Millennials, I Was Wrong About You. Please Forgive Me
The word millennial elicits emotion within most of us. This generation, defined as being born between 1980 and 1995, were raised by doting baby boomers who told them they are special. They have a room full of “participation trophies” and are known for being hard to manage. They are also redefining the work world in real time. In a good way. I for one am incredibly thankful for them and find many similarities to the Greatest Generation of my grandparents. Don’t scoff until you read the rest of this post.
Working side by side with this generation, my perception has changed and my eyes have been opened to their potential. Perception is a landscape; the composition depends on how you frame what you’re seeing.
Authenticity. Transparency. Determination. These are all words that I use to describe millennials . Given that by 2020, they will be the majority of the workers in the United States, we should all be focused and optimistic about our future.
A couple items to note before we move on:
I was born in 1977 and only a few years outside of the millennial generation, therefore I take liberties as both observer and peer at the same time.
Forgive me for generalizing throughout this post; I generally despise the act, but it is appropriate here.
A profound change is sweeping the business world and it is being fueled by ambitious ideals that know very little boundaries. New businesses, new technology and new ideas are sprouting up from a generation who doesn’t know the word “NO”. The question they are asking is not “What do I want to be when I grow up?”, but rather, “How will the world be different because I lived?” Think Tom’s shoes or Warby Parker glasses: buy one and give one to a person in need. Profits with a purpose. Millennials created this phenomenon.
For a generation of innovators, notions of what is right are different. The important questions are: What are the big problems the world faces? What can I do to help in this problem? And can I help more people by creating a business or a non profit? There is no right or wrong answer for millennials.They reject institutional rules with righteous indignation in their focus on the end goals.
As a result, financial and social goals are becoming linked, with the line being blurred more and more everyday. Today’s young, socially-motivated generation don’t respect the walls between government, non-profits and business; in fact, they ask why there need to be any walls at all. This generation is picking itself up off the ground, stretching, looking at the rest of the wold with its hands on its hips. “We will change the wold,” they proclaim. I feel the same way.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Kristen Hadeed speak at the Conscious Capitalism CEO summit in Austin, TX. She’s a force to be reckoned with, a dynamic speaker, and a successful entrepreneur with seemingly interminable energy.
As Kristen spoke I realized how fortuitous it was that at this moment in my life, I was able to hear her story. Kristen is the Founder of Student Maid. She spoke at length of her journey, being a millennial as well as building a business around millennials. She started her talk with the question “How do you get millennials to clean toilets?” and then proceeded to tell the story of how she built a business that is making money based on having a servant’s heart.
“It all started with a pair of jeans. I was an undergrad at the University of Florida and didn’t have a job (or any real work experience for that matter). I found myself wanting a pair of very expensive “Lucky Brand” jeans, and naturally asked my parents for permission to use that taken-for-granted credit card. They told me the three words college kids dread most, “Get a job.”…I needed something flexible that would work around my demanding schedule, something that would allow me to be my own boss in a sense. I put an ad on Craigslist to clean houses…So, that’s how it started. I cleaned houses after class and started very small. I found that my clients would tell their friends, who would refer me to their friends, and before I knew it I needed help. I slowly hired other students to clean with me after school and on the weekends…Our team went from four to sixty in less than one month…When move out season ended, I found myself not wanting to stop… I found that our clients grew attached to our students. We were being invited to Thanksgiving dinners, and being asked to house sit and pet sit. They trusted us. (Since when does one invite their cleaning person to Thanksgiving?) So we decided to offer it all, whether it’s cleaning, organizing, dog walking, or another chore needing attention. Our theme was “we are here to help.”
We are here to help. A concept lost in a narcissistic society. Embraced by an entire generation seeking authenticity.
At RISE we have a lot of employees that fit the generalized definition of millennials. Consequently, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to grow a culture that is meaningful to this generation. Purposeful. Challenging. Fulfilling. My experience mimics Kristen’s. “We are here to help” is the ethos of RISE. It is fulfilled daily by a generation that is all too widely cast off and scoffed at.
We focus a lot of time at our Monday afternoon team meetings discussing situations over the previous week in which we had the opportunity to make decisions based on the RISE Values, Vision and Purpose. These ideals are much more than trite slogans to put up on our walls to later be ignored. They are the keys to our success and the differentiators that will ensure decades of success. I must ensure that we are all reading from the same sheet of music in order to properly play the composition set in front of us. Rote memorization. Every Monday.
“We want immediate feedback about how our work impacts the overall vision” — Kristen Hadeed
We end the meeting with an opportunity to be transparent with the rest of the company. “Tell Nick something he doesn’t want to know” is a game we play. It proves that we we all make mistakes. It builds trust. It is a great opportunity for us to build community, but more importantly, it allows us to give immediate feedback.
At Student Maid they have a bootcamp to overcome parent overload, teaching the new employees what they will and will not accept. Kristen says that this is necessary to break the “helicopter parenting” that has ruled their lives at every turn since they were born. As the generation that received “participation trophies” for every sport they ever played, candid feedback is a foreign concept to most Student Maid employees on day one of work. At that bootcamp they share with their new employees that they will have feedback on all of their cleaning, and they encourage the customers to leave candid feedback. The feedback is then posted to a wall for the whole company to see. At first there are tears. Lots of tears. The next time, there are fewer tears. Soon, as the feedback is being integrated back into the work product, the output becomes higher. The tears cease to exist.
Kristen’s rules of success for Student Maid:
Allow them to make mistakes
Watch the mistakes happen without helping
Let them struggle to make it right
Like muscles building under the stain of resistance, Student Maid employees become stronger and ready for growth. They grow in their work and more importantly in their character and then they start to ask for more responsibility.
“Let us struggle” — Kristen Hadeed
I am pleasantly surprised to tell you that most aspects of the millennial stereotype are not consistent with my experience. I have found the opposite of what I’d expected in my preconceived ignorance. Even when these employees make a mistake, they quickly own it and make it right.
One of my favorite anecdotes is about a RISE employee who is also a millennial that failed to show up one morning for work. Her alarm had failed her. She had failed us. Consequently, the CEO and COO were in charge of making the coffee, prepping the cart and checking in passengers. The planes took off; the passengers, none the wiser.
About 30 minutes later the door to my office opened and the guilty asked if she could have a word with me. Rather than make excuses, she begged forgiveness, asked for a harsh penance and stated she understood if she was about to be fired. I was so startled by her attitude that I have since forgotten what I told her. She still works at RISE and she has never been late again in spite of having to frequently be at the airport at 5:30 am. Our members and employees love her joyous spirit equally and she is going to do great things in this world. (Not coincidentally, RISE enjoys a 98 Net Promoter Score, because of the service we provide in the air and on the ground).
This is our future. Our future is bright.
The Greatest Generation lived through the deprivation of the Great Depression and brought calm to a world at war. My wife’s grandfather and my grandfather were both WWII veterans, fighting in a war at an age before they could legally consume alcohol. By the grace of God they both came back alive, decorated for their acts of valor but refusing to take any glory for themselves. Their selfless acts gave us all freedom that we do not deserve but gladly accept. This generation is second to none for selflessly giving of themselves in order to ensure a better life for those they wouldn’t ever know. Many gave the greatest sacrifice and never came home.
The millennial generation will most likely not be known as the greatest generation, but given the opportunity to give themselves for a cause they believe in, I believe that most would make similar sacrifices.
So the next time you hear something bad about millennials, don’t shake your head and walk away. Defend them, share what you’ve learned here. Better yet, show up at any of the the airports out of which RISE flies and observe the genuine smile and servant’s hearts exhibited by our team at RISE. You will see exactly what I mean. You will walk away with optimism in your heart. I do everyday.
I suggest that we stop calling this generation Millennials and rather start calling them Aspirationals, because that’s what they are. They are going to better this world. I’m glad that I’m here to witness it.
The millennials that work at RISE are an absolute delight and they have shed every stereotype that I wanted to place on them. Please forgive me for ever doubting you.
PS — If you are having a hard time relating to millennials, ask Kristen Hadeed to come visit you and your team. I promise you won’t regret investing some time with her. She may just give you the breakthrough you need to unlock the potential of millennials in your organization.