Talking to Their Generation

Generation Y, or those born roughly between 1980 and 2000, has earned a strident reputation in recent years in corporate America.

These smartphone touting, hoodie-wearing workers, also known as millennials, don’t like the traditional formal dress code, prefer collaborative open-plan offices and have more than one way to message their thoughts on a project — regardless of rank or pecking order — through a number of technology devices they maintain.

Indeed, communicating with this generation of workers, projected to make up nearly half the workforce by 2020, is no easy feat. This effort is made more complicated as millennials today represent just one of four generations still in the workforce.

Here are three strategies talent managers should keep in mind when communicating with millennials.

Immediacy

As Dianna Kokoszka, CEO of Keller Williams MAPS coaching, a division of Keller Williams Realty Inc., said, “Millennials grew up with the microwave and the Internet. In their world, whoever implements the fastest wins.” In other words, this generation is used to instant gratification in every facet of their lives — and their jobs are no exception.

This is illustrated as video clips become shorter, and learning and development content is now expected to come in “bite-size” chunks.

And while there will always be endeavors that remain worthy of a deep dive, organizations can find plenty of opportunities to shorten or quicken the communication cycles, no matter the forum.

For Keller Williams, the challenge was particularly important as it recognized that while it needed to adjust its classroom timelines, it wasn’t willing to sacrifice the integrity of its training. The company’s fix was to shift courses that previously required multiple days of immersive classroom time to a once-a-week shorter day over the course of seven weeks.

Employees are now able to learn a new skill and incorporate it into their day-to-day and come back to add another layer to their learning, while still maintaining the depth and breadth of the training.

Kokoszka said she also offers staff daily “power ups” in the form of a two- to three-minute video delivered over Keller Williams’ own internal app. Employees receive a tip, a new idea or motivational message that they can apply to their business.

Adaptability

In an ever-changing world, it only makes sense that adaptability is a crucial skill for any organization. Many millennials aren’t content simply climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, they want to explore the entire lattice, participating in a company’s growth by extending their skill sets beyond a single discipline.

This can be frustrating for some employees that value structure and the historical way of doing things. Extra training around understanding new ways of thinking is essential when generations begin to butt heads.

Law firm Perkins Coie offers a 90-minute presentation on generations that specifically focuses on how many generational values actually align with one another so as to create unity among differing age groups.

And when viewpoints may be at odds with one another, Traci Laurie, director of staff training and development at the firm, said she offers tools on how to navigate those situations.

“When an idea is presented and someone from another generation doesn’t like the idea, we have to ask ourselves ‘Why does this idea upset me?’ ” Laurie said. “If the answer isn’t good, the reason is only around protocol or because our pride is hurt, then we need to challenge ourselves.”

As a result of giving their employees the communication tools to tackle these issues, Perkins Coie has been able to open up new career tracks for employees who aren’t interested in the traditional partner track, equating to longer tenured employees and higher engagement stats.

Fluidity

Studies show that communication is a top need for millennials. Whether it’s receiving immediate feedback, having regular one-on-ones or learning from others across an organization, millennials would prefer a constant, ongoing dialogue between themselves and their employers.

Keller Williams encourages its millennials to take part in its “Young Professionals Group,” a leadership program designed for its younger workforce.

Some of the most influential components of the program are the video interviews done with those of the older generation and, therefore, likely to be in higher leadership positions.

The members of YP place incredible value on learning from those that have been in the industry and understand its intricacies.

Laurie said she has found that while some may view millennials as wanting to short circuit process for the mere sake of advancing quickly, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. In her organization, she said she has seen a marked increase in requests for more supervision, as millennials desire constant feedback and more frequent performance conversations.

Constant communication is essential to ensure they feel connected with not only their own career growth and trajectory, but also feeling deeply connected to their organization and its impact on the world around them.

The influx of millennials into the workforce is no doubt presenting new challenges for talent managers as the style, frequency and delivery of any and all communication begin to shift in very specific ways.

Organizations that can respond in meaningful ways that speak to this generation will find that these needs aren’t requiring large overhauls or new groundbreaking strategies to what already exists.

Rather, with a few simple tweaks, companies can seamlessly slip into the new cadence of corporate conversations.