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Lisa Earle McLeod: Pay attention to millennials

It seems as if it happens overnight. One minute, you’re the young upstart; the next minute, you’re the oldest person in the room.

If it suddenly feels as if you’re the only one who remembers “The Partridge Family,” there’s a reason: The number of young people in the workforce has exploded.

People born in the 1980s and the ’90s now make up the largest single generation group in the workforce. You may be old (read: over 45), but it’s the volume of millennials that makes you feel as if your “maturity” is accelerating.

The recent Wall Street Journal article “Helping Bosses Decode Millennials” reports that managing the millennials has become “a source of agita for big businesses such as Oracle Corp., Goldman Sachs Group and Coca-Cola Co.”

The article cited the success of our company, McLeod & More, in increasing employee engagement at high-profile organizations such as Hootsuite and G Adventures. But you don’t need a sexy firm or a pingpong table in your lobby to attract and keep top millennial talent. As the Journal reported, we helped an Omaha, Neb., concrete company increase its team’s emotional engagement.

Here are three strategies that we teach clients:

• Name and claim a noble purpose bigger than money – My millennial-age daughter, Elizabeth, who is a consultant in our firm, says, “My generation was raised to believe we could change the world. Millennials are desperate for their boss to show them why their work matters, even just a little bit.”

The millennials are no more homogenous than any other demographic. What they share is a common cultural experience. They watched their parents put their heads down, go to work and come home feeling unappreciated. During the Great Recession, many watched mom or dad get fired. The millennials may get a bad rap for expecting special treatment, but they’re simply voicing the unspoken expectations of their parents. When millennials ask their boss, “Why does my job matter?” they’re echoing their parents’ dinner conversations.

• Swap spreadsheets for stories – Firms with a purpose bigger than money outperform the market by more than 350 percent because they have a compelling story to share with employees and customers. Traditional firms lead with financial reports. We teach our client to use stories that embody the impact you have on customers, then provide financial reports as a measure of how well you’re living your purpose.

• Get personal – People don’t quit companies; they quit their boss. A millennial who writes, “Not enough positive feedback,” on a glass door is saying what colleagues (of every age) experience every day. If you treat your employees like a number, they return the favor.

We teach leaders how to make even a 30-second interaction meaningful using eye contact and personal affirmation.

When I talk about millennials, reactions vary from interest to exhausted eye rolls. But like it or not, the “special little snowflake” generation, as the millennials have been called, is here to stay. Ignoring them would be like Cadillac ignoring baby boomers.

If you need some incentive, consider the results of our clients who have chosen to embrace their snowflakes:

• Charleston, S.C.-based Blackbaud – Increased stock price from $37 to $63 and increased job applicants by 400 percent.

• Hootsuite, the Vancouver, British Columbia, cloud company – Doubled revenue in two years.

• G Adventures – Increased revenues by 35 percent for three years in a row, and was named a top place to work in Canada.

The millennials are asking for what we all want: meaning, affirmation, and attention. Smart businesses pay attention to the young upstarts.