It seems that there is some millennial, Gen Y, Gen X, or other young person reminding me every day of how old I am and how I am out of touch. They say I don't understand them and can't adapt to new technologies. Hey, like many in America’s building supply industry, I am starting to show some gray hair, so they got me on that. But don’t say I don’t understand you—I do. My understanding just doesn't fit your narrative.
Questioning my ability to adapt especially puts a burr up my backside because these younger folks have no clue of what they are talking about. If it sounds like I am a little offended; well, I guess I am.
Let’s talk about the age thing. The stereotype perpetuated by our younger friends is that anyone over 50 is out of touch and probably suffering from Alzheimer’s. I am 54 but have the mind and enthusiasm of a 20-year-old. As anyone my age will tell you, it seems like it was only yesterday that we were kids. That damn clock on the wall never stops and I don’t want it to, because it has stopped for too many friends and family members too soon. I have seen enough in my life to know I have seen too much, but I know that just because I don’t get excited or know about the latest video game doesn’t make me an ineffective leader.
I hear executives across America warn our generation of leaders that we have to learn to talk with millennials and adapt our business principles to accommodate their social media and cultural aspirations to remain viable. I really don’t buy what they are selling. I am a proponent and huge participant in social media, but it doesn’t affect my core business principles. Social media is just another tool of communication—that’s all.
The company organization has to be established by its leadership and should not be compromised because some 25-year-old wants to stay on Facebook all day. When did we lose the work principle that when you’re at work, you work and don't goof off? What should speak to any perspective employee, whether they are 21 or 51, is a company that has good pay, good benefits, provides a good work environment, and is managed efficiently. If a millennial can’t understand that concept, I wouldn’t hire that person.
What offends me most is the claim that my generation can’t accept change and new technology is overwhelming us. Seriously? In my lifetime, I have gone from cash registers to servers on the cloud; hard phones to smart phones, with radios and beepers in between, and every other modern innovation that makes doing business easier.
As an 8-year-old boy in Starkville, Miss., we had one black-and-white television with aluminum foil on the rabbit ears, a black rotary dial phone on the wall that was connected to a party line, and a $5 dime store AM radio that could pick up radio station WWL in New Orleans at night. My video game was an old-fashioned Monopoly board and for fun, we played poker. (Yes, I played poker at 8 years old — sorry about that, Preacher.) Don’t tell me I haven’t seen tremendous change in the last 35 years and can't adapt.
My parents and grandparents saw tremendous changes in their lifetimes too. The younger generation doesn’t have a monopoly on change like many claim. If our millennial friends had lived in 1968 with no air conditioning, no HD televisions, no smart phones, and no video games, they would understand that most in our generation not only embrace change, we love it because it makes our lives so much easier.
The goal for any executive is to attract the best talent, but not at the expense of compromising the company’s core beliefs. It appears some have forgotten who works for whom. I look at this new generation optimistically, because there are many emerging great leaders. But in the same breath, I can tell you there is a problem with many in regards to work ethic and character. This fact is borne out to me daily with countless numbers of millennials who cannot pass drug tests or background checks and are unable to work basic schedules. Something is wrong. Just look at the country’s employment participation rate. Who's really out-of-touch?
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