Leaders within all companies face the issue of how to motivate and inspire their millennial employees. Millennials are broadly defined as those born between 1980 and 1995. On November 30th, I wrote an article headlined, “Millennials Want to Be Inspired by a Company's Mission. Is Yours Inspiring?” In that article, I state that millennials want to feel that they are making a difference in this world – a difference to the company’s customers, clients or society. That is what motivates them.
I often reach out to CEOs of companies who employ millennials, and ask about the most effective way to lead them. Ronald Rock, CEO of Point.io, a developer of mobile web applications, said, “I have found that if you genuinely listen to millennials, they get very motivated. I think most of my contemporaries talk ‘at’ or ‘about’ millennials, and don’t actually engage with them, which only widens the gap. Once they know you really hear them, they funnel all of that energy and enthusiasm towards getting amazing things done.”
Tim Panagos, CTO of Point.io, said, “Millennials are very comfortable with information technology and online social sharing because they have grown up with these tools. It is a natural part of their lives. Let them bring … [these tools] to your business. They are looking for ways to make their marks on the business world. By giving them this opportunity to do so, you will make them feel included and it may very well help your business grow.”
Nick Bayer, founder and CEO of Saxbys Coffee and a “seasoned” millennial, said, “The power of ‘why’ is so critical to keeping millennials engaged. Your company's sense of purpose, i.e. why it exists, has proven to be not only our best recruitment tool, but also the way we've warded off turn-over and keep our millennial talent engaged.
“We start every single Saxbys company meeting, often times with up to 30 team members, with our ‘Mission Moment.’ We go around the room and share a recent experience from either inside or outside the company in which we witnessed someone going above and beyond our mission – ‘Make Life Better.’ This has proven to be an excellent way to keep us focused on our competitive advantage.”
Unlike their peers who go to work after graduation for established companies as individual contributors and may not lead others for a few years, founders of startups select and lead employees immediately, and on occasion, while still earning their degree. This is especially challenging when many of their new employees are also millennials. How well these employees are selected and led can determine the future success of the startup, where each employee can have a significant impact on the success of the business.
To understand the perspectives on leadership of a millennial CEO who started a company, I interviewed Dean Mahmoud, CEO and co-founder of Argyle Interactive, a rapidly growing digital communications and creative agency. Mahmoud and his partner Logan Levenson founded Argyle Interactive in 2013 while both were seniors at the LeBow College of Business at Drexel University. All of their employees are millennials. Argyle is the company that designed my website and manages the email distribution of the articles I write for the Philadelphia Business Journal.
I asked Mahmoud, “How do you attract talent to Argyle Interactive?” He responded, “Our employees are investing in Argyle, its culture, its mission and in Logan and me as the leaders of our company. We need to show them we have a sound strategy, and that we have been successful in the past, that working for Argyle is worth their investment in time and energy.
“Talented people can work anywhere. We want them here at Argyle Interactive. They are truly investing in us, and believe in us as leaders. Our employees need to believe that we know what we are doing to fulfill the mission of this company. I have no one on my team who doesn’t believe in the mission and in our business.
“You are giving your employees a great opportunity to develop their skills. You are giving them a chance to make a difference – in your client’s ability to be successful in their business. They can work for a much larger, established company for significantly more money and just be a cog in the wheel, sitting in a cubicle and be unrecognized. When they come to work for Argyle, they know that others are relying on them and that they are an important member of a team, which appreciates and values their work.
“Employees want to feel they are valued and needed. This is important, because they will not be paid like they could be paid in a much larger, established company. They are responsible for something – that is how they are in part compensated – in non-monetary ways. Their team appreciates and values their work and they are part of a team that also serves as a resource to them.
Quite a mature response for a young leader, but not atypical of entrepreneurs, who understand how to attract the best employees, serve their clients, grow their business and make a difference in this world.
Mahmoud shared with me how he deals with employee performance issues. Since his employees are millennials, this may be the first job that many of them have had, where they are held to workplace expectations. Mahmoud teaches his employees that the team is relying on them to meet their commitments, both internally to other team members and to Argyle’s clients, and you always meet your commitments.
I think many of Mahmoud’s leadership instincts are inbred – he is a natural leader, and has the emotional intelligence to learn along the way. He also shared with me that he often asks for advice from more experienced leaders, a sign of his own growth as a leader.
So, my advice to those who lead millennials – listen to them, recognize their contributions to your company, help them develop a sense of ownership in the company’s mission and teach them the skills needed to be successful. Hold them to a set of expectations. They want to feel that they are making a difference in this world. You need to feel the same way.
About the author
Stan Silverman is a speaker, writer and advisor who focuses on helping businesses and organizations cultivate leadership cultures. He currently is a Leadership Catalyst for Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Stan is also Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Drexel University, a lead director on the board of Drummond Scientific and and serves on the board of Ben Franklin Technology Partners. He is the former president and CEO of PQ Corporation. Stan can be reached by email or at his website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com.