December 22, 2014

The Gen Y Handbook: Talking Business With Millennials

gen y handbookIn the latest Star Trek movies, the brashness of the character Captain James Kirk is called into question as part of the character’s arc. Kirk jumps into action, sometimes being reasonably insightful, other times questioning long established protocols.

For a character that was invented in the 1960s, Kirk’s character, particularly in “new millennium” form, could very easily represent the personality of the American population born after 1980 – called Generation Y or Millennials. This generation has experienced a convergence of unprecedented social and economic influences.

While the “Greatest Generation” has been galvanized by the world at war, millennials are coming of age as computer-savvy enablers. They have witnessed perceived failures in government and organizations, and are imbued with more opportunity to share their viewpoint to the world.

That viewpoint – 75 million examples, roughly a third of the US population – was enough to influence a presidential election. As Rieva Lesonsky wrote in “Managing Different Generations in the Workplace“, it is more than enough to influence your business.

I share these observations to frame the purpose behind the book, The Gen Y Handbook: Applying Relationship Leadership to Engage Millennials by Diane E. Spiegel.

Spiegel is a 25 year corporate training veteran who is a founding partner of The End Result Partnership, a consultation firm.   I gained a review copy from the publisher and after reading it I felt more empowered in my working style especially if I were working with adults slightly younger than me.  I now felt I understood them better.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation (And Unlike The Who, Other Generations, Too)

Spiegel explains how a confluence of influences has created some misconceptions – that Millennials are “entitled,” for example.   Harboring those misconceptions can overlook opportunities to connect and misunderstand why millennials “come to the workplace with different ideas.”  She writes, “Every generation brings its collective experiences, complexities and expectation to the workplace.”

Immediately Siegel jumps into set-the-record-straight mode from her experiences:

“During workshops I hear from many participants who, although they agree that Millennials are smart, think they lack common sense and sometimes need assistance connecting the dots. Part of this challenge is that they have been educated to collaborate and work on teams – a good attribute, but challenging if they are asked to work independently. In a significant shift in values, they also do not identify with the concept that you first need to ‘pay your dues’ before you can advance at work, and this can cause conflict with the values of their Baby Boomer and Generation X managers.”

The book delves into specific instances in which Millennial values can influence the workplace. Millennials are ethnically diverse, less likely to hold a religious affiliation, and entrepreneurial aspirational as they have sought early careers during the global recession.

Learn How Social Media Has Influenced How We Communicate

The writing style is straightforward. I really like the metaphors that brought messages to life.  “Helicopter Parents” are millennial guardians who fly low and hover over their children with respect to coaching, while “Trophy Kids” evokes pride in accomplishments.  But the terms, like the suggestions, are not meant to be pejorative.  They elaborate on the complexity of Generation Y with respect and add clarity to the recommendations.

For example, Millennials value trust.  This is not new in Spiegel’s view.  In using social media, they rely on transparency to decide their expressions and communication style. Spiegel suggests how to establish trust:

“When many Baby Boomers began their careers, the concept was that you have a “zero” until you demonstrated what you can do, what skills you possess, and you begin to accumulate contributions….Millennials believe, as they have been told, that they are smart, competent, and that they can get results. When you start a new relation strive for an ‘A’, 100 percent, or a perfect score.  This sends the message that I believe in you, your skills, and what you bring to the job or team. Sharing this intent with others, especially your Millennial talent, will provide you an approach that is consistent with the paradigm of this generation”

This approach can help in discussing controversial personal choices, such as a Millennial’s tattoos. The topic can seem too esoteric an instance, but Spiegel uses it and others to explain links to business-relevant observations.

A study-noted the penchant to delay adulthood rites like marriage and home buying becomes understood against ideas such as aforementioned immediacy of contributing.  Millennium Minutes provide thought-provoking asides in each chapter, reminders of what takeaways can aid your business.

Ultimately the text in The Gen Y Handbook initiates a valued discussion of generational workplace values and the shifts that are significant to the bottom line. I can imagine the book aiding budding HR resources at a startup with a few years under its belt.  It is also useful for small business owners who have young employees or interns.

For the best blend in developing teams, add this book to your library of resources to make a difference to the people who matter most in your business.

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Pierre DeBois - Associate Book Editor


Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

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