What We Can Learn From Millennials

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As we sat down for a nice, leisurely lunch, my friend and I subconsciously laid both of our phones atop the silk white tablecloth. Technology is almost an addiction for “millennials” – those of us born from 1982 to approximately 2002, so much so that we can’t even eat without a device. Instead of acting like the “ultimate millennials,” my friend and I exchanged our devices for some foreign face-to-face conversation. It’s certainly not unusual to see young professionals with tech devices and, because this is annoying at places like restaurants, our millennial generation can get a bad rap.

Setting my lunch story aside, millennials are on the cusp of remembering a time when technology didn’t exist. No iPhones, laptops, or social media; forget the one-click apps that reserve a table at the coolest restaurant. One professor elaborates, “Because they’ve grown up multitasking on their mobile, iPad and computer, I can’t expect them to work on one project for any amount of time without getting bored.”

From millennials being too dependent on parents – though it’s true that more of us have lived at home post-graduation – to those feeling entitled to undeserved raises, many employers’ complaints only continue. We’re the kids who always won trophies – even for last place – and, as a generation, are described as “so close to their parents that they haven’t been given the chance to learn how to do things by themselves.” Some employers see us as indecisive; willing to job-hop every few years or throw down thousands toward higher education in avoidance of the real world.

Perhaps the best way to describe my generation is as a double-edge sword, but it’s been predicted that by 2020, we’ll account for 46% of the US workforce. We’re the future of companies and, though everyone has faults, millennials may have more to bring to the table than you think. Call our generation too-tech savvy, but I disagree. We adapt to change, whether it’s a new computer system or tricky technical skills. We search the internet for answers instead of wasting others’ time. One executive notes, “Millennials are not much different than we were at their age–fearless, independent, and energetic go-getters. They’ve been raised with the technology tools to make their lives more efficient, which can prove the same for businesses.” If it isn’t already clear from your corporate surroundings, 77% of Fortune 500 companies own Twitter accounts, while 70% are on Facebook, and 69% on YouTube. It’s probably beneficial that millennials matured just as social media outlets, attributing toward our understanding of a now overpowering industry.

Instead of expecting nostalgic blue ribbons for professional wins, millennials crave regular feedback. Organizations should embrace honest relationships with all employees – not just the young ones – and remember that feedback can encourage positive performance. We’re open-minded and collaborative, and one site notes that integrating mentorships will only feed our success. Millennials are flexible enough to cover Generations X’ers with added life responsibilities in exchange for what we want – more experience. We’re willing to learn and grow into earned positions that actually aren’t granted out of entitlement.

To sum it up well, “If you manage millennials, take a step back and recognize the value they can offer through new perspectives and approaches to their work.” And if you’re on the fence, perhaps it’s worth scheduling a lunch. Just remember to put your phones away.

Surviving the Shift to Growth Mode

A Growing Company

A Growing Company

In the 14 years I’ve been with the Fool I’ve seen us take on a huge amount of capital from venture capitalists, septuple our workforce on a fragile business model, turn around and reduce our workforce seven times after said model collapsed, slowly build a sustainable business model, get to cash flow positive, and, recently, payback our VC’s. All without having to go public or sell the company. In short, we now own our future and are heavily reinvesting back into our business.

Surviving

In our early adolescence we developed habits and behaviors specifically geared towards nurturing our cash machine. Quality, Robustness, Craftsmanship, Uptime, and Process Improvement all mattered. And they still do, but they are the very same behaviors that tend to work against us now in our growth initiatives.

As we seek out new revenue streams, and scale existing ones, we find that it requires a different set of habits and behaviors from our workforce. Move fast, try new things,  try a lot of things, use some duct tape if you have to, are the orders of the day as we look for the next new thing that we hope will delight customers.

We realized quickly that we faced a pretty big cultural behavior challenge. How do we change a workforce of highly skilled craftsmen and women into business thinkers?

Here are a few things we’ve done to address it:

Shout it from the rooftops! – <Insert your best halftime speech here> but make sure it includes a message about how you plan to grow and what new behaviors are needed from your employees. “Win one for the Gipper!”

Get them training – We have a companywide business education program. It teaches business fundamentals and the nitty-gritty of our business model.   Every Fool has to complete it in order to receive a certain percentage of their yearly bonus.

M.V.P. – If you’re not familiar with the acronym, it’s  Minimal Viable Product. Put another way, “What is the bare minimum I need in order to see if my idea has legs?” Your employees should be intimate with the term. BTW product documentation is NOT part of MVP!

Turn the org chart upside down –Change starts from the top. Make sure you have the right players in your leadership ranks.

Incentives – Consider incentive programs for behavioral change.

Coaching – Any kind of change is uncomfortable. Some of your employees may need someone outside of their department to help guide them through it.

Don’t discount the old behaviors – There is a time and place for slow and deliberate just as there is a time and place for fast and furious. Help your employees understand when and where to apply them.

Carefully building robust solutions for unproven products is wasteful until they become…well…proven. Don’t ignore that your workforce needs help understanding this context shift and don’t neglect helping them develop the new behaviors that go along with it.

Supporting Foolish Introverts

Supporting Foolish Introverts

Supporting Foolish IntrovertsBy Tamsin Green, Office Dynamo

One thing we’re working on at The Fool is creating a culture that supports both introverts and extroverts. While extroverts tend to be energized by spending time around other people, introverts like myself expend energy interacting and need time to recharge. With the business world trending toward open floor plans and collaborative work, many offices seem to favor extroverts. But the Fool is home to many incredible introverts, and we want them to be able to do their best work here, too. While our efforts are still in progress, here’s a list of four things that we either are doing or are trying to do that help support our introverts.

(Note: Not all of these were designed specifically for introverts and all of them have benefits for extroverts as well.)

The Meyers Briggs Profile

Education about the introversion/extroversion spectrum is very helpful in building a knowledgeable and supportive community. Our internal university recently held a very well attended class on the Meyers Briggs profile. This tool does a great job at explaining the difference between introversion and extroversion and gives everyone a vocabulary to talk about the differences between the two. Education builds awareness, which helps both introverts and extroverts work better, together.

Mentoring program

Many introverts, including myself, prefer one-on-one or small group conversations to mingling in a large crowd. Our mentoring program creates a structured setting in which this can happen. The deep relationships that can develop through consistent one-on-one contact in the mentoring program are the type of interaction that many introverts crave.

Meditation

As part of our Wellness program, we offer weekly meditation sessions and periodic longer visits by meditation specialist Jonathan Foust.  For introverts this offers a regularly scheduled time away (and a dedicated Outlook calendar appointment) to re-energize and recharge. Including meditation as part of our Wellness program also is a company-wide indicator that taking time out of your day to ‘do nothing’ is not just supported, but encouraged.

Concentration areas

This is one of the areas that we’re still working on. Our open office structure is great for collaboration and for those who gain energy by interacting with people, but it can be taxing for introverts (and for anyone who needs to get work done without interruption). Based on feedback from Fools, we’re working on creating spaces in the office that can serve as ‘concentration areas’ where people can focus without distractions or simply escape to in order to recharge.

Finding the right way to balance the needs of introverts and extroverts in an office can be tricky, and we think we’re on a good path. But we also want to hear what other organizations are doing. Are you an introvert struggling with your open office? An extrovert constantly coming up with reasons to leave your office? Do you think your organization does a great job at supporting both? We would love to hear your comments.

For more information on introverts, a great resource is Susan Cain’s TED Talk on The Power of Introverts (based on her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking). Other articles about introverts have been published by The Atlantic, Time Magazine, and Forbes.