The GenXer’s Guide to Communicating with Millennials
Warren Wright started Coaching Millennials in response to an overwhelming demand by companies to help hire and manage Millennials. He educates, teaches, and coaches leaders about Millennials and all generations, and consults and speaks frequently on the influence of the Millennial generation. Get in touch with Warren and learn more about Coaching Millennials here.
Nike’s iconic Just Do It was Generation X’s three-word instruction manual to how to operate in the world. It wasn’t Just Have Someone Else Do It, or Just Do It as a Team. These three words resonated so deeply with GenXers like me because we didn’t have an expectation that anyone else was going to do anything for us. After all, they thought we were wasted. Furthermore, there was a competitive, win or lose undertone to the messaging like icy cold water on the face first thing in the morning. Our motivation was survival. Someone had to lose for us to win—that was the way of the world.
We didn’t ponder deeply about the meaning of doing or spend countless hours perfecting our craft and justifying its value as Boomers did. We valued efficiency, pragmatism, and utility. And when someone criticized our work, we shrugged and said … “whatever.”
Are you with me, Xers? Well, let me get to the point because Xers like to get to the point:
Millennials were raised differently than you—they have different values and see the world in a different way than you. They communicate differently and are motivated differently. From a generational perspective, they have very little in common with you. So, here are things you need to know:
You are Scary
To a Millennial, you are scary. Millennials are a nice generation. They are polite, caring, and pay attention to people’s feelings. They invented Facebook, where you “like” people. You had murky My Space. You had Pong, where your only advantage was reptilian speed, and later Atari, Space Invaders, and Pac Man, where you were constantly on the run from the bad guy.
Don’t be mean to Millennials. Tough love does not work. At all. Stay positive and point out their accomplishments. I know it is really hard and painful to do it, but just do it.
There is no “I” in Team
To GenXers there was no “I” in team, but that was okay because there was just no team. No team needed. Millennials are a collaborative generation. They were raised by Barney who told them to work together and respect others feelings. You were raised by Tom and Jerry, Beavis and Butthead, and an endless stream of ads for sugary breakfast cereals that rotted your teeth. Then you had to go to the dentist before they invented “painless dentistry.”
Consider hiring Millennials in batches—at the same time, like cords of wood—so they can all start together and get trained together and build rapport with one another. Compensate them in teams for achieving team performance. Reorganize your workspace with lots of big tables where they can congregate and work together. If it’s painful for you to join them as part of the team, that’s okay, just stay away. Remember, you are scary to them anyways.
If you are Managing Millennials, give them a roadmap of their job and their responsibilities. But not the kind of roadmap that you had. Your roadmap had ‘start’ and ‘end’ on it, with a straight line in between. The roadmap for Millennials is detailed. And beautiful. It has stops every 100 feet that say, “‘How ya doing?’ And ‘Keep going, you’re lookin’ great!’” It has smiley face emojis and low fat protein snack bars that give them energy but do not make them fat. Their roadmap is designed with care by their manager that assures their success, provides guardrails to guarantee there is no failure. It has tokens and points and small cash prizes to help them pay off their $30,000 student loan.
It includes their parents. Your roadmap had nothing to do with your parents. You were lucky if they knew where you worked or what you did. Millennial parents not only know this, they know what kind of boss you are, and they they have developed a log on your behavior, as a manager. Are you good enough for their little Jacob or Amanda? You will know soon enough.
This may be the hardest thing for you to do, but you need to spend more time with your Millennials. Regular intervals of feedback are an essential element in managing Millennials. Your boss didn’t spend much time with you but you didn’t want to be around him with his Boomer bad breath and stupid maxims about early to bed, and early to rise.
Millennials actually trust and respect authority figures. It started with their parents who were always supportive, caring, and flying the helicopter low and close to make sure they were safe from nearly every threat that never really existed.
You don’t need to spend long period of time with them, as your creepy boss did when he wanted to take you for a drink after work. A short check-in every day for 5-minutes is perfect for Millennials. Their brains operate in short intervals anyway. For the time it takes to check their Facebook, load an Instagram of their adorably funny cat, and Snap a friend, you can cover the basics of their goals for the day, and provide the tools for their success. You have to let them know you’ve got their back. Think of yourself as that one teacher or one coach that you had when you were young (not the pedophile) that really took a genuine interest in your growth and development. That is the kind of Xer manager you need to be to your Millennials.
You can do this.