People working at office

(This post was originally written by Morgan Browning for

We were on-site last week at a long-time client, and during a session on the topic of generational diversity, a whole lot of concerns were raised to the effect of “we don’t understand them” and “we don’t know how to market to them”. “Them”, of course, referred to the Millennial generation, but you’d have thought they were talking about extra-terrestrial beings.

I wasn’t exactly sure why this was their major concern until I scanned the room and noticed that none of the 25 or so senior level executives were younger than the age of 45. As it turned out, none of “them” were to be found amongst these important decision-makers. It seemed they were so apprehensive about how to relate to Millennials that they simply hadn’t empowered any.

While not empowering Millennials might be an exception, this experience reinforced for me that there are organizations everywhere that are still adjusting to the new reality that Millennials are an increasingly important part of our workforce.

Understanding the Millennial generation and welcoming its members into the fold is essential going forward. How can any business expect to succeed if large chunks of its employee base are unable or unwilling to relate to each other? With culture being so important to bottom line, we can’t afford not to make the effort.

Not to mention the macro transfer of information waiting to happen between generations right now. Both have a great deal to offer each other, and until they find a way to interface, uploading and downloading cannot occur. We don’t want to miss out on the new mentality, connective ability, and fresh perspective that the Millennials have to offer. And they really do need our guidance and expertise, whether it seems like it or not.

To overcome these communication barriers, bridge the gap, and establish interface between Millennials and any other generation, your “Understanding Millennials Toolbox” needs only one simple tool: ONE MORE LEVEL. In other words, when dealing with Millennials, simply use a second level of dialogue and communication that you never had to use before.

Let me explain. Millennials generally, at the very least, question “the way things have always been”. They are not averse to the status quo, but they want more input on the rationale behind “sticking with it”. Millennials appreciate being involved in decision-making and want the opportunity to give their two cents.

Before, you never had to explain why that meeting was when it was, or even why the standing meeting took place at all. In fact, others may have grumbled that the meeting was at an inconvenient time, or even unnecessary, but those others weren’t Millennials.

So what used to be:

Boss: The meeting is at 8:00 a.m. every Tuesday.

Employee: OK

May now be:

Boss: The meeting is at 8:00 a.m. every Tuesday.

Millennial: OK, well, I have to take my dog to obedience school at that time. But I was thinking, we already cover most of that information at the Thursday meeting, so maybe we could do without the Tuesday meeting?

Boss: That’s a great idea, but actually 8:00 a.m. seems to work well for the rest of the group and I’m considering adding some items to the standing agenda that I expect could beef up the value of the meeting. Is there any way you could find another timeslot for obedience school? I really want you to be able to do that, but the team needs you at the meeting.

You’d be amazed, but just that extra level of communication can be worth its weight in gold. It establishes trust with the employee and opens the door for further communication.

Keep in mind that I’m not advocating that you drastically alter your policies or act outside of comfort zone as a leader to adjust to this generation. Simply providing a space for the free exchange of ideas, without viewing it as a personal attack or assault on your abilities, will appeal to this group and align them to the organization. Furthermore, you will be surprised as to the amount of good ideas that will emerge through this process

Millennials are crucial for the future success of your business, so making small adjustments in your communication style to this group is paramount for overcoming the communication barriers and attracting and capitalizing on a wealth of talent that is out there.

Once you understand that you’re coming at something from a different place, it is easier to recognize that you are still headed in the same direction. It then can be easier to relate to each other, diffuse conflict, build trust, and provides a way for you to move forward together.

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