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Ordinary People Taking Action
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The Wrong Conversation
I’ll start by saying this. I believe we are having the wrong conversation about millennials. I promise to explain why, but you’ll need some context first. So let’s back up several years.
Approximately 10 years ago, I found myself in an interesting professional niche. I was a little older than 30 and found myself easily connecting with senior-level leads at large organizations, such as Microsoft. Around that same time, I found myself easily relating to recent college graduates who were new to the professional world – the mid-20-somethings. It didn’t take long before this dynamic led me to take on the role of “coach”, bridging the communication gap between millennials and the executive team.
Consistently, what I’d hear from the executive team, primarily 50-something men at the time, was that the millennials were “hard to manage,” “entitled,” “self-absorbed,” “uncommitted,” and a long list of additional not-so-flattering words.
The millennials were mainly asking questions. “Why are we labeled?” “Was it this hard for you?” “Do they not like me?” A list of questions that, at first glance, could come across as very self-absorbed.
I supported these two groups as the “bridge”, directly and indirectly, for a total of 7 years, across three different companies. The conversation was always the same.
Then, I had about a 2-year break from talking about millennials. I think this happened when I joined Amazon. I found myself surrounded by some of the smartest young talent, and I don’t think the millennial conversation came up once.
In the next phase of my career, I supported the philanthropy team of 26 children’s hospitals across North America. As part of my role, I visited all 26 hospitals, conducting a needs analysis to understand employee and leadership development needs. And, there it was, alive and well. You guessed it – the millennial conversation. I was hearing the very same question I’d been faced with years ago – “How do we manage millennials?”
Fast forward to about a month ago, when I did some crowd source data collection. Through social media, I asked people to respond with their age and job title. I explained that names would not be used and in hindsight, I wish I would have asked for company name. But oh well. This isn’t about scientific research – at least not yet.
I should probably add this caveat. I live in the greater Seattle area, right on the border of Redmond (Microsoft headquarters) and Woodinville (in an upper-middle-class area). Around me, there are a lot of executives of large companies, doctors, lawyers – basically really smart and highly paid professionals. My association of connections on social media would all probably be considered privileged. Most of my network is college educated. I add this caveat to point out that this is not a true test across varying demographics.
With 567 respondents, 81% of people between the ages of 37-41 are senior managers or above, with 27% being VP level. Of respondents between the ages of 33 – 37, 62% are self-employed business owners. What this small study tells me is that we are indeed having the wrong conversation. It is no longer how we manage millennials. The conversation should be, “How are millennials managing us?”
What my (albeit informal) study tells me is that despite the scorn they continually face, millennials are succeeding. So why can’t we acknowledge that they may have some strengths? Maybe even something that we could learn from? Better yet, why don’t we stop lumping them together and instead assess their talents and shortcomings on an individual basis?
Digesting all of this makes my brain spin. It’s overwhelming. I continue to ask myself:
· Why have we labeled one generation so harshly?
· Why is the generational label so defining?
· Isn’t openly criticizing an entire generation a form of age discrimination?
· Isn’t it true that all generations bring a new – and different – perspective into the workplace?
· Why do we keep asking how to manage millennials?
I have some theories on this and when the time comes for me to give a TEDTalk or publish a book, I’ll have no shortage of material. But I can’t wait until then to get the message out. This is an important topic, one that we should be talking about.
Here is what I know about my peers, those on the cusp of both generation X and millennials:
· We genuinely approach the world from a place of abundance.
· Life is more about relationships and through effective relationships, we make a huge impact.
· We believe it’s not about business impact, it’s about overall impact.
· We don’t separate life and work; we live life whole.
· Our courage, confidence and enthusiasm are contagious – and often misunderstood.
· When it comes to status vs experience; experience wins – every time.
As I started this post, I believe we are having the wrong conversation. I invite you to join me in this discussion – and change the millennial conversation. It’s not about generations anymore – it’s about people. All people.
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