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Leading the Millennial Generation

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Leading the Millennial Generation

We hear others speak about the up and coming generation all the time. The millennial generation is most often spoken of in a negative way, mainly because negative press seems to get more attention than positive.

If you have a negative viewpoint, this article hopes to change your mind.

You may ask yourself why you should follow the advice you are about to receive. It’s very simple — the millennial generation is more than 70 million strong. It is made up of  your future employees and your future customers. This generation not only represents the future of how work gets done, but also will be and currently is spending a lot of money as consumers.

You need to understand how to lead the millennial generation, and you must also understand how they buy.

Since leadership is influence, and leading others means getting them to do a job because they “want to” instead of because they “have to,” it is critical to understand that leading them is similar to a sales process. If you truly want your millennial followers to “buy in” to your corporate mission, they must understand the why.

The millennial consumer

Millennials typically buy through various touch points, smart phones, tablets, computers (laptops) and the old fashioned face-to-face method.

They want information quickly, concisely and as high tech as you can give it to them. They like apps and/or anything that will make their life easier, especially if it makes buying from you more concise.

The same is true of how they like to be recruited, trained, on-boarded and led. The Amazon Go Store in Seattle, Wash., is a perfect example of how millennials want to buy. Another proof is the rapid growth of online purchasing via and other sites that sell everything from tires to mattresses.

Millennials are sometimes accused by their supervisors of being entitled, self-interested, narcissistic, unfocused and lazy. I have found that some millennial workers may appear to seem this way at first, but it is usually because their supervisor is trying to manage instead of lead/coach them.

In today’s work environment, it is impossible to manage people. Even though you must manage processes, you should lead and/or coach your employees. I have discovered that most of the aforementioned generation wants to make an impact by working for a business that has a defined purpose. Failure to communicate

Most tire retailers fail to motivate these individuals or attract the best millennial talent because of the failure to communicate their purpose and vision. For example, an automotive repair and tire store should create a culture of keeping cars safe and making them last longer.

With this laser focus many people, regardless of when they were born, will look for ways to make this happen. Furthermore, improving on current processes to achieve this mission is part of helping the millennial understand the “why” as well as keeping them engaged at a higher level.

As you may already know, millennials want instant gratification in virtually every area of their lives. (This has helped the restaurant business exceed the amount of dollars spent eating out vs. dollars spent in grocery stores!)

Many retailers can meet this need by increasing the amount of technology offered to the millennial employee. If you are not using a tablet device to engage your customers and your employees (including shop employees), you will have a harder time attracting the best millennial workers as well as customers.

The development of a millennial employee also requires a similar engagement. Keep in mind this is how they grew up. Most don’t remember what life was like before smartphones.

Developing a millennial and making sure they are a valuable asset to your store can be complicated but not impossible. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, said, “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

Unfortunately, many retailers fail to invest the resources to maximize the performance of their employees. Chick fil-A is a perfect example of understanding that training is not something you did, but something you do.

Developing the millennial employee

There are four dimensions for how we must develop this generation: parenting, technology, impatience and environment.

To lead millinennials you must understand that the parenting strategy that their parents believed in strongly actually failed. We must understand that millennials did not choose this and that it was forced upon them by parents who told them they were special, they can have whatever they want and they may have passed a class because the teacher did not want to deal with an upset parent.

The participation trophy and/or medal for coming in last place was not their idea. In fact, many of the millennials I have spoken with over the years were embarrassed by getting a trophy for showing up. Some have told me that when a friend won first or second place and their awards for participating were almost identical, it made them feel awkward.

Second, we must understand technology has also made them the way they are. Not their fault either. I know that everyone must take responsibility for their actions, but many of this generation have an addiction to texting that can be harnessed to help you grow your business.

How many tire retailers utilize text messaging to increase sales or elevate the customer user experience?

Millennials also are challenged with social coping mechanisms as a result of too much technology as they were growing up. This can also be remedied with the right leadership process. Technology has given this generation everything they want except job satisfaction and strength of relationships.

Job satisfaction is a challenge because of their impatience. Most millennials only see the summit of the mountain, and very few leaders know how to help them reach it or understand why they should make it their goal.

They also desire to make an impact and be part of a vision greater than themselves. Many companies fail to recognize this as an important goal for this generation.

Even though many millennials only last one to three years in any job, it is important to view them differently. The investment on the front end has to be similar to investing in a new piece of equipment that will be depreciated over a few years. Employers today need to teach and train their people to move up or move on.

Always keep in mind that your reputation as an employer will help you recruit more of the best millennials as well as help departing employees become lifelong customers. When they are treated well as employees as well as customers in your store, they will tell others through social media.

What it takes to lead millennials

To lead this generation, you must understand these truths:

1. This is what we have and we must deal with it. Remember most of the way they are is not their fault.

2. Teach them what their parents should have taught them.

3. Show them how relationships are formed. Many desire to have deeper relationships but don’t understand how. Take them to breakfast or lunch from time to time (could be a reward).

4. Show them the “mountain,” the summit to reach.

To lead this generation you must become a coach. That’s right — stop trying to manage and coach your employees. Lead by example, praise, teach , reward, train and deploy the correct technology to help you accomplish your goals.

In order to be the best coach to a millennial, you must make sure you are leading on four dimensions.

1. Mental

2. Emotional

3. Physical

4. Spiritual

First, to lead on the mental dimension we have to make sure we are constantly learning. I ask business professionals, salespeople and retail store owners all the time, “What was the last business, sales or self-help book you read?” I usually get the “deer in the headlights” look. “Who are you mentoring?” Same response. “Do you have time for reflection?” Once again, same response. Fix this. Keep learning.

Second, do you have strong passion for leading and loving your followers? If the answer is no, you should find something else to do. “What is your internal energy source? Do you manage your emotions?” Note: People follow those who are passionate and genuinely love and care about others.

Third, do you practice a physical discipline? Exercise, enough sleep and diet are important if you want to lead others effectively. If you are not leading by example, it will be difficult to coach your followers.

Fourth, maintaining a spiritual discipline is also important if we plan to lead others (especially millennials). I was visiting Zig Ziglar at his office many years ago and he told me that he read the Bible’s Proverbs every day and repeated it every month (Proverbs has 31 chapters). When we function the correct way in this area it is impossible not motivate others and therefore lead them when times are tough.

As a leadership coach I meet many leaders who are in denial. Here’s a scenario — let’s say they’re behind the wheel of a car. Many leaders see themselves driving on a straight, flat road with plenty of time to arrive at their destination. They see themselves as having a full tank of fuel, perfect tires, perfect weather, no traffic and new wiper blades.

The reality is this: They are on a curvy mountain road with a lot of traffic, it is raining, they are running late, have bald tires, old wiper blades and not a clue as to what is about to happen as they round the next bend.

Even though it’s normal, it is important for leaders to know they must work at avoiding the hazards of poor leadership in the area of leading millennials. If they do not currently have a road map, they better have a good advisor.    ■

Mike Townsend has 29 years of sales leadership and customer experience process training, 12 of them in the tire industry. As a Six Sigma black belt and professional trainer, Townsend says he “has witnessed every scenario and heard every objection in the retail tire environment across every state in the U.S.” He also is an expert at communicating and motivating the millennial workforce. For more information, call (865) 318-4588 or email him at

To read another Mike Townsend article, see:

Customer Experience Creates Loyalty

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