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How to Inspire Millennials

This is a special version post as we welcome 9 Clouds brofounder John Meyer to comment on a recent debate over the hiring and retention of millennials as employees.

At 9 Clouds, we're a team of 9 millennials, so it's an issue we are very interested in. This is most likely an issue you face or will face in your business or community, too.

Now, let's hear from John.

How to Inspire Millennials

A lot has been said about generations lately.

We've seen critiques on comparisons and sharp differences among baby boomers, Gen X, and the millennials. For those of you not in our neck of the woods of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a local CEO came out and called millennials lazy and entitled, citing how the younger generation left jobs at his company. In one year, 279 new hires out of 280 were no longer working at the company.

Soon after, another local CEO came out in defense of millennials, saying you need to create a workplace culture and emphasize community.

Next, the data-journalism site FiveThirtyEight suggested millennials, (which are most often defined as those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s), should actually be changing jobs more often. All of this got me going, so I did what any angry millennial would do, and went on a Twitter rant (see below).

All right, now we're all on the same page.

The Way It's Always Been

Let's start by saying the unstated… this generational mudslinging has existed forever. Imagine what my grandparents, “The Greatest Generation,” thought of their hippie children in the 1960s and 1970s. Parents back then likely used the same words: “lazy” and “entitled.”

This back-and-forth push and pull shouldn't be surprising, nor is it harmful. It's exactly how things should be. The older generation in power wants to keep things the way they are. They want to hold on to the status quo as long as they can while the younger generation wants to break everything, to champion a new, better way to do it, and to become the next generation in power.

I must note that all of these statements are generalizations about generations. That is neither fair nor always accurate, but for the sake of the argument, let's continue on the topic of impatience.

Millennials are not entitled, but they are impatient. They want things now.

They want the perfect job, the awesome car, and the ideal life. But who can blame them? Millennials grew up buying things on Amazon and seeing them arrive two days later at their doorstep. Want to watch your favorite TV show or movie? Simply open the Netflix app and start watching. No need to wait until next Thursday.

As a millennial, I believe there is some fair and open criticism for our impatience. We feel like we don't have to “work hard and eventually reach our goals” if we can simply reach them now. But every generation has its strengths and weaknesses that are defined by the times in which it grew up. In the 1990s and 2000s, the world was becoming flat. Technology connected everything and all of a sudden anything seemed possible to a little boy in Brookings, South Dakota, or a little girl in Santiago, Chile.

How to Inspire Millennials

Today, I lead a team of 18 millennials at a small design startup called Lemonly. Every single employee is a millennial. We work with companies around the world. We've grown from two to 18 in less than four years. We follow the millennial characteristics of moving faster, being globally connected, and believing that with our team anything is possible.

In nearly four years, we've had only two employees leave the company for new opportunities. In both cases, the individuals were off to seek new adventures in states far away from South Dakota. I supported them and knew they had to go.

Our employees aren't motivated by money. Sure, they want to be taken care of and support their families, their hobbies, and their future, but they also want more. They want to be a part of something larger. They want to leave their impact on the world.


All Generations Want Purpose

When Steve Jobs presented his vision to put 1,000 songs in the palm of your hand with the original iPod, every Apple employee, regardless of age, was galvanized by that goal. When John F. Kennedy declared that America was going to be the first country on the moon, scientists, engineers, and nearly the entire country rallied around this mission.

Developing and maintaining good employees, of all ages, starts with good leadership. Leaders need to show their employees purpose. Leaders need to describe how every teammate can individually contribute to a greater goal. This is what motivates employees.

I think often about how I can motivate all the millennials who work at Lemonly. The one idea I continually come back to is making Lemonly their company. It's not my company or my team. It's our company and we're all a part of the team.

The Right Millennials for the Job

If you are a manager or employer that is hiring millennials, make sure your candidates connect with your company's vision.

  • Can they see themselves working at your company and making a positive impact?
  • Do they believe in the company's mission?

Millennials may be impatient, but use that drive and sense of urgency and channel it toward a positive impact for the company.

If you are a millennial, prove the stereotype wrong. Choose a job at a company you believe in.

  • Are you ready to wake up every day and go to work for this company?
  • Can you see yourself leaving your mark on your job?

Remember the differences between your generation and the ones before you. Stay dedicated and practice patience. If you prove yourself worthy, your time will come and probably sooner than expected.