5 Secrets to Tap Millennial Potential at Your Agency

Millennial WorkersAs a millennial working with a bunch of millennials, I definitely tune out the word, “millennial.” If you’re 18-35, I bet you do too. That said, the more information I consume about my group-of-people-born-between-the-1980s-and-2000s, especially lately (have the tides turned pro-millennial?), the more nuggets of goodness I’ve been able to apply to agency operations, productivity, professional development and relationship building.

This year, one of my favorite SXSW sessions was a panel that spoke about empowering a modern, millennial workforce. Anne Dwane (@adwane) of Chegg, Ciara Peter (@ciarapeter) of BetterWorks, and Jeff Fernandez (@jefernan) of Grovo Learning discussed the secrets to working with this growing group of young, motivated professionals. The panel’s comments made too much sense, and have been useful since. So, read on for some of my favorite takeaways for the agency world.

5 Keys That Unlock Millennial Potential

1. Seek out the intangibles when hiring.

There are certain qualities you just can’t teach. For Fernandez, someone’s got to be honest, smart, hardworking and dynamic, in that order, for Grovo to make the hire.

So how do you find top traits in a sea of candidates—especially when the resume isn’t always a clear indicator of intangibles? Consider your own top qualities. Define them. Then, compile a few screening questions for the interview to bring out stories that show whether candidates have those qualities too.

For example: “Tell me about a time you had to dig deep and go the extra mile to achieve a goal,” can show work ethic and integrity. “How would you go about solving for [insert common challenge your agency faces here]?” helps you figure out how the candidate thinks about approaching a difficult task. For playfulness and personality, consider inviting top candidates to join your team for a monthly happy hour or mixer. You’ll get the chance to see top prospects in a different setting, spot those who meld well with your established culture, and give the candidate another view of whether he or she is a good fit. 

Look for core qualities first, then let experience and skillsets do the rest of the decision-making.

2. Understand the skills gap, and gamify closing it.

Millennials are digital natives, continual learners, and driven to succeed in moving their careers forward. But yes, there is a skills gap even for the digital-savvy.

Fernandez described categories of development as soft and hard skills. Soft skills can’t always be measured, but they must be practiced and polished to be successful in the workplace. Examples include in-person and digital etiquette, email efficiency, productivity when remote, attentiveness, attention to detail, project management, people skills and more. Hard skills are more tangible, and theoretically easier to train and test: think writing, coding, design, marketing software proficiencies, etc. His company offers holistic learning aimed at developing soft and hard skills—check out email efficiencies for an example (I learned a few tips browsing the library alone!).

While it’s important to identify skills that that the millennial workforce must hone, it’s critical to make learning and accomplishing development goals fun. Peter explained the value of a platform or app to track progress, share goals, and get instant, gamified gratification for a job well done.

3. On feedback: think Facebook.

While quarterly or annual reviews can be great for taking a look at bigger picture professional development, it can be hard to really remember what happened—let alone the sentiment behind it. And all too often, feedback is subjective.

Peter dropped the knowledge when it came to how millennials receive and interpret feedback and assignments. The main takeaway—today’s talent needs instant and continual feedback. Think about it: we are the generation that grew up on Facebook Likes. The new workforce needs continuous and succinct “Likes” (or “Dislikes”) to understand if work makes the grade. Peter called this a cheer or a nudge.

For more on the idea of continual, instant feedback, check out the Computerworld article, Younger Employees Need ‘Lightweight Signaling’ To Do Their Jobs, which discusses Peter’s take on fitting the right type of feedback into the everyday routine.

Continual feedback goes both ways, and can seep into production. While you’re thinking about the Facebook effect—think about the last time you assigned a new task and were immediately peppered with questions. The thing is, we’ve got to understand that this is a group who sees network resource pulling as a standard first step. And most of the time, they’re more informed and efficient because of it.

As a project manager, take the time to facilitate information sharing. Find resources for pros taking on a new assignment, be ready to answer a few initial questions, and offer to check in once your colleague has started to digest resources and do initial research.

4. Offer a career.

“This is a generation that wants to make a career,” said Fernandez. We’re all working to advance to that next level, and that’s a good thing for individuals and a business when channeled for A-players. Let’s say you have an intern who meets all program requirements and outpaces other interns. Go on and award the title “head intern.” Once hired, that individual may also want to manage the intern program. Having continual goals to work toward and public acknowledgements when they’re achieved keeps employees happy and motivated for the long haul.

At PR 20/20, we invest a lot of heart and soul into each person on our team, and we hope that in return we’re helping individuals build a career at the agency. Fernandez mentioned a similar ideal at Grovo, where they tell new hires that they’d like to keep them on board for at least 3-4 years. From there, it’s on the company to make sure there are unlimited opportunities for employees to learn, take on new responsibilities, progress in their careers, and stay inspired.

5. Tap into motivations to forge lasting relationships.

It’s more important than ever before to explain the why. It’s why we choose one brand over another (are you an Apple or PC person?), it’s why we choose to invest time after-hours, and it’s how you keep a team centered on the end game.

On communicating the bigger-picture motivator of “why” and creating a workplace that’s able to tap into the intangibles, the panel had a few additional insights.

  • Connect individual work to overall organizational goals. When employees know that the task-at-hand fits into a bigger picture client or agency goal, they’re more likely to think strategically, see the value, and produce better work. Always offer context and connect the dots.
  • Recognize the social contract. Peter notes that much of today’s motivation comes form “what your peers think.” Understand that this is a huge motivator, and make sure to communicate directly with team members.
  • Think about the carrot before the stick. If you want to motivate millennials, reward good behaviors publically and lead with the positives. Negative behaviors should be discussed in real-time and with transparency.
  • Ensure each person has a voice. Your team has to feel connected, and has to have a platform to share ideas within small teams and the company as a whole.
  • Create an environment that is filled with energy and enthusiasm. It should be a place people actually want to come to daily, and it should be filled with people you actually respect and enjoy.

How are you maximizing the potential of the motivated, connected, millennial wave of talent? Would love to hear additional thoughts in the comments below. Thank you to Anne, Ciara and Jeff for the valuable conversation. Certainly one of my favorites from #SXSW!

If you liked this post, you might also like a SXSW 2014 session recap penned last year: 5 Strategies to Grow Your Marketing Agency’s Millennial Supervisors.

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