Millennials (people born from the early 1980s to 2000) are the most talked about and most studied generation in today’s workforce. I've added to those studies by publishing a book, The Millennial Challenge, delivering numerous Millennial presentations, and appearing on various blogs and podcasts including The Curated Experience – twice (episode 11 and episode 13)!
Interestingly, we don’t talk about any other generation like we do Millennials. We also don’t change an entire organization’s hiring practices, management policies, and even corporate culture to attract and keep workers like we do Millennial employees.
Most of the editorial written about Millennials revolves around negative stereotypes and characteristics. When asking older workers about Millennials, words such as entitled, lazy, and opinionated quickly roll off the tongue. While stereotypes come about for a reason and these words may in fact apply to some if not many young workers, there is growing thought that the differences Millennials bring to the workplace are not so unique from previous generations.
For example, Millennials want to make as much money as possible. Millennials want to be respected. Millennials want to enjoy the work environment and their colleagues, want the opportunity to learn new things and grow within the organization, and want a good boss. How are these things different than any other generation?
Within these similarities, though, Millennials have slightly different expectations. For example, everyone wants a good work environment. Millennials, however, more than previous generations, want to work for a company that has a great corporate culture. Millennials also want to know how their individual work contributes to the organization’s overall performance as well as understand how the organization itself makes their community and the world a better place.
In addition to these generational similarities, Millennials also have several defining characteristics. Research shows a Millennial brain thinks and fires differently than brains of older workers. This new way of thinking allows Millennials to address business issues in unique ways, often finding distinct and creative solutions to business problems.
Millennials tend to be more flexible than previous generations and therefore have higher expectations of workplace flexibility. This desire for a flexible work life, also known as work/life integration, means a Millennial worker may leave the office at 4pm, hang out with friends until 7, go home and log into the network for a few minutes, break for a three-hour Netflix binge, and then log back into the corporate network at 11pm for a few hours. Yes, some Baby Boomers may do the same, but most Boomers will be sleeping at midnight.
So what’s the bottom line? To be a high-performing organization, workers of all ages must work side-by-side in a healthy corporate environment. In fact, generational differences are just one aspect of diversity. Research is beginning to show that the highest performing organizations are also high in ethnic, gender and cultural diversity.
And for all of the hand wringing around the downfall of business due to Millennials’ inability to contribute to the corporate world, it’s turning out that Millennials have much to offer the workplace. And the tactics implemented to attract and retain Millennials are the same tactics organizations should use to build an attractive work environment for workers of all ages.
Does your organization focus on attracting Millennials or is it trying to
build an engaging culture that benefits all employees? What makes your
culture engaging and employee-friendly?
Are we losing the ability to connect with people on a deep level? Is technology preventing us from making meaningful, personal connections with each other?
At least in the business world, I would say yes. Not only are we becoming a less “personal touch” society, we are becoming a less helpful society.
Years ago, before mobile phones, before email, and even before voicemail, we conducted business either face-to-face or by phone. Working with customers or handling internal business issues, you had to speak to someone. Yes, certain people, primarily executives, could hide behind their secretary, avoiding pesky sales people, customer complaints, or high-maintenance clients and employees. For the most part, though, we got to know each other – employees, colleagues, clients, customers, and vendors – by visiting face-to-face or voice-to-voice.
Voicemail was our first big step away from personal touch. We pretended (and still do) to want to talk to people, but our actions said (and still do) otherwise. “Your call is very important to me so please leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.” Really? My call is very important to you? For many people, that is simply not true.
A more truthful message would be, “Please leave your name and number and I’ll try to get back to you. If you don’t receive a return call within 48 hours, then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Our next step down the avoid-people rabbit hole was email. Why talk to someone when I could simply send a written note? Of course, in some ways, email improved our communication by allowing “conversations” even when someone wasn’t available by phone.
The flipside, though, is we now get so many emails, we have little time to do much anything else. How many messages are in your Inbox right now?
Next up – mobile phones and texting. Now, not only are we receiving short messages, this technology has ruined our ability to spell.
Today we live and work in a world of Facebook and LinkedIn, two fantastic web services which allow us to stay in touch with friends and business associates. The unintended consequence of these technologies is we now send happy birthday wishes and congratulations on the promotion with just a touch of the button. No thought required. Another step down that impersonal rabbit hole.
So I’m certainly not bashing technology nor do I wish for a time without email and smart phones (truth be known, I get really annoyed when wifi isn’t working on a plane – and I didn’t even have that option a couple of years ago!).
But what would life be like if, rather than just hitting the Like button or sending an automated “Congrats” note, we actually called our friend and offered a hearty, “Congratulations on your new job!”?
In other words, like the late-80s AT&T commercial said, "Reach out and touch someone."
I was visiting a client a few weeks ago and after turning left as I exited the elevator, I was greeted with an empty reception desk. No big deal as that has happened before. So, I simply signed in like I knew I would have to and stood there waiting for someone to enter the room and say, “May I help you?”
Standing in the lobby, I was able to see into the call center as the entire wall was glass and allowed a clear view of one entire side of the floor. The interesting thing is that not only did I have a clear view of the office, but the workers on the other side of the glass also had a clear view of me.
Two minutes turned into five minutes which turned into ten minutes. Still no receptionist. And during that ten-minute wait, I continued watching all of the employees working at their desks and multiple times locked eyes with an employee. Most of those “locks” were just glances as the employee would not look me in the eye for very long. There was even one employee who looked at me as she walked by the glass wall and, several minutes later, looked at me again as she passed by in the opposite direction!
Finally, a person from the Facilities department entered the lobby and just before she passed through the glass wall to the employee side, she stopped, turned, and asked, “Have you been helped?” Well, as a matter of fact, no! I gave her the name of my contact and with a smile she replied, “I’ll find someone who can help.”
She returned just a few seconds later with an employee who then escorted me to my meeting. This Facilities person also apologized for my wait-time in the lobby.
A similar “It’s-not-my-job” mentality took place at O’Hare airport a few years ago as I was waiting to depart for Dallas on United Airlines. The incoming flight was already a few minutes late and when it pulled up to the gate, there was no one to move the jet bridge to the plane.
At the gate next to mine stood two United gate agents talking to each other. No plane at this gate, no passengers. Just two United agents enjoying a good little chat. After a couple of minutes waiting for the jet bridge to move, I took about a dozen steps to these two agents, pointed out the jet bridge delay, and asked for some help. One of the agents replied, “That’s not my gate,” and then returned to her conversation.
So people are waiting to get off one plane and I’m trying to get back to Dallas, and all you have to say is, “It’s not my job.” Now, in their defense, maybe there was a union rule that prevented them from working that gate – maybe. But how about making a call to find the appropriate gate agent? How about an “I’m sorry for the delay” or even a smile? I guess apologies and smiles aren’t in the United gate agents’ job description either.
Exceptional customer service is an easy concept but difficult to carry out. The starting point for an outstanding customer experience is a mindset that the customer is everything. This mindset must permeate the entire organization. It must be talked about relentlessly and lived out by all levels of the organization.
So next time you see someone waiting in your lobby, even if you’re in IT, Accounting, Payroll, Operations, Legal, or any other position, make it your job to delight the waiting customer by welcoming them and asking how you can be of service.
The customer is not always right but the customer should always be king.
Our values should guide every conversation, decision, and interaction. Our values should anchor every product and service we provide and every channel we operate. If we can’t link what we do to one of our values, we should ask ourselves why we’re doing it. It’s that simple.
We have five primary values that are based on our vision and provide the foundation for everything we do:
The above verbiage sounds great, doesn’t it? These are values of a major U.S. bank in support of their vision: “We want to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially.” Who wouldn’t want to work for or do business with a company that believes this?
Sadly, the above words, taken directly from the Wells Fargo website, mean absolutely nothing. A slow-burning scandal that took place for years, low-level bank employees siphoned money from customers and opened bogus accounts and cards using current customers’ personal information, all to meet sales quotas and get sales bonuses. Obviously, this bank’s belief in ethics and customers was simply rhetoric.
In the end, Wells Fargo customers lost money and 5,300 bank employees lost their jobs. One of those employees was Carrie Tolstedt, the senior executive in charge of Wells Fargo’s branches. Amazingly, even though arguably she was the senior executive in charge of the fraudulent scheme, she was able to walk away with a $125 million bonus!
How can this happen? How can a company that espouses the customer and ethics have such widespread fraud? I believe it’s a lack of accountability and a lack of leadership.
I’m confident that if you asked Wells Fargo employees, “What are Wells’ values and how do you live them?” you would get blank stares in return. In fact, asking employees to simply recite the values would be met with that same blank response. Obviously, no one at Wells Fargo was asking employees to name and live out their values. To Wells Fargo employees, those values were simply a nice plaque that hung on the bank branch walls.
While all employees are responsible for living out the corporate values, the person who should live out those values more than anyone is the top leader, in this case Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf. Even when announcing Tolstedt’s departure, he complimented her for being “a champion for our customers.” Apparently, employees, ethics, and customers were just words on a wall for Mr. Stumpf as well.
So how can organizations avoid Wells Fargo’s situation? By openly talking about corporate values, by practicing those values daily, and by having a leadership team that models those values. If you aren’t putting deliberate effort against those values, they will not become ingrained in everyday behaviors and actions.
But what about your company and your leadership? What if your leaders refuse to live out the corporate values? First, you have a choice to make. Do you stay or go? Do you remain with your current organization where “gutless leadership,” a term used to describe Mr. Stumpf’s governance, could lead the entire organization down a very wrong path? Or do you find another organization where leadership believes in and lives out their values?
Second, and most importantly, think about your own actions. Regardless of how leadership and everyone around you behave, you can be true to your corporate values. With every action, decision, and conversation, you have an opportunity to align with your organization’s mission and values.
So hold yourself accountable to making your organization’s values ring true. Doing so will most likely help you engage more with your work and your colleagues, ultimately finding greater job success and satisfaction.
Do you have any corporate values stories, either good or bad? Please share and start a conversation!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.