Webinar on the ‘Millennial Problem’: Engaging Employees in the Workplace

Webinars - Aug 1, 2017

Think Shift
Leadership & Culture


There’s a wide range of studies (and complaints) that target this increasingly important question. Having the largest generational share of the labor market, millennials’ influence in your workplace will only grow. So how do you create a workplace that attracts and retains them? There’s a clear disconnect: 53% of hiring managers say it’s difficult to find and retain millennial employees, and only 29% of millennials report feeling engaged at work.

So how do you engage them in your culture and company?

During this one-hour webinar, we’ll approach this question from three perspectives that each contribute to that disconnect:

  • The CEO, who’s frustrated. Older workers are stuck in the mud and won’t adopt the new ideas of millennials. Millennials lack patience and respect; they’re a spoiled and entitled bunch. I need work done, and I need it done effectively – how do I establish a workplace where these generations work together and trust each other?
  • The long-time employee, who bemoans that the millennials want immediate satisfaction and are unwilling to learn from their knowledge and experience. How do I get millennials to respect that and learn from the experts before trying to change everything?
  • The millennial, who complains that the knowledge of those older workers is outdated. Millennials have a greater capacity to find knowledge and information on any subject on their own. How do I contribute to this company and get everyone to listen to my ideas?


We will also outline specific ways to start bridging the gap between generations in your workplace.

This Think Shift webinar will be led by Dr. Balaji KrishnamurthyDavid Baker and Gord Dmytriw.


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Ashley Howell
: Thank you for joining us today for a Think Shift webinar on the millennial problem, hosted by Gord Dmytriw, David Baker and Dr. Balaji Krishnamurthy. My name is Ashley Howell, and I’m a member of a team here at Think Shift. With that, let me hand it over to our moderator, Gord.

Gord Dmytriw: Welcome, everyone. Let me begin by giving you all a brief bio of the participants in today’s webinar, starting with myself. My name is Gord Dmytriw and I’ll be moderating the discussion. I lead the consulting division at Think Shift. I guess if I had to summarize what I mostly do, I work with my clients to help them tell their stories. Not only to customers, but also to themselves, so that they can develop engaged and empowered workplaces.

I’m joined by our CEO, David Baker, who founded Think Shift over 20 years ago. He is our chief storyteller and visionary. Fair to say that Dave has probably re-imagined our company and what it can become at least three times now, by my count.

Finally, last but certainly not least, is our chairman, Dr. Balaji Krishnamurthy. If David is Think Shift’s heart, then Balaji is definitely our mind. He’s been recognized by TIME Magazine as a top 25 Global Business Influential by TIME Magazine. He’s very, very passionate about helping CEOs become intentional about developing their leadership style and, through them, the organizational cultures they lead.

David, Balaji, welcome.

David Baker: Good morning.

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Good morning.


Gord Dmytriw: To start, what is this ‘millennial problem’?

You’ve probably all heard that they’re entitled, right? They ask for raises and promotions every six months. It’s no wonder they feel the urge to do so. They need to pay for their $6 Unicorn Frappuccinos and their backpacking trips through Europe so they can reconnect with themselves. They not only expect the world to cater to their needs, but they think that a hard day’s work starts late, it ends early, and too often, it gets in the way of checking their social media feeds.

And of course, it’s all our fault, isn’t it? It’s us boomers. We’re the helicopter parenting boomer generation that raised them to expect the participation trophy for finishing last.

But to the millennials, the old guard is lame. We’re good for the odd dad joke here and there, but we’re painfully, painfully slow to adapt to the latest technology. And, well, we’re just flat out stuck in the past.

Is that a fair summary of a problem?

Of course there’s quite a bit more, isn’t there.


Throughout the webinar, folks, what we’d like to do is help you understand three perspectives that contribute to this ‘millennial problem.’ The CEO, the long-time employee, and the millennial. At the end of the hour, we trust that you’ll have a better understanding of how to engage and motivate millennial employees, and how to build a stronger intergenerational workplace.

Before bringing Balaji and David into the discussion, what we’re going to do is explore these three workplace perspectives just a little bit more. To do this, we’ve invited a few of our colleagues into the room to help us. They’re going to role-play each of the three scenarios. They’re going to give us three conversations that could be, I think, very, very similar to conversations that are probably happening in your workplace.

Let me set the overall scene. You’ve just had a company-wide staff meeting, during which your VP of HR has announced the start of a monthly employee engagement survey. While it’s left unsaid, turnover is becoming an issue. So as the meeting breaks up, the CEO, who we’ll call David, pulls his VP of HR into the room; we’ll call him Robert, and they’re about to chat about the shiny, new monthly survey. So, let’s listen in.


CEO: Hey, Robert. I know we’ve had some turnover issues lately, and it’s really frustrating. We need to do something, and I agree employee surveys are a logical place to start. But I’ve got a few questions. Are these surveys going to be anonymous? Can anybody say whatever’s on their mind? And if that’s the case, aren’t you worried? Isn’t it going to turn into a complaining session? How do we manage the process, so that it’s constructive? This whole thing sounds like a lot of work. How much is this going to cost, anyways?

VP of HR: Boss, we’re only doing it on a trial basis for now, once a month for three months, and we’ll reassess at the end of the quarter. Young employees seek a very different kind of work environment, and the older guys just don’t get it.

CEO: Yeah, I don’t know why the older generation just dismisses the millennials. Why is it millennials act so entitled? They just don’t seem to want to learn from the older guys. Every previous generation apprenticed under the older ones. The older generation just took the younger ones under their wings. Why are the millennials so different?

VP of HR: The millennials have grown up more independently. What can you do? The employee survey should give us a good read.

CEO: That’s fine. What about the time commitment? Will these surveys take long?

VP of HR: It’ll be 15 minutes per month, tops. It’s just a couple of multiple choice questions and an open-field feedback. It’ll take my team some time to sift through responses though. Probably a few hours.

CEO: Okay. Thanks. Keep me in the loop. I don’t want this taking priority over customer-facing work. Make sure of that.

VP of HR: I understand. I’ll update you with recommendations and final pricing at the end of the quarter.

Gord Dmytriw: Did you hear that frustration? Our poor CEO, he just wants an effective workplace where everybody gets along and new hires don’t leave every second week. But he’s worried that there’s too much focus on warm, internal, fuzzy culture stuff is going to get in the way of money-making, client-facing time.

Okay, so let’s go over to the next set of employees. Go over to the water cooler and drop into a conversation between two seasoned employees, who graduated a long, long time ago from the School of Hard Knocks.


Long-time Employee 1: Great. Another new initiative by HR. I guess they weren’t around the last time we tried this. What was that, eight years ago? Remember that? Everybody got all worked up about the input we were going to get, and how the culture was going to change. That lasted what? About two months?

Long-time Employee 2: Yeah. That survey was about what was working and what wasn’t. This one, according to HR, is about feelings, like how are you feeling? Now we have to be all touchy and feely about work. I remember when work meant showing up and getting the job right. Who has time for this?

Long-time Employee 1: Not me. I mean, I’ll go through the motions, but things aren’t really going to change. They’ll waste everyone’s time for a few months, and then it’ll be forgotten. If the execs really wanted to know what was happening in the company, they’d ask us.

Long-time Employee 2: Yeah. We’ve been through the good times and the bad. We know our customers. We know our products. We know our processes. Nobody asks us, though. They’re just catering to these millennials.

Long-time Employee 1: And these young guys, they think they know it all. Did you hear that Josh kid at the ops meeting the other day? He had the gall to tell us we shouldn’t really care if it’s the way it’s always been done. Like this kid has actually ever done anything in his life.

Long-time Employee 2: Oh, Josh. This kid’s comments in the employee survey are probably going to be about getting a ping-pong table and a beer fridge. Nothing about our customers or our products, because he doesn’t know much about them.

Long-time Employee 1: Yeah. Right. It’s too bad. I’ve seen it all. I know what happens on the ground and we’ve dealt with the fallout when plans backfired before. They’re just adding more work to our plates now.

Long-time Employee 2: Yeah. Now, I have to go do this survey and manage a team that can’t think without Google. And yet, they want to work from home. Ha. When we started here, working from home was called the weekend!

Gord Dmytriw: Did you hear that? More frustration.

After all, if it ain’t broke, these old guys say, why fix it? Coddling and accommodation will get you exactly nowhere. The people with experience know what to do. Just ask them and then get out of their way.

Now, let’s zip down the street. Let’s go to our local Starbucks and listen in to a couple of millennials who decided to take a break after the long, hard staff meeting to relax over a couple of tall, low fat lattes.


Millennial 1: So, employee engagement surveys, huh? It’s about time. They should have been doing this forever ago.

Millennial 2: Yeah. Well, I’m glad the company is trying to do something. Wait, have they even heard of Survey Monkey? Do they think they’ll make us do the surveys by hand?

Millennial 1: I mean, they’re stuck in their ways, but I’m sure it’ll be online. I just hope these surveys will be anonymous.

Millennial 2: It better be. If not, they won’t take us seriously. I’ve been here four months. Why would they listen to me?

Millennial 1: If they really want things to change, I’m happy to give feedback. I have good ideas! I mean, there’s some unnecessary processes I can fix on my own. Things don’t need to be the same way they’ve always done them, and the execs are never going to hear that from the old-timers.

Millennial 2: Exactly. I’m happy they’re asking for advice, but do you think they’ll actually fix things?

Millennial 1: Hmm, probably not. They’re stuck in their ways. And I’m stuck sitting, doing the same repetitive tasks all day. I’m ready to do so much more.

Millennial 2: Same. I’m bored already. If I don’t find a way to do more soon, I’m looking for a new job.

Millennial 1: Yeah. Me too.

Gord Dmytriw: Again, more frustration, this time about a lack of voice.

This is a generation that has grown up a click away from the next idea and, at work, their ideas are being dismissed or, even worse, they’re not even being asked for.


Gord Dmytriw: With these three role-playing discussions as background, I’m going to invite David and Balaji into the conversation. I want to ask them a few questions about the real problem with engaging millennials in the workplace for the next 20 minutes or so.

Is it useful to call out any differences between those the older versus younger millennials? And if so, what might they be?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Gord, I think the cohort of millennials is not characterized just by the age, by the birth year, but by the environment in which they grew up. They grew up in a time where, as the saying goes, the helicopter parents really coddled them, at a time of participation trophy, as you called it, where they were reassured repeatedly by their parents, by their teachers, that they’re the best. They can do anything they want. That’s the environment in which they grew up. Then, when they entered the workforce. Remember what happened in 2008. That’s when the millennials started entering the workforce.

Gord Dmytriw: The crash, right?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: The crash, the Wall Street crash and the housing crash in the U.S., and its ripple effect around the world. That’s the time they entered the workforce. Here it is, they’ve grown up, reassured they’re the best, and they can’t find a job. They really don’t trust that previous style of life, the behaviors of the business, and it is that, that really defines them. Do you have to be born after ’84? Maybe not. But the entire period has a certain characteristic and that’s what defines the millennials.

Gord Dmytriw: Gotcha. Okay. Thank you. You had originally written a Food for Thought article called Are Millennials Really The Problem In Your Workplace? In that article, you advocate for the importance that we understand the three paradigms that we’ve presented here today — the CEO, the older worker and the millennial. You suggested, in the article, a Tool called Coaching Through Advocacy for doing so. Could you maybe just start by explaining why such an approach is useful for unpacking this?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Yeah. First of all, let me take this opportunity to describe what a Tool is. I use the word tool, and I often use it with a capital letter “T” to kind of give it the proper noun name for a certain way of thinking. A Tool is a model of thought, a model of thought that is applicable to a particular situation.

This particular Tool, called Coaching Through Advocacy, is a way of thinking about how to handle a situation where there are different points of views, and at a price, no matter what the different point of views are. Be it at your workplace on a business issue, and, in this case, how millennials are viewed.

By the way, the skit you just performed a few minutes ago, with the employee engagement survey and the three different conversations we heard, was very indicative of what actually happens. Different people have different points of views.

Coaching Through Advocacy suggests that you understand those three divergent point of views. Understand another person’s point of view. Understand it well enough and have the courage to be able to actually articulate that point of view as if it was yours, to articulate it, if possible, better than the advocate of that point of view would. When you can do so, you have now lived in that person’s shoes and you actually begin to see certain positive elements of that point of view. The first step towards resolution in conflict is coaching through advocacy, articulating that other person’s point of view.

Gord Dmytriw: Gotcha. And, of course, understanding does not necessarily mean agreement.

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Absolutely. Good point.

Gord Dmytriw: David, over to you.

You’re our CEO, squarely in the cross hairs of this millennial problem. Is all this attention to managing millennial even warranted? Secondly, what would a successful intergenerational workplace actually look like?

David Baker: Yeah. I know this is part of the presentation, but just to underscore the point. The notion of managing millennials really kind of frames the challenge, right? Because we’re saying that millennials need to be managed. There’s the idea that, really, we need to lead and influence. We’ve got to make sure that it’s also not their problem, right?

Gord Dmytriw:  Good point.

David Baker: This thinking and that mindset that it is the millennial problem. I mean, it’s something we’re talking about. Let me answer that by starting with a quote: “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders. But the present youth are exceedingly wise, disrespectful and impatient of restraint.” Do you know where that’s from?

Gord Dmytriw: Abraham Lincoln?

David Baker: Go back even further. It’s a quote from a sixth century BC philosopher. It’s the concept that the generation before them were lost. The people that come before us simply don’t get it – they don’t value what we older people are bringing, the wisdom and the knowledge that we have. In the absence of them accepting my wisdom and knowledge, we will be lost forever. But now we can go through and just Google something to find all kinds of quotes, from every generation.

That problem has always been there. But today, there’s something that is really different, and it has changed this whole perspective. It’s the internet and social media. All of us, the millennials and the baby boomers and the Gen Xers, we all find people that are like us, and we get connected to them in social medias, over Facebook and our LinkedIn and all these different places, the newsfeeds that we connect with. We broadcast our opinions, such as the millennials are so entitled. All the other people, that think like we think, send notes back to us, saying, “Oh, you are so right. I can’t believe how those perfect snowflakes think,” and our thinking gets deeper and deeper and more entrenched, and we get further and further apart.

So in a world that is becoming so focused on purpose and real, meaningful connections, these two groups get deeper and further ensconced in their beliefs that we’re different, it becomes a larger and larger problem. The short answer is absolutely. Yes. I think we need to address this, the way that we’re seeing each other and getting just hunkered down in our perspectives. Because if we don’t, it’s everybody that’s going to lose from this.

Gord Dmytriw: It is true that the largest segment of the workforce now is millennials, and it’s only going to get further apart.

David Baker: Yeah. Quickly on the second part of your questions are answered, I’d say, “You know, what does it look like?” I think a successful integration looks like, and touching on what Balaji has said, groups really seeking to understand the other’s opinion. I think when you a successful integration, there’s a lot of asking questions going on, trying to understand what do millennials think. Millennials are trying to say to baby boomers, “Tell me why you’re thinking this way.” Naturally, that starts to come out when people are listening to each other.

Gord Dmytriw: The perspective that Balaji shared, this idea that a true intention to understand the other generation’s perspective, whether it’s the boomer trying to understand the millennials, or the millennial trying to understand the boomer.

David Baker: Right, and it doesn’t happen by accident. You got to make that happen.

Gord Dmytriw: Yeah. Good point. Balaji, over to you.

Where do you think misalignment lies between the boomers and the millennials?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: We boomers, and I think the Gen Xers to a certain degree, grew up really valuing knowledge and experience. We went to school. We learned things. We joined the workforce. We apprenticed under previous generations. We became masters of the art that we practiced, and we valued that. We knew a lot of stuff from our background and education, learned even more stuff from our experience, and had the wisdom of years.

We expect that millennials will do the same. You know, every once in a while, I’ll walk into this large area in my office, where … So, I have a new office and I walk out, and there’s this space, and there’s a bunch of millennials sitting there. They’re all millennials. Everybody in the office is a millennial. I might ask a question, some random question about some business stuff. None of them know. But before my question is finished, somebody would have Googled. Somebody would have gone to Wikipedia, read up, and within 10 seconds, they’ve got me an answer.

I have to tell you, that makes me very frustrated. Yeah, they got the answer all right. But they didn’t know it. Why didn’t they know it? From their point of view, how does it matter? They got it. You see that difference? Between my expectation that they should know this, and their expectation that they can find it, I think, lies some of the misalignment.

Gord Dmytriw: Interesting. It’s just, again, in us not even honoring that difference, and understanding that, that’s where the gap is, how do we start addressing that?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Yes.

Gord Dmytriw: How do we actually recognize it?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: From their point of view, my methodology of knowing everything is unsustainable, and that their methodology of finding everything what they need is far more sustainable.

David Baker: Here’s a simple test. Ask millennials how many emails are in their inbox, and then ask boomers how many emails are in their inbox. I’ll bet you’ll find that most of the boomers are filing their emails and most of the millennials just leaving them all sitting there, because they can find them.

Gord Dmytriw:  I suspect that you’re right, although why would that be the case? Just because they know that they can search easily. Why file?

David Baker: Yeah. I think millennials have grown up with an incredible access to information, and it’s just been a natural component. I can just go find it.

Gord Dmytriw: Natural skill. They have an inherent skill, of searching for information, in a way that us, the older generation, just doesn’t.

David Baker: I think that’s it. They have a way of looking at the world.

Balaji Krishnamurthy: We file for information. They search for information.

Gord Dmytriw: File for information versus search for information.

David Baker: Not a right or wrong. Just different.

Gord Dmytriw: One hundred percent, yeah. Interesting.

What impresses you most about the 20-somethings that you work with?

David Baker: Well, there’s a lot. I think one of the key things for me, and it was a real difference if I look at how I thought when I entered the world, is I think millennials have really figured out what’s important to them in their whole life. When I started the workforce, it was around the job, and it was around what was expected from my employer. I’m not saying millennials don’t have that, but I think millennials largely have purpose figured out. What is it that they really want to get connected to? What is it that means something to them beyond just the job?

How is it this business is going to dovetail with what’s really important to me? I think they’ve got purpose figured out. We’re an advertising agency, and I think for us, for years, it’s really about marketing, about the broadcast of information. I think, philosophically, if you connect with millennials, I think they’re more around mattering. And so, I think there’s a real difference. I think millennials have figured out what matters to them.

Gord Dmytriw: And they don’t necessarily let the career path, that us Gen Xers and boomers have grown up with, get in the way of that?

David Baker: Well, they see them as connected. They’re the same. I don’t think they say, “Hey, I don’t have a career path or that’s not important to me.” But what matters is part of that career path. It’s actually integrated, molded right into what they want to be doing.

Gord Dmytriw: So they think more in terms of a blend and integration versus personal life and career life?

David Baker: I think so. I think they’re more holistic around that approach. Yeah.

Gord Dmytriw: Fair enough. Thank you. Balaji, I got a really simple question for you.

What motivates millennials?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: You know, when we went to work – I’m a baby boomer – when we joined the workforce, it was very simple. We were looking for honest pay for honest work. I’ll work hard, and I hope to get paid adequately and appropriately. Honest pay for honest work. You know what the millennials want? They want meaningful work for a meaningful life.

Gord Dmytriw: Meaningful work for a meaningful life.

Balaji Krishnamurthy: They want work that means something to them, that is part of a larger life they create that means something to them. That not only does the work have to mean something for them, that that work should be part of the meaning of life, whatever meaning of life they’ve chosen to lead. It’s a much larger conscious. I don’t think I was smart enough to make up that statement when I joined work. But that’s how the millennials think. I think that’s what motivates millennials. Meaningful work for a meaningful life.

Gord Dmytriw: Here’s a bunch of boomers, sitting here talking about what millennials think.

We’d be remiss if I didn’t bring in millennials into this conversation. Did anything that Balaji say about that connect with you? If so, what was it?

Alex Rhone: I feel like that idea of the meaningful life and how work is just a part of that, I think that really hit my drivers on the head. I can go back to a couple of different examples that I’ve had in my life, and especially in my professional life. Before working at this agency, I worked in a completely different industry.

I still understood that, even though I made the choice to go from that industry into this industry, the real similarity there is that both positions allowed me to focus and allowed me to drive towards what I believed my purpose was, and why I mattered, and why what I did mattered. I imagine that, if I didn’t feel that way or I felt there was a pull and a push between what I thought I should be doing, but what I was actually doing, I wouldn’t be as driven to work as hard. I feel like I do work hard, and I do want to work hard, and I want to continue to grow in my positions. But I don’t feel like I would be as motivated to do that if what I was doing didn’t matter to me and didn’t fulfill that purpose that I feel I have.

Gord Dmytriw: Do you think that’s one of the reasons why millennials have this reputation for skipping like a butterfly to a job … one job, two job, three job, four … is because they just don’t feel connected to their individual purpose?

Alex Rhone: I feel like that can probably be a lot of it. I also know that there is this feeling, in a lot of our workplaces, that if you stay somewhere too long, then are you stuck? Do you need to go somewhere else to advance? I personally haven’t seen that in my career. I know where I want to be, and I know what matters to me. So when I do look for jobs, when I do look for advancement in positions, that’s what I’m looking for, is, “Is this going to fit into how I want to live my life going forward?”

Gord Dmytriw:  Great. Thank you. So, I heard you say you’re not looking for more money. That’s good. Okay. Hey, now we know.

Alex Rhone: Thanks, Gord.

Gord Dmytriw:  The true reason for this webinar is to negotiate with you. Joking, of course. David, back to you.

What makes an organization an engaging workplace that millennials want to invest their time in?

David Baker: I think it would be a combination of two things:

  1. An idea of transparency, so hopefully building a workplace where people trust each other enough that you could expose the elephant in the room, so people are really transparent.
  2. In combination with what Alex just talked about: growth. You’ve got this common idea that millennials are going to move from job to job. I think millennials, as most people, really just want challenge. They want to be challenged, and they want to be growing.

So if you can have a really transparent environment, and you can create a lot of growth opportunities, you’d be really clear around, “What does it look like?” “Where are you going to go work next?” “What are you going to be doing?” “What do you want to be doing next year?” How do you keep people moving and growing, not necessarily to different positions, but just be challenged and be growing? If you can get those two things – transparency and growth – together, I think that’s the real secret, if you will, to a growth culture.

Gord Dmytriw: Fair enough. I just want to bring in our other latte-drinking millennial into the conversation. Vanessa, now, you’re an older millennial:

What in particular sticks with about millennials – as a millennial? 

Vanessa Mancini: First of all, I recently changed roles in my job. And that was very much due to conversations around growth and transparency. So it’s great to work in that environment that we don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

But really, the biggest thing around the millennial conversation that really gets under my skin is the idea of how our generation is very entitled.

I get frustrated about this because I see myself personally as really hard working, and just because of my age, I get lumped into this millennial generation that comes with some serious entitlement baggage. I kind of liken it to one bad kid ruining it for the whole class, and I’m definitely a nerd. So, it kind of gets annoying.

I would define entitled as someone who thinks they don’t have to do anything to get what they want, and just have it handed to them just because they asked, and they think they deserve it. So I don’t see myself as this at all, and I actually really don’t like people who fall into this definition. And it’s not because I’m jealous of what they get for doing nothing, but I think it’s actually quite unfortunate that they’re not learning how to be independent and how that might affect their future.

The reason I work hard isn’t to get a great salary or anything, but it’s just because I care about the work that I do, and how it impacts the reputation of the company that I work for and the colleagues I work with. Not just my personal reputation. And I take pride in learning those new skills, whether it be a new process for my job, or figuring out how to re caulk the tub in my new house, which I’m going to figure out how to do this weekend. I guess I’m an old timer by that definition.

Another example from being a new homeowner, my mom really wants to help us paint our main floor. And there’s some other priorities we want to take care of that have some higher costs associated with them. My mom said, “Oh don’t worry honey, I’ll cover the cost of that paint.” And I said, “Mom, if we can’t afford the few hundred dollars it takes to paint a main floor, we probably shouldn’t be doing it right now, really.” So I just didn’t take the handout, and my mom was kind of taken aback by it, if I’m being honest. But I think my mom did a good job in making me more independent with that sort of stuff.

So where I get frustrated in the generation gap is that I find someone like me, that I don’t really think I fall into the definition of a millennial, is that I constantly have to strive to prove that I’m “not like the rest of the millennials.”

Because there’s certainly a stereotype that’s been defined, because of those few bad kids ruining it for the rest of the generation. And I know I’m not certainly the only hard-working millennial out there, like my colleague Alex included. And I think there’s a great number of us that fall into the segment of the generation that probably shares similar frustrations about being labeled entitled, simply due to the year they were born in, and how much the world is a different place than it was when our parents were entering the workforce.

Gord Dmytriw:  Well said. And so you’re going to push back against this whole entitlement notion 100%. Good for you. David?

David Baker: I just wanted to add: You had asked about this idea of what makes a culture unique. I was listening to Vanessa speak on growth and transparency, and you’ve really got to focus it toward something.

What is growth and transparency all about? And this idea that I mentioned earlier: mattering. So what really matters to Vanessa and to Alex? I think it’s this idea of purpose that is really important to them.

If you’re focused around the notion of purpose, these challenges drop away.

People get united in them. So that growth and transparency piece, which I failed to mention, really needs to be around that idea of purpose and what matters.

Can you unpack that idea of purpose more for us? You’re talking about corporate versus an individual purpose, right?

David Baker: Well, so that’s a good question. This world is so small. So the individual purpose, what really matters to them, in some way needs to be related to the corporate purpose. There has to be some commonality around what it is that the company is all about, and what really matters. And it’s really not going to be money, right? I mean, for me it was for many, many years. It was around what’s the revenue? What’s the profit we can drive? But profit is really an outworking of these teams and people pulling together and working towards something. So there has to be something that links what matters to Vanessa and what matters to our company.

Gord Dmytriw: And that something, that link, you maintain, is a notion of purpose.

David Baker: Ultimately, yeah.

Who develops purpose? Whose responsibility is it to articulate the purpose?

David Baker: Well, ultimately, within an organization, the CEO needs to develop and find that purpose for what matters to her to take this organization forward. But she’d have to develop a purpose that is going to be large enough that it’s going to connect with the other people that she wants to attract within the organization. But in every organization, the organization’s leader needs to define and ultimately drive that ultimate purpose.

Gord Dmytriw: I suspect, and then preach it loudly and proudly from the rooftops, and that every opportunity you can get.

David Baker: Over and over and over again, right?

Gord Dmytriw: Fair enough.

David Baker: Yeah. So everybody knows that when I’m joining, this is the purpose that’s driving this organization. Because left unsaid, stories will be created based on previous experiences.


Gord Dmytriw: I notice it’s getting very close to question times from all of our listeners. What I’d like to do is dedicate the time remaining for questions from you folks that are on the line. I noticed there are a couple have flown in here, so let me just find the first one here.

What should I look for in millennials to know if they are ready to be empowered and learn more?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Wow. That’s a very open-ended question. What should I look for I millennials? First of all, recognize they’re going to think very differently from you. And celebrate that difference. Don’t question the difference; celebrate the difference. Find the millennial who has the courage to think different from you, and the courage to express that different point of view. The millennial that’s more quiet about it, you want to give them an environment, give them the space to express their viewpoint. If you find millennials that articulate that difference, articulate their point of view, and stand up to speak, give them the power. You’ll find that they will do things you would never have thought of doing.

Gord Dmytriw: David, your thoughts?

David Baker: It’s the question of when do you empower a millennial or anybody, right? I’m not saying that this is in the question. But if you dig a little deeper, when somebody is ready to be empowered, does that potentially mean when somebody is going to be thinking like me? So I’m willing to empower Vanessa when she understands what I want, when she thinks like I think. At that point, I am now comfortable to empower her. If that’s the framework of when somebody’s ready to be empowered, you can see the danger in that, right? Because then all I really want somebody to do is think and do what I would do.

Many, many times that’s not the right approach. Vanessa sees the world differently than me, so there’s a risk there for me as a CEO, and I have to get over that. I’ve got to get over my own fear of empowerment.

Any advice to get over the fear of empowerment? I imagine that’s not always easy.

David Baker: Oh, it’s very difficult, especially having started the business. You’ve grown up thinking that you’ve got all the right answers, and then people are not asking as many questions; they’re Googling, as Balaji said, to find the information. You’ve really just got to get over your own fear; you’ve got to understand that just because somebody doesn’t think as you think, doesn’t mean that they’re not correct.

Gord Dmytriw: Fair enough.

What suggestions do you have to better retain employees? Especially millennials?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: You know, in the old days, you retained people by compensating them adequately. And then it moved to by giving them a nice environment in which to work. And then it moved to by giving them career growth opportunities. Shift your thinking from what you want them to do, to what you want them to be. The day you hired an employee, you accepted an obligation; an obligation of stewardship, an obligation to grow that individual. At the end of the year, that individual should be richer for the year than they were at the beginning of the year.

What probably will hold a millennial at your workplace is if you made good on that implicit contract you have made. Ensure that they grow as an individual; they’ll be richer at the end of the year than they will at the beginning of the year. You’ll hold on to your millennial.

Gord Dmytriw: That sounds great in theory Balaji.

How do opportunities for growth work out in a smaller organization? They want to embrace that concept and want people to grow. But how does that play out practically?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Growth doesn’t always have to be upward in movement of a hierarchical organizational structure. Yes, that is one avenue for growth, but not the only avenue for growth. A result of movement within the organization, doing a different job, learning a different trade, different skill. That’s all growth. But, admittedly, in a small corporation such as like ours – we have 78 employees – after a certain number of years, that is difficult to do. And you must be willing to accept that they will move on to another place where they will have new growth opportunities. And some new person will come in with new and fresh ideas to pollinate new seeds. If you accept that fundamental responsibility to grow people, your company will grow.

Gord Dmytriw: And then the notion of, and the millennial generation moving to another job, I guess it cuts less deeply, because you’re fulfilling your stewardship obligation to help them grow in ways that perhaps you would not be in a position to help them with.

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Yes. Even though it seems like you’re going to lose something by that person leaving, the fact that you have committed to their growth has contributed to you far in excess of the loss you envisage.

Could starting a mentorship program be a different way to bridge the gap between generations?

David Baker: Yes, I think so. I think anytime you can embrace, as Balaji had said, this idea of, “How is it I can help you grow?” If that looks like a mentorship program, if that looks like an internal university program, I think that individual growth that a person gets is always going to help them want to stick around, because they’re getting something here that they can’t get elsewhere.

Mentorship program, leadership program; I think that it’s all very helpful.

Gord Dmytriw: It’s all related. Balaji?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: I wanted to add to that. As you know, Gord, I’m staunchly opposed to discounting products. So many years ago, I had this business where I was asked to give a talk someplace, and there was a rate that I charge. This was a nonprofit organization. They said, “I can’t pay the rate you ask, but I can pay a much smaller amount.” But, that would be discounting. I didn’t want to do that, so here’s what I did. I said, “I’ll tell you what, pay whatever you can, but I won’t take it. But instead what we’ll do, is we’ll give it to some deserving individual.” That way, I never accepted a discount; I just gave it to you for free.

We asked participants at an HR conference to submit ideas that were provocative. And my brand was provocative. So, provocative ideas. Well one millennial submitted this idea; in fact, I wrote an article on this. And the article is titled Mentoring From Below. The idea the millennial submitted was this:

  • This person said, “You know, we always think of mentoring as the older generation somehow teaching and growing the younger generation. Have you ever thought of mentoring where the younger generation teaches and grows the older generation?
  • “For example,” this individual said, “The older generation doesn’t use Twitter.” This is in the early days of Twitter. “Twitter’s going to be big. The older generation doesn’t look at LinkedIn at all; I don’t think they’ve ever even heard of LinkedIn. We know this stuff. We can teach our boss how to do social media.”

That’s many years ago when that concept was novel. Think about that. Isn’t that mentoring? So yes, a mentoring program; but make sure you think of it both ways.

Gord Dmytriw: That’s a great segue into the next question, Balaji.

Millennials process and surf quicker than Boomers. So what tips did we have for the Boomer supervisor who, to be able to absorb the input from millennials, in order to mentor?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Give it up. I’m throwing in the hat, man. No, no, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.

Gord Dmytriw:  I’m so there. I feel the frustration dripping off my millennial colleagues as I glacially go through my computer to find the program I need to get to.

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Right, right. Earlier I said we have to move away from this notion of “you have to know it,” and move to the notion of “you have to find it.” We have to learn to do that ourselves. When I need something, I’m more apt to go ask somebody that I think knows, than to Google that right then and there. And yet, every millennial, the moment they want it, that’s what they’re going to do. It’s a cultural habit that I have to get over.

David Baker: We have millennials in the room. Did you guys have any tips for us? Is it frustrating for you – the speed in which Gord moves at?

Vanessa Mancini: I think it actually goes back to coaching through advocacy, that we need to remember that we’ve grown up in a world that that has been the norm. You know if I were to say Dewey Decimal System to most people of our age, they’re going to be, “What is that?” But, of course, it’s a library filing system. We would probably move glacially through that, but you guys would leave us in the dust trying to find a book in the library. So it’s the same idea really, that I think you just have to understand that it’s just been the norm for us, and we haven’t had to really do it any other way for so long, that we’ve been looking for information that way.

Gord Dmytriw:  Yeah, just to add to that, I think a practical tip to kind of address this idea, in my mind, is check your intentions. You have to be open to being trained yourself. When I invite my millennial colleagues to help me learn something, it also opens them up for me to help them learn something too. And then you have that sharing of knowledge back and forth. That starts with me truly believing as a boomer that you young folks have something to teach me. I think when I open myself up to that, it opens you up, I hope, to think, “And this old guy with gray hair; he knows a thing or two, even though he can’t open up a Word document very well.”

David Baker: Right. So you bring it back to a whole corporate philosophy of perhaps humility, or invitation around learning.

Gord Dmytriw:  I think so, yeah.

David Baker: Yeah. Gives each other grace.

What key behavior changes to you think leaders and managers need to make to ensure millennials feel engaged at work?

David Baker: I think the number one behavior would be, first seek to understand. You know Steven Covey. If we as managers in every situation don’t assume that we have got the answer, we can be connected, and we’ll both grow. The moment we believe without checking that we’ve got the answer, I think we start to lose people. That would be the number one key behavior.

Gord Dmytriw:  Balaji, anything to add to that?

Balaji Krishnamurthy: Yeah. We grew up in an era where information was held very tight, partly because it wasn’t available for sharing; it wasn’t electronic. And partly because authority played a bigger role in our life. So the information was held very tight. I wasn’t going to tell you something unless you needed to know; I was going to tell it to you only at the right time, and so on.

The millennials have grown up in a very different era, where it’s available everywhere. Everything is open. When you as an older-generation individual, when you as an organizational institution, when you as a culture you’ve created, when you create transparency in the organization, you have invited millennials to close a deal.

So behavior; ask yourself, “What can I be more transparent about?” I think millennials find that far more embracing.

Closing Takeaways

Gord Dmytriw: I see by the time here, that it’s time to wrap up. So with that, do want to present some final thoughts, and just key takeaways that we hope were obvious as we went through the webinar.

1. Purpose is very important to millennials.

To the extent that all of us, millennials included, can come together in shared purpose, were more likely to be empowered and engage their work.

2. Millennials are looking for meaningful work for a meaningful life.

This is fundamentally different than Boomers and Gen Xers. For us, it was hey, we want an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. And that’s a different vibe than millennials.

3. Although the older generation feels it has knowledge and wisdom to impart, millennials want to be empowered now.

Long-time employees and the older generations feel like they have wisdom to impart – and until the younger generation has received it from them, they won’t fully empower millennials. However, millennials want to be empowered now. It’s incumbent upon the older generation with the wisdom and experience to take the time to stop and teach and pass along the torch of knowledge.

As John McCrae said in his famous World War I poem, Flanders Field, “To thee with failing hands we pass the torch; be yours to hold it high.”

If you can impart the embracing of knowledge, and teaching and learning in the organization, you’ll have a more empowered and engaged workforce.

So with that, thank you all for attending. We really appreciate you taking the time out of your undoubtedly busy day.

Before we sign off, I should let you know that our latest millennial whitepaper, called Solving the Millennial Problem: Two Ways for CEOs to Engage Gen Y. In the paper, we provide actionable ways to develop better accountability and empowerment, leading to stronger engagement throughout your organization. You’re welcome to check it out on our website.

Read the Whitepaper