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Here come the Millennials, part 2: New expectations bring new rules to distribution businesses

November 17, 2015

Ready or not, here they come. With 80 million Millennials across the United States, Jason Dorsey of the Center for Generational Kinetics says a new generation of employees and customers is already making its way into your business, gaining influence with each passing day.

This generational shift translates into a massive transformation in the expectations employees bring to work—from the technologies they use, to the strategies it will take to keep them in their jobs.

In the second of two Infor podcasts, Dorsey, also known as the Gen Y Guy, said the rise of the Millennials can push managers into a bit of a juggling act.

Jason DorseyA “dramatic shift” in expectations

“What worked a generation ago can often fail miserably with Millennials and Generation Yers,” he said. “You’re trying to communicate across three or four generations. You’re trying to motivate. You’re trying to create motivational strategy.” But “what a 55-year-old wants to stay at a job and be loyal can be very different from the 24-year-old who still lives with his/her parents.”

That means a lot more creativity, and much more precise targeting, to keep everyone satisfied.

“There was a time not that long ago when you could have one communications strategy or plan, one single set of motivational tools or awards, and it worked. It worked well. People showed up. They thought they were going to work for you for life. They were happy to have a job, and that was it,” he said.

“Well, that’s gone. The new reality is that people don’t expect to work for you forever. Millennials define long-term employment working somewhere as short as seven months. That’s a dramatic shift.”

A different set of experiences

Dorsey says the difference in Millennials’ job expectations reflects a difference in life experience: a 20-something employee who started work later in life may not pick up cues that were obvious to older generations.

“All of a sudden, you show up at work and people expect you to know how to do stuff,” he said. “If you’re 22 and you’ve never had a job, where did you learn that?”

The solution for companies is to “provide very specific examples of the performance you expect,” right down to “the two or three things that new hires do that absolutely annoy you or frustrate you.” Millennial employees and older managers may have different ideas of what the same instructions mean, so the examples have to be concrete and visual enough that Millennials with little or no past workplace experience can get it right.

Frequency of communication trumps quantity

But Dorsey insists his age peers aren’t asking to be coddled. They’re looking for specific guidance and a very particular kind of workplace feedback. A national survey of the four workplace generations found that Millennials “didn’t want more communication, in the sense of sitting down every week and having an hour’s chat with you,” he said. “It was frequency. They wanted very quick hits, 5- or 10-second feedback, once a week.” After that, “that’s it. Stop talking. That’s all they wanted. Frequency was way more important than the overall quantity.”

The form of communication matters, too. “It could be an instant message. It could literally be the example of walking by our cubicle and giving us 5 or 10 seconds of your time.”

For Dorsey, the most important question is whether the communication is delivered in the medium Millennials prefer.

“Sitting in front of you, making eye contact, having a conversation can be helpful,” he said. “But is it necessary?”

Listen to the Gen Y Guy’s 12-minute podcast on Millennials in the workforce, the second in a two-part series.

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