- - Monday, September 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

When it comes to inspiring millennials, the right questions can lead to something more.

We as company thought leaders have a lot to learn about millennials, those perplexing people/students/employees born between 1980 and 1996.

According to a recent poll by data analytics and polling company Gallup, 55% of millennials claim to not be engaged at work, 21% quit their job in the last year, and 60% say they are sending out their resumes to other potential employers right now.

As a generation, millennials have spent most of their lives on travel teams and been connected to technology since the day they were born. No wonder they want your industrial-age-company to redefine how it leads them.

This bunch of “free agents” now comprising 33% of the workforce (and electorate) wants to be led in new and different ways.

Let’s cut to the chase. Here are the top six questions you can ask your millennial employees today (or millennial children today, for that matter) to engage them in a way you have not successfully engaged them before:

1. Why did you come here?

2. What do you want?

3. What are you committed to?

4. What does “great” look like to you?

5. What is currently missing from what you want?

6. What is stopping you from achieving what you want?

By contrast, here are the six questions you are asking them today (either explicitly or through your actions) that are disengaging them, or turning them off (and have them hitting “send” on their latest job inquiry.

1. What are the rules?

2. Who is in charge?

3. What is most important?

4. Who does what?

5. What is success?

6. How will you be held accountable?

Can you see the difference in the content and tenor of these questions?

Are you asking the right ones?

Tell me this — are you winning as a corporate culture?

Although I’m not one, I’m high on millennials because they truly have a blank canvas on which to write or draw whatever they want to do in life and in their careers. This generation, more than any other generation before it, has the ability to do that. And they have been coached by us, their parents and mentors, to believe it is possible.

My generation, the Gen X generation, has been called the “lost generation.” I believe millennials might be best-described as the “found” generation.

Research shows that a millennial’s perspective on their work life can be described as ‘it’s not just my job, it’s my life.’ That’s an important discovery.

For millennials, it’s not just about having a good job; it’s about whether or not your organization values them and the strengths they bring to the table.

I resonate with that outlook. I was talking to a good friend the other day who told me that what people don’t understand about the two of us (and other people like us) is that our lives are our hobby.

You see, I don’t have traditional hobbies. I don’t play golf or cards. Instead, I get up and be me. My life is my hobby. It’s why every time you see me I am in pursuit of a new idea, a new approach, or a new project, and I am generally inspired and positive about the possibilities of success. To me, that’s a far better life than reporting to a job I’m only half committed to, or spending the entire work day toiling on projects that are merely intellectually stimulating, or worse, waiting until the end of a 10-hour shift to start doing what I really want to spend my time on.

I believe millennials are a generation of people/workers whose lives are their hobbies. They are a generation that forces their employers (you!) to answer the question ‘does this organization give me the chance to do my best work every day?’

To understand that principle is to better direct/employ/work with millennials.

Look, millennials are different. In my parlance, they “go their own way.” What exactly does that mean? Consider the following:

A recent report on millennial tendencies (once again, by Gallup) concluded that among many other characteristics, millennials are “unattached.”

Unattached from what? I think it means that millennials are unattached from the social norms that define everybody else. They are unattached from the big pieces that drove our generation and those before us – the big social, political, and economic attachments.

They are also unattached from emotional attachments like “am I part of the ‘in’ group?” Now, in its place, millennials are instead attached to their own personal brand, which they harness through the power of social media.

For millennials, it’s no longer about 15 minutes of fame. It’s about broadcasting yourself on your own channel. This is the generation that has the ability to do that!

Gallup also characterizes this generation (rightly, I believe) as “connected.” As evidence, consider that my teenage son already has more followers on social media than I will ever have. He’s not just known in his county of birth like generations before him were. He’s known three states over, whether from travel sports connections or vacation encounters in the Gulf Coast. For him, at least in the social media space, there is no such thing as a stranger. They are all connected in the digital age, and they get opportunities that you and I never dreamed of as a result of that powerful network.

Fueling this unattached and connected generation, millennials —the first-ever wave of digital natives — integrate their lives more so and better than any generation before them. Through technology, they have integrated their thoughts, feelings, actions, social standing, and ability to compete, and all of it plays out in the digital world.

From an employer standpoint, that ability to integrate should be cultivated and harnessed. It alone supercedes any of the supposed challenges related to dealing with this generation’s workplace tendencies.

Clearly, they’re different, right? But rather than disengage them, you need to get on board. Because by getting on board, they are going to take you and your business to heights you have never seen before using their unattached-but-connected approach to life.

It all starts with asking the right questions — the one that will keep them on your team. Ask!

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