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The Business of Millenials


(From LinkedIn)

We all know millennials are lazy, entitled, disloyal and flaky. Right?

That’s the familiar vocabulary Lee Caraher encountered when she started researching millennials for her first book. That was five years ago.

As CEO and Founder of Double Forte, a national digital marketing and public relations firm, she was struggling with how to manage a multi-generational workforce; she was especially stymied by how to manage millennials.

In the most recent episode of The Disrupt Yourself Podcast, Caraher shares that in the early days at Double Forte, she only hired people with a minimum of ten years’ experience. Millennials weren’t part of the mix—back then they weren’t old enough to have accumulated that much experience. When the Great Recession hit, out of necessity, they started hiring younger employees. But they didn’t stay. Caraher relates, “We hired six millennials within two months of each other and within three months, they were all gone. Either we’d walked them or they’d walked themselves. I failed miserably.”

Not just a failure; a 100% failure in retaining millennial employees who’d been hired after a stringent recruiting and vetting process.

One person could have been their problem; six people had to be our problem. As the leader of a small company, the problem had to be me.

Caraher began a quest to identify and understand the disconnect between all the other employees she’d hired over the years and the younglings who had crashed and burned within short order. She didn’t know much about millennials at the time—not even that they were labelled that way—but Google was quick to enlighten her.

“They’re terrible and they’re entitled and they’re lazy and they can’t work and they’re rude and they want trophies and they think they can be the boss tomorrow—all this stuff. I was so taken back by how vitriolic the writing was—particularly the stuff that showed up in the first ten pages of Google search—I decided to ignore it and figure it out myself.”

And Caraher’s golden insight: “Because basically a business or an organization without a millennial is a business or an organization without a future. And I decided my business should have a future.”

That may be the critical piece of the puzzle many of us are missing when we complain about the perceived strangeness of our younger colleagues. They are the future—of employment, business, consumption, everything. Whatever they may or may not be, it is their distinctive character that will shape the future; that is even now shaping the present. If they are disrupting the workplace—and they are—wise employers will harness the power of the change, rather than succumbing to helpless fatalism. “We’re not going to be relevant if we don’t have any young people. We’d better figure it out.”

Caraher interviewed many millennials and sifted through research and found that the prevailing reports of generational dysfunction are overstated. “Let’s just say this: an entire generation cannot be entitled.” Not only that, but some of the problems have their origins in older generations. “A lot of the negativity around millennials was more based in Boomers’ and GenXers’ dissatisfaction with their own situation. But, in brief, here are three things she suggests that employers address:

1-  Hierarchy. “Hierarchy is antithetical to the millennial experience. So when you have a hierarchical boss and a non-hierarchical body of people working for them, that tension just comes at you really fast.” Millennials, overall, are more informal. Rigid organization may need to yield to systems that are more organic and egalitarian.

2-  Context. “If you do not provide context for virtually everything that you do, you will not have a successful relationship with your younger, millennial employees.” Caraher suggests making it clear why your business exists. What is the mission? Why are things done the way they are done? Solicit input, encourage feedback and make it clear that opinions matter throughout the enterprise. “Everyone should understand why they show up at the office every single day.”

3-  Expectations. They have to be clear, and often involve a need to explicitly state things that older workers often take for granted, “things that many, particularly Boomers, think they should not have to say.”

The great advantage—the thing that makes the effort to accommodate millennials preferences in workplace culture worth it—is a discovery Caraher has made after implementing changes in her own business. Millennials don’t thrive in the musty, stuffy ways of the past. But cultivate an environment that works for them and not only do they thrive, “Boomers, Xers, Silents [the over 70 generation] thrive more….Because who doesn’t want to know that their opinion matters? Who doesn’t want to know why they’re doing something? Who doesn’t want to have a say in how we can make this better? Who doesn’t want to be excited about why they’re coming to work every day? These are human conditions; they’re not necessarily millennial conditions.”

Learn more about millennial management as well as the value of the boomerang from Lee Caraher by listening here or on iTunes.

You can also read her books: Millennials and Management: the Essential Guide to Making it Work at Work, published in 2014 and The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty from Your Employees.

Written by Whitney Johnson