ProSales cover, april 2017

Except in parts of the South, I’ve noticed relatively few adults and scarcely any children say “ma’am” and “sir” any more. And now I read in The Washington Post that psychologists and other experts are exploring whether the proliferation of artificial intelligence gadgets like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana will speed the demise of saying “please” and “thank you,” because those devices don’t care what niceties you use so long as you start by saying their name.

The article quoted California-based venture capitalist Hunter Walk as blogging that he fears Alexa is “turning our daughter into a raging a****** because Alexa tolerates poor manners.” Walk adds, “Cognitively, I’m not sure a kid gets why you can boss Alexa around, but not a person.” Others suspect kids are talking less with their parents because AI devices give better answers and don’t make you wait to speak.

In other words, for all of you currently in the workforce, no matter whether you’re a boomer or a Gen X-er or a millennial, you are likely to notice potentially disturbing differences when the next generation joins your team. That’s how it always has been; every generation is shaped by its era’s technology, economy, and mindset. Some you won’t like. Some could revolutionize your company. All will have to be dealt with one way or other, because they’re your future labor pool.

Our research--much of which we've collected in April's cover story--has uncovered two things about these trends. First, you will have to adapt your business style, because expectations are changing. Fewer people are stopping by the contractor desk for popcorn and conversation while more want to deal with you through text messaging and a robust website. For the most part, those changes will make your operation more efficient and potentially more profitable.

Second, don’t fret. The number of millennials we’ve seen taking over lumberyards (see examples from Missouri, Louisiana, and Ohio) as well as those entering our Four Under 40 recognition program leaves us convinced that LBM has plenty of young people in the pipeline who look likely to become this industry’s next leaders. And they work just as hard as you.

As members of this year’s class suggested when we honored them last month at the ProSales 100 Conference, there are ways you can help assure the next generation succeeds. Give them a chance. Look for individuals who show evidence of wanting to do a good job and be of service to others.

And once they’re aboard, give them real responsibilities. The Four Under 40 members all said they are eager to show their elders what they can do, if only they can get the opportunity. The youngsters in your midst may feel the same, even if they don’t call you “sir.”