The Millennial Myth

Sept. 24, 2018

Dispelling some common misconceptions about the millennial generation

About the author:

Tim Miles is founder and CEO of Tim Miles & Co. Miles can be reached at [email protected] or 615.538.5511.

Oh, those millennials. The whole bunch of them are lazy, entitled, arrogant and clueless. Whether you are struggling to attract them as customers or dealing with them as team members, millennials can be a challenge for businesses.

Here’s a quote to consider: “Each time they come into contact with the real, they are bruised and wounded. It looks as if they were victims of a conspiracy. … Each discovery is another nail driven into the body on the cross of life.”

While that may be true, it was written by an author named Somerset Maugham in 1915.

We say today, “Oh, those millennials.” But you know what they said before that? They said, “Oh, those Gen Xers. Before that it was “Oh, those baby boomers.” Before that they said, “Oh, that Greatest Generation.” Yes, at one time, even the Greatest Generation was annoying to their elders. 

It is a dangerous time to wait for it to go back to the good old days. Worldviews change, tastes and trends change, and business decisons change—but they do not change wildly except from one to another and back again.

What does change is media and how we communicate with one another. Young people always introduce us to the new rules of communication and before
we know it, my 82-year-old mom is on Facebook
and Instagram. 

I want to bust this myth that millennials as a birth cohort group are lazy, entitled snowflakes who want the world handed to them without having to do any work. In order to do this, it is important to understand some things about millennials.

The 13 Ways of the We Generation

1. You cannot expect someone else to change his behavior until you are first willing to change your own. 

No one is saying you did not work your butt off building your business. I worked my butt off to build mine, but the millennials on my team teach me things every day because I am open to hearing them and we are growing. We are better as a result. 

Millennials were born into a world of hype on the radio, television, computers and iPads. They hear words like “amazing,” “astounding,” and “wonderful” constantly, so they are cynical. They are not waiting anymore to hear what we say. They are watching to see what we do. If you are willing to make a change first, you will see walls come down. Start by simply giving cheerfully in your time, energy, optimism and enthusiasm, and when the millennials have something to offer, accept it gracefully. 

Shed the cynicism model, with optimism and kindness. Be different. Choose to be the model you want these younger people to follow. Do not accept the conventional wisdom that they are all whiners and entitled. 

2. Stop with the broad age brush. 

It is so easy to think “Well, young people today…” 

Our parents and grandparents said the same thing. Stupidity is ageless. Narcissism is ageless. Entitlement is ageless. You know what else is ageless? Work ethic. So are manners, respect and honor. 

“The world owes you nothing.” My dad used to say that to me 40 years ago and it is still true today whether you are 25, 35 or 85. Do not be that guy who says, “Man, you’ve got to earn my respect.” Why not default to a position of respect? Check your privilege at the door. 

3. Seek first to understand.

Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood.” 

Seek first to understand in this world where our heads are all down in our phones. Put your phone down and listen. Walls will come down. You will recognize what peoples’ challenges are and demonstrate empathy. 

For team members, it is about outlining clear expectations. Why not have one-on-one meetings with them once a week? They will feel like they are heard and you can give them feedback. It gives you a chance to connect and break down walls between you.

4. Be confident in your beliefs.

By showing that you are willing to be open and knowing how you got to where you are today allows you to successfully be confident in your beliefs. You have done the work. You have been in the trenches, so be able to know and rest easy with who you are. 

Speaking with conviction does not mean speaking loudly. Confidence is when we know we can articulate why we feel the way we do about something. It has never been more important than with this emerging generation that has more access to data and research at their fingertips on their phone than anyone has ever had in the history of man. If you can speak with conviction and confidence about what you believe, but also show that you are open and willing to listen, mountains will move. 

5. Always answer, “Why?”

We did not always challenge things when we were kids. What our parents said was gospel. Now our kids are constantly asking, “Why?” Instead of resisting, use this as an opportunity to strengthen your critical thinking muscles. If you can tell somebody why you think the way you think and transfer that confidence over to them, most of the time that will be enough. Knowing why matters more than ever to this generation.

Specific critical thinking is a muscle. You can strengthen it. What is the best meal you had lately? What is the best movie you saw recently? Where did you go recently where you received bad service? Why? Detail it. Articulate it. If you practice that, you can get good at it. 

6. Always ask, “Why?”

The other side of that is to challenge somebody, but not in a negative way. Ask them, “Why did you do that?” If you want them to have autonomy, you have to give them a chance. 

Why not take every opportunity to reward someone when you catch them doing something right? Always ask, “Why did you do this?” or “Why don’t you do that?” Embrace curiosity in what they are doing and how they are doing it. 

7. Meet people where they are.

Look at all the great leaders throughout history. Every one of them met people where they were. The world is changing. If you want to reach out to people to show them how great your water is, it is not so easy to get into their house anymore. Why not shoot a video and make it available to them?

You may not like or understand social media, but you need to have someone on your staff who does. If you are able to meet people where they are and talk to them about what matters to them in a language they understand using the rules of technology they enjoy, then you will grow as a company. 

8. Know what you stand for.

Despite what you see in your echo chambers about this generation posing on Instagram and trying to look prettier than they really are, the majority of the world today is not about big talk. They are about little actions and honest-to-goodness values. They make decisions to purchase from you based on the way your company thinks, acts and sees the world.

Advertising has a very dangerous potential today that it did not have 20 years ago. A good advertising campaign, no matter what medium you use, works fantastically if you are a good business. 

Advertising in this age of interconnectivity only accelerates the inevitable. If you are a bad business who treats their employees badly, with dirty vans and a guy who comes to a customers’ doors with a ripped Iron Maiden T-shirt, a good advertising campaign is only going to put you out of business faster. 

9. Action reveals value.

It is not enough to simply put your values up on the wall. You can go from the best water company in town to the worst and there is a legitimate possibility both companies have the exact same core values posted up on their walls. Anyone can pick words and make them sound good.

Do you walk the talk of what you say your values are? Show us. Do not tell us. You care about your customers? How do you show me that you care about your customers? As my dad used to say, “Son, don’t tell her you’re courteous. Open her door.”

Not sure what your values are? Ask your employees. They are the ones who know the values on the wall, but more importantly, they also know the values that come from within. 

Do not be afraid to do an internal Net Promoter Score for employee satisfaction. You can do it in those weekly one-on-one meetings. If you do not have time every week, do it every month. Be consistent and listen to the things they have to say. Show, do not tell how your values manifest themselves.

10. Money is not everything.

Did you know last year, according to Gallup, disengaged workers cost U.S. companies more than $450 billion in lost productivity? That is pretty scary.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter from Harvard Business School is pretty much the smartest woman on the planet when it comes to employee loyalty. There are four M’s that are the biggest factors in employee loyalty and money is a distant fourth. Kanter says membership—feeling like you are part of a team—is number one. Number two is mastery or feeling like you are getting better at things. Third is meaning, or doing something that matters. 

11. This is not new.

Despite what you may believe, millennials’ top concerns are not goat yoga and ping pong tables. You know what they care about? Health insurance. Feeling like they are making a difference. 

Millennials want the exact same things older generations want. We just hear about them more thanks to social media. They are looking for leaders. They cannot do it alone. They do not know how because we have not taught them yet. How we teach them has changed, but it does not mean they are not willing to learn.

12. Champion others.

Find somebody in your company and single them out. Do not make it about yourself. Give your time, energy, optimism and enthusiasm. I am not saying it is not hard to do. If turning a profit was easy everybody would be doing it. 

I am asking you to teach people. I am asking you to know that you need to learn because when you do these things, magic happens.

Climb out of the echo chamber that is filled with cynicism, rage, all caps, and poor spelling in Facebook comments and begin to point out what people do well. Praise and respect resiliency and grit, but do not just say, “Wow, you’re resilient.” Be specific.

13. You cannot expect someone to change their behavior until you are first willing to change your own.

We are returning to the first lesson that I want to remind you of because it is so important. I want you to hear it at the beginning and the end. 

You cannot expect someone else to change their behavior until you are first willing to change your own. You model the behavior you want to see in others. In the words of Maya Angelou, I suggest starting by the giving of yourself cheerfully and accepting of others gracefully. When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.

We do not have problems. We have opportunities.

About the Author

Tim Miles

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