CEOs: Why you’re failing with Millennials and how to fix it

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There’s a huge Generation Gap  (more like a canyon) that is and will continue to challenge business leaders for the next 10 years.  The Gap is between Boomers (50+ CEOs/senior management/business owners) and Generation Y or Millennials (20 to mid-30 year olds), the group they are hiring or marketing to.  Rapid technology advances and a very different value system have given Gen Y’ers a completely new way to live and work, which has Boomers shaking their heads.

Take a look at the two groups…

Boomers adapted to email and smartphones and consider it to be an accomplishment. They still believe in written communication and a good old fashion phone conversation to get business done.  They likely read the paper and watch or listen to the news.  Their work experience is an office environment set with standard hours of operation.  Success to this group typically equals promotions, titles, salaries, an office with a window and industry stature.  They probably have an assistant, a club membership and maybe even a jet.

Millennials likely haven’t written a letter, printed out and, ee-gads, mailed to the recipient.  They often view talking on the phone as inefficient and rude…because texting is not.  They use Social Media and RSS feeds to get their news and information.  They work nimbly with technology and they don’t rely on anyone else to organize their  life.  Millennials view success as belonging to organizations that are socially conscious and respectful of culture, environment and differences.  Having a broad variety of professional experience is more important that tenure with a company (hint: they move around more frequently).  Success to this group means being able to do their job well on their terms…which likely isn’t a window-less office or slot in a cube-farm office, but at home, at night and weekends, at a café or in a park.

With these two very different orientations and communication styles bridging the gap becomes, at best, challenging.  And the challenge is for you, Mr/Ms 50+ CEO, because the Millennials are more flexible and easy-going, and they will be the ones in charge soon.  The challenge, whether it is a potential employee, the contact at a substantial client or a potential consumer, is that the Millennial you want to reach isn’t receiving information the way you project it.

So how do you fix it? ..because the “fixing” is on your plate.  Whether hiring or marketing to Millennials here’s what you need to do:

Stop judging.  Gen Y sees life through a very different lens.   How they live, work, buy and contribute to society is different, likely odd and very unconventional to your norms.  Be curious, not critical.

Get to know them.  Socializing is paramount to this generation and you’ll find that being in their space and  meeting them on their “turf” will give you invaluable insights on how to direct your conversations and marketing efforts.   Target communication efforts to where they “hang out”,  physically and virtually, and pay attention to what they are saying.

Know how they learn/communicate.  You don’t have to become a social media maven or a newsfeed junkie but you do need to, at baseline, understand which Social Media platforms are most relevant to deliver your message to the Millennials you want to reach, then go deep.

Engage them in your business/industry.  This is the generation that wants to learn and make a difference so they’ll be interested in your company/product IF you can show them why your company and offerings are worthy. They align themselves with socially good companies through their career choices and their buying power.  Identify key issues for them and how you, as a leader and/or your company, is involved with positive action.  Use the tactics they use to get information – social media, Internet, socialized learning.

Give them a way to connect back to you.   Some purchases or hiring opportunities might come quickly but many Millennials want to connect with you before they buy from you or work for you.  They are masters at mining the Internet, reviewing blogs, and checking Social Media to find out more.  To be successful you have to accessible.  Remember, they are not likely to call or email so you need to maintain the conversation on-line.

Make them your evangelist.  This group can be the most powerful force for your company if you are true to your word and meet their values.  They’ll help you, promote you, work for you, and buy from you.  They’ll re-post, re-tweet, blog about and video their use of your product, they will love you ….as long as you are authentic and uphold your mission.  Break that trust and they will flame your business into the ground.

It may seem easier to complain about “their crazy obsession with smartphones” and focus your company’s efforts on the prospects that communicate “the right way” (aka your way).  Do so at your peril.   Companies that don’t invest in knowing Gen Y and work hard to bridge the gap will find they’ve past their expiration date, and a competitor now has this energized generation as their valued employees and loyal consumers.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.