Millennial speaker Aaron McDaniel delivers timely “aha moments” and viable solutions on how to bridge generational gaps in the workplace and marketplace. Drawing from his own experience as a Millennial in the corporate world, McDaniel has floored audiences with his ability to connect to attendees of all ages while giving them tools and insights to understand each other better and collaborate more effectively. He is the author of The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World, an international top 10 listed book that has been translated into multiple languages.
SPEAKING.COM: Generational boundaries aren’t set in stone, so to clarify, when you refer to Millennials who are you talking about?
MCDANIEL: While there are a few schools of thought on the boundaries of the Millennial generation, the generally accepted range is those born between 1980/1982 and 2000. The Millennial generation is 80+ million strong and is becoming an increasingly important customer segment and a larger portion of today’s workforce.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the most common myths about Millennials?
MCDANIEL: Many people label Millennials as disloyal, but this is not entirely true; it’s just harder to earn a Millennial’s loyalty. The benefit of doing so, however, is that while a Baby Boomer may interact with a brand and tell 5-10 people about it, Millennials can touch hundreds or thousands instantly thanks to social networking, so gaining their loyalty can have exponential impact. There is no doubt that Millennials maintain a more pervasive WIIFM (what’s in it for me) mindset than past generations, expecting more value out of the companies they buy from and places they work, but this is not based on disloyalty.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some ways that Millennials genuinely differ from any other generation?
MCDANIEL: When I speak, I have to remind my audience members who are of older (or as I refer to them wiser) generations that many attributes they label as “Millennial” are in fact a product of being young, and Baby Boomers and Gen Xers exhibited the same desire to challenge authority and do things their own way (among other traits) when they were younger; the context is just different. Instead of Vietnam for Boomers and MTV for Gen Xers, for Millennials (Gen Y) it’s social media and mobile technology.
There are many stark differences though. Millennials expect instant gratification because of technology that gives us answers to any question when we want them. (The memories other generations have of waiting all evening by the phone for someone to call you are completely foreign to Millennials.) This has led to a sense of impatience (more on this below). So instead of working toward some far off retirement decades into the future, Millennials would rather enjoy the most rewarding aspects of life now.
Learning has shifted as well. In the past it was about “knowing” something and memorizing it was the path. Now, it’s more important to learn how to quickly find an answer using resources available.
Millennials have also been affected a great deal by trends ranging from the sharing economy to globalization to mobile technology and social networks in their formative years which have a greater effect on our point of view compared to other generations.
SPEAKING.COM: How has the 2008 Recession shaped Millennials’ attitudes towards work and spending money?
MCDANIEL: I have actually done a good amount of work with banks and organizations in the financial services industry, so I have looked at this in detail. Many Millennials are fairly conservative with money and are good savers compared to other generations. For Millennials the purpose of money is more about paying for experiences and less about owning “things” (the Sharing Economy trend has affected this mindset). Sharing these experiences with their networks (via social media) is also important.
In terms of work, while Baby Boomers more often live to work, Millennials work to live. As I mentioned before, Millennials want instant gratification, so they don’t want to wait until retirement to live the good life. Right after graduating from college I was fortunate enough to have half a year to travel before I started working. At one point in my journey I was part of a tour group in Tasmania that consisted of me and twenty couples in their 70’s and 80’s. This was where I saw “the American Dream” of working hard for decades, retiring and then seeing the world in action. While I went off exploring, many of my traveling companions could barely walk a few hundred feet from the bus and by 6pm were lined up for dinner and in bed by 8pm. It was then that I made a goal for myself not to put off traveling and experiencing life for some far off “retirement.”
This mindset is typical for Millennials. Moreover, Millennials have a greater ability to live these experiential lives because while only 20% of Baby Boomer couples are duel income, 80% of Millennial couples are. This allows one partner to work while the other can explore a passion, and then a couple years later they can switch. Or both can work and then take time away from their careers and then come back.
When it comes to work, Millennials know (and this is a tough pill to swallow for wiser generations but is a harsh truth) that you need them more than they need you; so Millennials are more willing to walk away if they aren’t engaged in the work they are doing (part of this is because Millennials are younger and don’t have mortgages and car loans yet, but it is also because of the duel income couple advantage). Millennials want work to be inspiring. This mindset has a huge impact on how Millennials view their careers and what they look for in the companies they work for.
SPEAKING.COM: What are a few examples of how companies can make themselves more appealing to Millennial consumers?
MCDANIEL: Millennials don’t choose where they spend their money primarily on the price. They want to purchase from companies who have values aligned with their own. That is why companies like TOMS, for example, have been so successful. Millennials like how buying the pair of shoes they needed anyway can also provide a pair to an underprivileged child.
Just this week there was a great New York Times article about SoFi, a financial services company, that has taken a very different approach with targeting Millennial customers. Instead of traditional gateway financial products (like a savings or brokerage account) SoFi focused on an anchor refinancing student debt to build a life-long customer. They also build a community within their customer-base by hosting singles events, providing career coaching and more – things that are outside of their core offering, but are important to a Millennial customer-base.
The proof is in the results. Half of SoFi’s mortgage customers began as student loan customers. A quote from the NYT article that really encapsulates the Millennial mindset is – “Immediately I felt it was a company I could trust,” said Ms. Akey, a brand manager at Unilever. “I feel like banks are just banks. SoFi feels like it’s more built around people.”
Hidden in the quote is also a misconception about Millennials that technology is the answer to appealing to Millennials. While technology is an important ingredient, this quote is a great example of how the people element is also important to Millennials.
The benefit of focusing on Millennials is that you can see results fast. An annual study of the brands Millennials most like shows that in as little as a year, brands have proven they can go from being poorly thought of by Millennials to being highly rated just because the brands made the effort to engage prospective Millennial customers.
SPEAKING.COM: What are the most important things you feel Millennials need to understand about working for someone else?
MCDANIEL: It is crucial for Millennials to better understand themselves and why they are the way they are. Two characteristics many Millennials embody are Impatience & Entitlement. As mentioned above, impatience comes from technology and access to answers whenever, wherever. The sense of entitlement comes from the fact that growing up Millennials were recognized for everything. Not for winning, but for participating. We Millennials feel like we deserve promotions and raises just because we show up (we were conditioned to be this way).
Together the impatience and entitlement led to a lack of resilience. When any adversity comes there is a higher likelihood we will say to ourselves, “I deserve what I want, and I deserve it now,” and when we don’t get it we give up and say “hey, it’s a big world with tons of opportunity, I will go somewhere else.”
The problem is, our career success (and success in life) will depend on our ability to overcome failure, to persevere and be resilient. Like any muscle, we need to exercise this resilience. We need to understand that when working for someone else we won’t always get what we want and things won’t go our way. We need to understand that our boss’ family is a higher priority to them than making us happy. We have to take ownership of our careers and when the work is tough see where we can build transferrable skills that will help us no matter where our career journey takes us.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some ways employers can leverage Millennials’ strengths and preferred working styles?
MCDANIEL: Despite some of the negative characteristics of Millennials, there are many positive. Millennials are often innovative, energetic and enthusiastic. Use this to revitalize your organizations.
The best strategy to motivate Millennials and leverage their strengths is to reward failure and calculated risk taking. This will bring out the best in Millennials and develop their engagement and loyalty in your organization. Millennials prefer flexibility in their work schedules (work/life integration where the two mix together, not work/life balance where they are separate, like many Gen Xers prefer). With Millennials it is effective to reward good results with more schedule freedom, flexibility and exposure to your business. Allowing Millennials to work from anywhere (mobile) will help engage them while letting them have their preferred work style.
SPEAKING.COM: What advice do you have for recently promoted Millennial managers on leading people who used to be their peers?
MCDANIEL: My two biggest pieces of advice for recently promoted Millennial managers are (1) don’t play the “I’m your boss, you have to do what I say” game. Power tripping doesn’t appeal to older generations (and former peers) who often don’t like the idea of having to cower to a young manager, while Millennials feel like they deserve to be treated as equals. Instead explain the why behind decisions you make to involve your team in the process.
(2) While the pillars of setting a vision and motivating people get a lot of focus in management advice, the often overlooked pillar is your ability to remove obstacles. If you focus on making the lives of your employees easier by removing roadblocks that are keeping them from working at maximum efficiency, results, morale and loyalty will all increase.
SPEAKING.COM: As Millennials eventually climb into important business and government positions, how do you think their leadership styles will differ from those of older generations?
MCDANIEL: I have experienced leading teams quite a bit early in my career. In fact, day 1 at AT&T (my first job out of school), I was put in charge of 17 people, half of whom had been at the company longer than I’d been alive. I have also seen many peers get into leadership roles to see how the differences in generations play out.
The mature Millennial leaders are more collaborative, finding ways to celebrate the diversity of ages and experiences on a team, and finding ways to make sure everyone is engaged in their work (since that is important to Millennials). They are often more purpose driven. 87% of Millennials believe that the purpose of a company is more than just making a profit. This mentality will lead Millennial leaders to identify and support values beyond just making money, leaving a positive impact on the world.
SPEAKING.COM: Could you tell us the story of how you got Marshall Goldsmith to write the foreword of your first book, The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World?
MCDANIEL: Before I started writing my first book, I reached out to top business book authors for mentorship. Marshall was kind enough to offer me guidance and in the process of telling me more about the ins-and-outs of the publishing industry he actually volunteered to write the foreword to my book. He continued to be a great support after as well.
For my second book, Jim Kouzes, co-author of one of the best selling business books of all time, The Leadership Challenge, was gracious enough to mentor me and write the foreword for my second book. I didn’t go in expecting either to contribute to my book like they did, but it shows the power of just being willing to ask!
SPEAKING.COM: What makes you different than other Millennial experts?
MCDANIEL: The biggest differences between me and other experts in the space is that I am both a Millennial myself and I have extensive corporate experience. Part of the reason I became passionate about the topic is that I noticed that speakers and experts in the space were all either from older generations or had never had corporate jobs, so their perspectives were based solely on surveys or outsider research as opposed to practical knowledge from the workplace.
I felt that I needed to set the record straight and provide insights based on real corporate experience. I was part of AT&T’s flagship Leadership Development Program where I had a chance to manage large teams of people (of all generations) very early in my career. I was also able to rise in the ranks to become one of the youngest ever in company history to serve as Regional Vice President (at age 27). Additionally, I have built out multiple business from the inception to acquisition, so my advice is battle tested in the real world. All of these things come through in the practical guidance I share with clients.
To bring keynote speaker Aaron McDaniel to your organization, please contact Michael Frick at: Mike@Speaking.com