A few months ago, a group of dealers approached me about developing a seminar on managing the next generation of workers. I have to admit I was not 100% sold on the idea. Not that I wasn't interested: I've done enough research to know that the housing industry will change more in the next decade than it has in the past three as baby boomers retire and millennials, now in their teens and 20s, start buying homes. It's not that I don't think the topic is important, either. Attracting young talent is the most pressing long-range challenge dealers face.
But the attitude some managers have toward "spoiled, narcissistic lay-abouts who cannot spell and waste too much time on instant messaging and Facebook," as The Economist put it, sounded like the same "kids today don't want to work" theme my generation heard in our teens and 20s. If so, managing the next one is easy:
1) Forget the notion that the world is going to hell in a hand basket just because it isn't like it was 30 years ago, and
2) Deal with it.
That's not the whole story, though. While it's easy to overgeneralize, different circumstances shape each generational cohort. Like baby boomers (now in their late 40s to mid-60s) and generation Xers (late 20s to late 40s), millennials bring unique talents to work. The trick is harnessing those talents.
In contrast to gen Xers, many of whom grew up as latchkey kids of divorced parents during the unstable 1970s and '80s, both baby boomers and millennials were raised during periods of prosperity and strong emphasis on family values. Boomers' parents tended toward the benevolently authoritarian, "Father Knows Best" stereotype. Millennials' parents-mostly boomers-see themselves as mentors, friends, and protectors.
Millennials are less inclined to rebel against authority as a result, but they also believe they deserve an explanation and have a right to express their opinions. That takes more of a manager's time, but it's not bad-if you can't explain why you do things the way you do, it's probably time to rethink them, anyway. If millennials give you an idea you can use, they just took ownership for the result.
Millennials also grew up in a far more structured environment than boomers. Growing up in the 1950s, I got booted outside each day after school to go play. Millennials were shuttled from soccer to karate to theater to ballet; I've heard stories about 10-year-olds carrying Daytimers.
The upshot is that many are better organized, more goal-oriented, and more collaborative than we were at the same age (and sometimes even now). They like concrete goals and regular feedback, which managers should provide, regardless. They also prefer working in teams, which presents another opportunity. Team selling is, by far, the best way to minimize dependence on lone-wolf salespeople, but most dealers that have tried it failed because of resistance from their veterans. Your up-and-coming millennial sales force is much more likely to embrace the idea.
As for their reputation as serial job hoppers: guilty as charged, but with a caveat. The typical college student today graduates with $20,000 in debt and earns 8% less than he or she did in 2000. They need to make money now or see a path to make it in the future- and that's yet another opportunity. No one considers the building supply business these days-we don't even show up on rankings of preferred careers-but this is one of the last industries where a frontline worker can support a family on a single salary. What are you doing to communicate that?
Millennials also need a higher purpose. More than half performed community service in high school; they believe they can change the world, and they're determined to do so as adults. That's a simple one to channel; instead of "We sell lumber," try "We co-manage construction projects to build homes more affordably and conserve natural resources."
Flowery? Absolutely, but in the end, it's exactly what you do. If you're proud of it, they will be, too.