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How To Manage Millennials (or A very very very long article about change and how scary it can be)

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In 1991, I was a 26-year-old art director at a huge advertising agency. The mac had just entered mainstream, and I asked my supervisor if I could learn how to use one. She laughed at me and said, 'We're not paying for that. We don't need that.' I reached out to the freelance designer who was renting space down the hall from the agency and he taught me all about Quark Xpress, the precursor to InDesign. I also watched my agency turn their x-acto knife and rubber cement studio into a computer hub within the year.

Many design professionals lost their careers during this conversion from an analog world into a digital one. Not just jobs; careers. Typesetters, mechanical artists, typographers- the entire industry shifted with the speed of light. One computer replaced all these careers. It was fast and merciless. We all had to adapt quickly, or be left behind. For me it was exciting. I was young, unattached, no dependents. I was free and easy. But for many older people, it was terrifying. They had mortgages, college tuitions, and homeowner insurance to pay. The change was a nightmare.

Who enjoys change? Who among us savors the unknown? In my 30 years of working in the creative industry and corporate sector, I have never met a person who drools excitedly at the thought of uncertainty. And this, I believe wholeheartedly, is the source of the backlash against Millennials.

I believe that the endlessly accelerating speed of technological tools in the marketplace leaves non-millennials feeling lost and afraid for their income and their identity. "Who is that young person to know more about marketing than me?! I've been doing this for as many years as she is alive!" The fact is, she just may understand much, not all, of it better than you. And that is terrifying.

Who am I to say this? I'm either the last baby boomer born or the first Gen Xer - I was born in November of 1965. I've worked in the corporate sector for 30 years as an art director and an operations/management expert. For the past 10 years, I've had my own business where I worked with all 3 generations, and most especially millennials. Some millennials are indeed cocky, entitled and rude. Some are hard working, humble, and eager to learn. Based on my first hand experience, I don't think they are any different than I was at 26, or my parents at 26, or my grandparents at 26. A quick history of 20-somethings:

  • In 1920, "teenagers and young women flaunted convention and spent their time pursuing fun instead of settling down to raise children in the prime of their lives." They were called flappers and it was an outrage.

  • In 1956, Elvis shook his hips on tv and the entire United States of America freaked out.
  • In 1968, Woodstock. Need I say more?
  • In 1991, everyone whined about those Gen X slackers.
  • It's now 2016 and Millennials are playing the same role as every generation before them. The youth of America have always questioned and pushed the limits of the status quo. What's different this time is technology. Sure, Gen Xers had technology, but it's exponentially more advanced now. Let me explain by using the creative/marketing industry, my background, as the example.

    Remember 1991 when I begged to learn about that thing called a macintosh? An article from the Harvard Business Review from the same year stated, the "center of gravity in the company has shifted from finance to engineering-- and now to marketing." The article is titled "Marketing Is Everything"1 and how accurate this turned out to be.

    I started out in the design side of marketing in 1988 and witnessed the shift from my department being in the background to becoming the foreground of the retail world I was in. I was there when J.Crew created their first ecommerce site (I think that was 1995?). The youngest, sharpest member of the team saw the future and took ecommerce to that higher level. I was watching and learning from someone 10 years younger than me and, frankly, he had a vision of what could be that my brain couldn't even imagine. His brain was digital; mine was analog. He went on to create Popsugar. Enough said.

    An article from square2marketing.com called "Old school advertising vs. A new inbound marketing strategy"2 from 2012 beautifully explains the changes in marketing over the years:

    The Old, Outbound Way Of Marketing
    Let's start with what many of us boomer/gen xers learned in college: reach and frequency. The idea was that if you tell as many people as possible, as many times as possible about your business, eventually they will buy from you.

    The New Way: Inbound Marketing
    We suggest blogs, social media, videos and your website: Instead of shoving unwanted messages in the customer's face, you are engaging him or her in a conversation using digital technology that communicates a valuable message. This engages the customer at a deeper level, personalizing the conversation on his or her own terms.

    The digital space - blogs, social media, videos, sites - are ever changing. The tools we use to create and deliver the inbound marketing efforts are endlessly evolving. Just like the levels in Mario or Pokemon Go. Brad Szollose3, a colleague of mine explained it to me this way (I'm paraphrasing), 'In electronic games, you have to just go for it blindly- no rule books or instructions - and fail in order to learn the rules. The faster you fail the faster you succeed. And in order to succeed at the next level, you must forget what you learned earlier because the rules keep changing. Not only that, but there is no hierarchy.' Everyone is equal in slither, mortal combat or minecraft. Holy cow! This explains so much.

    Millennials eat, sleep and breathe digital. This means their brains are digitally oriented. Which means they trust that mistakes will lead them to success, they don't see the value in hierarchy, and they don't have the time for old school approaches to business.

    Aye, there's the rub. So how to manage Millennials?

    I did a survey on the topic of managing millennials. Only millennials were allowed to respond. 72% of the respondents were 25-34 years olds, and 24% were 19-24 years old. 92% were female identified. 80% worked full time, 12% part time, 8% were self-employed. 24% felt they clashed with their boss; 72% felt their boss understood millennials. In my effort to get a lot of responses, I asked too few questions, and probably not the right questions. The most valuable information was from the open question: What else do you want Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to know about you?

    That we don't feel entitled... We just have to work a lot harder than they did to get where they got faster than we can. It was much easier for them to go to college, work a job and pay it off without graduating with a mortgage sized loan; it was also easier for them get jobs right out of college or without any college that paid enough for them to get married, buy a house, and start a family. We are living in the most competitive of times, and I firmly believe that what people think of as us feeling "entitled" is actually just us fighting for success and wanting to be able to succeed and get to where they were at our ages.

    The job is not all about the money. I would like them to work harder to provide the right training, support and lively company culture.

    Millennials are not all the same, not always social media/device obsessed. Most have real-life interests and hobbies that don't include technology.

    I want community, and connection.

    We like flexibility in workplace. We value work-life balance. My boss went on his first vacation in 10 years. I can't sit still if I don't fly somewhere every other month.

    That when we (millenials) are looking for challenge or to advance our careers possibly quicker than those from another generation at our age, it's not because we're arrogant and don't want to prove ourselves, but it's because we're hungry to contribute to our roles and company in newer ways.

    I have experienced agism, which I would have never thought to be a thing, and it is a very serious situation. Simply because I appear to be a "millennial" and due to the picture that publications and the media have painted regarding people my age, I have been verbally assaulted and publicly shamed for "not being able to compute" and pegged as "only interested in taking selfies." Tell me how Kylie Jenner (a celebrity that I genuinely respect for various reasons) who is 18....and not a millennial...has become a poster child for my generation (i.e. selfies)? The medias portrait for the mid to late twenty somethings has assisted in slashing interviews, it has ruined first impressions and overall slandered the names of all the humans being born during a particular 5-10 year period. I can't express how ridiculous this is and how little age really matters in the modern work place.

    We have great ideas - You have business savvy. We need to find a way to cooperate and try to problem solve.

    We are aware if we are being talked down to and being 'tamed'. Which just causes resentment, especially for that term [millennials]. I'm in that age range and refuse to identify with that term. Because society has made that term demeaning. If you want to speak to millennials, speak and listen to them like you would with any other colleague you respect and understand you can learn from. That is how you 'manage millennials'. Treat them without the label and respect them.

    I'm in a networking group with millennials and a few gen x/boomers. The emails are filled with tools I'll never fully master because the minute I do, the technology changes. Plus, mastering social media tools isn't my area of expertise or interest. I'm much more interested in helping people of all ages connect, create and collaborate. The vast majority of people in my networking group are dedicated to social media as marketing tools and they must be on their best game, All. The. Time. Their jobs are partially to do the marketing itself, but also to constantly be researching, analyzing and reporting on the latest tools available. The marketing role has shifted into a Research & Development role. Find something out there or make your own, play with it, adjust how you use it, analyze it, and share it. Here are 2 recent exchanges from my networking group:

    Jul 15, 2016 at 9:27 AM
    Hey guys! I just stumbled on this cool tool call Senders today. It's basically "caller ID" for email. I just signed up and thought it might be helpful for others who deal with new people every day. Here is the link. Happy Friday everyone!

    July 15, 2016 at 11:42:19 AM
    Hey! This is cool. This actually reminds me of Rapportive before
    LinkedIn bought them and kind of shut them down. I wonder if LI will
    buy these guys too, so I better use 'em while I still can ;).

    July 15, 2016 at 11:51:22 AM
    This does look very cool! Thanks for sharing.

    July 15, 2016 at 1:52:57 PM
    This looks interesting. However, if it removes trackers from the emails, then what's that going to do to email marketing campaign results?

    July 15, 2016 at 3:57:44 PM
    Not sure, I would write them to find out. It only works for Google/Google Apps emails, so I don't know if it would work for large scale campaigns. Interested to hear the result!

    July 15, 2016 at 4:57:44 PM
    I installed it and just saw one from our dear [name withheld] so I thought I'd share! From what I can tell, it's basically like a Vcard at the bottom of an email. Like [name withheld] said, similar to what Rapportive would do in the right-hand sidebar. I actually prefer it within the email. This was below [name withheld] signature line. Cool!

    The second email exchange:

    Jul 14, 2016, at 10:48 AM
    Happy Thursday everyone!!! Though I may be the only person in this city not currently playing Pokémon GO, I did jump on the bandwagon and create some content for the brand I work for. I'm not one to toot my own horn too much but we made Digiday's Pokémon GO brand winners on Facebook with our post. I'm so psyched to be listed among some really great brands I just had to share the article with you all: [link]

    July 14, 2016 at 11:59:52 AM
    NICE!!! I'm not playing (no time, hopefully soon) but I'm obsessed. Great innovation for small businesses. I'm so excited about what it's doing for brands and small businesses. Excellent option for hyper local marketing. I think it's the greatest disruptor for business since social media itself. Curious to see how it grows on a larger scale for larger businesses throughout the year. I think it's a huge force that will be undeniable on a business level ahead of VR.

    July 14, 2016 at 11:04:22 AM
    YES great work!

    July 14, 2016 at 10:58:03 AM
    Great work! You should meet my other friend who also feels like she's the only person in the city / world not playing :) Though, eventually if you do cave in & play, I have a whoooole bunch of tips & tricks to share with you!!

    July 14, 2016 at 12:30:19 PM
    That's fantastic! congrats!

    There are emails asking for guidance on Virtual reality, augmented reality, grapevine, Instagram, retention marketing, Livestream, how Facebook is annoyingly updating its feeds, and endless more digitally focused topics. The responses will reach upwards of twenty, each with the sole purpose of helping, guiding, and cheering on each other. And look how quickly we respond to each other. It's a real-time world. People share job openings, make introductions, and tweet out each other's articles. I have never experienced such a collegial and supportive group of people, and many of us have never met in person. Are there snotty exchanges every now and again? Of course. We're a bunch of humans with egos. But there is a profound thread through it all: the understanding that in order to succeed, we must help each other.

    Ok, but Rena, how do we manage Millennials?

    Here's how.
    1. Acknowledge that Millennials may in fact know more about something technological than we do. This does not devalue what we bring; it compliments it. In order to run a business efficiently, we need both. State this clearly when you encounter the cocky Millennial, just the same as you would a cocky Gen Xer or Boomer.
    2. Breathe. When a millennial is cocky, have compassion for him. The source of cockiness is insecurity. It always has been, for as long as we humans have existed. Consider that this cocky 26 year old just wants to be seen, heard and understood as an individual. And if that doesn't work, counsel him out. Cockiness at any age is unacceptable in the workplace and you have a responsibility to ensure the environment is safe and respectful.
    3. Recognize your own discriminatory thoughts. We all have them. Pay attention to when you mutter "f*cking millennial" under your breath. You're ascribing a huge list of negative associations that may or may not apply to this individual. Break down what is actually bugging you about this specific person who happens to be the age of a millennial and determine what steps need to be taken to resolve the issues.
    4. With a challenging millennial, determine if the challenges are with her interpersonal style or work product performance? A job is 50% interpersonal skill and 50% work product. This will help you focus on the appropriate areas for improvement. This works well with all humans, regardless of their generation.
    5. If she creates amazing marketing strategies but assumes she should be running the entire program worldwide at 26 years old, have compassion for this naïve yet super talented individual. It's hard for her to know what she doesn't know and it's equally hard for us older folks to remember that super talented people may excel in strategy but have no understanding of the bigger picture of running a business. She may come across as cocky, or she may just be going for it - electronic game style (the faster she fails, the faster she succeeds).
    6. Ask millennials questions and listen. Speak about these stereotypes openly and hear what millennials have to say. Try hard to enter the conversation with an open, non-defensive mind. Know your worth regardless of whether he does. Show up as the professional, respectful, and experienced leader you are. That's what quality people, including millennials, want.

    There is no doubt in my mind that I will piss off people of every generation reading this article. It's part of the reason I took so long to publish it. Each side of this argument wants me to choose their side and I can't. For me, the question of how to manage Millennials comes down to this:
    In my work, I've met thousands of people and they all share one desire: to be seen, heard, and understood. This applies to every generation of human being, not just millennials. But it does include millennials and I think we miss that because we ascribe cockiness to them so easily. I urge us all to slow down just a smidge, to look at each other and consider how we might shift the workplace dynamics to balance both the old school approach and the new electronic game mentality. It's new and it's scary for both sides.

    If you want to learn more about the Compassionate Management approach that is extremely effective cross-generationally, go to http://managementformillennials.com

    1. Https://hbr.org/1991/01/marketing-is-everything
    2. Http://www.square2marketing.com/blog/bid/128207/Old-School-Advertising-vs-A-New-Inbound-Marketing-Strategy
    3. http://www.bradszollose.com/