Real Leaders

5 Ways to Better Manage Millennials in a Family Business

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There are always gaps in attitudes and perspectives from one generation to the next. In a family business, trying to weave together the differences between the current generation and the next generation from a business perspective is always hard. But today’s gap between baby boomers and millennials is the biggest in history.

From the boomer’s perspective, the older generation needs to instill the core basics of running a business in the next generation. But they also need to acknowledge that the future is digital and mobile, and we’ll work via the Internet, smart phones, ARI, and new innovations we don’t even know of yet. Millennials are going to be far more prepared to deal with that.   

Family business owners can improve things by first seeking to better understand the millennials in their companies, learning how to take advantage of the smarts and tech savvy of next generation. So here are 5 tips for better managing millennials, and setting them up to succeed:


1. Acknowledge the World has Changed

Baby boomers (born 1946 – 1964) operate out of a distinctive context. They come from a world of sacrifice, loyalty, hard work, and dependability, much of it formed due their proximity to World War II and stories from their parents about the Great Depression. Boomers are generally always ready for dire consequences. But millennials came of age in an entirely different world: from child mortality worldwide (from 40% of children dying before the age of 5 in 1900 to 4% now), to entertainment (from 1,000 new movies in 1960 to 11,000 today), to science (from thousands in 1950 to more than 2 million today) to technology (mobile phone ownership was under .001% in 1980, but more than 95% of American adults own one now). Actually, the world has changed more in the last fifty years than at any other time in history.


2. Understand the Millennial Context

Being unaffected by the world events that shaped boomers’ perspectives means that millennials have a natural disconnect in potentially serious business situations. They are more likely to respond with a  “Don’t worry,” “It will be okay,” or “It doesn’t matter.” It may appear that they don’t grasp the potential consequences or simply lack a sense of respect. But it’s more likely a figment of their growing up in this entirely new world. 


3. Recognize Millennial Values Around Work

Millennials value the attractiveness of the work itself, mobility (both geographical and between assignments), the opportunity to meet people and network, and a relaxed atmosphere. They love being able to customize their compensation packages with additional days off, flexible hours, telecommuting, or discounts. They have a different concept of work/life balance than boomers, viewing life and work as two separate entities—and life comes first: it’s not work/life balance, but the other way around. They value teamwork, care about teammates, and cultivate relationships. They also expect ready access to those in positions of influence.


4. Create a Better Work Culture

Creating a strong company culture is key for better managing millennials and setting them up for success in the family business. A great culture is more valued than great compensation for millennials. That means:

  • Collaborative working environment:Millennials have an urge to contribute. Encourage collaboration in your company by holding weekly team meetings or brainstorming sessions. Listen to what millennials have to say.
  • Use of tech and social media:Generally speaking, millennials were born with computers, the Internet, and mobile phones at their fingertips. They function in networked environments where simultaneous communications are more efficient than long meetings. Take advantage of their tech savvy, and never try to deny them the use of technology — this can be a flash point with millennials.
  • Exciting, meaningful vision of the future:Lay out the future vision and talk about their career path. Perhaps get the millennials involved in family governance. If you share with them the reason that something must be done, they may surprise you with ideas about how to achieve it.
  • Work that’s fun and fast-paced:Fun matters. Millennials are extremely enthusiastic and optimistic, and crave a work environment that fosters their outgoing attitude. They are more willing to do hard work when it’s in a fun environment. While goal-oriented, they can be impatient, and thrive on quick results
  • Plenty of feedback:This is a feedback generation. Millennials thrive on feedback — informal and in real time — and expect routine encouragement. Boomer managers in the family business may find this draining. But providing feedback could be interpreted as a sign that you do not value them.
  • Room to learn:Don’t micromanage millennials. Give them space to learn, discover, and experiment. Millennials like a challenge and the chance to create innovative solutions. Let them learn through immersion, engagement, trial and error, and entrepreneurial activities.


5. Know When Not to Bend

Certain areas in business can’t be compromised, such as basic and sound business practices that continue to apply today. It’s key to stress their importance to the next generation:

  • Follow through with a commitment.
  • Take responsibility for your actions and mistakes.
  • All actions in the business should be made with an eye towards “How does this make the company profitable?”
  • Good business decisions, even if gut decisions, should be based on some form of data, history, or research.
  • Good personal relationships and communication with employees, customers, and suppliers are paramount.
  • Have a reputation of trustworthiness, integrity, dependability, and respect for others.
  • Always be a student of your field, and consistently strive for excellence.

While millennials may have a different culture, many may have what it takes to assume the helm of the family business one day. It’s up to the boomer generation to help millennials to settle down, resist showing off their technology chops, and respect traditional business systems instead of reflexively condemning them as outdated. And when both sides understand each other and appreciate each other’s differences, that makes the transition from one generation to next far smoother.


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