By: Stew Friedman January 14, 2016
I’ve heard all the naysaying about millennials, and you probably have too. “They’re lazy.” “They want everything hand-fed to them.” “They’re entitled.” But maybe more than any single complaint, I’ve heard that they are unteachable. My experience, however, has been quite the opposite. My team at Vanderbloemen Search Group is the best team I’ve ever worked with, and 63 percent of them are millennials. They are the best problem-solvers and hardest workers I’ve ever met. But above all, they’ve shown me that they are a learning community reminiscent of spiritual disciples. As our company strives to provide a service that hasn’t been around until now, it’s the millennials that are teaching me how to learn faster and better than ever.
Millennials are one of the largest — if not the largest — sectors of the U.S. workforce, so like it or not, managers are going to have to learn the millennial workforce culture and adapt. I’ve learned three key lessons while working with millennials. If business leaders implement these three lessons, they will turn unteachable millennials into disciples and unlock the potential of a generation that can transform their business’ work and culture.
- A cause trumps your profits and losses.
In my experience interviewing millennials, I’ve noticed a common thread: “We want to make a fair profit, but we want to make a difference while doing it.” Connecting with a noble cause is the starting point for building a team of millennial disciples. The clearer you can express the “why” behind the “what” you do at your business, the more eager your team will be to learn and do better. We have a tight focus at our firm: We help faith-based organizations find great staff. Staffing for churches is a huge challenge, and our business is helping solve the problem and ultimately impact lives. That inspires our millennials to work hard, keep learning and constantly improve.
How can you work for a cause when you’re not a cause-based company? Adopt a cause close to your team’s heart. For example, if you’re an accounting firm, you might team up with a non-profit to help teach math to under-resourced children in your city. Is your business plumbing? Build a water well through a relief organization like Living Water. Just because your product or service isn’t directly helping a cause doesn’t mean your business can’t. Once you’ve tapped into your cause, you’ll have millennials that want to work. And that leads me to the second lesson of creating a culture of millennial disciples.
- Keep it all in the ‘framily.’
Millennials are often criticized for not starting families sooner. “They are selfish, and don’t want to commit to something long-term,” says the baby boomer. According to the Barna Group, when asked what big accomplishments they want to have achieved by age 30, getting married and having a family didn’t even make millennials’ top five. That might seem selfish, but this is a generation that grew up seeing the highest divorce rate in U.S. history. Be it selfishness or uncertainty, they are waiting. And that means that they will find family elsewhere. Smart managers who have clearly identified with a cause will leverage this dynamic by doing all they can to make the office place the spot where millennials find their “framily” — friends and family.
We’ve worked hard to create a culture here that is professional in work but family in feel. It’s been amazing to see how much these millennial colleagues of mine want structure, goals and fun. From fitness challenges to gym memberships and lots of post-workday social events, this is by far the most “framily friendly” environment I’ve worked in. The byproduct? My millennial colleagues are the last to leave the office and the first to ask questions about how we can improve.
- Centralize your office, but nix the cubicles.
“Those millennials. They don’t want to come in to an office, and they have no respect for office hours.” Actually, it might be that they just don’t like coming to your office. We made the decision in 2010 to quit operating from virtual offices and centralize the workforce together in one open office. And the surprise of that decision was how much our millennials love working together in one spot. Millennials want community, and they will find it elsewhere if their workplace doesn’t offer it. Our team members like to be around one another. Based on those dynamics and the collaborative nature of our work, we designed a simple, open-office concept. Our team would also rather work and learn together than be stuck in separate cubicles.
Between our cause, our “framily feel” and our collaborative open office, we’ve created a learning environment where we are working more effectively and efficiently than ever. I still have a lot to learn from my millennial colleagues, but as I’ve witnessed these millennial disciples revolutionize my workplace, I’ve never been more optimistic about the workforce that is emerging in our country.