on Gen Y people, but I've taken the time to educate myself on what Millennials want and how they think. My own trial and error in managing Gen Y employees has been a learning experience for sure. I may not like or truly understand why, but I understand the reality in which we work today. Therefore, in order to survive AND THRIVE in the business world today, it is crucial for old Gen X guys like me to sit down and listen to the seemingly spoiled Gen Y employee. Explain. Communicate. Don't get frustrated when they have their smart phone in their hand the entire discussion. And definitely don't get upset when they check Instagram during the conversation.

Recognizing that I'm ancient to most Millennials, I decided to lighten up and lose my suit and tie for the presentations I've made. I've made a conscious effort to wear cool colors, be more casual, but still professional (like the photo above). Despite the fact that I consider Brooks Brothers to be the model for business wardrobe, I have taken a different approach during my speaking engagements. Heck, during some presentations, I've even sat down on a table, leaning in to make a point and hold the attention of this fickle 'A.D.D.' group of attendees. I have not been offended once when I look out and seen mostly tops of heads, tilted down with faces glowing slightly from their iPhones as they tap away Tweeting, blogging, or taking selfies while I speak. The thing is, by adapting my style as a speaker and business executive I've been able to engage groups of young and old business leaders to communicate.

At times I see looks of bewilderment and the hear the occasional snicker if I make an 80's pop reference of some kind. I do it to amuse myself and keep my peer generational attendees happy. Maybe someday I'll finish the book I've been writing about this subject. For now at least I have the satisfaction of seeing ah-ha moments when these two generations come together, if only for the span of 90 minutes. 

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