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6 Practices for Successfully Leading the Millennial Generation

Nov 4, 2021 by David Branch 0 Comments

David Branch-2

You just can’t find good help these days! 

If you're like me, you've heard this saying and have likely said it yourself a thousand times!

It has been so difficult and discouraging to find the right employees to hire in our company that, for about two years, I all but refused to grow my business. Growth meant I would have to hire and train new employees just to have them leave once we started seeing some real return from this new employee. And after twenty-five years of business, I did not want to continue fighting the with many millennials—often trouble with work ethic and frequent job-hoping. I had a choice: keep suffering or find a solution. So, I made it my mission to discover the real issue and determine a solution!

As an employer, I have hired many millennials. They typically interview well and talk like they are eager to work and grow with the company, but once they get the job, things change. After a few months (or maybe just weeks), I begin to hear them say things like “I don’t feel passionate about this work,” or “I would like the ability to work from home.” One thirty-year-old guy told me he didn't realize he would have to work this hard, so he called his mom to come and pick him up!

There have been multiple instances like this with millennials in my organization in the past 7-10 years. But, if I'm truthful, it was my fault that it didn't work out in each of these cases. I’m the one who interviewed and hired them, so ultimately the blame has to rest on me. We all know that a bad hire frequently costs $10k or more plus a ton of time. But done right, I believe we can mitigate a lot of this frustration for everyone involved!

In the early years of being a business owner, hiring new talent was relatively simple. In our community, I could put the word out and within a few days or a week, I would have the position filled. Back then, I looked for talent, meaning people who had the experience and skills necessary to do the job and who could also pass a background check. I was confident that once they were part of the team, they would be here for about as long as we wanted them unless they moved or retired.

Hardly ever did anyone quit. They were looking for a stable place to work where they could depend on a weekly paycheck. No one ever mentioned being passionate about their work. As an employer, it seems those were the good ole days but were they really? 

Sure, employees were dependable, and sure, they were committed, but how many were committed to jobs they hated? How many were part of horrible work cultures? How many of them spent 25-40 years of their life hating their job? Is that really what we want? Is that really what’s best for our business in the long-run?

When someone stays because they are committed or job-scared, the employer doesn’t have to put in nearly as much effort into retaining employees. We just have to offer a raise here and there, decent benefits, and some sort of measly retirement. In return, the employee just had to do the bare minimum to keep their job because they had learned the “system” and knew what they could get away with. With that sort of arrangement, everyone finds a good place and coasts, and as a result, I believe everyone, including our businesses, suffered.

What we need today is a group, employers and employees, that is motivated to succeed together. We need a true TEAM! But what do employees need to be motivated to succeed?

1. They Need to Feel Valued and Affirmed by Their Leader

You've heard it said: people quit managers, not companies.  Maybe a good old pat on the back is not good enough anymore. For someone to feel valued, you've got to spend time getting to know them. The book Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace was super helpful to me in learning how to value my employees.

2. They Have to Know Their Work Matters and How They Make a Difference 

Maybe you manufacture medicine to cure some disease—that sure seems like it would make a difference. But what if an employee sweeps the floor and doesn’t directly impact the life-saving medicine? He needs to know that the work he does matters. If he can’t believe that, then he will feel at a loss, that he is not contributing and he will leave. You must spend time to determine the difference he makes and explain it to him so that he truly understands it.

3. They Want to be Part of a Close-Knit Team

Casual friends at work are not always enough. Millennials are all about community. I’ve discovered that people love to win together. Hire people that will get along well with the group, and then give them a goal to reach as a team. 

4. They look for a Clear Path of Progression

Telling young employees that they can advance in your company is not enough. They want to know step-by-step what they must do to climb the ladder the fastest. Don't let this intimidate you. Heck, when I’m interviewing candidates and we discuss what their opportunities are, I show them my chair and say, “if you want it and work hard, you can have it.” Then I show them exactly what they must do to get it.

On a side note: wouldn't that be great if someone you trained took your seat? Then you could  grow your company or sell it to them if you wanted! Either way, it would be a win!

5. They Need To Have Clear Expectations

This has been difficult for me through the years. When I would give new employees their job duties, at the end I'd add something like “and other duties as assigned.” What is this? Well, it’s my cop-out for when I need someone to step up and cover something I hadn't thought of until then.

There will always be a need to step up and step out of your job description, but when used as a way to cover up unclear expectations, things become muddy and less productive. Take the time to figure out what you really need and allow your employees to focus on that!

6. They Want To Be Paid Well For the Value They Bring

This one needs to be clear. People get paid for the value they bring, not the value they are. We need to make sure employees understand that their pay is tied directly to results and not a reflection of their value as a person. The best solution I have found is to put a dollar amount to goals met, status achieved, or other clear measures. When it’s not clear and they don't know what winning looks like, people get discouraged. Often, they will compare themselves to others in the company and assume favoritism, and then things fall apart. Make sure everyone knows exactly how to make more money and exactly how their effort equates to their income.

No, it is not as easy as I make it sound. It is difficult to build an outstanding team—it takes a lot of time, concentration, and effort to follow through on this list consistently, but I know it can be done. The majority of my organization is now millennial, and I have some rockstars! It takes time, intentionality, and perseverance, but you can do it! 

Looking for a practical, leading-edge strategy development process that is market-driven? Check out our High-Involvement Planning Workshop

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Topics: Company Culture, Employee Engagement, Employee Recruitment and Retention, Relationships

David Branch
Written by David Branch

David is the President and CEO of Branch Solutions Group, a business and leadership training company. His perspective as a business coach and teacher stem from his 24 years of “in the trenches” experience as the owner of a construction company and an environmental remediation company. Being fully engaged in the daily functions of these businesses, David knows first-hand the daily struggles business owners face. David will share how he used open book leadership to become completely debt free and take his business from surviving to thriving.

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Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.