Millennials (people born from the early 1980s to 2000) are the most talked about and most studied generation in today’s workforce. That trend is certainly true here at PCC. We’ve explored Millennials in depth through The Millennial Challenge, written about Millennials in several blog entries (click here for a few examples), and I’ve even appeared on The Curated Experience – twice (episode 11 and episode 13)! And our Millennial presentation continues to be one of our most requested programs.
Strangely, we don’t talk about any other generation like we do Millennials. We also don’t change an entire organization’s hiring practices, management policies, and even corporate culture to attract and keep workers like we do Millennial employees.
Most of the editorial written about Millennials revolves around negative stereotypes and characteristics. When asking older workers about Millennials, words such as entitled, lazy, and opinionated quickly roll off the tongue. While stereotypes come about for a reason and these words may in fact be applied to some if not many young workers, there is growing thought that the differences Millennials bring to the workplace are not so unique from previous generations.
For example, Millennials want to make as much money as possible. Millennials want to be respected. And Millennials want to enjoy the work environment and their colleagues, want the opportunity to learn new things and grow within the organization, and want a good boss. How are these things different than any other generation?
Within these similarities, though, Millennials may have slightly different expectations. For example, Millennials want to work for an organization that will invest them. Millennials, more than previous generations, want to work for a company that has a healthy corporate culture. Millennials also want to know how their individual work contributes to the organization’s overall performance as well as understand how the organization itself makes their community and the world a better place.
Millennials do, though, have several defining characteristics. Research shows a Millennial brain thinks and fires differently than brains of older workers. This new way of thinking allows Millennials to address business issues in unique ways, often finding distinct and creative solutions to business problems.
Millennials also tend to be more flexible than previous generations and like flexibility more than previous generations. This desire for a flexible work life, also known as work/life integration, means a Millennial worker may leave the office at 4pm, hang out with friends until 7, go home and log into the network for a few minutes, break for a three-hour Netflix binge, and then log back into the corporate network at 11pm for a few hours. Yes, some Baby Boomers may do the same, but most Boomers will be sleeping at midnight.
So what’s the bottom line? To be a high-performing organization, workers of all ages must work side-by-side in a healthy corporate environment. In fact, generational differences are just one aspect of diversity. Research is beginning to show that the highest performing organizations are also high in ethnic, gender and cultural diversity.
And for all of the hand wringing around the downfall of business due to Millennials’ inability to contribute to the corporate world, it’s turning out that Millennials have much to offer the workplace. In fact, the tactics implemented to attract and retain Millennials are the same tactics organizations should use to build an attractive work environment for workers of all ages.
Are we losing the ability to connect with people on a deep level? Is technology preventing us from making meaningful, personal connections with each other?
At least in the business world, I would say yes. Not only are we becoming a less “personal touch” society, we are becoming a less helpful society.
Years ago, before mobile phones, before email, and even before voicemail, we conducted business either face-to-face or by phone. Working with customers or handling internal business issues, you had to speak to someone. Yes, certain people, primarily executives, could hide behind their secretary, avoiding pesky sales people, customer complaints, or high-maintenance clients and employees. For the most part, though, we got to know each other – employees, colleagues, clients, customers, and vendors – by visiting face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
Voicemail was our first big step away from personal touch. We pretended (and still do) to want to talk to people, but our actions said (and still do) otherwise. “Your call is very important to me so please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.” Really? My call is very important to you? For many people, that is simply not true.
A more truthful message would be, “Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you. If you don’t receive a return call within 48 hours, then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Our next step down the avoid-people rabbit hole was email. Why talk to someone when I could simply send a note? Of course, in some ways, email improved our communication by allowing “conversations” even when someone wasn’t available by phone. The flipside, though, is we now get so many emails, we have little time to do much anything else. How many messages are in your Inbox right now?
Next up – mobile phones and texting. Now, not only are we receiving short messages, this technology has ruined our ability to spell.
Today, we live and work in a world of Facebook and LinkedIn, two fantastic web services which allow us to stay in touch with friends and business associates. One unintended consequence of these technologies is we now send happy birthday wishes and congratulations on the promotion with just a touch of the button. "Done. I just said congratulations and showed my good friend that I rally care about them." Really? I would argue this is simply another step down that impersonal rabbit hole.
Yet for all of the impersonal aspects of technology, it can help people stay connected. As I write this blog, I’m traveling to Kansas State University with my wife and our dear friend Mattie to visit our son. Our friend Mattie has lived overseas for ten years and credits technology, particularly Facebook and Skype, for allowing her to stay closely connected with friends here at home.
So I’m certainly not bashing technology nor do I wish for a time without email and smart phones (truth be known, I get really annoyed when wifi isn’t working on a plane – and I didn’t even have that option a couple of years ago!).
But what would life be like if, rather than just hitting the Like button or sending an automated “Congrats” note, we did it the old-fashioned way by actually calling our friend to say, “Congratulations on your new job! Have a few minutes to catch up?"
While visiting a client a few weeks ago, I turned left as I exited the elevator and was greeted with an empty reception desk. No big deal as that has happened before. So, I simply signed in and stood there waiting for someone to enter the room and say, “May I help you?”
Standing in the lobby, I was able to see into the call center as the entire wall was glass and allowed a clear view of one entire side of the floor. The interesting thing is that not only did I have a clear view of the office, but the workers on the other side of the glass also had a clear view of me.
Two minutes turned into five minutes which turned into ten minutes. Still no receptionist. And during that ten-minute wait, I continued watching all of the employees working at their desks and multiple times locked eyes with an employee. Most of those “locks” were just glances as the employee would not look me in the eye for very long. There was even one employee who looked at me as she walked by the glass wall and, several minutes later, looked at me again as she passed by in the opposite direction!
Finally, a person from the Facilities department entered the lobby and just before she passed through the glass wall to the employee side, she stopped, turned, and asked, “Have you been helped?” Well, as a matter of fact, no! I gave her the name of my contact and with a smile she replied, “I’ll find someone who can help.”
She returned just a few seconds later with an employee who then escorted me to my meeting. This Facilities person also apologized for my wait-time in the lobby.
A similar “It’s-not-my-job” mentality took place at O’Hare airport a few years ago as I was waiting to depart for Dallas on United Airlines. The incoming flight was already a few minutes late and when it pulled up to the gate, there was no one to move the jet bridge to the plane.
At the gate next to mine stood two United gate agents talking to each other. No plane at this gate, no passengers. Just two United agents enjoying a good little chat. After a couple of minutes waiting for the jet bridge to move, I took about a dozen steps to these two agents, pointed out the jet bridge delay, and asked for some help. One of the agents replied, “That’s not my gate,” and then returned to her conversation.
So people are waiting to get off one plane and I’m trying to get back to Dallas, and all you have to say is “It’s not my job.” Now, in their defense, maybe there was a union rule that prevented them from working that gate – maybe. But how about making a call to find the appropriate gate agent? How about an “I’m sorry for the delay” or even a smile? I guess apologies and smiles aren’t in the United gate agents’ job description either.
As we have explored in previous blog entries, exceptional customer service is an easy concept but difficult to carry out. The starting point for an outstanding customer experience is a mindset that the customer is everything. This mindset must permeate the entire organization. It must be talked about relentlessly and lived out by all levels of the organization.
So next time you see someone waiting in your lobby, even if you’re in IT, Accounting, Payroll, Operations, Legal, or any other position, make it your job to delight the waiting customer by welcoming them and asking how you can be of service.
The customer is not always right . . . but the customer should always be king.
I am a pretty easygoing person. Both at work and in my personal life, I am an optimist, don’t rattle easily, and even when I am annoyed, most people won’t know it. Life is much better spent with a smile on your face and a compliment on your tongue.
Having said this, I’m going to celebrate my 50th blog entry with a list of things that drive me crazy, mostly business-related with a few personal pet peeves at the end. This small list won’t make the world a better place and won’t make a big splash in the business community. Venting my list of annoyances will, though, make me feel a little better. So please indulge me in the following “Things that make me go arggghhhh!”
Starbucks new rewards program: I am a loyal Starbucks customer. I go there almost daily to drink coffee and work, adding an occasional low fat coffee cake. So when Starbucks changed their rewards program to honor big spenders instead of frequent visitors, it put my next free cup of dark roast far into the future. So while the change was most likely good for Starbucks and I continue to frequent their doorstep, it was – and continues to be – a bad customer experience for me.
No problem: This phrase drives me crazy. When I’m at a restaurant and the server refills my drink, I always offer a heartfelt “Thank you.” More often than not, I hear “No problem” as a reply. Really, no problem? If I ordered a different drink, would that be a problem? That phrase is like nails on a chalkboard to me! The proper response is, of course, “You’re welcome.” I miss that simple retort.
No “I’m sorry”: I help many organizations improve their customer service so admittedly, I’m hypersensitive to a poor customer experience. As I’ve written in previous blogs, exceptional customer service really isn’t difficult, at least in concept. It simply takes energy and dedication to making the customer a priority. I don’t really get upset when my customer experience is less than desirable because mistakes will happen. What drives me crazy is not making the situation right, which always starts with a genuine “I’m sorry”.
Employee as assets: Employees are not assets! Buildings are. Patents are. Equipment and inventory are also assets. But employees? They aren’t something you own. Employees supply the energy a company needs in order to accomplish anything. I once read an article that called employees “investors” which is not bad. The business philosophy Conscious Capitalism describes employees as one of an organization’s key stakeholders. Any of these labels is better than “asset” which sounds like something a company can own and therefor discard, upgrade, replace, or remove as needed. Whatever label an organization chooses, the key is to do everything possible to help employees find success and satisfaction in their daily routines.
Reply all: I wish all companies, as part of their New Hire Orientation, would include an Email Etiquette course. Most organizations are highly dependent on email with many employees receiving dozens and even hundreds of daily emails. So when a “Say congratulations on their promotion” email goes out to the entire organization, please don’t hit “reply all”. While you should say congratulations to the person moving up in the organization, I don’t want or need to see that personal note. Better yet, turn that email into a congratulations phone call!
While the above grumbles are of a business nature, I also have a few personal grievances: how much my dogs bark when a stranger comes to the door, how quickly the price of gas goes up yet it goes down a penny or two at a time, and how some people stand in line talking or looking at their mobile device and once they get to the counter, they then spend five minutes reviewing their food options.
Do I lose sleep over any of these issues? No. But it does feel good to vent a bit.
It also feels good to hit blog number 50. Now on to my next 50. Hopefully, in some small way, my thoughts on corporate culture, leadership, Millennials, excellence, customer service, and employee engagement have made the world – or made someone’s world – a better place.
Thanks for reading and best wishes for a fantastic 2017!
Happy New Year! I hope you are ready to jump into 2017 after enjoying a fantastic holiday season with family and friends.
Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet? I have. Yes, I’m losing weight and exercising more (Day 3 and I’m still going strong!). I’ve committed to reading more books this year. I love to read but the last few years I’ve strayed away from this good habit. And I’m going to write another book this year – or at least complete the first draft.
I’m also committing myself to being a better boss in 2017. Not that I’m a bad boss. In fact, I’d like to think I’m a pretty good boss. I’m a student of leadership and management and have facilitated countless workshops that revolve around the idea of being an effective supervisor. So I have a good idea of how to be a great boss. Like most (all?) people, though, I occasionally do something that puts me on the “Bad Boss” list. When I sadly show up on that list, I apologize to my team and get back on the “Good Boss” list as quickly as possible.
So how will I spend more time on that Good list? I’ll start by making these 10 Best Boss Resolutions for 2017:
Resolution #1: I will set specific, achievable, and motivating goals for my team.
Resolution #2: I will show appreciation for my team daily.
Resolution #3: I will be transparent in my communication and will truly have an “open door” policy.
Resolution #4: I will accept responsibility rather than blame others for results.
Resolution #5: I will give credit for success to others rather then take credit myself.
Resolution #6: I will seek permission to lead rather than manage by authority.
Resolution #7: I will seek opportunities to build trust with my team and avoid breaking that trust.
Resolution #8: I will truly listen and be fully present during discussions.
Resolution #9: I will demonstrate CARE for my team – Credibility, Appreciation, Reliability, Empathy.
Resolution #10: I will do everything possible to help my team find great success and satisfaction at work.
Of course, these aren't the only things I can do. In fact, being a better boss takes constant vigilance and effort. So perhaps I’ll add #11: I commit to constantly looking for new ways of being a great boss. If I’m successful in making these 11 resolutions part of my daily leadership walk, I’m confident my team will enjoy a great year.
What about you? Will you join me in committing to being a better boss in 2017? What are some of your Best Boss Resolutions?
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.